When I came to, there was an oxygen mask strapped to my face. I was a little delirious and thought I was in an airplane. Then I focused a little more and it turned out I was in an ambulance.
I heard a muffled cough and it turned out to my left was another gurney and the short female dancer was in it, also with an oxygen mask pressed to her face, but hers was in her hand. She pulled it away to say, “Hey.”
“Hey.” My voice was loud being reflected back to me by the mask.
“I’m glad it’s not just me,” she said.
“Uh…” Unless she was also dependent on Flexeril and alcohol cocktails to get through the day, then she was talking about something I didn’t know. “What happened?”
“Altitude sickness. You and me both.”
Oh. I pulled the mask and discovered I could dislodge it enough to talk more easily. “What altitude are we at here?”
“They gave it to me in metric but if my math’s right, we’re at almost nine thousand feet?”
“Holy shit.” She was close—around 8,600 feet. Significantly higher than Denver, which was probably the highest elevation I’d been to previously for any length of time.
“Yeah, I just thought I had a hangover and then the world’s worst headache.” She put the mask against her face and breathed deeply again.
“Huh. I didn’t have a headache but I’ve been out of breath, sluggish, dizzy, and my heart’s been going nuts.”
She nodded. “Yeah. Not enough oxygen in the air here.”
Now that I knew what was making me feel better, I took deep drags of oxygen until I started to feel a little lightheaded. God. Air. What a great invention.
A medic or doctor of some kind climbed into the back of the ambulance, spoke back and forth with another person who looked more like a venue employee and turned out to be a translator. The two of them spoke to the dancer, whose name turned out to be Stella, and released her. As she climbed out, I said, “Hey, would you see if Flip or Carynne can check up on me?”
I’m not sure why, but I had a suspicion they weren’t going to let me just wander out of here after her. I was right. The translator came into the ambulance then and they started asking me a bunch of questions. I asked him to get Flip so someone besides me could remember this conversation. A couple of minutes later Carynne appeared at the ambulance doors.
“How long was I out for?” I asked.
No one was completely sure, but the gist of what they told me was that any loss of consciousness is always a cause for concern. I was inclined to agree but I also didn’t want to spend the night in a Colombian hospital. I won’t recap the argument for you other than to say no one wanted me to keel over from unforeseen complications, me included, but at the same time, it seemed pretty obvious what was going on with me was in fact altitude-related. No need to go fishing for anything else wrong with me, right?
Wrong. We ended up agreeing to go to the hospital for tests, but I continued to insist I wasn’t staying over night. What followed was some very boring hours at a hospital. I napped a little while waiting for them to let me go. In the end they gave me a drug to help the oxygen absorption of my blood and we arranged to have oxygen tanks at the next show. Apparently I wasn’t the first performer they’d seen have this problem. And the only reason no one suspected it was happening to me sooner was because I had all these other explanations for why I was sluggish or dizzy or whatever.
We took a taxi back to the hotel, just Carynne and me. Carynne was yawning by then–she hadn’t napped–and I felt bad about that.
“You’re sure you’re okay, now?” she asked me for the millionth time.
“Well, I’ve still got all the problems I had before,” I pointed out. “You know, when my heart was flipping out from lack of oxygen I thought it was because I was panicking. It felt a lot like a panic attack.”
“Yeah. And so I thought I was really upset about some things that maybe I was actually not? It’s confusing.”
“You want to talk about anything?” she asked, like she always did, like the good friend she was.
“Tell me truthfully. Am I being a dick or is Linn out of her mind?”
“Well, those two things aren’t mutually exclusive, but can you be more specific?”
“She seems to have decided I’m bad for Ziggy and bad for the show. I seem to have decided she’s the Wicked Witch of the West and since when does she get to threaten to fire performers? What the fuck is up with that? I thought she was just a design consultant.”
Carynne looked at me. In the back of the cab her face was mostly in shadow but she looked at me for a long time before answering. “She’s here for the same reason you are.”
“Ziggy insisted on it.”
Ah. “We should have replaced me as soon as I got hurt.”
“Ziggy didn’t want to leave you at home. And seventy percent of you might still more than a hundred percent of someone new trying to come in and do the job.”
“That’s flattering but–”
“Imagine it, Daron. Ziggy would have talked you into coming along as his significant other, to watch from the wings and rub his shoulders when he got tense and follow him around to interviews, while some other guitarist-for-hire walked out there on the thrust with him to sing Candlelight.”
Okay, when she said that I felt a wave of illness about equal to altitude sickness. “You’re right. That’d kill me.” Point taken. “On the other hand, maybe I would have spent more than five minutes with him over the past five days.”
“Oh, honeybunch.” She reached over and put a hand on my arm. “He’s undoubtedly asleep by now.”
“Please tell me tomorrow’s off day is a real off day?”
She bit her lip. “He’s got some promo appearances to do. But I’ll see about the evening. You’re supposed to rest.”
“He’s got to have some downtime sometime, doesn’t he?”
“I’ll suggest a quiet dinner tomorrow. I can’t promise.”
“I don’t expect you to. But thanks for trying.” My heart felt heavy, like a stone in my chest. I told myself it was just another symptom of altitude. But I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.