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Unarmed and Hardly Dangerous

             I’ve already related to you mouth breathers and unconscious yodelers the first two instances in which I came to endure a great deal of pain and mockery at having my right shoulder forcibly ejected from its socket in a manner most unexpected. The fearful superstitious lot who believe brittle, shawl covered spinsters when they say watching TV in the dark damages the eyes are also the first to insist that tragedy runs in packs of three. Unfortunately, and though coincidence alone and readily explainable by chance, they would be correct in this particular case. That which befell me twice before in less than a years time came around and sucker punched me once again.

      It was April Fools day in 1998, another unfortunate coincidence as you will see, and a slick rainy morning at Langley. I had worked the overnight shift at work and before being released to breakfast and bed, we had the onerous requirement to sit though the Commander’s tedious safety briefing as that day was Wing Safety Day. As I explained previously, the Air Force is paralyzed with terror at the notion that their personnel may suffer injury or perish in any way other than the blunt end of a scud or bullet to the head. High risk behaviors such as ascending stairs or painting shelves were only to be undertaken with the greatest precaution, a maximum of protective equipment, and expressed permission from someone in charge; their ability to survive placed at a premium. I’m sure you can see the direction of this tale and the irony of it followed me to my last day on post when it was specifically referred back to in the chief’s farewell address to me. The admonition at the end of the speech was to take personal responsibility to ensure the day went accident free.

      Tired from the long night at work, subsequent speech and greasy chow, I make my way back to the dorms and ascended the rubber coated stairs toward the second floor where I dwelled. While the rubber coating was likely intended to provide a solid grip for footing, it turned into a slimy frictionless surface when wet. I knew this and made my way up, using the handrail as we were encouraged under penalty of pain to do. A step before I reached the top, my foot slipped slightly and my weight shifted to the right. My arm braced still against the rail stiffened and it just the right angle, popped audibly out in a dreadfully familiar sensation. Somehow I managed to avoid completing the fall down the stairs.  

      Though tremendously uncomfortable, it was at least a well known predicament and I took great comfort in the memory of past successes. As with the previous instances, a crowd of curious gawkers had already gathered to visually participate in the painful show I began to put on and offered constructive observations on how my arm didn’t appear quite right. Forest, who provided such valuable assistance in the previous two iterations, had long ago been forcibly removed from the smart career fields for failing a test. His new career as a gate guard never brought him to Langley. This was OK though; I had learned though his teachings and felt confident I would succeed on my own merit.

      Those who so kindly took the time to observe were happy enough to report that the sight I next presented was a macabre dance of self torture punctuated by screams and Walshian refusals for assistance. Recalling the first instance I attempted to coax one of the gawkers into grabbing my arm and twisting it into the socket. Failing that I requested one just hold my arm as I twisted it into the socket myself. The squeamish little sissies shrank back and balked citing fear of causing me injury, even knowing full well my own willingness and desire to harm them were the situation reversed or the opportunity present.  I then began the dance.

      Despite the haze of pain I recalled my “Lethal Weapon” and took to throwing my dangling shoulder and torso against all manner of object in the pool table parlor. What appeared to work well for a crazy eyed drunken anti-Semite had the opposite effect in my case. Each blow caused a new explosion of agony and seemed to drive the hanging joint even farther from its home. Desperate, I decided to reenact the pool gimmick from the second instance. Lacking a swimming pool I decided to make use of the pool table feeling homonym proximity would be enough to inspire success. The call was a bad one. After laying my arm on the table and dropping my weight to the floor I found myself writhing about in a torturous explosion of nerve endings and expletives.

      The dorm manager finally decided to intervene. He had appeared earlier, presumably to enjoy the show in silent revenge for driving my roommate to cry on his shoulder, but finally decided his charges were being traumatized enough though my self mutilation. Due to the initial injury and poorly conceived attempts to rectify it in the most medieval of fashions the affected area began spasming wildly, causing further suffering with each contraction. I knew the jig was up and allowed myself to be led groaning to his office while he dialed 911. I lit a cigarette to calm my nerves and naturally the ambulance came seconds after, which was probably for the best.

      As in the tradition of all hospitals and ambulances, it is policy that their personnel provide the means of your locomotion by bed, wheelchair, or stretcher lest you stub a pinky and overshadow your horrendous injury that thankfully allows you the dignity to walk yourself. Attempting to coax me on the stretcher and further jiggle my arm about was unfruitful, and after threatening to walk myself over to the base hospital, the back of which I could see across a nearby parking lot, they reluctantly allowed me to sit myself in the back deeming it better to ignore this rule than have me show up on my own feet with the vehicle, lights a flashing, following behind at a slow crawl. Sure enough, when we got there the first question to the paramedics was not about my injury but why they dared allow me sit rather than lay strapped down for the 80 yard jaunt from there to here.

      My supervisor had already been called and arrived at the hospital around the same time I did, and in disbelief that one of his two reportees was the very first person injured on Wing Safety Day. You have to understand the up/ down flow of things on an Air Force base. I’ll run though the gamut on this to make it easier. Airman ironically injures himself on way back from safety briefing. Airman’s supervisor looks like a schmuck for having such a tool under him. Supervisor’s shop chief has the shame of having the only flight in the squadron to pull such a dumb ass move. Squadron commander is barked at by Wing (base) commander for allowing such malignant foolishness amongst his ranks. Wing commander finally gets ribbed and mocked by all the other Wing Kings in the command for achieving the shortest ever injury free period after an official briefing. I have to say though that they took it pretty well as the back flow of such things was usually on the order of the Red Sea collapsing on the non-buoyant Egyptians.

      The one thing I had going for me that prevented me from becoming the immediate poster child of poor execution; the hypothetical ‘Airman Johnny’ of all manner of cautionary tales, was the date. It was, I remind you, April 1st, the Fools day. While my supervisor did not recall this and came running, when he called his supervisor, the Shop Chief, and left a message, it was not responded too. What happened was that he received it, felt it had to be a joke given the date and statistical improbability of the event actually occurring, and never followed up. As this happened on a Friday morning and it took days for the real story to filter up, along with the corroborating hospital paperwork, the news didn’t really hit the upper echelon for well over a week after the event, by which time 9 other crises had come and gone. The commander did, however, specifically bring it up at the following years briefing, and every time I ran into him or anyone else in charge, it was always, “Hey remember when you hurt your arm 5 minutes into Safety Day? Wow, the base is still living that down!”.

      My treatment at the hospital was barbaric. Granted, I’m sure they meant well, and in retrospect have always gotten harsh, empathy poor treatment at these modernized torture dungeons, it still was enough that I would have confessed to the Lindbergh kidnapping. By the time I was admitted in, my shoulder and socket had begun to swell and continued to throb madly. Despite the obvious grotesque appearance, they actually tried to remove my outer and under shit in the conventional manner until I finally screamed at them to just cut the damn things off with full knowledge that I had a wealth of identical items in my room. Next they subjected me to similar torture in attempting to position my arm all prettily for the x-ray; a ludicrous exercise considering the obvious nature of the injury. It was like giving a man with a pencil though his eye a vision test.

      When finally greeted by the osteopath near an hour later, he resumed the same project I had already started; find any old way that would work to get the arm back in. He opted first for the brute force approach and grabbed the arm and tried to force it back in. Involuntarily, I hold, I kicked at him hard and connected. Ashen with agony and nearly entering a state of shock, he finally came to the conclusion that I ought to have some sort of pain remedy. I was given shots of Novocain in the affected areas and a shot of Demerol to help calm me. Thinking the time was enough; he grabbed again and again received another hard kick.

      I had finally reached the point where I was at the peak of my frustrated anger and lashed out a bit. Wisely, they decided it would be best for all that I was under and quickly strapped a mask to my face that put me out in a few moments time. I woke up some time later and was delighted to find that my shoulder was once again back in the proper location, albeit sore as the dickens. My supervisor, considered by many to be somewhat of a nincompoop, had at least stayed to see the outcome of the brutal drama. It may well have also been to obtain a vicarious pleasure of revenge as each morning I was treated to the sights and sounds of the dayshift supervisor reaming him new orifice for such a poor turnout; my work being the exception of course.

      He relayed to me what had happened after I was finally sedated. First, the doc and his lackey breathed a sigh of relief that my acid tongue and steel toed boots were no longer going to be playing a role. They then rolled me over on my stomach and went to work stretching my shoulder back. Human strength proved not enough and they ended up tying weights to my arm to slowly force the torn muscles back into place where it slowly eased and then popped back in. This explained the ligature marks on my wrist and forearm, sore, but not to the degree of the shoulder by any means. I was summarily dismissed with a sling and specific orders to ‘go easy on it’.

      The whole incident turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I showed up for work on Monday and received all manner of razzing from everyone on account of the unintentional black eye I gave the squadron, but that was all right as I still sported the sling and verbal admonition to ‘go easy on it’. They never told me to continue wearing it, but I felt it was in the best spirit of the easy going and gave street cred to my story. I immediately made a nuisance of myself declaring anything undesirable to be out of scope for my injury and generally settled on instructing others on the finer points of troubleshooting, calibrations, etc. The sling fun only lasted until my follow up appointment a week later at which some final verdict would be rendered. I hoped for the best and received.

      The surgeon I consulted with first dashed my hopes by declaring the sling unnecessary, but followed up with much better news. The Air Force can’t have airmen running about in a semi-defective state especially in times of conflict, so it was decided that I would receive rotator cuff surgery to correct the ‘arm-popping-out’ problem once and for all. While I had never gone under the knife before, I’ve never been nervous about such things and relished the idea of being able to swim, walk up stairs, or drunkenly leap haphazardly over sets of bleachers without worry of trying to put myself back together again after. While hurry up and wait was the order of the day, in this case they adopted the old ‘sooner the better’ philosophy given the heavy base rotation to Saudi and the Air Force’s strong feeling that it be far better that I be injured or killed in Southwest Asia than feel the same effects in the comfort of my home station.

      The earliest they could schedule me in was that summer; smack dab in the middle of when I was set to head off to Saudi for 3 months during the high summer season. I explained this and received the joyful answer that I wasn’t going anywhere until effectively repaired, inspected, and stamped with approval! Excellent news and the approaching summer was looking a whole lot better. In addition, after the surgery it was expected that I would require a 2 to 4 week recovery period by which I would be forbidden from showing up to work. The unfortunate side effect was that I would be attending painful physical therapy every day and not able to go home. In any case, spending a month free of work instead of sitting in the sand sounded like a good deal to me.

      The months leading up to the surgery are tales for another time and include a visit from Knaus and my first successful teledate experience that resulted in a somewhat painful romance. My friends were bitter and poisoned at my fortune, hissing vile disapproval as planned for lazy days as they packed up for the desert. When you have the world, however, you don’t need sympathy and I saw them off with a hearty wave of my left hand and extended finger.

      My father flew down to see me though the surgery, which was uneventful. All went well and my impressive pain tolerance had me off the oxycontin in days, especially after I found they gave me motion sickness just lying in bed. Days free, I enjoyed him chauffeuring me about Hampton Roads and introducing him to my local haunts like Harpoon Larry’s and Captain George’s. Unfortunately, this was considerably less comfortable for him as he was unused to the daily highs of 100 with 98% humidity, riding about in a ’83 Camero with broken AC and windows that no longer went down. Though he nearly succumbed to heat exhaustion, it was a good trip overall.

      My month of solitude was excellent for the most part. I am one of those individuals who can easily go for days or even weeks at a time without interacting much with anyone and be perfectly happy, so this was like a dream. Where one would think that filling up the day with nary a care in the world would get tedious, I didn’t think so at all and quickly fell into a routine. Wake around 9:00 AM, grab the tail end of morning chow, shower, go to physical therapy, hit Video Update for $1 rentals and get another 5 movies, pick up any needed supplies, watch movies, hit dinner, watch movies, hit midnight chow, take a long walk around the base, watch final movie, and go to bed.

      My initial medical leave was originally prescribed for 2 weeks, but I had it stretched into 4 having grown used to the life. During that period I saw every obscure movie that ever interested me and even managed to sit though both the entire John Waters collection and the whole Tromo repertoire as well. I avoided the outdoors but for in the dead of night as wearing a sling under my shirt was hot as blazes and very uncomfortable. Once a week I would check into the shop and receive stares at my pale unshaven face so distant from the usual cut of my jib.

      The downside to all this was the daily torture session with base Physical Therapy. Where most people go to college for this sort of thing, the Air Force takes green trainees and sees if they can learn ‘em up on some arm twisting with predictable results. Each day I was given a set of excruciating exercises to do in order to regain some range of motion. The surgery had rendered my arm all but motionless, the muscles having been tightened up to an alarming degree, and it was incumbent upon them to stretch me on the rack until movement was regained. Each bit of it was every bit as bad as the dislocation, but suffered on a daily basis. As a foil, they employed almost exclusively women, most of whom were younger than me and quite attractive, which squashed any unmanly complaints I may have been inclined to make.

      The actual doctor who oversaw these enlisted torturesses was a goddess herself. Her diploma showed her to be my age, with long flowing dark hair and deep dark eyes. I thrilled each time she touched me to check progress. Naturally I took efforts to ensure she would see me as a complete buffoon. It had been some weeks since she did anything but feel things out though my shirt. It was poor timing then that I took this as an end to revealing my naked chest to her. In a moment of boredom I repeated the Princeton era experiment of carving the Superman symbol into the hirsute surface with Nair and a razor. Silent and red I removed my shirt at her request and I have to say that she kept her professional composure for the most part, though I detected a smirk or two and a definite giggle when she had her back turned to me.

      In the movies I had been watching, even the worst of them, she would have found this to be irresistibly charming and become endeared to me though the naked exposure of my quirkiness. Other films I enjoyed would have moved this into the arena of a lusty romp right there in her office; she intrigued over the efficacy of the symbol. Instead, it proved my second last visit with her, and very last shirtless, as she decided to entrust my care to the femme brutals up front.


4 Responses

  1. Again Mike is undone by stairs, just liek when he was drunk and fell down the stairs at Paul’s place. Causing Paul to drop his candy bar. You need to take the elevator, especially in a fire, when your tumbling will kill many others.

    If only I was there to step forward and help you cause yourself pain.

    “Red Sea collapse on non-boyant Egyptians” – good one.

    “Pencil in the eye a vision test” – another nice one.

    Where did you kick the doctor?

    Superman chest shaving. What can I do but shake my head. “F*cking Mike!”

  2. I was too much in pain to pay attention to where my foot connected with him, but he yelled and was pretty pissed so I know I got him pretty good.

    I still maintain that I was not drunk on Pauls stairs. I was carrying a full load on the treacherous unlighted staircase full of rolled up carpet and other tripping obstacles. I did indeed inavertantly step on one said item and gently reached over to steady myself on your shoulder, only to be undone by the violent shove you gave me. In the words of Lucifer, “I didn’t fall; I was pushed”.

    I’m telling you, the Superman shave should totally have turned her on unless Hollywood has been lying to me all these years, which it hasn’t.

  3. I did not push you violently. I merely shrugged my shoulder sideways to avoid the rather rude “push me down the stairs” attempt on your part.

    If you had been watching Hollywood with the lights on you would have seen they are lying to you.

  4. Heh… They didn’t call me, Wolf, I had just gotten off work because I had a bunch of other crap to do and was headed over to grab a friend of mine from the dorm to go get some food. So if I can offer from a slightly different perspective…

    Either the night before, or very recently, you had talked to me about the dorm manager being a dink to you. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it sounded like he was riding you for no good reason. I told you if he did it again, don’t respond, just contact me, day or night, and we’d upchain it.
    So, some time later (hours? days?) there I am, walking toward the dorm, when what should i see but my Airman standing outside the dorm manager’s office with his arms crossed, talking to a cop and a bunch of people crowded around gawking. Then out of the corner of my eye, I see an ambulance pull up. In that moment, the only thing I could think was you had completely lost it and laid a beating on the dorm manager.
    Finding out you were holding your arm in place, not posed defensively, was almost a relief.
    And if I may be permitted a moment of self-aggrandizement to offset the (probably deserved) nincompoop appellation, I would like to mention my success in convincing the doctor that you were not a druggie and you did not need special evaluation by mental health to determine the cause of your rather heroic resistance to pain killers and sedation. So, hey, at least you were spared that.

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