This past weekend, my wife rattled me a bit by pointing out that I had been to the emergency room a fair number of times over the last several years. I objected, based on my relative good health and aversion to seeking medical help in general. But I was wrong. I’ve had several visits, some more memorable than others. Our little trip down medical memory lane reminded me of something I wrote years ago about one such visit. Since I hadn’t posted in a while, I thought I’d share it again. Sadly, nothing much has changed.
I’d like to use this column to personally thank the emergency room personnel at Norwalk Hospital. As we debate the merits of universal health care, socialized medicine, insurance premiums and the magical healing powers of Shake Shack (I’m going to keep writing about them until they send me a gift certificate), it is reassuring to know that the doctors and nurses on call are well equipped to handle our urgent medical needs.
On a recent Sunday morning, I heard the screams of my kids outside and was startled to find a rabid stray dog growling at them from my front yard. Parental instincts immediately took over as I raced out barefoot to tackle the beast, pouncing on his ragged torso while giving my kids time to run inside to safety. The startled dog (who didn’t see me coming from his blind side) managed to snap his jaws at my feet, clipping my toe before running into the woods and disappearing.
I hobbled into the house to check on the kids, the adrenaline rush masking the pain from my bloody foot. My wife screamed at the sight of my mangled toe, but I ignored her until I could confirm that my kids were fine (if more than a little shaken). I tried to brush off her concerns but finally relented, racing to the hospital to get the care I so urgently needed. The nurses on call immediately mobilized, bringing a team of surgical experts who swiftly and ably went to work on saving the toe on my left foot. The doctor on call ably repaired my broken body, weeping as I told the story of my efforts. “Michael,” he told me, fighting through his tears, “we’re both heroes today.”
So then … uh … actually … that’s not quite what happened. Yes, I did go to the emergency room last Sunday. But the true story wasn’t quite that, well, dramatic.
In reality, I stubbed my toe.
I think it’s fair to say that I’m not the most graceful human being on the planet. Have you ever watched an old Cary Grant movie and admired how he slides across the screen in every scene, looking as if the world tilted to adjust to his every movement, how slick and controlled he looked when doing something as simple as picking up a newspaper? I’m the exact opposite of that. If I walk one way, the world tilts another. I pick up a newspaper and I manage to get a paper cut on my ankle. I don’t really understand why.
It may be hereditary. I’ve inherited my father’s duck feet, my knees pointing in opposite directions like they’re trying to avoid each other after a political conversation (one leans left, the other right, making my legs the only truly balanced and bipartisan body in all of politics). My arms are too long for my body, my feet are too long for my legs, even my toes bend in a strange direction (clearly inspired by my knees). I can hide these things well, as long as I’m not moving. Once I’m in motion, any number of things can and do go wrong.
My wife is used to hearing me stumble around the house, knocking into walls and bumping into tables. She learned a long time ago not to leave anything fragile on low ledges, so our house was child-proofed well before any kids showed up. I am not oblivious to the fact that this makes me the equivalent of a 2-year-old toddler, but if that’s what it takes to ensure that I don’t end up with the corner of a wooden shelf protruding from my torso, so be it.
But the stubbed toe is my masterpiece. I stub my toes constantly. I am so adept at moving quickly and mindlessly with my big feet that in recent years I’ve built to a solid three stubbed toes a week. And I don’t discriminate … I’ll stub them against just about anything. A wall, the corner of a bedpost, a stray toy, small animals, a sleeping child; if it’s on the floor and isn’t liquid, chances are I’ve stubbed my toe on it.
On the Sunday morning in question, I awoke fairly late and decided to go downstairs to eat something and say hello to the family. I set up a kettle to pour myself some much-needed caffeine, but decided to go grab the newspaper before I sat down. It was warm out, so I decided not to throw on a jacket or (more fatefully) a pair of shoes or slippers before heading down the driveway.
The rest, as they say, is stubbed-toe history (no rabid dogs were hurt or even present during the actuality of this story).
I limped back into the house cursing and moaning. Ordinarily, you’d think this would provoke a response from my family. But not my family. I’ve cried “Wolfe” far too many times over the course of my life. At this point, my wife has a Pavlovian response to any bump-and-curse that she hears, uttering the words: “Are you all right?” in a half-interested tone while she continues to do whatever she’s already doing. I normally respond with a series of grunts before life returns to normal.
This was different. “I really think I hurt myself!” I bellowed from the other room, imagining my wife reading the front page of the newspaper that I dropped on the floor before collapsing into the bathroom. Only after realizing that my groans were getting louder did she reluctantly put down the front section (again, my imagination working here) and check in with me. Normally, she would have responded with a slight measure of sympathy and perhaps a pat on the head (remember, I’m the 2-year-old toddler in these scenarios). But she likely saw two things that made her react with more concern: 1) blood on her favorite bathroom towels, or 2) the large flap of skin swaying from above my little toe. I’m not sure which was worse to her. Probably the towels.
Regardless, she wrapped the wound with care and precision (trust me, the woman can wrap; I’m still trying to open a sandwich she cellophaned about five months ago) and sent me on my way to the hospital emergency room.
I drove myself. I was already embarrassed enough that I stubbed my toe on an immobile Belgian block. So I used the alone time in the car to berate myself as loudly as I could. Better that no one was there to hear it, the language got colorful during the ride. Roget’s couldn’t come up with more synonyms for “f-ing moron.”
Arriving at the hospital emergency room, I was incredibly surprised at how efficient and quick the service was. Valet parking! No wait! Friendly staff! I could have been sipping a gin and tonic over appetizers at Le Bernadin, if it wasn’t for the faint smell of cleaning fluid and the blood seeping through my homemade (but lovingly wrapped) bandage.
When the doctor calmly walked into the treatment room, I was immediately grateful that my wife hadn’t joined me. He was the kind of dark, handsome and full-haired man that she normally swoons over, a kind of Jewish version of Dr. McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy. My male pride at stake, I debated telling him a more manly tale of how this horrible injury took place (something involving gang fights and a machete) until he looked down at my foot and said “So it looks like you stubbed your toe pretty bad there, huh?”
Yes. Yes I did. I swallowed my embarrassment and came clean, and to his credit he said nothing to make me feel worse than I already did. He stitched the toe up, gave me cleaning instructions (machine wash cold, tumble dry low) and sent me on my way. Nice work all around.
By the time you read this, my stitches will be out and my pride slowly on the road to recovery. But it won’t be long before I stumble again, and my toes know that their days of relative peace are numbered. So I will be wearing shoes for the foreseeable future. Seems like a small sacrifice to protect my health, my ego, and my wife’s sanity. And our towels.