Lightning has done the impossible; it has struck Gretel Erlich for the second time. She escaped the first incident relatively harm free when it traveled up through her horse’s legs, and out of her body, but she isn’t so lucky now. At least she can rely on prompt and efficient medical service, right? Wrong. It turns out that everybody fails her, including the ambulance drivers, doctors, nurses, and even her newly estranged husband. In fact, only her two dogs will remain by her side in the end.
The first part of this essay does not have any sense of time to it. On the contrary, it seems to be describing how Ms. Erlich is meandering through a sea of timelessness. She is neither here nor there, but slowly she begins trickling back into reality. She says, “There is a terrible feeling of oppression with no oppressor.” She is trying to figure out what is going on; why she has a strange feeling that there is something wrong, but she has no idea. She is almost sure that she is dying. She is relieved that her dogs are coming with her when she says, “My two beloved dogs appear. They flank me like tiny rockets, their fur pressed against my ribs.
A leather harness holds us all together. The dogs climb toward light, pulling me upward at a slant from the sea.” Even though in reality it is dark and stormy around her, she is dreaming that she is with her dogs, so all is well. The sun is shining, and she paints a picture of serenity. The next thing the reader knows, after a short recanting of the moments leading up to the strike, she wakes up in a pool of blood, crumpled like an unused marionette off to the side of the trail she’d been hiking on. We are shocked back into reality just as she surely must have been. Of course, the first thought to cross her mind, other than wondering what has happened to her, is where her dogs are, and if they’re alive.
In paragraph 19, she is again unconscious, and interestingly says, “pressing against my sore ribs, my dogs pulled me out of the abyss.” It seems she’s saying that the thought of her dogs brings her back to reality. She uses them as an incentive to keep from slipping too far into unconsciousness; who would take care of them if she was gone? Her horrid journey through the unprepared urgent care unit starts right away with her ambulance ride to the hospital. In the midst of the violent storm, the ambulance treats her to quite a bumpy ride, which causes her to slam up against the side rails of the gurney.
This makes for immense pain, and finally the EMT’s cushion her sides, so it won’t be such a painful ride. She can’t be taken to the hospital of her choice, on the grounds that it is too far away, but she is still probably semi-relieved to arrive at the hospital. Unfortunately, things don’t get much better upon her arrival. The EKG machine doesn’t work, and her doctor comments that her aura is , “yellow and gray- a soul in transition.” Is he saying that she’s dying? However consoling that may be, it probably isn’t too comforting knowing that your doctor is more of a holistic healer. Furthermore, it turns out the doctor has never completed a residency, and has been barred from both ICU and ER work, in the state of Florida. He’s not even the worst doctor of the bunch because, unlike some of the later doctors, at least he is able to diagnose her correctly as a lightning strike victim.
The irresponsible behavior in this essay is shocking. She passes out in the waiting room of a second hospital. No one bothers to find the reason for this, and she is promptly released once proving that she can’t walk a straight line. The third to last paragraph say it all. Ms. Erlich comments, “It was difficult to know what was worse: being in a hospital where nothing worked and nobody cared, or being alone on an isolated ranch hundreds of miles from decent medical care.” This essay almost seems like a tragic comedy of errors, and it made me want to laugh and cry at the same time when, of all things, she finds a rattlesnake waiting for her in the kitchen.
Despite her gruesome ordeal Ms. Erlich is able to keep level headed, and even finds humor in certain things like trying to die “properly”, and comparing herself to a wounded WWII soldier. Many of us might have perished in her situation, but she has been blessed with a quick wit, and both a strong sense of independence and survival. She is able to shake off all the mistreatment she receives, but she wouldn’t have been able to shake off even one of her dog’s deaths. She has accepted the flaws of the human character, and is completely fine with the fact that she can’t depend on most of her species for help. In the end, she knows she will be fine as long as her dogs are at her side, somehow keeping the fog of death from rolling in.