I had very different plans for this week’s column, but once again, my life happened. My thought process was T-boned by my perpetual and unique string of luck at the intersection of Well Planned and Why Me. Now, as is often the case, I find myself posed with the daunting task of taking something shitty that happened to me and making it funny for you. If the history of Shorebilly’s Swill has taught me anything it’s that the segments I write which are at my own expense seem to be the most popular. One of my standing mantras, even long before I started writing, was that once something bad has happened there’s nothing you can do to change or undo it. So all you can really do is dig as deep as you can and find the humor in it. I’m a firm believer that if you’re willing to dig deep enough, you can find something humorous in almost any situation. The trick is being able to keep it tasteful enough to share with others.
I spent the first half of my life earning the nickname I was affectionately given early on: ‘God’s little practical joke’. I was deservedly saddled with that one by close friends and family members early on in my adulthood after a series of freak accidents, run-ins with Mother Nature, and being in the wrong place at the right time. For decades, I was the highlight of Thanksgiving dinner conversation. We’d all feast, knock back a bottle of wine (or 6), go around the table to say what we were thankful for, and finally, over dessert, all eyes would slowly gravitate to me. From my parents down to my youngest nephew, they never knew what was coming, but they knew it was going to be a gem. I would always try to be coy and pretend I didn’t notice the deafening silence or the optical daggers all directed at me as I devoured the last few bites of my sister-in-law’s world class pecan pie. After I thought I’d made them wait long enough, I’d slide my chair back a little, clasp my hands together behind my head, lean back, and proceed with the best story about what happened to me in the past year. By the time we left the table, through a cavalcade of hysterical laughter, they would each take turns courteously thanking me for providing them with another 365 days of self esteem. I knew my role, I accepted my role, I embraced my role, and eventually I grew to love my role. And if you’re reading this, then maybe I’m finally getting good at my role.
And now I’ll tell you about what happened to me earlier this week to prompt this humorously self-deprecating rant. Monday was my day off and I wanted to be productive yet still enjoy it. The weather was optimal for a change, so despite all of the domestic duties I needed to accomplish, I wanted to get my girls outside as much as possible. I took them to the park and ran them for as long as I could before having to get back to it. I had ulterior motives, as I also wanted to wear all of them out so they’d each be in a deep enough sleep that I could actually sit down with their Mom and watch The Returned with complete befuddlement. That’s what my life has come to.
We absorbed as much warmth and sunlight as we could then went home.
My wife had worked the day shift at the hospital, which in theory is a 12 hour day, but usually is a little closer to 14. I wanted to be Super Dad and have everything done to surprise her when she got home. I fed all 3 girls, rotated the laundry, and got to work making dinner for me and my wife. Multi-tasking has never been my strong suit with my dreaded combination of ADD and OCD, but I tried anyway. I had the two little ones in the tub, rotating laundry again, the 10-year-old arguing with me…the clock was ticking and I was still trying to make dinner. Not the best time to be slicing mushrooms.
And then it happened. I took the last ¼ inch of my left thumb clean off with one good slice. The pain was immediately excruciating, but the shame was even worse. Not only have I been handling sharp kitchen knives for over 30 years, but I’ve been handling them daily, and professionally! I went to freakin culinary school! I took a semester long course just on knife skills. So despite the profuse bleeding which made my kitchen look like a Manson family crime scene, I was convinced that the worst damage was to my pride.
I quickly wrapped what remained of my finger in a paper towel, gauze, and a Ziploc baggie and looped a rubber band multiple times around it to cut off the circulation and the bleeding. My kids didn’t need to see what had happened, and the last thing a nurse wants to come home to is having to attend to her idiot husband. So I played it off as best I could, got my two little ones out of the tub and dressed in their pajamas, rotated the laundry again, and proceeded with dinner.
I did a pretty good job of hiding the severity of my ailment throughout the night. A couple of pain pills left over from my broken ribs, and a vodka on the rocks aided substantially in that charade. I’m not proud of that, but it hurt like hell and I needed to stay in the game.
The irony about this night was that for the first time in about 10 weeks, my ribs were feeling a little bit better. So I had decided that I was going to sleep in my own bed for the first time since February 20th. As it would turn out, I once again slept in the living room in the recliner, sitting up at 45 degree angle, only this time with a tightly wrapped left thumb, packed in ice, and held above my head while I tried to get some sleep. I got up about 6 times throughout the course of the night to redress my wound. In the process, I completely saturated about a half dozen or so kitchen towels which I took straight outside to the garbage hoping to keep my secret.
Tuesday morning came and I was getting my oldest daughter up and ready for school while redressing my wound. I looked up and was startled to see my wife standing there looking at me. In a firm yet caring tone she calmly said to me, “you do realize it’s not normal or OK to still be bleeding profusely 14 hours after you cut yourself, right?” To which I casually replied; “I’m fine.” To which she replied; “you do also realize that I’m making you go to the hospital, right?” Now for a guy who writes with some degree of veiled intellect, I don’t always parlay that into my speech. So like a moron I replied; “what’s the point of being married to a nurse if I still have to go to the hospital when I get hurt?” I could actually see how dumb these words were as they fell out of the hole in my face. Her response was simply; “you’re stupid”. She walked away calmly and I knew we were going to the E.R.
Flashing forward to the next day, I was sitting in pain doing a mental review of all of the injuries I’ve sustained in my life. As I thought back, I noticed a pattern. It seemed that all of the serious injuries from the early portion of my life seemed to happen to either my skull, my back, or my lower extremities. So, yes, the athletic days were peppered with concussions, spinal injuries, and shredding my knees and ankles.
Then I started thinking about all of the injuries I’ve sustained in the last 10 or 12 years and a theme quickly arose. Surgery to repair two ruptured tendons in my ‘left’ thumb. Broken ‘left’ collarbone. Dislocated ‘left’ shoulder. Torn ‘left’ rotator cuff. Shingles on the ‘left’ side of my face, head, and torso. Which subsequently caused temporary blindness in my ‘left’ eye, and deafness in my ‘left’ ear. And so far this calendar year, I’ve severely broken two ribs on my ‘left’ side. Punctured my ‘left’ lung. Had internal bleeding on my ‘left’ side. And now finally, severing a portion of my ‘left’ thumb.
So now, being the consummate optimist I’m trying to put a positive spin on my wound history. Which prompted me to say more things that sounded better in my head. I said to my wife; “I’m in pretty good shape all things considered. No matter what happens, I’m still about 75 percent in tact.” “How is that?” she asked. I said, “Well all of my injuries have happened to the upper left quadrant of my body, so ¾ of me is still in good shape.” It made perfect sense to me. Until she responded in her usual caring, but from the hip tone; “you do know that’s the zip code your heart lives in, right?” And once again, my stupidity was vanquished by her bullet proof logic.
Thanks for playing along. Until next week, Syd Nichols
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