Man Down!

Bred deep in the bone of many families are great and wondrous characteristics that follow the lineage from times of old right up to the very present. In some it is a great tradition of warcraft. Other families are full of mighty hunters from times of yore. Others still have incredible mathematical understanding, able to calculate tips in their heads without even looking at the tax. My ancestors, a breed apart, were very obviously the ones accidentally knocking over the king’s horse, getting shot in the ass with arrows meant for the stag, and spilling coffee on the check so no one could figure out what they owed when the bill was passed around, much less what to leave for a tip. Yes, bound in the flesh of my family was the triple threat of fearlessness, multiple left feet, and an unlikely tendency to survive anyway in full contradiction of Darwinian scripture.

While I am murky regarding the exploits of my forefathers, given that I seem to be the first whoever thought of actually writing anything down, I know my own father had his collection of unlikely accidents. Most of his were given over to my sisters and I in the form of tales meant to amuse, and amused we were hearing of hammers falling off garages on to his head and whatnot. The most relevant for this telling, however, is the tale of the Siamese cat.

It seems that my grandmother was a great keeper of cats, and liked them how she liked her bail bondsmen, mean. On one occasion my father was walking one of the Siamese cats they had. That is correct, walking, as on a leash in the backyard. To this day I am still unsure why, but hearing of the consequences I have no real desire to ever try. In any event, as the animal nosed about doing whatever cats on leashes tend to do, a dog of unknown origin that shall never be mentioned again, darted into the yard with a cacophony of resounding barking. The cat immediately darted for the weeping willow tree in the yard, found itself strangled by my father’s leash as it hadn’t occurred to him to let go (nor would it me either), and pursued another avenue of attaining height by running straight up my father. The freaked out beast hung for dear life by his arm as he attempted to shake it off. The cat scrambled to keep hold, succeeded, and shredded the arm in the process. I believe my father had to finally whack it against the tree trunk rendering it senseless before he could go seek hundreds of stitches.

My own flirtation with danger began right on my second birthday, and strangely, I remember it happening despite the young age. I was running through my parent’s living room and managed to trip over something or another and crashed, eye first, right into the edge of my parents coffee table. I bleeding all over and being rushed to the emergency room was probably a bit of a downer for the rest of the party goers, whom I believe simply consisted of my grandfather, Paga, and my parents. This was a day of two epic firsts. The primary being my first trip to the ER with stitches, and the second, very close in importance, the start of my life long war with coffee tables. I would like to note that this was the very same coffee table Knaus body slammed me into at Princeton, breaking the leg.

My early childhood years were spent falling down a lot. Back in those golden oldie days when the TV had 4 channels, VCRs were the toys of wealthy dilettantes, and the idea of a personal computer seemed as far away as flying cars, we spent a lot of time outside, running around, collecting critters and playing with that white dog poop you never see anymore and Sarah Silverman wrote a song about. Running around was something I had a very mixed degree of success with. On one hand, I was really fast and would barrel down the sidewalk at full tilt for no apparent reason or pretending to be the Flash or something. On the other, I had no regard at all for the fact that the village had not redone the sidewalks on our tree infest street since the 50’s, and no one square was vertically flush with another. It was over these that I tripped, usually nine or ten times a day.

While such falls would probably maim an old bastard such as me now, at the time it simply meant bloodied hands and knees. It wasn’t the fall that got you, it was what came after. Usually the abrasive concrete would strip away any bandage and scabbing that had accumulated and leave a fresh open wound for which there was only one treatment. My parents alternated between the red staining iodine that had a deep and penetrating burn and the spray on Solarcane, which gave a sharp and wild stinging. The application of either was invariably worse than the fall and I eventually learned to staunch the blood flow myself with whatever was on hand, such as old Kleenex, leaves, or even dirt until it scabbed over. While dirt and snotty rags probably have the opposite effect than disinfectant, I never did have anything happen and to this day have never had a cut or wound and failed to heal up just fine with nary a bit of trouble.

While I generally like to go in some sort of chronological order with these tellings, I’m going to break convention and skip around for the purpose of saving the best story for last, thus forcing you to read every damn word in this tale, unless of course you have the crafty inclination to simply skip ahead, you cheating bastard you. So, if you want to hear the incredible story of the caterpillar fur, you best mind your p’s and q’s and plow on forward through the tedious tales of my scrapings as I have no doubt you are clever enough or possess the opposable thumbs required to move a page or two ahead before its time has come round at last.

In a nutshell, I had many stitches in my time and my father and I became well known local characters in the old Kenmore Mercy ER. One visit there was actually quite ironic. Jeff and I were mucking about Mang Park and managed to run afoul of some assholes who thought we disassembled the bike ramp they constructed out of sand. We did not, but they were in no mood to listen to our clumsy excuses. We were outnumbered and well outsized and decided to make a break for it. As I cut across the basketball court I managed to trip over something and went flying, landing in a skidding belly flop next to a pick up game. The irony is that the damage I did to both knees, hands, and face far exceeded anything I could have expected from the bullies who honestly probably would have just pushed us around a bit, if that.

On another occasion, at the same park, I had a very close call. Ronnie and I, for reasons unknown, were climbing the high fences surrounding the tennis courts. Going over the top I managed to hook my jeans on the spike and the surprise of it resulted in me dangling by one leg a good 25 feet above the hardened asphalt. I was in a full panic as my jeans began to rip and somehow managed to find purchase with my hands before I fell. We exited the perimeter through the door. Ronnie was always good for finding something dangerous to do, like climbing over the railing on the giant slide, dangling by fingertips from the seat while attempting to gain the pole and slide down it. It seemed every year some kid broke his leg on that slide doing something foolish like that, and I have no reason as to why it wasn’t me. Eventually they tore it down and replaced it with something safe and boring.

Once I got a bit older, the majority of my injuries came not so much from falls on foot, but from falls from my bike. It is not that I was really all that clumsy, but that my friends and I insisted on playing such fantastic games as bike tag. The game was played much like ordinary freeze tag was played, except on bikes and over a much larger playing field; the streets of Kenmore. Damage was equally likely to be inflicted on the chased as well as whoever was “it”. The main problem was that for ‘it’ to actually make a tag, it was almost always necessary to come crashing into the person being chased, either head on, or preferably from an angle. Knocking the other person down was a well desired goal, as was running over their leg or hand as they lay vulnerable on the pavement. On one occasion when I was it, I managed to tag Jeff without knocking him over, but he repaid my kindness by applying the brakes while I was grabbing his arm. This resulted in my flying head over the handlebars and skidding across the asphalt. Many stitches were required.

One of the more memorable injuries I suffered was to my foot, appropriately right after track practice at Crosby Field, and completely unrelated to the purpose of being there. Track almost always ended early forcing a group a young men and women to entertain themselves whilst awaiting pickup from the parental units. While it is invariably a bad idea to leave 11 and 12 year olds alone, unsupervised, in a park fraught with danger, they did so anyway despite the very real risks. Just a few weeks prior to my mishap some hairbag headbanger wandered into our little group awaiting Coach Dean and tried picking a fight with the largest of us. I remember this well as the delightful, strung out fellow asked Pete if he knew what it felt like to have his ear bitten off, and then leaned in to give a little nibble. The rest of us of course did nothing; we didn’t like Pete that much, but he apparently changed his mind when confronted with Pete’s unwashed lobe and wandered off to sit on the bleachers until Mr Dean shooed him away.

On the day in question relating to my story (because isn’t it all about that anyway?) we passed the minutes by climbing to the top of the free standing bleachers and jumping off the back. The purpose of this eludes me, but we did it nevertheless. On one such jump I managed to land square on a broken beer bottle and recall with a great lack of fondness the feeling of the shard pushing it’s way up through my sneaker, the bottom of my foot, and out through the top. While most physicians would advise leaving it in place until a trained professional could remove it, I ignored conventional wisdom and yanked the filthy thing out myself. My sneaker immediately filled up with blood and I sat on the ground feeling numb. One of the parents lived right down the street and was informed of the accident and kindly came down and helped me to their kitchen and wrapped my sopping foot in a dishtowel that I assume they threw away after.

When my father came to pick me up the other kids informed him of my location and we made yet another tedious trip to the ER where they greeted us by name and remarked how it had been several long weeks since seeing us last. There is an old saying that the cure is often worse than the injury and this was proved true that evening. The wound on the bottom of my foot had swelled to the size of a large egg and it was into this swelling that the folks doing triage stuck first a large needle full of tetanus vaccine followed by a larger needle full of Novocain. It would have been far kinder, I feel, had they reversed the order of things, but nurses, the cruel sadists of the medical community, were present and probably enjoyed forcibly holding me down as I thrashed and screamed. The Novocain had not yet taken effect, if that is what they even injected, when they began stitching me up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Again I had to be restrained by several stout men, but managed to get a solid kick into the face of the doc with the string, which he did not at all seem to appreciate. Needless to say, they ended my involvement with the sport that season.

Although I did promise to leave the tale of the caterpillar fur until last, it is my fond desire to screw those impatient bastards who skipped ahead and make them go back to see what they missed. Nothing worth reading, assuredly, but my demand for attention is only exceeded by the glory of my hairline. As I made mention in another tale, which may or may not be posted prior to this one, and probably actually follows this in the limited collectors edition of my combined writings, I had a habit of collecting all manner of creepy crawlies much to my mother’s consternation. On this particular summer’s day, my cousin’s birthday for that matter, I was out collecting as many of those yellow furry caterpillars as I could find and storing them in a dedicated penal colony in my yard until they make the transformation to more desirable moths or butterflies. Late that morning, the effort took a turn for the worse.

I found one perched half way up a neighbor’s tree and I set to trying to knock it down with a long twig. As I was doing so, tufts of the yellow fur came wafting down. One such tuft landed on my right eyelid. I blinked and it came right into my eye, burning like the seven fires of deepest hell as they pierced my cornea and lodged there firmly. I let out a mighty yelp of agony and came running home as fast as my legs would take me, all the while the horrendous burning becoming louder as I ground the substance into my ocular cavity with my stubby little fist.

Due to the extreme amount of discomfort I was communicating, my parents attempted to address the matter quickly. They first had me jump into the pool and swim underwater back and forth in attempt to flush the fur out. A noble undertaking, though make without the understanding that the fur of this breed actually consisted of tiny harpoons that once found purchase were a bitch to remove. The water did nothing but actually irritate it more due to the presence of the chlorine, which increased the burning sensation dramatically. Next my father came up with the notion to have my lay very still while he picked the hairs out with his metal tweezers, a plan my mother kyboshed due to the heightened likelihood that he would damage my eye even further. It was back to the ER!

I don’t remember much of that visit, as shortly after we arrived I was given some kind of potent narcotic. I remember the doctors peering at my eye through some big magnification thing and finally declaring I would need a bona fide eye surgeon, the type of which they declined to keep on hand. Without further ado, they bandaged up my eye, gave me a prescription for codeine and sent me packing. Although the problem was just with the right eye, I quickly found that if I kept my left eye open, it make my right eye move and thus caused massive amounts of pain. I was effectively blind!

The whole month of August blew. No running around, no swimming, no nothing fun. The day it happened was my cousin’s birthday party, which we went to, and I found how much fun it is to sit on a picnic bench while the other kids run around whooping it up. On top of that, my mother’s friend, a nurse, spent the whole time trying to cajole me to open the left eye, claiming it wouldn’t make the right one hurt and apparently disbelieving my yelps of anguish every time I tried. Gotta love nurses. Most of the time I spent sitting in the living room listening to TV. We had like 4 channels, plus HBO for some reason. That summer they played ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ every single day from sun up to sun down, or so it seemed and I listened to it so many times I could recite the dialog verbatim. After 5 weekly trips to the eye surgeon, I was finally able to open them back up again. My first order of business was to turn the caterpillar penal colony into a caterpillar death camp with a can of Raid; such is the vengeance of a 10 year old blinded up until 3 days before the school year began.

The final bit of this story I saved for a ridiculous illness I came down with as a teenager. It was the summer I went to Germany and a few weeks after Heiner, our exchange student packed it off back to Dortmund. I awoke with a terrible pain in my abdomen that just kept getting worse. Before the inevitable trip to the ER when my father got home, it cleared up on its own. A few days later I was set to go camping with the CYO group when it manifested yet again, but this time even worse. My mother finally decided to take me over to old Dr Bradley who took one look at my frenzied pacing, another at my urine sample and read a verdict of kidney stones. “Never seen ‘em in a feller so young before, but eh.” It was off to the ER again!

By the time we got there I was off my gourd with the agony. They stuck me on a cot and shot me up with something that kept me calm and immobilized, yet still feeling the pain full force. Bastards. I have no doubt it was those wretched nurses again, or perhaps that doc I kicked in the face that time with my foot, his hour of revenge come around at last. After hours of testing, x-rays and whatnot, they made the same diagnosis the old sawbones made in less than 5 minutes. They debated like old philosophers as what to do with me. Ultrasound? Surgery? How could they make this young lad feel better? The final answer was that they decided to do nothing and see what happened. They kept me overnight for observation, during which time the pain abated and disappeared, then sent me home with a little strainer to pee through.

The next few days were nervous ones; never knowing when my little friend would decide to make his jagged ass way through my urethra, shredding it up good. I was working at Denny’s at the time and every shift I waited for the pain to return or start screaming at the urinals. Fortunately I was at home the evening when the exodus took place. My urine started coming out brown, then turned red with blood and I braced myself for the worst. The pressure was strong enough to keep it moving quickly, though honestly I feel it would have been more comfortable pissing a watermelon out than that wretched lump of spiky calcium. By some miracle I managed to catch it in the little strainer so as to marvel at the thing appearing to be a large grain of sand that caused me such discomfort. I stopped my constant milk drinking immediately and never returned.

Since I’ve already told the tale of my near death experience after the Air Force, many chapters ahead of this in the ultra-rare leather bound on velum collected edition, I’ll spare a retelling. That adventure seems to have capped my medical mis-adventures, at least for the time being. I’m still young.

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One Response

  1. I think your practice of cleansing your wounds with dirt unearth a super power to heal, though well short of the ultimate healing powers of Mr. Logan.

    “It is not that I was really all that clumsy”, a bigger lie has never been told.

    I urge you to permanently wrap your child in one of those padded Buddha suits for his protection from himself and you.

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