Feet First

“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Sunday, March 09, 2003

    It happened just before six yesterday morning. I was up early, thinking about going to the gym when I suddenly heard sounds of yelling and smashing glass a few houses down. I wondered if someone was fighting and hurried to get dressed, thinking, should I call the police?

    Suddenly from my bedroom I heard explosions - three dull, percussive sounding thumps - and saw red flames reflected in the windows of the house across the street. Simultaneously I heard sirens.

    I ran to grab the phone and call my next-door neighbor - I knew it wasn't her house but thought it might be the house on her other side. It wasn't... it was just across the street, a house on the corner. I ran outside to see what was going on.

    They got there fast. There were three fire engines and an ambulance, and a few minutes later a fourth engine pulled up. I joined a little group of spectators on the sidewalk, most of whom were in robes and slippers. One person I recognized was Irv, an older guy who lives across the street from me. He knows everybody on the block, it seems. He told me he'd been worried about this woman for a while, that she was elderly and lived by herself with a dog. I remembered the dog, I'd often seen him at the front window or barking at the front door. Irv muttered, "If she's lost that dog, she's gonna die." He told us that she used to be the secretary to the mayor of Beverly Hills; he also said she'd had a drinking problem.

    We stood there watching the firemen on the roof, using chainsaws to get through the roof to vent the fire straight up. Then we saw the woman being brought out in a wheelchair. One of the people on the sidewalk, who knew her, ran over to see if she was OK - she came back looking worried and told us she'd been burned all over the neck and chest.

    Then we saw the dog, lying on the lawn. One or two of the firemen had been crouched over the dog earlier, but now they moved away. The dog didn't move, and we realized it was dead; a minute later, someone put a tarp over its body.

    We all gradually moved away, back to our houses, knowing the fire was out. Later that morning I heard a mention of the fire on the radio: the cause was smoking. I can't help wondering if she'd had oxygen in the house and if that was why the fire exploded the way it did. If you need another reason not to smoke - there it is.



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