Friday, January 5, 2007

Comparing Scars

This is one of those days where I got nothin'. However, I've not yet earned the right to get writer's block... So, in the spirit of coming up with something, and I'm sure you've noticed already but are too polite to ask, here's the story behind that stylish scar on my left elbow. It was a dark and stormy night. Lightning crackled and last week's newspapers were swirling in the streets, a portent of doom and destruction. Then suddenly, nothing happened. The next day, I was visiting a jobsite in the company truck. It was summery and pleasant, and I wanted some fresh air. I reached down to the little power window levers, and nothing happened again. I looked. My fingers were touching the button. I was moving my arm back and forth in the appropriate window-activating manner. However, my pinky and ring finger were as useless as a dead dog's tongue. They just lolled over the button as if filled with marshmallow fluff. Naturally, this caused me to raise an eyebrow and grunt. I reached over and lowered the window with my still-working right hand, while shaking and examining my left as though it were a stopped watch (don't worry, I can steer with my knees). Since the malfunction was new, and so far hadn't interfered with typing or playing bass, I made a mental note and promptly forgot about it. Months later at a routine physical, I asked my doctor about it. He grabbed my hand, turned it over a few times, wiggled my fingers, and pronounced it "Fine." Oh, okay then. I guess this happens sometimes to people then? Digits quit responding? What if this happens at a very inconvenient time, such as rock climbing, or nose picking? What then, Dr. Smarty Pants? Not quite satisfied, but not smart enough to question a Doctor, I joined the herd in the bill-paying line. I decided to do nothing about it, because, after all, he's a Doctor. (Incidentally, do you know what they call people who graduate at the bottom of their class in medical school? Yep. Doctor.) Later that week, I saw a friend of mine while out and about. He happens to be a physician, but that never bothered me. He's around my age, has a long, black ponytail, and an easy laugh. We were casually chatting and he must have noticed me twitching my limp fingers, because he asked me about it. I said, "Oh, it's nothing. My Doctor said so." He snorted a knowing snort and asked to look at it. He did the hand turning, finger wiggling thing, then muttered something about a hammer. I jerked my hand back, shielding it from the sudden menace. "Whaddaya mean, a hammer?" I said suspiciously. "No, no - a reflex hammer. I didn't bring it with me." I wondered how often he carried it around just looking for someone to thwang. "Ah, this will do," he said, brandishing a TV remote control. He proceeded to thump my arm in various places, looking for some kind of reaction (besides a wince). After a particularly vigorous whack, the batteries bouncing across the room, he said he knew what the problem was. "You have nerve damage. Here, go see this specialist for testing." Grateful to have some explanation, I made an appointment. I arrived at a little office next door to a popcorn store. The smell was intoxicating, better than a theater and stronger than a carnival - but without the vomit. I was greeted by a nervous looking man with a faint accent. He showed me into the exam room, which was simply the back half of the main office. It turns out he was the only one there, and would be conducting the test. He strapped me into a chair and suggested I relax while rubbing my entire arm down with an oversized alcohol wipe. He placed an electrode on the back of my hand, and grabbed a large needle. With a wire attached to it. My eyes widened. Significantly. "Uh, what's that for?" I asked conversationally. "Oh, this? This is really cool. We'll get to listen to your nerve activity. If everything is working right, it should sound like static on the radio. If not, you'll be able to tell the difference by the sound." I decided to take his word for it, since I was strapped into a chair. Besides, my friend sent me here - how bad could it be? (This may seem like a tangent, and that's because it probably is): Once when I was young, I was walking in the woods with a friend. I brushed against a cow fence, and let out a little yelp. It was enough of a jolt to get my attention, but not really painful. I told my friend about it, and he'd never seen one before. He touched it, and yelped as well. I wondered aloud what would happen if you peed on it. Suddenly, I heard a zipping sound. I backed far away, because even though I didn't know what may happen, I did not want to get wet. His warbling, pathetic scream echoed through the pines and haunts me to this day. I was reminded of that moment when Needleman began his vile experiments on me. At first it was just uncomfortable: A gentle prodding with the pointy electrode, and a tingling electrical current coursed through my arm. Soon he escalated the prodding to real pokes, and he encouraged me to look the other way if I didn't like the sight of blood. The sticking and zapping soon went far beyond discomfort; It was like holding onto that cow fence with a wet hand, while being attacked by one very persistent and angry hornet. Sure enough, he found several nerves that sounded like a dial-up internet connection, all hissing and clicks and honks, the sound of muscle instructions and pain. He moved the needle to another site, and there was silence, broken by an occasional crackle. He was like a scientist at SETI, intently searching for communication from the inky depths of space. He jumped up with a very mad-scientistlike "Ah HA!", leaving the needle dangling in my arm, my hand twitching like the severed frog's leg in a science class experiment. He grabbed a Sharpie and marked a big 'X' at the needle site, and proceeded to make tracks down the length of my arm, tracing the bad nerve. Eventually, he mopped up the blood, made some notes on a chart, and said I should take them back to my surgeon. Surgeon?!? Crap! I'd just watched a TV marathon about When Surgeons Attack: The Gory Years. They leave Rollexes, pointy things, and sponges in people's innards, show up drunk, leave in the middle of a procedure to go golfing, lop off the wrong parts - and I couldn't have that. Since I'm out of time, someday I'll tell... The Rest Of The Story. Good Day.

1 comment:

Rick said...

I had a similar experience a few years ago. Started with a nasty bang on the "crazy bone", followed by a recurring tingle in the ring and pinky fingers. My doc says surgery is the only option, and there's a risk of more damage. I suggested a third option and learned to jerk off with the other hand.