Friday, June 3, 2011

Heads Up

It was a simpler time during my formative years back in the early 60's. Our washing machine was a big metal tub designed to hold the water and clothes. A hand crank on the side served to turn the agitator and clean the clothes. Two wooden rollers mounted above the tub acted as wringer to squeeze out most of the water before putting the clothes out on the clothes line strung across the back porch.

A friend of mine recently told me that his brother's arm went through one of those wringers. Ah, the silly pranks brothers play on one another. While it was a simpler time it was also a time when cuts, scrapes, bruises and a broken bone here and there were commonplace.

The place was Boston, Massachusetts. I must have been eight or nine years old at the time. My aunt and uncle were about to move to Texas, a place I only knew as a far away land. My parents were preparing to host a going away party for them at our house.

As late afternoon set in I went outside to play. My friend from across the street was out and we sat on the stoop trying to think of something fun to do. I'm not sure which one of us came up with the idea, but it was a good one. My father's 52' Chevy was parked in front of the house. It was a big, black, hulk of a four-door sedan. Seat belts? No, because we didn't sit much. The back seat was so big we could and did stand up for the ride. And that big back seat was the germ of a great idea for a way to pass the time. It was something we had never done before.

We opened the back door of the car and headed up to the top of the stoop. We ran down the stairs, across the sidewalk and leaped into the air, arms outstretched, flying like Superman and landing face down on the cushy back seat. It was insanely fun because for a few brief seconds we were actually flying! This went on again and again until finally and suddenly my genes betrayed me.

I'm a tall man, 6'5" to be exact. I was also quite tall as a child. I was always the very last one at school for anything which required us to get in an orderly line because it was always done in order of height. Why were we lining up? While no example comes to mind at the moment, it seemed like we were doing it all the time. If the person in front of you is taller, then move up. I'm pretty sure it's the only idiot-proof way of lining kids up. I can imagine if they called line up by alphabetical order. The kids would all be stutter-stepping around as they bumped into each other, knocking their owl eyed noggins together. It would be a bloody mess. But I digress.

I got a good running start towards the car anticipating my longest flight yet. The adrenaline rush put an extra boost into my lift off and I missed my window of opportunity, so to speak, as my head crashed into the top of the car and I crumpled to the ground. This car was solid metal. Not fiberglass or that pansy-ass, tin can metal they use today. I put my hand to my head though it didn't really hurt. It just felt numb. My friend looked at me with a terrified look on his face and said "Oh My God!" which confused me for a moment because we had always been taught not to say such things. When he turned to run home I knew something was very wrong. I took my hand from my head and saw that it was covered in blood. I'd never seen so much blood. Just at that moment the pain, real or imagined, made me scream and run up the back stairs of the house into the kitchen.

My mother was sitting at the table while my dad and uncle Charlie from Ipswich were leaning back against the kitchen counter. This was my cool, bad boy uncle from what I could gather. I don't think he was the black sheep of the family necessarily, more like the lone wolf. A big, single, fun, World War II veteran living in a beach house by the shore all year round. I think he may have been scandalous back when scandalous was still a bad thing. At least that was my impression from listening to my mother when she thought I wasn't paying attention.

My dad immediately reached into the kitchen drawer and pulled out a dish towel to wrap some ice and put it on my head. It didn't matter what kind of injury we had, my dad always put ice on it. Before he could make it to the ice box my mom yelled out "Not that one Jim, it's brand new!!" Apparently blood stains were a bitch to get out back in the day. My dad turned back and grabbed a raggedy dish towel. It was clean. My mom always washed and ironed them before putting them away in the drawer. My dad and uncle helped me through the house and down the stairs as my mother tried to make sure I didn't bleed on anything.

We climbed into the weapon that had lacerated my scalp and possibly cracked my skull. It was now my ambulance as we sped off to Faulkner hospital at top speed. Each time we came to a traffic light, whether it be green, yellow or red, my dad just leaned on the horn and didn't even slow down. I looked at my dad and saw he was smiling. I turned to look at my uncle and realized they were both smiling and nodding at each other like it was the coolest thing they had ever done. And both of these guys had served in the Big One. The thought of me being the most mature person in the car was ever so slightly unsettling.

We arrived at the hospital and headed into the emergency room. We had to wait, sitting on a bench in the hallway for what seemed like an eternity.  Finally we were admitted to the actual ER to see the doctor. Seconds later I was up on a gurney lying flat on my back. Dr. Whoeverhewas examined me and if memory serves he said I likely had a concussion, but that was the least of my worries. He began talking to my dad about suturing the wound and said he would first give me a shot to numb the area. As the words left his cold-hearted lips he reached across and grabbed a needle from the metal tray beside me. My honest to god memory is that the needle was at least a foot long and as thick as a tent spike. I was sure he was going to pile drive this thing into my head. I started crying uncontrollably saying "No, no, I don't want the needle!" At that point Dr. Musthaveneverbeenakid tells me not to worry and covers my eyes with a cloth. Really. I'm not kidding.

At first I was terrified. Now, not only was someone going to shove a foot long tent spike into my head, but I was in total darkness and couldn't see anything that was going on and I was trembling too much to reach up and remove the cloth. Then I started to calm down as my thoughts drifted to "Just how stupid does this doctor think I am?" I'd already seen the needle. Then I remembered why I was there.

He shaved the affected area of my scalp and sewed it up. I don't remember how many stitches it took but I still have the scar to this day so I assume it was a pretty good cut. The doctor explained that no traditional bandage was necessary because there was a new method of sealing the wound. It was a clear spray that hardened after a few minutes which prevented infection and eliminated the need for constantly changing a bandage. Gross to look at but fairly effective.

A short time later I was back home. The party had started and there were lots of guests milling about the dining room, living room and den. I headed straight for the kitchen because I didn't like being the center of attention, something I eventually grew out of much to the dismay of friends and acquaintances. I was exhausted from the ordeal but happy to be back with my family. That was until one of my aunts followed me into the kitchen. She was a nurse or a former nurse or a nurses aid or something related to the medical community. She was aghast that the doctor had not properly bandaged the wound. My dad explained about the spray coating and I protested but she kept insisting that she knew best.

Not wanting to insult her by pointing out that she was out of touch with modern techniques, my dad relented and she went to town building the leaning tower of cloth bandage on my head. It was a six inch pile of small bandages (she just happened to carry with her) tilting off to one side and toward the front. It looked like a jack-in-the-box was popping out of my head. I needed to go to bed but I couldn't bear the thought of walking past all the guests at the party. They all knew I was stupid enough to jump head first into a car roof and now I looked like some bobble headed idiot. I started to cry. It couldn't get any worse. It was then that my sister, five years my senior, whose favorite pastime was antagonizing me, took me by the hand and led me up the fire stairway that led from the kitchen up to my parents bedroom. She put me to bed and stayed there with me until I fell asleep. Funny, I remember that so vividly but can't remember any of the things she did to tease me all those years.

Thanks Jeanie.

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