Archive for August, 2011

The Day Jill Fell Down and Broke Her Crown: On the Best Laid Plans of Mowers and Munchers

At the risk of sounding like I’m channeling Rod Serling…Imagine, if you will, the following scenario:  A respectably fit “woman of a certain age” returns home from church on a beautiful Sunday morning in August.  She walks the dog, changes into work clothes, and heads outside to mow the lawn before lunch.  She makes a dozen passes over the rough back yard terrain, then stops to empty the clippings from the mower-mounted collection bag into a large, molded plastic yard waste container with its hinged lid already open to receive deposits. 

As she wheels the 90 gallon cart toward the gentle slope leading to the spot where the mower sits, something goes horribly, freakishly wrong.  Her hands resting on the hinged edge of the open bin, she nudges it forward.  Then, in a flash of lost control, the slant of the hill pulls everything off balance:  The bin is ripped out of her grasp as it falls flat on its back, splaying out the hinged lid and inserting it under her right, forward-marching foot, which pins the bin in place, bringing it to a sudden stop and hurtling her forward at whiplash speed.  Her head whacks with incredible force into the far rim of the open bin. 

The perfect storm of body weight, momentum, and gravity work together to impose lethal power on even that rounded plastic edge, as it peels a five inch swath of flesh away from the underlying skull. 


So there I stood, or rather sprawled.  My reflexive instinct was to raise my hand to my head and measure the damage.  I wish I hadn’t.  To my inexperienced touch, the two ridges of flesh separated by my fall left a divot so deep that I was absolutely certain what I was feeling was a dent in the skull itself.  “Dear God, dear God, dear God,” I heard a voice ringing out from somewhere.  As it turns out, it was my own, but if ever I could aptly apply the overused expression “surreal” to personal experience, this would have been the moment.  Talk about spontaneous prayer. 

Crazy things flash though your head – no pun intended – when you are propelled by terror through the back door into your own kitchen, gushing the enormous amounts of blood that a scalp injury can produce.  “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” I scolded myself aloud.  “Now I’ve done it,” I thought.  “A dent in my skull.  How are they gonna’ fix that?  And will I live to see them attempt the repair?”  Images of prominent people who’ve succumbed to head trauma whirled through my brain like a newsreel on hyper-speed as I simultaneously bemoaned having messed up the day’s itinerary:  tidy up the yard before toddling off to Taco Bell for our ritual summer-Sunday midday meal with my husband, whose name really is Jack, then run our weekly errands. 

I am not hysterical by nature.  This was probably as close to that state as I have ever been.  But I managed to stay collected enough to hold my hemorrhaging pate under cold running water from the kitchen tap, my poor husband not knowing whether to grab his car keys or the smelling salts.  His first sight of me had been as I stood in the middle of the tiled floor, Lady McBeth-like, my hands dripping with blood and screaming that I needed him, now.  By the time he got to my side, my heart was pounding so dramatically that I had trouble explaining what had happened.  Heck; it took me three opening paragraphs to try to put it into words here, twenty-four hours after-the-fact. 

And Jack Came Trodding Calmly After 

Once he has determined that this is not a pet-involved tragedy, level-headed spouse gathers cold wet compresses for the patient to press against the injury, and off we go in the little green Saturn, with its bad muffler announcing our urgency all the way to the emergency room entrance – a blessedly mere two-mile trip.  I have the shakes.  I look at my free hand and see no tremor, so the sensation must be entirely visceral.  “They’re going to have to shave my head,” I whine, finally convinced that I am not, in fact, going to die on the spot. 

Surely all this blood will get me to the front of the line, I tell myself as I trudge toward the swooshing automatic door, but the waiting room at Emergency is completely empty.  Aside from a testy Front Desk clerk who insists that my employed husband must actually be unemployed because, “That’s what the internet says,” everyone is wonderful.  The triage nurses are gentle, comforting, and calm.  They remove the two layers of blood-soaked washcloths and re-wrap my head with the high tech equivalent of vinegar and brown paper; reassure me that head-shaving will probably not occur, since often staples can be used to close the scalp; ask about prescription medications and if I am abused at home.  “Absolutely not,” I say; “Only by me,” I think. 

Ushered efficiently into an exam room, I haul my Jack in with me, and prepare for a lost afternoon.  After all, this is where the tedious wait usually begins in earnest.  But a nurse soon appears, asking, “How are you?”  “Dumb,” I respond.  She sweetly assures me that if anything could have been done to avoid the accident, I would have done it; that these things happen, and are not the fault of the victim.  I soak up her kind reassurance like the thirsty, quivering sponge I seem to be at the moment, but I question, in my heart, the veracity of her words.   “What if I had just…”  (more…)

August 25, 2011 at 11:24 pm 3 comments

On the Blessed Silence of Holding One’s Tongue

I come from a family of readers, talkers, and opinion-sharers – a heritage which goes back at least two generations on my father’s side alone.  Growing up in a household of verbally expressive types, it’s been a life-long struggle for me to learn when to keep my thoughts to myself.  There may be earlier examples, but I vividly recall the third grade trauma of being sent to the principal’s office for being the only one in a gaggle of eight-year-olds dumb enough to blurt out an explanation for how the stall door in the girl’s bathroom got pushed in the wrong direction, to the fatal detriment of its hinge mechanism.

Not favored with innate control over such outbursts of honesty, I rationalize that the incessant proffering of informed sentiments is somehow a more exotic species of rhetoric than garden-variety, cliché-ridden blusterings about “kids today” or the chronically sorry state of politics.  The truth is that being reared in the midst of lively conversationalists may train a person to be uncomfortable with interpersonal silences.  In my case, there was also the need to compete with a vociferous older brother who made himself the center of everyone’s amused attentions with outrageous practical jokes and designed-for-shock-effect proclamations.

Whatever, I somehow ended up being That Person – the pedestrian who calls out a warning to speeders racing madly through residential areas; the viewer who scolds television “reporters” spewing out views instead of news; the disagreeable sort who argues out loud with every pharmaceutical commercial that suggests the answer to any ailment is to pop a pill, never mind the two-page list of dreadful side-effects; the pursed-lip priss, hissing and sputtering as the woman in front of me at Walgreens buys ice cream, potato chips, and energy drinks at inflated drugstore prices with her food stamp card so that she can free up her own cash to purchase multiple packs of cigarettes.

In short, the boor who simply must comment on every aspect of coarse society as it passes by, as in lamenting teenage Walmart shoppers who don’t have the sense not to wear profane tee-shirts at literal eye-level to the cart-sitting toddler they gave birth to at 15. (Wonder what that little one’s first words will be.)  It’s not as if enumerating media lies and social ills does anything in itself to resolve them, but when no one else is speaking up, my ego compels me to provide some kind of narrative.

There are advantages to being mouthy, of course, as when that trait combines with moral outrage to take on a customer service injustice like a dog tackles a chunk of rawhide.  I have a grateful niece who was pressured by a local fitness club rep to sign a contract she hadn’t the experience, at 18, to fully understand.  I took that fight, via telephone, all the way to a top executive in a plush New York office building.  She got her $388.00 back.

I also got my own $10,000.00 surgery covered by taking good notes, doing solid research, standing firm, and threatening to involve local government agencies when the insurer tried to shove me through the “preexisting conditions” loophole in my policy.

But hearing myself drone on day-to-day can be wearisome.  If it wears me out, what must its effect be on those around me?  I don’t want to become the tiresome great aunt whom everybody avoids at family gatherings, although that ship may have already left the harbor.

Like screaming “Idiot!” at every lame-brained driver one encounters, breaking the constant commenting habit remains a challenge, decades after a kindly principal lifted this tearful little blabbermouth onto her lap to sort out  the details of the Reverse-Swinging Stall Door Caper.

This brings me to a book which has sat in my collection for years – nurturing, osmosis-like, dreams of a writing career that got waylaid by eight-to-five job demands and family obligations.  What does Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande, possibly have to do with being a bit too talkative?  Let me explain; I’ll try to keep it brief. (more…)

August 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm 2 comments

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