Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bloody Ice

Hockey season is upon us. Both of my boys have been skating for the past six weeks or so, trying out, scrimmaging, getting sweaty and wet. Good for them I say, since they otherwise wouldn't get any exercise, except thumb on game controller. James at least balances hockey with music. He missed last week's tournament in Mankato (his team earned first place) because of a band retreat. I could finally attend a game tonight. Dropping him off the requisite half hour before the game left me with some time to take a stroll with smelly Mellie and even throw the newly acquired light-up ball a few times. We headed West from Ken Yackel Westside Arena along the foot of the bluff, first on Wabesha Ave and then, at he HealthPartners Clinic, behind some commercial buildings into the brush-covered ravine. I like that ravine, it hugs the bluff, a path meanders, sometimes ill defined, up and down, quite steep in places. Just at the steepest passage my mobile rang: “Paps, my coach thinks I need stitches,” the voice at the other end said. OK, slide down ravine, keep throwing ball while walking back to arena. Of cause it wasn't James who needed attention, but Colin, James' older brother.

I organized a ride for James and headed home. On the way, I checked out a nifty new feature HealthPartners recently implemented: you can call in and a recording gives the approximate wait time for each clinic. It turned out that the clinic I just walked past with the dog had no wait. I got home, convinced Colin to join me (the cut did not look all that bad) and headed back to the Westside.
Indeed no wait. I commented to the receptionist who checked us in, “pretty quiet here.” She replied, “psst, we don't use that word here!” Apparently she was afraid that I would jinx the evening and bring on hordes of diseased and injured St. Paulites. We were seen practically immediately. I sent Colin by himself but after about 5 minutes, the nurse came to see me. They wanted my presence, not to grant my permission to go ahead with the stitches, which is after all (minor) surgery, but rather because the good doctor needed someone to entertain him through the tedium of patching up the Collster. I helped, by telling some of my dad's stories from WWII. He liked that. Maybe that's why he managed to squeeze 10 stitches into a 2 cm cut. Or else because he was paid by the stitch. Colin did not stir, except when asked to contribute to or corroborate his father's yarn.

The visit to this clinic brought back some memories of one 3-4 years ago, when James had had a similar accident. I recall that his cut was a bit longer, and closer to his throat. Like Colin, James had found the incident more amusing (because of all the blood and the scared look on his mom's face) or annoying (because he had to interrupt a perfectly good game of hockey). It had started with a melee on the ice with several players down and sticks, be-skated limbs and hands flying ever which way in th struggle to get up again. As the players vacated the area, they or rather one of them left behind a puddle of blood. Blood was also apparent on that player's jersey. Lynn asked “who is injured?” and one of the moms next to her replied “I think it's James.” Needless to say that paps had to make a trip to urgent care. An older (as in “called back from retirement”) was the doc on duty. He patched up the wound with 4-5 stitches and James' only concern was whether he could continue to play in the tournament. Doc thought that would be fine and said to make sure to be back in a week or so to have the stitches taken out.

Somehow there was never time to go back to the clinic to have stitches taken out, and when they got too itchy, I took them out where we have a solid table and good light: on the dining room table. No, I did not use a carving knife. A pair of tweezers and a baby nail clipper were quite sufficient. Just in case, I head my Leatherman tool at hand, but I did not need to resort to using it. Pictures were taken, but the small operation was quickly forgotten.

Hockey season and winter were nearing their end. When I volunteered to chaperon for the Capitol Hill ski outing we had a rare February thaw. The parking lot at Afton Alps was covered with Ice made slick by the thaw. It was so warm that I did not even put my gloves on. I should quickly find out that gloves do not only protect skiers from the cold, but also from injury. While trying to negotiate the best route between deep mud puddles and slippery ice, I went down, not too hard, but the keen edge of one of the pair of skis I was holding in my left managed to inflict a deep gash in the flap of skin between thumb and index. Dang it, I thought, eying the damage, this probably needs stitches. The cut was about 2-3 cm long and when I spread my thumb and index, I could make the edges gape in a most spectacular way. It did not hurt at all and the bleeding wasn't too bad either. I decided that stitches would need to wait till later since I could not possibly abandon my car-load full of kids, or deprive them of the day on the slopes. Bravely, I stood in line waiting our turn for the equipment rental. Once we were being served, I asked if they had a first-aid kit. All they could muster was a roll of masking tape. That ought to do. I taped thumb and index together, wrapped a few tissues around the outside to mop up any bleeding and stuffed the pair of conjoined appendages into the index finger of my glove. The only inconvenience was to hold my left pole without the aid of an opposable thumb. I am not an aggressive skier, so I barely noticed. I was just glad that I had not planned to spend part of the day x-country skiing.

After returning home, I headed to the clinic to have them take a look. I was amazed to find myself facing the same grizzled doctor who had given James his sutures just a couple of weeks ago and I was even more amazed when he recognized me and inquired about the outcome of James' injury. He was puzzled that he could not find a write-up declaring the injury as healed in James' file. I confessed to practicing medicine without a license and was duly scolded by man on whose monopoly I had so rudely and carelessly infringed. He made me swear by the US Constitution, Allah and the Blessed Virgin Mary that I would turn my self over to my health provider for removal of stitches. Since I am not an American, Muslim and/or Christian, I did not feel bound by the strictures of the oath and removed the sutures myself about a week later. After all, to quote the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “'tis but a flesh wound.”

Returning where this story began: Colin suffered the same fate as his brother and father. Stitches were removed while he bedded on our dining room table, surrounded by his brethren from Central High School. Cell phone cameras were at hand so I am fairly certain that images of the procedure are gracing various Facebook pages. I just hope that Colin's pediatrician won't sic the surgeon-general on me, and that Colin's friends won't be shy away from performing simple medical procedures such as auto-appendectomies and removing sutures from the little sisters' chins.

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