The minute I crashed my bike into a ditch it occurred to me that I’d finally, at last get all the attention I deserved. After all, I’m the most interesting and handsome person in the world. Why shouldn’t everyone pay attention to me?
It’s too bad I wasn’t bleeding out the eyeballs. That usually gets the real sympathy. But lacking that it was sufficient to sit on the side of the road clutching my shoulder with one hand, and rocking back and forth in my dirt-stained cycling kit.
Ah, the wonders of being wounded. I recalled playing Army as a kid, when Amy the neighbor girl would play Nurse and chase my buddy and I around our golf course playground on dreary fall days playing World War II. The sandtraps made great bunkers. You could get shot, fall off the edge and tumble down like a Doughboy into the glorious sand, where Amy would patch you up with neckerchiefs and Band-Aids. It was the life of a soldier we wanted to live, that’s for sure. Amy with her deep green eyes and shiny hair would bend over to hold your wrist and check your pulse while you played dead. She made us really want to go to war.
Of course we knew nothing of the pain and devastation that war really wrought. It just looked romantic from watching jingoistic televisions shows like Combat on the black and white TV. After the day’s battles were done, we’d march home singing that theme song; “Da da da da dahhhh, dahht dah dahhhh, da dahhhhh….” Then mom would make us supper.
Something deep within us wants to be heroes. Amy was smart enough to recognize that need in two boys her age, and she got to hang out with us all day as a result. Once in a while we actually let her get up with our mock M-16s and shoot something. The enemy or whatever. Our guns looked pretty real, right down to the faux textures of the wood and metal on the stock and barrels. They even made loud noises when we shot.
By the time you’re a grownup, it gets a little harder to find excuses for grownup women to fawn over you. So you go do something stupid like crash your bike and then take your trip to the emergency room with EMTs checking your pulse and making sure you’re not going into shock. One of the EMTs in the Wisconsin ambulance hauling my broken body back to the Upland Hills Hospital in Dodgeville, Wisconsin was not so sure they had done their jobs right. She looked over to her EMT mate and said, “I think he should be in a collar brace. We’re going to get in trouble if he’s not in a collar brace.”
Collar bone. Collar brace. What’s the difference? I was strapped in a cart of some sort with ice cooling down my shoulder. The EMT in front of me was busy asking questions about my general health, allergies and whatnot. But the collar brace worrier was concerned about her scores on the scale of care it seemed.
Fortunately we pulled into the Emergency Room before too long and they hauled me off to a quiet room where the Serious Nurses went to work making sure I wasn’t going to kick from shock or anything like that. Then they laid me back on the bed all tied up in straps and IVs or something to wait for the Real Doctor to show up.
He looked like an insurance agent, not a doctor. Just a normal guy in a maroon polo shirt who seemed like he just stepped off the 9th hole to get a hot dog. In the meantime, he’d check out some post-middle-aged nut that crashed his bike and ship him to x-ray for confirmation that the crunching sound coming from the shoulder was indeed a shattered clavicle. It didn’t take a Mechanical Genius or even a Real Doctor to see that. The picture looked like a map of cirrus clouds. Only it was bones. Busted.
And boy, was it. Shattered, I mean.
Once we knew that, there was nothing more to do but crack out the Vicodin and get back to the campsite. My camping crew fanned out and found my bike where it was stored at the American Player’s Theater. They even got the helmet too, which for some inexplicable reason the EMTs left sitting in the ditch.
Back at the campsite a batch of helpful Mother Hens attended to my needs, fixing sandwiches I could eat with one hand and shoving me a Vicodin and stool softener every four hours.
Ahhh, this was the life, I thought to myself. No worries. Sympathy is great.
I mean, sympathy is great in the absence of all other normal human emotions. It’s not normal to crave sympathy, I will admit. But that kid in me who loved to die over and over again in battle, only to be nursed back to life by the neighbor girl Amy still lives within me.
Sleeping in the tent overnight was no picnic, but we weren’t scheduled to head home till the next day and I was pretty sure, given the power of the Vicodin and the fact that the shoulder did not hurt that much, that I could sleep. And it was true. But I still got plenty of sympathy for sleeping with a broken collarbone on an air mattress overnight. People might have even thought I was pretty tough. Fooled them though.
The worst part, as I’ve previously explained, was getting up to pee and shivering so bad I thought I’d crack the other collarbone.
Then we got up, packed camp and drove home. My friend’s wife is a Real Nurse, not just a play nurse like Amy the neighbor girl, so she took me straight the ER at Cadence Health (Central DuPage Hospital), a highly reputable hospital in Winfield, Illinois. Real Nurse Francie even held my hand when the Mean Old ER Dr. Joe, a cycling friend of mine, told me I was screwed. “That will need surgery,” he said. And Dr. Joe knows. He’s a near miracle worker I am told. An ER doctor who can read people’s minds, it is said, and fix things even specialists seem to miss. Perhaps Dr. Joe was a Gypsy or a Medicine Man in another life. Or perhaps he’s both of those in this life. He is, after all, a triathlete who recently finishing a full Ironman. So he fits in some sort of miracle-worker category.
He showed me sympathy too, which was really nice because ER doctors are not required to do that. They see all the stupid things people do to themselves in life and even the best ER doctors are prone to become jaded. But not Dr. Joe. He put a hand on my good shoulder and said, “We’ll get you fixed up.”
That’s all I wanted to hear. Just like faux nurse Amy.
All the sympathy since the surgery has been really great, like basking in a great big attention-getting wet dream, where everyone feels sorry for you walking around in a sling and wants to know what on earth happened to you. Hitting the earth is exactly what happened to me. I even made a divot.
So you get to tell the story over and over again, and young women make that “sorry for you” face they reserve for uninteresting older men who got hurt, while older women make that “you’re a lucky damn fool” face reserved for men who should know better. And guys just go, “Yeah, dude, You’re lucky you didn’t break your freakin’ neck.” Which passes for sympathy among Guys.
So if you’re looking for sympathy, I highly recommend you go out and crash your bike or trip over a root while running. Break something on your body in two and then bask in the pleasure of all the attention you’ll get. It’s a great way not to feel invisible in the world.
But I cannot, unfortunately, guarantee that it will not hurt some, because you just might possibly permanently damage something. Just to earn your status as a pitiful case in the eyes of your peers and strangers. And that’s rather pathetic. But I couldn’t help myself.
But let’s face it. When it comes to getting a little sympathy, some risks are just worth taking.