Medical No How
by Helen Hanson
As a reasonably well-educated woman, the gaps in my education continue to amaze me. By this time in life, wisdom should wrap me like leather on a racing wheel. Yet events sometimes leave me wondering what line I forgot to stand in when they passed out certain gifts. Like anything remotely medical.
I come from medical stock. My dear, departed mother, a registered nurse, hailed from the old school, back when the public revered medicines, before doctors dispensed them like Cheerios at a day care. She regarded aspirin as a final, desperate medical offensive akin to amputation.
It’s no wonder she liked my husband, Michael. The man rarely seeks medical services, and he knows how to fend for himself, a skill required in our home. It’s not that I wouldn’t attend to his needs, but medical insight relies on keen observation. I admit to several talents, but if you have an emergency, you’re better off with Dr. Kevorkian. While I can’t abide by his remedies, he would at least notice you need help.
One sultry summer night last year my sister, Hannah, and I reveled in a lovely soak outside in the hot tub. My husband prepared the water for us and brought us a cool-something to sip. As a reward, he stepped in a pile of chiggers that bit both feet and ankles. He rinsed them off in the pool and hobbled inside the house.
But it was dark. And anyone born south of the Mason-Dixon knew the filthy beasts weren’t chiggers.
Seems he stepped directly on a hill of snarly Texas ants. He reasoned this out as he lay sweating on our bed. The dozens of bites caused his feet and ankles to swell like that of a woman carrying triplets in her ninth month. His heart rate jumped into the panting rodent range. The emergency numbers 9-1-1 swirled in his brain, but the phone lay across the room, a carpet-desert away. His chest thumped like a badly weighted ceiling fan. Each breath slower and more shallow, he couldn’t yell for help. He couldn’t even reach a nicely weighted lamp to hurl through a window and attract my attention.
He thought these moments would be his last. But he wasn’t afraid. He’d figured had a good run and looked forward to meeting The Man upstairs.
Meanwhile, my sister and I wondered where our trusty barkeep had gone. Our empty glasses held vigil for his return. Our conversation flowed, and we basked in this precious time together. If only we weren’t so darn thirsty.
Perhaps a parched throat clouded my judgment. My son came out and said his father had gone to bed. It was barely nine-thirty. My husband’s behavior broke all recognized patterns. Something was amiss. But did that prompt me to slide out from the silken waters to check on the man I love? You know, until ants do us part?
Twenty minutes later he wobbles outside and props himself against the door jamb. His ashen face glistened with sweat in the moonlight. He didn’t look so good.
Yeah. I felt bad. I’m supposed to be the warm, fuzzy, doting one that overflows with maternal instincts. But I warned you, I’m no good in emergencies. Apparently I don’t even know when my own life is in peril. Because, after he told me what happened, I still asked him for a refill.
So, now I’m on a campaign to fill the gaps in my education. I’m willing to change. Certainly my loved ones deserve better. But first, I’m moving the phone next to the bed.
In the mean time, those around me continue to worry. Most people would change through the course of such experiences. Knowledge should flow through the perilous cracks in my medical understanding to leave me wiser, cautious, at least scared. Apparently, I’m like a mutant virus, resistant to remedial efforts.
A loathsome insect bit my left thigh this summer during a family reunion. I vaguely remembered slapping something into oblivion. As the spot itched, I scratched, and more of my hide entered the war zone.
The next day several of us decided to go shopping. Humidity hung in the air like hairspray in the girl’s locker room, so we all wore shorts to the mall. My sister, Hannah, saw my offended leg. “Did you take any Benadryl?”
Bendryl? I thought. Why? I wasn’t sneezing. I ignored her and tried to hide my wound with my purse.
My sister, Mary Kay, noticed the growing, ruby welt. She pulled me between the bathing suit racks. “Man that’s ugly! Did you take any Benadryl?”
It’s a bite, not an allergy. Did she think the mosquito had hay fever? Where did she earn her medical degree anyway?
Amid the dresses, my niece, Kris, a licensed athletic trainer, spied the unsightly crimson blotch. Her lips formed a twist of concern. “What happened to your leg?”
I told her about my brush with nature.
“Did you take any Benadryl for that?”
I must have DVR-ed past that commercial, but I knew I was cornered. I succumbed to the peer pressure and took some Benadryl. I also vowed to wear long pants the next day, regardless of the oppressive heat.
By morning, my insect injury jet-puffed like a marshmallow and branched out to form a satellite operation in an angrier, martial shade of red. Thank you, Benadryl. I slipped on my slacks, and left the house.
I monitored my hideous scarlet patches like a good farmer tending his spring corn. My mother, the RN, always warned us to watch for red streaking along the veins—a sign of blood poisoning. Streaks are sleek and decisive. My wound and its moon were blobby, hesitant, and now painful.
By nighttime, the patches of my little garden combined into a jagged trail leading from the original wound site to my delicate nether regions. It resembled an alien affliction from a 1950’s sci-fi movie—only scary.
I called to Kris from behind the bathroom door. She had first aid training and, more importantly, was the least likely to laugh directly in my face.
“Ooh. That’s not good,”
Mary Kay followed her. “Man, that’s even uglier!”
We rejoined the group, including my nephew, Tom, a physical therapist.
“You really need to have that looked at by a doctor,” Kris said.
The time neared 10 p.m. We had scheduled a game of Trivial Pursuit-to-the-death for that hour.
“Do you think I should go to the doctor tonight, or tomorrow morning? Just how dire is it, Kris?”
“It’s bigger and brighter than yesterday. It’s not healing on its own.”
“But, do you think I should go tonight, or tomorrow?”
“You need antibiotics. It went from one wound to two, and now it’s morphed to one big one.”
“So, tonight, or tomorrow?”
“It’s infected, and it’s moving up to your groin.”
“Tonight? Or tomorrow?”
Tom, weary of the volley, spiked it, “The next stop is your heart!”
“Okay! Where’s where is the nearest emergency room?”
Eight hundred pazoozas later, the reunion continued. For my money, I got a party toothpick-sized needle jammed into my left bun, a Sharpie outline of my blob that lasted for two weeks, and rampant heckling for the duration of my family’s visit. Not that blood poisoning was a viable option, but I earmarked that money for another purchase. I told my broker to buy 100 shares of Johnson & Johnson stock. I heard Benadryl was selling briskly.