Chopin, Roman Polanski, and a cab


I am listening to the soundtrack from the triple Oscar-winning “The Pianist”, a film indelibly linked to the night I was struck by a taxi, fracturing my right wrist and femur. It was one of the first things I wrote about in the “Narrative Group”, at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Clinic for HIV Related Concerns (presented here as a second draft, based on some of the constructive comments I received).

“What a great film!” I thought. “No wonder Adrien Brody won the ‘Best Actor’ Oscar.” As I walked out of the Carlton I welcomed the freshness of the night air. I glanced at my watch. It wasn’t quite midnight.

Heading east along Carlton Street, the music of Chopin still ringing inside me, I hugged myself briefly to shake off the late April chill.

Eventually coming to the corner of Sherbourne Street I figured that, at my current pace, the light would be green just as I got to the intersection. I was correct.

A taxi approached, from the left in my field of vision, slowing to a stop precisely when I stepped off the sidewalk. However it moved again and as I frantically tried to get the driver’s attention, my body contorting and folding unusually upon impact, I was knocked to the pavement. Inexplicably my right shoe popped off.

“Owww…oh fuck…oh my God!” I yelled.

The cabbie got out and rushed to my side. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you,” he shouted above me, in an accent I could not readily identify.

“Don’t touch me!” I yelled as I noticed the man reaching down towards me.

A police car’s lights flashed – almost immediately, it seemed to me – and the cruiser sped into the intersection, effectively blocking traffic.

I continued to moan, lying on my side. A cop knelt down and said something like, “It’s okay, Sir. Help is on the way.”

(It should be noted that I was to have several conversations with emergency personnel over the next few minutes and so it is difficult to accurately recall precisely who said what, even whether it was a male or female voice.)

“Can you tell me your name, Sir?” the officer inquired. (I learned, much later, that his name was Constable Kell.)

“Kenn Chaplin,” I replied.

“I need to ask you a few questions”, continued the officer. “Where are you coming from, Sir?”

“The Carlton Cinema”, I said.

“What did you see?” he asked. (Clearly this small-talk was more about seeing how lucid I was than any interest the police officer might have had in getting a film review from me.)

‘The Pianist’“, I replied, immediately self-conscious of a sense of embarrassment, perhaps even internalized homophobia, in declaring this choice of films to see – however neurotic such insecurities are.

“So you haven’t had anything to drink then?” the constable asked, confirming my suspicions that he was merely trying to establish that I had my wits about me at the time I was struck.

“No,” I moaned.

The shriek of an ambulance, coming from one direction, and a fire-truck, approaching from another, put an end to our conversation.

Whadda we got?” a paramedic asked from overhead, still trying to tie up a plastic gown with his latex gloves. (This was at the height of the SARS crisis in Toronto.)

“Better get a back board”, came the reply from someone else.

“Where does it hurt?” a voice asked.

“My back, my leg, my arm,” I quickly assessed. Frankly I couldn’t think of any place that did not hurt at that point.

“We’re getting a back board,” someone said to another.

“Oh great, citytv is here”, I groaned, as the relative darkness was flooded with a powerful camera light. “Wouldn’t you know?”

“Yep, they’re everywhere,” someone laughed.

“What’s your name, Sir?” I was asked for what would be the second of many times that night.

“Kenn Chaplin,” I replied.

“Where do you live, Sir?”

“85 Bleecker Street,” I recited.

“Can you tell me what day it is?” I was asked.

“April 29th, well I guess it’s the 30th, now,” I replied.

“That’s good. Any allergies?” the questions continued.

“Just sulfa,” I said, adding, “and, just so you know, I have HIV. If you reach into my back pocket my wallet has all my hospital cards and everything else you’ll need, like a list of my medications.” (At the suggestion of one of the nurses who would speak to me over the following days and weeks I now have a Medic Alert® bracelet and wallet card.)

“I got it”, someone else said, as I felt the wallet being lifted out.

“Any chance I could go to ‘the General’? That’s where my records are,” I asked.

“Sorry, guy”, was the reply, “‘St. Mike’s’ is the closest trauma unit downtown.”

“Looks like a fracture of the femur”, I heard someone say to a colleague, “and probably the wrist, too.”

“So this is what a broken bone feels like!” I said, including myself in the conversation, feeling a giddiness I suppose comes with shock. “I have always been curious about that!”

“Well now you know!” a voice chuckled from overhead. “Now you know.”

“Okay, Mr. Chaplin, we’re going to try to get you on to the back board. It’s going to hurt but it should stabilise you a bit.”

“On three”, one voice said to another. “One, two, three.”

I groaned, taking in a sharp breath, as the board was pushed under me, my thin frame feeling the straight surface’s hard angles.

“Okay, good”, a paramedic said, panting slightly through his mask. “You’re doing fine. Now we’re going to lift you on to the stretcher.”

I felt my senses flush, the way one’s stomach leaps on a roller coaster, as I was suspended briefly, then laid down on the mattress of the stretcher.

“How’re you doing, Mr. Chaplin?” Constable Kell asked, having returned – I surmised – from taking an initial statement from the cabbie.

“Okay, I guess,” was my reply, verbalising much more succinctly than I was processing my thoughts.

“Mr. Chaplin, can you tell me again what happened?” confirming my still-intact journalistic instincts that the constable was probably reconciling statements from the cab driver and me.

“Well,” I began, “I was crossing on my green light, and the cab stopped on his red, then he kept going and turned right into me. The last thing I saw was the back of his head as he looked in the other direction.”

This was a conversation I would repeat – or perhaps merely conclude – with Constable Kell later at the hospital, although I did not recognise him there.

“Who are you?” I asked him emphatically, in the Trauma Unit, thinking the questions to be a bit odd for a nurse or a doctor to be asking.

“I’m Constable Kell”, he chuckled from behind his mask. “I’m the investigating officer. We spoke earlier at the accident scene.”

“Ohhh”, I said, thinking “that explains it.”


This story has been published in Still Here: A Post-Cocktail AIDS Anthology Collected and Edited by Allan Peterkin, MD and Julie Hann, OT, Copyright 2008 by Life Rattle Press, Toronto, and the contributing authors.


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