February 17, 2012

"It's Just a Flesh Wound"

Friday, for the first time in my life, while making art, I sustained a "mere flesh wound" serious enough to send me to the emergency room. I've been to the emergency room many times in my life, but before Friday, never as a direct result of making art. The injury was a puncture wound. It involved a foot long by 1/8 inch diameter steel rod that, through no fault of its own, ended up bent, and momentarily embedded two inches deep in my inner thigh. It would be difficult to explain exactly how it happened, but it involved a power grinder that caught the end of the rod and kicked it forward into my leg very unexpectedly. At first, all I felt was pressure, and did not realize I was injured. Then I started to feel a warm thick liquid running down my leg. Then weakness and pain in the puncture site. Soon, the muscles were starting to cramp up in knots around the area. Now I knew that my agenda for the next few days had suddenly changed.

I was alone at the time, and managed to apply pressure, get out of the blood soaked pants so I could see what was happening, and lie down where I could be sure that I would not fall if I lost consciousness. I did not lose cosciousness, but I assure you that that whole John Wayne thing about "It's just a flesh wound" was not happening. Within minutes I could barely use my leg, was in a state of cold sweats, and close to passing out. It took 20 minutes for me to regain my bearings enough to call and thoroughly alarm Peggy at work. Next I called my neighbor, who came to get me and drive me to meet Peggy at the emergency room.

As we drove into town, my neighbor called a good friend of his who is an ER doc at the local hospital to see if he was working. He was not, and his wife said that "Dr. Slaughter" was on duty. This was a bit disconcerting, but she assured him that Dr. Slaughter was competent. When we got to the hospital, Dr. Slaughter turned out to be as good as promised, and with some investigation and research, confirmed that no major artieries or bone were invloved, and that apart from the trauma to the muscle, and the risk of infection, everything was ok. He prescribed antibiotics and took x-rays to confirm the absence of sharpnel and bone damage, the nurse irrigated the wound with saline and made sure I got my tetanus shot updated. I would be in for a week or two of soreness and gimpiness, but otherwise all was well.

There were three things that are noteworthy about this injury and trip to the emergency room. First, I have spent many hours in that very room with my dad. Dad died a couple of years ago, but during the last few years of his life, he spent a lot of time in the hospital coping with the various life threatening ailments that plagued him. I knew this space well, and recognized several of the staff members. But I had never been to this particular ER as a patient. It gave me a very different perspective on the experiences with my dad to be there again now as the patient. I found myself answering the nurses questions much as my dad had. It seemed as if I assumed his personality for that brief period. I am still sorting out what that was all about, and it seems significant at some deep personal level.

The second thing that struck me about this incident, is just how delicate and fragile, and yet durable and adaptive, life is. It takes so little to put the human anatomy into a really difficult and traumatic spot. We tend to act as if we are invincible. We take chances that could kill us. Unlike movie heroes, who shrug off mere flesh wounds to go on and do the mighty deeds of valor, we are so easily derailed and so fragile. Saturday, as I am writing this, I am tired, and feeling the need to take it easy and pamper myself. The pain is significant and debilitating. I can walk, but only gingerly, and it appears that it will be this way for a while. The hole in my leg is tiny, and will heal over within a week. This injury would barely cause a reaction from a hero or villain in the movies, but it ate my lunch. The take away message for me is that I really should be more careful. This could have been a lot more serious than it turned out to be, and I don't need that at all.

The third thing that caught my attention about this ER visit, was Dr. Slaughter. After he had finished with the medical case, and had a few moments to spare, he came over to talk about what I was doing to cause this catastrophe. I had already mentioned that I was a sculptor, and was making art when the accident happened. He wanted to know about the art. We talked for a bit and he told me he was working on a project to bring a makers' workshop to San Luis Obispo. This makers' workshop would be a place where people could come and tinker and make creative and whimsical gadgets and such. My eyes lit up at this, and I told him a bit about my interest in steam punk, and the concept of technology from a lost era. (For the past 40 years I have had an interest in art that represents technology that is from an imaginary ancient past or distant future or from a culture we know nothing about—technology that clearly is functional but in a context that we know nothing about.) I also mentioned that the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art is currently working on a mini Maker Faire in May of this year. Dr. Slaughter was aware of the SLOMA plans for a mini maker fair, and we exchanged business cards.

Clint Slaughter writes a website called Evolving Monkeys and a blog called The S.E.E.P. He is not only an ER doc, but also has a masters degree in public health. He is a self-described eco-evangelist, and has developed a smart phone app that assists you in making sure you are prepared for a disaster, and helps you manage your resources, logistics, and strategy if you are ever caught up in a disaster. As I mentioned before, he is also a gadget geek. He's a fascinating guy, and I hope to become better acquainted.

I wouldn't wish the trauma of injury on anyone. It really sucks. But I find it interesting how such an incident has opened up a new path, a new acquaintance, and a new opportiunity to explore.

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