Little boys and injuries go hand in hand. My most traumatic injury happened when I was six or seven years old. My parents decided to take a family trip to the lake and we all piled into the truck and headed out. The truck stopped, I jumped out, less than a minute later we were back in the truck and heading to the hospital. What an outing!
I ran from the truck, spotted a log, and decided to balance walk across it. It rolled and I fell. No biggie, since it was a short drop to the ground, but there was a broken beer bottle beside the log. I caught my fall and sprang to my feet. When I did so, my shin dragged across the bottle and it fileted my shin from my knee to just above the ankle. It wasn’t just a cut. I hit the curve of the bottle, so it sliced about a two inch wide strip off my shin.
I looked down and cried out.
My mother looked down and cried out. She shouted, “I see the bone!”
That’s not something a six year old likes to hear. I went into a panic, but Dad looked at it and said, “Naw. That ain’t the bone.”
Well, that was one good piece of news. He walked over to the truck and got the first aid kit. He secured the damaged skin to my leg with gauze and it instantly turned red with blood. We rushed toward the nearest hospital while I faded in and out of consciousness. Okay, I didn’t really lose consciousness, but I don’t remember much about the car ride from that point on. I’m sure there was a lot of whimpering. But the worst was yet to come.
We arrived at the hospital and I was ushered into a room where a doctor came in and assessed my injury. I was grateful he wasn’t going to take off the rest of the leg. While he prepared his instruments, a nurse came up with a four-foot needle. “This will keep it from hurting,” she said.
That insane woman gouged that needle into my shin and I could feel it hitting the bone. It was the most pain I had ever felt in my young life. In fact, I think it tops any pain I have felt to this point of my life. I howled in pain. I should have known something was up when four ‘helpers’ grabbed each of my limbs and held me down. Just when I thought the pain was over, she returned with another shot. She gave me four shots in my shin, each one matching the pain of the last. People were calling 9-1-1 from three miles away to report a little boy being tortured somewhere nearby. Please just strike me in the head with an oxygen tank and put me out.
When the doctor was satisfied with the progress of my torture, he wheeled his chair to the bed and gave me a sinister smile. He pulled out a thread and started cross stitching a holiday pattern on my shin. I have to admit, the stitches didn’t hurt, but could it have been any worse than the bone-gouging needles?
The doctor threaded up my leg until he said, “Just one more should do it.” I looked down and saw him pierce my skin and I flinched. That was a mistake. The doctor thought the torture shots had worn off, which wouldn’t have been a big deal, but something horrible happened. He looked at the top of my shin and said, “It looks like we need a few more here at the top.” Then he turned to Hilda the Torturer and said, “He’s feeling the stitches, so you better deaden it again.”
I tried to persuade them that it was all a misunderstanding, but four interrogators appeared at each of my limbs and held me down again. The bone-scraping needle came out and I pleaded for mercy. The feeling on my skin may have been deadened, but the shinbone was still quite lively. I howled in agony. The nurse either refilled or grabbed another four-foot needle and I started talking. I confessed every secret that I knew, and I even promised to divulge secrets I may have acquired from Soviet spies. It was to no avail. They weren’t after information; they wanted to see how high the human voice could scream.
The real tragedy is that they gave me four more shots so I couldn’t feel the pain of the last four stitches. I might have only been six at the time, but even I could see the flaw in logic here. I was also thankful I didn’t have a splinter under my fingernail. Or a piece of debris in my eye. Who knows what they would have done to save me from that pain?
It was at that moment when I understood my dad’s rationale for going to the doctor only when absolutely necessary. If minor injuries or even major injuries could heal without medical intervention, hospital visits aren’t worth it.
Cracking my Skull
I spent a lot of time in the ER. This probably led to my dad’s resistance to make another 4 to 6 hour trip to the hospital. If you’ve read many of my stories, this shouldn’t be surprising. My adventures often put me in a position where injuries happened. I imagine that after a dozen trips to the ER, my father decided to triage my injury before taking another trip to the time and money pit of the hospital. Many of my injuries would be met with a glance and a comment like, “Ah, it’s not that bad. You don’t need to go to the doctor for that.” Possible broken bones and stitches qualified, but head injuries did not. At least not if I was still conscious.
Skateboards were the new craze. I was about 11, maybe 12. I wanted one so bad, but we were a budgeted family. Christmas and birthdays warranted presents. My faddish desires did not. We tried building a skateboard out of wood and old metal skates. It worked. Kind of. If the hill was steep enough, it rolled. It rolled slowly. It rolled noisily. It looked stupid.
I decided to earn the money by cutting neighbor’s yards and saved the profits until I had enough to buy a board. Mom took me to the store and I proudly came home with my blue skateboard. It was shorter than the pro-versions, but at least it was a real skateboard. My sister complained that it wasn’t fair that I got one before her, so I showed it off all the more. I reminded her that she didn’t have one. It wasn’t a taunt. I just wanted to make sure she didn’t forget. To be safe, I reminded her repeatedly. She protested, but I know that deep down, she really wanted me to keep reminding her that I had one and she didn’t.
Mom had one rule – wear a helmet. The problem with this rule is that no one wore helmets in those days. I think it took about 10,000 brain injuries before anyone thought about putting something on the market to protect the heads of their customers. I did have a helmet, but it wasn’t exactly cool looking. It was an old practice football helmet. Oh, and it was a retired college helmet, so it was a wee bit big on me.
It’s hard to look like a skateboarding pro when you’re riding down the hill wearing a football helmet bigger than your body. My pal from next door pointed at my head and laughed. Some friend.
There was a saving grace, though. Most of our skateboarding took place on the newly paved street behind our house. It was a low traffic neighborhood road and it was out of sight of Mom’s watchful eyes. I’d take my goofball helmet and my skateboard with me, and then stash the helmet once out of sight of home.
One day we decided to do a ‘sit down race’. We got at the top of a hill, sat on our skateboards, and let gravity prove whose ride was the fastest. I was moving at a great pace and then I hit a rock. The tiny wheels of skateboards don’t bounce over rocks. It becomes an instant brake. The wheel quit moving and my board came to a screeching halt. Unfortunately, my body didn’t. The sudden stop sent my face into my knees and the force drove my tooth through my top lip. Now that was pain! I rushed to my friend’s house and looked in a mirror. I had a tiny hole on the outside of my lip, and a big one on the inside. Thank goodness I wasn’t wearing a helmet. I would have missed the joy of this new pain.
That wasn’t the worst injury on my skateboard. This one also involved a rock. I was cruising down a steep hill with the wind in my hair. I saw the flash of a piece of gravel and my skateboard was no longer under me. But I was still moving at a pretty good speed. It also took my feet out from under me so I knew I was about to hit the pavement upper body first. I stuck my hands out and tried to catch myself, but the momentum was too much. I rolled forward and I turned my head to avoid a face-plant.
My head hit hard – just behind my left eye. The pain was blinding. I tumbled to a stop and felt an agonizing mixture of sharp pain and a throbbing ache where I hit. I looked around, but couldn’t see hardly anything. All I could see was grey and white stars and a tiny dot of vision at the end of what looked like a long tunnel. I was crying from the pain but had trouble seeing where I needed to go. I left my skateboard behind and tried to look through the tunnel to find the direction to my house. I didn’t know what was happening and it scared me.
I found my way home and told my mom what was happening. “How did you hit your head if you were wearing a helmet?” she asked.
“When I tumbled, it flew off,” I said. There was a little bit of comfort in knowing that I hadn’t lost my mind to the point where I would admit not wearing a helmet. Going blind and getting into trouble on the same day would be a real bummer.
Shortly after this, Dad came home from work. He looked at my head and gave me a good looking over and said, “He’ll be alright.” By then I had regained a little bit of vision. This was a good sign that healing would come without doctor assistance.
“You don’t think we should take him to the doctor?” Mom asked.
“Nah. Just keep a close eye on him.” He also said something about not letting me go to sleep for a couple of hours.
By this time the vision at the end of the tunnel had widened a little bit. Over the next few hours, my sight returned to normal, but the knot on my head stuck around for a while. For at least two years, maybe three, I could feel a knot on my skull when I rubbed it. I thought it was a permanent thing, but it eventually faded away. Knowing what I know today, I’m sure I fractured my skull behind my eye. But dad was right. What could the doctors do? Put a cast on my head? A little tunnel vision and minor brain injury never hurt me!
Oh, and after that, I always wore my helmet. Well, not really, but I did watch out for rocks, which was all the same. At least it was in the logic of my damaged brain.
Eddie Snipes 2012
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