4 min

Health lessons

When a hurt gets the right attention

Credit: Xtra West files

The show was over. The dancing girls had dropped their last sequin, the chanteuse was finished shedding feathers from her boa, the sailor boys were sipping scotch from pocket flasks and it was time to pack up the sound gear so we could party.

People always say that time slows down during an accident, that every second stretches like an aching muscle through your memory in slow motion, and it’s true. I remember having enough time to think, “Hey, I think that Exacto blade slipped and maybe I nicked myself a little and who the hell is bleeding all over the floor, anyway?”

The hip-hop artist at the bar saw the whole thing happen and she grabbed my elbow and dragged me into the bathroom. “Jesus fuck me, what did you do to yourself?” She held my left hand under the cold water and pumped the paper towel dispenser with her foot. It is indeed true that alcohol thins the blood.

We pulled my hand out of the sink to survey the damage. A very deep, clean, slice pulsed red-red over the second knuckle of my first finger.

A calm, kind voice appeared, attached to a cute blonde woman I had never seen before. “My name is Laurie, and I’m a gynecologist. Let me see your finger.”

The most quotable thing I had heard all night. Laurie the gynecologist took a look and proclaimed that a stitch or four was in order. So did the paramedic in the tuxedo, and the industrial first aid attendant in fishnets, both of whom had arrived in the tiny bathroom shortly after the gynecologist. Confirming for me that the safest place to injure yourself is in a crowd full of dykes. Turned out we had a full emergency room staff in the house. My finger was wrapped in something that resembled a tall, skinny maxi-pad, and everyone resumed dancing.

I proceeded to attempt to get drunk enough to go to emergency dressed in a sailor suit. One of the other sailors poured scotch into my wound as an added safety precaution, and sealed the maxi-pad back up with a strip of duct-tape. More scotch was poured down my throat. I decided I didn’t need stitches after all, that a hospital visit would only take the edge off of my buzz. Besides, my finger hardly hurt at all anymore.

The next day, I woke up to my favourite kind of injury. The kind that looks really bad and is located on a readily visible area of your anatomy. I am willing to withstand quite a lot of pain, provided I have something to show for it. Bruises and swelling are good. Slings are enviable. Splints and crutches I can deal with, especially if they come with a good story. You know, hockey injury, saving a helpless kitten from a tree, foot crushed working in the pits at a monster truck rally, something like that.

The kind of pain I really resent is invisible pain. Lower back stuff. Sore knee. Headache. Pain without the accompanying boo-boos to show off. What fun is that?

Remember in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Harrison Ford gets dragged behind the truck, and after he gets to have a sponge bath from Karen Allen, and you can almost see her nipples right through her man’s dress shirt? I was 12 years old when that movie came out, and my best friend Joanne and I went to see it five times. We both loved that scene. She wanted to be a nurse when she grew up. I wanted to be the guy that hurt himself. I wanted the cold cloth and the iodine. I wanted the beautiful woman to crawl on top of me and kiss me in spite of my sling, cast, contusion or split lip.

We had a really hot health nurse at my school for a while. During that time, I broke my collarbone, three fingers, sprained my ankle, stepped on a nail, and suffered various road rashes and assorted cuts. Our health nurse had extremely soft, warm hands and a French accent. She wore tight shirts and called me cherie. She would bandage me up and say, “Go back out dere and show dem ‘ow it’s done. A leetle pain have never stopped you.”

One day I ripped my calf open on a peeled back piece of chain-link fence. It was an excellent injury, bleeding and jagged, plus it was from a potentially rusty source. I immediately limped to the first aid room.

There was a new health nurse. She smelled like cigarettes and wore a faded gray cardigan that was missing a button. I think I had met her once before, with my grandmother, at Wednesday Bingo at the Legion.

“Is Marie-Claude home sick today?” I asked her from the doorway.

“Marie-Claude is no longer with us. She has moved back to Montreal. My name is Mrs Bunkis. You will need to remove your pants, so I can properly inspect and clean your injury.”

I wasn’t any less accident-prone after Marie-Claude moved back to Montreal, I was just far less likely to seek medical attention. Mrs Bunkis had icy hands and constantly sucked on cough drops that clacked against her false teeth. She said things like, “What, do you kids think Band-Aids grow on trees? I’m on a budget here,” and, “I’ve always maintained that tire swings should be outlawed.” She only seemed to smile during vaccination week.

I couldn’t believe Marie-Claude had just up and left like that, after all we had been through together. She could even remove stitches. She drove a metallic-blue Vega with dark-tinted windows, and in the spring, a motorcycle. Mrs Bunkis thought motorcycles should be outlawed. Said they were a hazard. Said a heath nurse ought to be setting a better example.

But I learned a lot from Marie-Claude. I learned that taking a risk might mean losing a bit of skin, but that you very might well get to trade that piece of skin for a sponge bath and soft hands. I learned that skin heals. I learned that girls could ride motorcycles.

Want to see what I did to my finger?