Battered and fried
July 30, 2007, damage report: One blood blister, great toe, receding; bruised upper heel; one slash, lower-rear calf, nearly healed; bruise, upper-rear calf; four burning broiling itching bright-red black-fly bites, various calf locations; contusion, mid-inner thigh; pulled muscle (or ruptured organ?), lower back; almost-but-not-quite-broken-but-definitely-stoved-up outer forearm; bruised elbow; one knuckle, swollen and scraped; upper back, strained; neck, stiff; head, fuzzy. And that’s just for starters.
No, I’m not describing a 4-H jamboree gone terribly awry. I’m talking about my July, which included, not in any particular order, a fall off a bike (elbow); a crash down my rain-soaked back stairs at 7 a.m. (back and arm injuries); sundry trailblazing, two cliff hikes, one trip up Borestone Mountain and one to Big Wilson Cliffs (scrapes, scratches, bruises, blisters and bites); a swift upper cut to the metal console on the treadmill at the gym (knuckle mess); a round of wilderness golf at Moose Meadows near Rangeley (more bites, stiff neck); and a lot of drinking (fuzziness) to compensate for all the above.
And how, pray tell, has your summer been going?
This kind of injury report was not unusual for me in the past. As I told my E.R. nurse at Mercy Hospital on July 8 (more on that in a bit) when he began to describe the admitting procedures: “Sir, this is not my first time at the dance.” But it had been a while since I had racked up so much damage in so short a time. Who did I think I was? An eight-year-old boy?
My very first trip to the E.R. occurred after a fall in a boatyard when I was about seven years old. I drove a rusty nail through the web of skin between my ring finger and little finger. My reaction to the wound and to having it stitched up redefined the term “kicking and screaming.” To this day, I can’t so much as sew on a button without feeling sick. (Of course, that’s my reaction to all domestic chores.) I still have the funny little scar. It looks like a grin Tim Burton would give one of his animated characters.
From there, it got worse. Not long after the boatyard fall, I broke a glass on my wrist when I reached too high in the cupboard. The return trip to the E.R. was almost worth it, as it freaked out my older brother, who was babysitting at the time and had ordered me to the kitchen to get him a Coke.
I loved that scar. The slim white line across my veins made me look dangerous, perhaps even a little unhinged. I would tilt it up toward any boy who was trying to break up with me. Apparently, this wasn’t effective, since (aside from my beloved) they all went ahead and dumped me anyway. Some years later, I acquired an accompanying gash just above it on my inner forearm (something to do with broken glass in my garbage; that’s really all you probably need or want to know). The boy I was seeing at the time dubbed it my “sexy little scar.” Despite this, he dumped me, too.
Then there were the sports injuries (ask me to show you my field hockey scar, and I’ll tell you about the hat trick that followed the fall) and those of a non-sports variety, like the time I hurdled a snow bank in North Conway in sneakers in February, with a six-pack under my arm. While I knocked myself unconscious and ripped the ligaments in my ankle, resulting in over a month in a cast, I didn’t break one bottle. Two ankle/ligament injuries followed – one incurred simply by walking on my brother’s driveway, the other on a tennis court in a retirement community in Florida (the nearest near-death experience I ever had: coming-to, surrounded by a ring of fluffy white heads) – resulting in a total of three Maine Februarys spent on crutches. Shortly after the third, I moved to San Francisco.
My most epic injury saga began in Portland Harbor, on the steerage deck of a German container ship. It was hot, I was dehydrated (read: fuzzy) and running late to do an interview. When I climbed the three decks and got to the cabin, everything went black and white. The next thing I knew, I was flat on my back, with someone pouring club soda over the top of my head. My ear itched. I slowly reached up to scratch it, and my palm came back pooled with blood. I looked up at yet another ring of faces (not an unfamiliar sight to me at that point in my life) and only wanted to know if said blood was coming from within or without. (If it was the former, I had some pretty quick fare-thee-wells to make.) After some tricky maneuvering by the EMTs to get me down three decks and a thrilling ambulance ride (I was lucid enough to request to go through more red lights), I ended up, again, in the E.R. – this time with a nasty little gashed-open, goose-egg number on my forehead that caused my friend Joyce, who came to rescue me, to gag and run from the room.
So, on this past July 8th, when the attending nurse explained that it was Sunday morning, that there was only one doctor on duty, and that, as a result, this could take a while, I had to resign myself to the situation, despite the fact this was the day my brothers and I were throwing an 80th birthday party for my mother up in Brunswick. At one o’clock. For over 100 people. Oh, and I had all the food.
An hour or so earlier I had come-to, face planted in my back yard. The grass was cool and wet and sweet, and it tickled my nose. I had not slept through the night in over a month for fretting about my mother’s party, or the reception for 50 at our house that would follow it four days later, or about work or some ancient insult, so this unexpected repose was sublime. I was having a happy, circus-y dream when a voice from the distant shore of consciousness called softly for me to awaken. “But why? I’m so relaxed, so comfortable. Let me rest,” the voice on my side pleaded, but it was too late. The spell was broken. Another voice materialized, floating toward me like Glinda the Good Witch’s bubble, closing in fast. “You fell down the stairs and knocked yourself out, you moron,” it barked. “You’re flat on your face on your lawn. Now, get up before one of the neighbors sees you!”
The crawl from the bottom of the stairs, through the house, up to our bedroom to wake John to feel sorry for me was agonizing. Apparently, listening to me moan and keen was equally bad. The arm looked iffy. The decision was made to go to the hospital. I was admitted, given a warm blanket (which I hugged to my torso the entire stay), and laid on a gurney. I shut my eyes. This is OK, I thought.Just a little rest. I opened my eyes. An older man with a blood-soaked towel dangling from his nostril walked by. I was called to X-ray. The technician kept asking me to place my arm in positions it did not want to go. If I had been in my usual smartass mode, I would have said – or even, at least, thought – “Look, darlin’, if I could make my arm go that way, I wouldn’t be here in the first place, now would I?” But I was not in smartass mode. I was small and tired and still hugging the hospital blanket with my other arm. I apologized that I couldn’t get my arm flat on the table. And I meant it.
In the end, the arm was not broken (although it still hurts, in case anyone cares). The food and I made it to the party on time. It was a huge success and, best of all, I didn’t have to help with any of the heavy lifting.
Elizabeth Peavey licks her wounds here every month.