You learned quickly in my house that there would not be medical attention for any ailments short of a limb dangling off your body or a loss of consciousness longer than a TV commercial break. Otherwise you were on your own to suck it up until the pain subsided and the wound healed of its own accord. It wasn’t like there weren’t injuries. With three boisterous youngsters and a case-of-Old Milwaukee-a-day patriarch, there were more 911-worthy incidents than I can itemize. But I definitely have my highlights reel.
One accident that jockeys for first on my list happened like many others–in the line of duty of a heated game of tag. My crowd of friends was particularly partial to a rousing chase and tackle. Extra credit was given, reputation-wise, for brutality and bloodshed.
I naturally had plenty of mettle. Add to that the aggression of being a proverbial redheaded stepchild and I was a feisty force with which to be reckoned. I was also incredibly accident prone. A natural born klutz. As my mother was fond of saying, I could barely walk and chew gum at the same time.
One hot day in August when I was around 11 or 12, both my fire and my folly were on full display as was my parents lackadaisical attitude regarding emergency medical care. Everyone in the neighborhood was at my friend Chrissy’s house. We were all in tank tops and cut-offs, sweating our tushes off. The grass was crisp and brown, a moratorium having been placed on excess water use.
I was It, indicating that I was the individual needing to catch someone. In our edition of the game, catching someone meant the victim needed to be completely restrained by the victor. I went through the requisite counting and set off in search of prey. Soon Tommy, Chrissy’s younger brother was in my crosshairs. Tommy was younger than us but he could run lickety-split. He was athletic, on sports teams for every season. As ferocious as I might have been, I was far from sporty. I was a bookish, artistic girl adept at drama and tap dancing not hurdle jumping tree stumps which is a skill I would have needed in order to avoid the imminent accident. As I got somewhat near Tommy, he turned around and stuck out his tongue to taunt me. Of course, this skyrocketed my ire, propelling me forward, plunging me toward a stump which was sticking up about six inches or so from the ground and hidden by overgrown weeds. Gracelessly, my size ten foot caught the stump and reflexively my hand shot out to catch me.
The fingers on my right hand felt as if they made contact with my right forearm. I heard each and every one of them make a dreadful crack. I didn’t even scream. I just rolled over on the ground, hand between my sweaty thighs, a strange squealing noise coming from somewhere deep inside me, tears streaming down my dirty face.
My compadres got me inside where I went blank on Chrissy’s dining room table. They iced, cleaned, and dried me. Then they walked me down the street to my house where I was not real keen to go. As the door opened my mother yelled, “What is it now?” even though neither my brothers or I had been home for hours. We explained to her what happened and showed her my red and gigantically swollen hand.
“Well, I’m not taking you anywhere until your father gets home.”
“But, Mom, it’s only 3:30! My fingers are killing me.”
As my mother would say, I might as well have been talking to the wall. Time stretched out interminably. My mother made dinner and had me set the table as usual. When my stepfather got home he was so impressed by my injury that he told me to take the trash out and then said we would eat dinner and assess the situation. Of course, I could eat nothing. The pain was so excruciating I was too nauseated to even think of food. Since I didn’t consume any meatloaf, his educated evaluation was that I probably did need to have the hand seen.
Away we went. He just needed to make a quick stop on the way. Unbelievably he pulled up in front of his best friend’s house, “Sit here for a few minutes and then we’ll head over. I gotta talk to Ed about something.” Translation was he didn’t have enough booze in him and needed to spend a couple hours splitting a 12-pack with his loser drinking buddy.
At around 9:00pm we finally left for the hospital. There was lots of action in the emergency room waiting room. I got to sit next to a kid who had a baseball donut stuck in his bloody skull. Of course he was called in before me and rightfully so. By the time I did get in for some medical attention I was past pain and delirious. The diagnosis: five broken fingers and a sprained wrist which the doctor actually SHOUTED to my shiftless, drunken stepfather across the ER waiting room.
On the way home he turned to me with his beery breath and said, “I hope you know you’re still gonna be mowing the lawn this summer.”