In high school health class there wasn’t a lot of direct instruction. Our teacher was the wrestling coach and, despite the fact that his sport involved a high level of aggressive touching, Coach Jones seemed entirely uncomfortable with the human body. The idea that he was supposed to teach a room full of hormone-drunk 17- and 18-year-olds about our bodies is one of those little cruelties life dishes out sometimes. Mostly, we watched fascinating, comically out-dated films provided by State Ed.
My friends Rick, Jeff and I sat in the back of the room writing snarky comments and adding content to the list of answers for the multiple choice quizzes that were a happy staple of the films:
Joey and Tad are cutting down a tree. Joey’s hand slips and the saw cuts a huge, hideous gash in Tad’s leg. What should Joey do?
a. Apply direct pressure.
b. Elevate the limb.
c. Apply a tourniquet
d. All of the above
e. quickly down six vodka martinis
Yes, obviously the correct answer is ‘e.’ Once Joey has tossed back those martinis, he’ll feel fine and won’t need to worry about Tad and that bothersome gash. In fact, ‘e’ is the correct choice for Tad, too. ‘E’ was, naturally, the answer to every catastrophe. (Never mind that, at the time, I knew nothing about vodka or martinis. Never mind that, were I to do the film quiz today, the vodka martinis would be swapped out for shots of Patron. ‘E’ was our answer and we stuck with it.)
Fast forward to my adult life. For several days I had been suffering from chest pain, pain that flashed every time I took a breath. I figured my heart was giving out, but I did nothing. I’d had some pretty awful experiences with doctors and hospitals and really didn’t want to deal with either. Finally one night the pain was bad enough that I couldn’t get more than a sip of breath. I called a cab and went to the ER of a small hospital not too far from where I lived.
It wasn’t an overly crowded ER, but service was slow all the same. I sat with the triage nurse giving her my data between tiny gasps of air. A young man came in and leaned against the wall opposite me.
“I been stabbed,” he said, and it certainly appeared to be true. His left arm was covered in blood, as was half his shirt and the left leg of his jeans. His arm hung at his side, his blood dripping on the floor.
“You’ll have to wait a minute,” the nurse said.
“I been stabbed,” he repeated. “Look at me.”
She gave him a brief, dismissive glance. “In a minute.”
She began to check over the answers she’d just gotten from me, going slowly and carefully over the forms. I watched the young man, more than a little freaked out by the amount of blood he was losing, and by the fact that he was just standing there, letting himself bleed, not trying to do anything about it.
“You should probably apply some pressure to the wound,” I said.
“Yeah, with your other hand. Press against the wound. It’ll help stop the bleeding. And raise your arm.”
“Yeah, you should elevate your arm while you’re pressing on the stab wound.”
The nurse glanced over again then nodded. “You should do what she says. It’ll help stop the bleeding, keep you from fainting all over my floor.”
He looked back and forth from me to the nurse, then took the end of his shirt and pressed it over the gash in his arm. Then, still looking skeptical, he raised his arm.
“How you know this stuff? This happen to you before?”
“High school health class,” I said. “Long enough ago that I can’t believe I remember it.”
Long enough ago that I should have forgotten about Joey, Tad, Coach Jones and anything else I learned and didn’t learn in that room. Luckily for the bleeding man, my brain holds onto all sort of business it should have released years ago. Unfortunately for both of us, no one showed up with vodka martinis, shots of tequila or anything else that would have added an ‘e’ to our choices.
(Late for Monday again. Too much time spent getting ready for vacation …)
is hosted by Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers.