Tag Archives: Injury

Palingenesis

 

Stepping off the curb to cross the street, his foot lands on a piece of cardboard, and it slips under his feet. Everything goes off-center. He is falling backwards.

He slips into a familiar, momentary lapse of time. Weightless. Maybe like being in the womb. Maybe like death. 

He remembers, in that one second, being someone else, a tiny child, whom his parents would toss in the air, eliciting delighted giggles. He feels again what it was to be a grinning kid who went sledding, who rode amusement park rides, who loved the loose sensation of roller skates under his feet, the dizzying slide of tennis shoes on a frozen pond, closing his eyes and jumping off the swing at its apogee, leaping from the monkey bars. As he got older, he needed to make bigger jumps: from the second story window of his bedroom, the stomach-dropping fall from the front car of a roller coaster, perilous speeding car rides down mountain back roads.

He used to seek that. The sensation of being stunned. The joy of getting turned up-side-down. Thrilling in the unexpected. Always finding a bigger risk. 

Gravity returns with a vengeance. It knocks him flat, kicks the breath out of him. 

He can’t breathe. There is something wrong with his tailbone. His toes tingle. This is the kind of fall that will leave traces for the rest of his life. Drawing lines of pain through his bones, down his nerves, trailing in his new limp, slowing him down. His routine will change. His shoes will change. The content of his conversation will change.

A college kid hunkers down beside him, concerned. “Are you OK?” She says. 

He sees himself reflected in her eyes, distinguished gentleman with graying temples, ass over teakettle in the gutter, and finds his breath, taking in a great gasp of air.

He can’t answer her for his own wheezing laugh. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Russian Dolls

 

She was using the circular saw, and she got distracted. It cut deep into her hand.

She watched it sinking into her skin and raised the saw free before she ever felt anything. Then the pain found her, searing the nerves from her hand to her elbow. She curled up reflexively around the wound and tried not to faint while drops of blood plip-plipped on the garage floor. After a full minute, she regained her equilibrium enough to move. The damaged half of her hand had already drained into an alarming shade of pale.

The hospital. They had to go to the hospital.

She went inside, wrapped her hand tightly in a dishcloth to keep the blood in, and called to her son.

“Alex!” Her voice trembled.

Normally he might have called back, but her uncharacteristic tone sent him running down the stairs. He saw her bloody, limp hand and almost gagged.

“Alex, I need you to drive me to the hospital.”

“God, mom. God. Let’s call an ambulance.”

“No… too expensive. I need you to drive me there.”

“Money doesn’t matter! Your hand matters! What if you pass out? What if I crash?”

She understood his lack of confidence. Alex only had his permit. But she wasn’t worried. “You’re a good driver, Alex. It’ll be fine. We’re going now.”

Her parental authority won out. He got the keys as she struggled into the passenger seat of the car. Her hand throbbed magnificently… at least, the parts she could still feel. The part of her hand above the pinky and ring fingers was so deeply severed, there were no connected nerves remaining. She couldn’t move them at all. Funny how she hadn’t even noticed the damage she was doing until it was this deep.

 

They waited for a long time before the doctor came in. He looked at her hand, cleaned it up, and declared that her fingers would have a fifty percent chance of functionality after surgery. The odds of them still working after healing on its own? Only ten percent.

“What will surgery cost?” She said.

“Tough to estimate,” the doctor said. “At minimum, several thousand dollars. But your insurance will help with that. The receptionist can get you started on paperwork and give you an actual estimate.”

“Right,” she said. She looked at Alex, who already knew what she was thinking. He shook his head at her fiercely.

“Thank you, doctor,” she said formally.

When the doctor left the room, she got off the table, fought back a wave of nausea, and headed for the door. Alex boldly intercepted, blocking her exit. Sometimes she forgot how tall he was getting.

“Mom! Don’t you dare.”

He sounded so much like her. She would have laughed if she’d had the strength.

“It costs too much,” she said firmly.

“It doesn’t matter,” he retorted.

“Just take me home,” she said. “He said it might heal on its own.”

“No way.”

“And if it doesn’t, I don’t need those fingers anyway. I’ve got others.”

“You’ll stay here and get treatment!” He said, fists clenched in frustration.

She looked at her hand. It was already prematurely aged from worry. Now it was a ghoulish rainbow of mottled purple, sickly blue, weak white, screaming red. No good colors there. She looked at Alex, his rich chestnut hair and intelligent brown eyes. 

She had grown up poor. The constant worry of her childhood, the deprivation her family endured, were bitter memories. He would have everything she never had. All the money she scraped together was going into his college fund. There was no way she was going to send him into adulthood saddled with debt and the weight of a poverty mentality. She was willing to sacrifice a couple of fingers for that. For him.

“We’re going,” she said. She gingerly made her way past him and through the door, leaving him no choice but to follow.

“God damn it mom,” he said. He was trying not to cry. “Why won’t you just let them help you?”

“Language,” she chided gently.

 

That night, after putting his mom to a fitful sleep with a freshly bandaged hand, Alex lay down in his own bed, but his eyes would not close. A throbbing headache expanded in his right temple, pressuring the backs of his eyeballs, forcing neon geometry across his vision of the dark ceiling.

He got up, went to the bathroom medicine cabinet, and pulled out a bottle of painkillers. It was light in his hand, nearly empty. He often got headaches like this. These pills had become a comfortable friend to him.

How much did a bottle like this cost, again?

He sighed, ran his thumb longingly over the cap, then put the bottle back. If Mom could take that, he could take this. Money was too tight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I knew a man

 

I knew a man,
though not very well.
A nice man
now dead
from pneumonia.

We were all looking sideways at S——
with her regrowing cancer hair
but death came at us
from an unexpected direction.
I wasn’t even aware he was sick
until Friday.

On Saturday
I cut off the tip of my finger.
It’s not often I am afraid
but I was
truly
afraid.
I pressed my finger into my palm to stem the bleeding.
It felt deformed. Too short, too flat.
I didn’t want to know what it looked like.

A reminder of my mortality
too close
too close.

On Monday
we get the office email.
He has died. We grieve his passing.
The office is quiet
with heavy atmosphere.

Somebody has set
a vase of flowers
outside his office door.
They have been placed there
very gently
by honoring hands,
sad hands.

We need
to honor the dead.
We decorate their haunts.
We create ceremonies.
We save mementos.
We tell stories.

I only knew this man by sight.
Another office worker
someone who helped grease the cogs
of our mutual machine.
We might wave or nod.
He had a habit
of muttering to himself
funny, quirky things.
I would pick up snatches of his internal dialog
when I walked by.
How well did he know me?

My finger is stiff with scab.
I worry at it, clean it, unwrap it, rewrap it.
It will have to last me
a few years longer.