with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Slicing and Dicing

Okay, so I’ve been neglectful of my online journal. It’s for a very good reason. See, I thought I would try for a new look. You all know I’m the queen of fashion – in fact, I’m head of my time – all the time. Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, not even Madonna can keep up with me.

See, I thought I’d try for six fingers on my left hand. The more fingers, the more rings, right! Of course, right!

Well, it didn’t work. I think it was the touch of the blood spewing across the outside of our trailer that was the fashion statement that Brent could have lived without. If we were into gore and gothic, then it would be been too cool. Unfortunately, it was pretty ghastly as it dried and stayed there for a week before we were able to clean it.

Yes, Lorelle did a little slip with the razor knife and tried to slide and dice her little left pinkie.

It was a Sunday, and if you ever read the articles on our website, you would stumble across a brilliant essay and informative article I wrote years ago called “If It’s Going to Breakdown, It Will Invariably Happen on a Saturday Night in a Small Town.” This is our life. And yes, it happened in a small town, Mobile, Alabama, on a Sunday night – about as ineffective as a Saturday night.

We’d spent the morning doing our first exploration of the area outside of WalMart, Home Depot, and Lowes. We’d headed down to Dauphin Island, a hot spot for birding, walking, sail boarding, swimming, and fishing, or just sitting in a boat on the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, it had taken the brunt of Hurricane Ivan and the damage is amazing. But we were there to see some birds and walked around the seashore and through the Audubon Bird Sanctuary there, through the swamps and forest, had a bad lunch, and then headed back to work, of course, on the trailer.

The guy across from us is a chain smoking cigar puffer. Every time his motor home door opens, a huge cloud of blue green vapors spreads out as he steps through the door. He is like the proverbial Pig Pen in the Charlie Brown comics. The cloud of stank (not stink but STANK) hangs around him like a bad halo. I’ve never seen him without the thing hanging out of his mouth, horrid smoke puffing through his gritted teeth. The smell is beyond horrid. It is like sniffing asshole – unclean asshole. Not something I like admitting I’ve done, but I used to work as a nurse’s aid a million years ago and cleaned plenty of old assholes.

When he comes out, I have to go in and close all the doors and windows. Luckily for me, he doesn’t come out very often. We’ve since learned that he is a paranoid schizophrenic on medication and barely able to function in the outside world, but he has friends who keep an eye on him and help him out all the time. That’s nice, but you can guess that this is not high on my list of things I’m enthused about. Hey, everyone should have an acknowledged paranoid schizophrenic living across from them. I guess it’s better to know they are than find out later and wish you had know.

Anyway, I’m working on a project cutting some plastic with the big razor knife, thinking to myself that I should be wearing gloves…now, where did I put them…oh, this will take a minute and I’ve done it before….and the creep comes out of his trailer with a tornado of blue green smoke.

I think, “shit” and that is my mantra for the next 72 hours. The knife slipped and sliced across the pinkie of my left hand. I stood up and turned – spewing the side of the trailer (that’s twice I’ve been able to use the word “spew”. Not a word I get to use often. Wow! That makes three times! Spew spew spew spew spew….I’m liking this word…now, where was I…) with blood and grabbed it with my right hand to put pressure on it.

Brent jumped up and wanted to know what to do. “Towels,” was the best I could tell him. Meanwhile, besides the word “shit” running around in my head, I’m thinking, okay, will a bandage fix this? I took a peek and the blood came pumping out. I snapped it closed again. Nope. No quick fix here. Having stitched my own skin up in the past, this is something I didn’t want to repeat. Besides, we live in modern times and this is my hand I’m talking about. I need two hands to sew up my own skin.

Brent brought out the towels and wrapped it around both of my hands. I wasn’t letting go now. I like my blood INSIDE.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Go over to the cigar man and his friend and ask them where the nearest hospital or emergency room is.”

Brent raced over to the cigar smoker and his buddy, John, a one legged, multi-fingers missing guy who owns the battered and ancient trailer next to us, awaiting a complete rebuild. John immediately volunteered to lead us to the hospital in his little truck while we followed in our monster truck. Brent thanked him and got me into the truck.

As I was getting in, John asked me if I had a preference. I told him anywhere that would take someone without medical insurance. Not having any himself, he popped up with a name right away. This is the same place, we found out, that cut off his leg and fingers due to poor blood circulation and who knows what else. Oh, yeah.

It felt like forever but was maybe ten minutes as we raced to the hospital. Brent looked down and saw the speedometer doing 80 mph and got a little worried as we sped down Interstate 10. We were both worried because we were going really fast but were still being passed by the rest of the traffic. Speeding seems to be a way of life here.

At the hospital, it took a little doing to find the Emergency Room and it turned out to be a glorified waiting room FROM HELL.

We were required to fill in a little white piece of paper stating our name and the event which brought us here. Brent didn’t know what to write, as the blood dripped out of the towel and down my arm onto the floor. He wrote “cut finger” and then added “seriously”. What else could he write?

We were instructed to stuff it through a slot in the wall and then the people behind the counter completely ignored us.

We stuffed in it and Brent and I stood there, and looked.

The people sprawled across the chairs before us ranged across the ages, but most were at the bottom of the human food chain. Worn out, worried, giving up kind of people. What few were not absorbed by the inane comedy channel on television, sat there in pain, suffering unsilent, whining and moaning, clutching whatever ailed them. We stood there in shock, literally and figuratively. Where were we? This was more like the waiting room for a clinic, not an emergency room.

We didn’t know how long the wait would be, so I told Brent to go park the truck that was blocking the driveway and that’d I just stand and wait for the next step. He looked down at the bloody towel and gave me a gentle hug and left.

No one stood up or moved over to free a seat in the crowded room. An old couple, wearing too many clothes on their frail bodies, sat in the front row holding hands, staring at the television over their heads. In the back, a stereotypical woman shaped like a tank and gowned in something huge and orange, coughed and hacked up something into a towel. A man walked into the room and limped to the back, bringing with him a stench of cigarette smoke. A baby started crying, began to choke, and then sputtered to silence as it’s caretaker leaned over, took a look and then went back to the television without a touch or gentle stroke.

Finally, a man came out of one of the three doors in the room and called my name. I stepped through the door into a hall with two small areas opening up from it and a door at the end. He directed me to the first room.

“What’s wrong?”

“I cut my finger.” It seems so small when you say it that way. I sat down in the chair next to the desk and held up the obvious bloody towel wrapped hands. He unwrapped the towel and tried to unpry my right hand from the little finger. My right thumb and first two fingers had dried in the blood like glue. He had to get some water to pour over them to loosen the dried blood to free my two hands.

The little finger opened up wide, revealing white bone in the long gap. Blood started to pour out again and he wrapped a couple squares of gauze around it and my right hand returned to its place to squeeze the blood back into my body.

“You did it well, didn’t you?”

“I don’t mess around.”

“Does it hurt?”

I wanted to snap something cynical like “Nah, I love slicing open body parts. It’s a thrill a slice.” but it was obvious that this man was tired, overworked, and worn out from people’s whines and moans. I paused and really did a good overall check-in on my body.

I told him that yes, it hurt, and that I was beginning to go into shock. I suddenly could hear my voice from far away and realized that I was telling the truth. I heard myself say that I’d probably lost a quarter to half cup of blood, and that adrenaline was pumping through my body and coming to an end really quickly. It hurt, but would hurt MUCH more later, as the adrenaline would drop. The room started to swim a little and I started to shake.

He asked me more questions, filling in a form with a pen. Odd, I thought. Here we are in the techno age and he is writing down the information. Somewhere somehow, someone would have to type this into the computer. I would meet that person sooner than I thought. All this typing in of the handwritten material keeps people employed, I guess.

Somehow I ended up down the hall in the next open area before a woman who hated her job but needed to pay the rent and support her child by herself because some man she had counted on had abandoned her. She was the unsympathetic typist who entered the handwritten information in the computer, asking me the same questions as the man had, barely paying attention to the information he had so painstakingly written down with his pen on the paper.

Then Brent was standing behind me, answering the questions as the rest of the world got smaller and smaller, moving away from me. I couldn’t remember our new address. Since I’d barely know it a week or two, that was easy to excuse. We’d had our phone for a week, so why would I even know my phone number. So we gave them what info we knew, or rather Brent did. My world got darker and smaller, scaling down to the area about 10 centimeters around my left hand.

When I sagged and almost fell out of my chair, unable to get up, Brent insisted upon a wheel chair. It took some doing, and complaining, but they finally found one. Brent asked if they had a bed ready for me and they all looked at him as if he was nuts. “And where would we have an empty bed?”

“In the emergency room? This is a hospital, isn’t it?”

“They’re full.”

Somewhere, the cynical Lorelle chased the thought, “If there was a bed free, honey, you’d be in it.”

Brent wheeled me out into the waiting room and the man, the triage nurse it seems, said they would get to me as soon as possible.

There was no room for the wheel chair in the room, with the other people there and in wheel chairs, so we went over by the door, gassed every time someone went in or out for a smoke right outside the door in the hallway beyond.

Below the television in the center of the wall, night between us and the door, sat a telephone on a small end table. A very thin man almost crawled in the door, wrinkled and used up from too many years of obvious alcohol, and smelling like a cross between the bad end of a brewery and a Roman pukatorium. He was totally buckled over, clutching his stomach, and talking to himself as he bounced off people and walls and fell onto the phone table. Groaning and talking non-stop, apologizing with every other half mumbled sentence, he grabbed the phone and started dialing with one hand and half his face as the other clutched his stomach. The whole room now watched him, more exciting than the comedy movie on television over his head.

He made two attempts to dial the number and finally got an answer. I don’t know if it was who he really wanted to call, but they stayed on the phone listening to him. Or at least he acted like there was someone on the other end of the line. The horrid conversation went on forever, mumbling and incoherent. Slowly, the eyes of the room were hypnotically drawn back to the TV.

One of the other doors opened and a man came out and called four names. Four people in the room moved with him out the door, one of them in a wheel chair. Brent pushed me into their empty spot. Now we were facing the television.

My world kept opening and closing, and slowly a chill came over me. I couldn’t stop shaking. I had a little sweat in my hair but I was freezing. I finally sent Brent out to the truck to get his coat from the back seat. He wrapped it around me. I told him to pull out my handheld computer and we sat there, oblivious to the television, playing a word game. My right hand cramped around the left, but I wouldn’t let go for fear of the bone coming out through the skin.

As people came out and went in, and the clock kept spinning, and the horrid man kept poking at the telephone and crying out from time to time, I kept pushing away the thoughts of losing my finger, but I couldn’t help it. How long before necrosis would move in? How fast could I learn how to work with only 9 fingers on the keyboard? Was the bone cut and damaged, too? Would this require a few stitches or major surgery? I pushed all of it to the back and hated everyone for this slow and interminable process surrounded by the gross people of the world.

Behind us, some people started talking loudly, losing interest in the television. Through the fog of the pain that now descended upon me, radiating from the numb left corner of my hand and boiling up and out in spikes, I hear things like, “Yeah, we go visit him every week or so. He’s done only 18 months of the seven years he’s got, and already he’s not winning days off for good behavior. I regular terror he is, there in upstate.” And “Oh, man, when the DTs hit you, ah, man, I remember those days…” “George drank up the welfare check again…” and more talk that is disgusting and low-life.

I remember going with my friend, Martin, to the welfare or social security office. One of those. Out of work waiting to lose enough weight so he could have open heart surgery, he’d reached the end of his financial tether. Unable to even walk more than a couple of meters without sagging down from the strain on his heart, I drove him to the office, the avenue of last options for him. After waiting for two hours among the lowly low, he went in for his appointment. I sat there in the slowly emptying room, reading my book. I never go anywhere without a book. It’s a rule. Always been a rule in my family. At least with my parents and me. My brother, well, I don’t even know if he knows how to read. I’ve never seen him with a book. And he digs ditches for a living, so who knows.

I’m sitting there, engrossed, and a handsome man comes out from the offices and stops with a sudden movement which caught my eye. I glanced up. He stared at me and then came right at me.

Oh, no, he thinks I’m his next appointment, I thought. I started to stand up but he motioned me to stay seated and he came to sit down next to me.

“I don’t have an appointment,” I quickly explained. “I’m waiting for a friend.”

“I know that.” He just stared at me, very intently.

“How do you know that?”

“I’ve been working here for many years and I’ve seen all kinds of people come and go, but I’ve never seen anyone like you.”

I thought that this was a very unusual come on, unaccustomed to flirting, but I liked it. I had several witty responses, but I felt like silence was a better option.

“In all my years working here, I’ve never seen someone reading a book. Glancing at a magazine or two, but never with a book in their hands.”

I was stunned. We talked some more and he was really sweet. Married for years to his college sweetheart and wanting to make a difference in the world…you know the story. We also talked about how reading changes lives, literally. He said he used to bring in books, paperbacks and such, but unless they had a gorgeous hunk swooning over some woman on the deck of a pirate ship or edge of a cliff, they only collected dust. Sad.

Sitting in the hospital waiting room, I knew what he would think of all this. Listening to conversations that seemed to delight people in sharing the worse of themselves and their friends. Drunken fights, breaking up bars, smashing cars up for fun, arguing and fighting with their “loved” ones, smacking children around, smoking in back alleys, proud of jail time….things that make me realize that the gift of freedom and opportunity in the United States may be something desired by the rest of the world who are willing to do anything and everything to come here and find “a better life” from the one they know, and yet there are millions of citizens right here in this country who thrive in the lessor life foreigners have left behind. And the scarey part is that these people from the depth of the earth, those closest too it and usually the quickest to return to it, they are breeding like flies, spreading their stupid everywhere.

I sound so judgmental, and I am. After living overseas, especially in Israel where so many immigrants came there, making horrendous changes in their lives to be in a place where there are freedoms and opportunities to grow, have a job, walk the streets in peace, and not worry about every word they say, who they are, how they pray, and what they do…and how they cherish every breath they take in the new land, filled with hope. And here sits these people who are US Citizens, a rare privilege, and they do little to improve the quality of their life living off of tax dollars while bitching and moaning and celebrating the uselessness of their lives…it makes me sick.

Okay, sicker. I think these things clearly now, but there in the waiting room, the clock slowly ticking off the hours, my whole body shaking with pain and shock, all I knew was anger and resentment as one by one the door opened and other names were called and the room slowly emptied. People moved in and out of the room, standing against the window overlooking the entry and driveway, smoke swirling around them.

After three hours, I was sure that my name would never be called and that I would lose my finger. Brent held me as best he could and I finally gave into the tears, silent with my pain. Thirty minutes later, almost unconscious in the wheel chair, I heard them stammer and stumble over my name.

“Lori-ell-y Van Flowsen?”

Close enough. Brent got up to wheel me forward, but the nurse told him to just wait. He could come in after I’d seen the doctor. I tried to protest, but I could hardly talk. My throat was dry and I had a horrible headache on top of everything else. Dehydration, I realized.

They took me inside and into an open room. With help, I got up on the bed and almost swooned. I don’t swoon often, but I was pretty exhausted. I sat on the bed and they took the wheel chair away. I then felt stupid. Yes, this is just a finger, and they get more serious missing body parts in here, but this freakin’ hurts and I want to go home. In and out. It’s bad, but it can’t be THAT bad, right?

I wanted to believe it. And I wanted to believe that what I had was not so bad. But listening to others whining and crying around me, I realized that it was bad. One guy had a very minor cut that just needed some washing and a bandage and they sent him home. Unfortunately, he was also drunk, but the five hour wait that he loudly complained about had sobered him up enough, so fortunately, he could drive home okay. Another woman almost screamed about a toothache, sobbing to the doctor that the soonest they could get her into her dentist was over a week away and they didn’t have any emergency appointments open. I’m thinking that an emergency appointment isn’t something you “open”, you just go and sit there screaming until they see you. Or call another dentist. The strange thing is that as soon as she told her story to the doctor, and the doctor told her that all he could do was give her ibuprofen or some equivalent over the counter stuff and nothing harder, recommending some over the counter rub on stuff to put on the gum and then go sit in the office of her dentist the next morning until he’d see her, she shut up. Her elderly mother came in and she totally calmed down. Seems the pain went away as soon as she told the doctor. Or at least it didn’t seem to bother her as much. A few minutes later she was gossiping and laughing with the nurse and walking out of there without medication. Odd.

Another man could be heard screaming and yelling. I found out through my nurse that he was a prisoner who’d gotten hold of some bad drugs or something. He was demanding to pee and the nurse told him that he would be out of there in a few minutes and the guard would take him to pee then. “I ain’t writing a whole bunch of paperwork to let him take a whiz! He can just wait.” I can’t imagine why peeing would involve paperwork, but the male nurse’s high and truly southern sweet draw-al was just too darling to not listen to go on and on as he whined about the prisoner.

So cutting my finger nearly off was rather a bit more serious than a toothache that magically fades and a bandaged cut. As for the druggie prisoner…who knows.

When the doctor got to me, he could tell in a minute that I wasn’t your normal patient. We flirted and did silly things. This is when I first came up with the bad manicure story – trying to increase my fashion sense with a sixth finger. He’d just recently had minor surgery on his hand, so he showed off the almost lack of scar. I told him I wanted a clean invisible scar, too. Can’t totally give up on fashion, even when fashion lets us down.

I ended up telling him that I’d just moved here from Israel. He admitted that he’d been a lifer in the navy and lived all over, including in Bahrain for a while. I told him that as hated as Bush was overseas, I was nervous about coming back with him continuing as president. He gave me a nasty lecture on how brilliant Bush was and how he would save the world – but the thing that made me change the subject really quick was when he went on to say what a great hero Bush was to the military. How he really “wanted” to go to Vietnam but they turned him down. Bush flew the hardest and most dangerous airplane there was and the military was discontinuing it, so he never got to go, even though he wanted to. He went on and on about how Bush’s military career was so outstanding (Wasn’t he in the reserves? I don’t call that a military career. I call it vacation play army.) and how there wasn’t a military officer who didn’t respect him. He told me that Kerry’s whole military career was a joke and that he’d spied and lied and all kinds of awful things.

As he cleaned out and stitched up my finger, I wanted to scream at him for being an idiot, but what can you do with rapid Republicans. I wanted to tell him that Bush and Kerry were only proof of the “we’ll settle for less because the best won’t run” attitude of mediocrity in the United States. Then he asked me about Israel and if I felt safe living over there.

I told him the normal stuff.

“Is there hope now that Arafat is gone?”

I told there that there was always hope but with the Palestinians lobbing over rockets constantly over the borders, the violence hadn’t ended, it had just increased without leadership. Not that Arafat had been leading for a while.

Anyway, it was delightful to have any kind of a conversation with anyone who had two brain cells to rub together after a month among the paranoid schizos and other trailer trash wonders.

By the time he finished, and the whole left hand was numbed up, I could stand, though shakily, and walk, though not a total straight line. I asked where I would have to pay and was told that they would send me a bill. Huh?

So I walked out and Brent bounced up, anxious for information. I told him everything was fine, five stitches and they would send us a bill in the mail. Huh?

As we left, I had to pee. Unlike the prisoner, I was free to pee at will, but not all that free. Brent went in with me into the handicapped stall to help me pull down my pants. As soon as I got home, off came the pants. I can handle undies, but everything else takes a little more effort with one hand.

Back at home in the trailer, I spent the next few days sitting around with my hand up, trying not to do anything to move it. I poked a little at the computer, via the mouse, but it was a struggle. Everything I did required moving the left hand, sending shooting pain through me. Luckily, on the last day of life in Israel, I had stumbled upon a sale of Acumal, a very popular pain reliever called paracetamol. I’ve heard a lot of Brits and Israelis tell me that this is the very best to kill off headaches and all that ails you. I’m now a big fan of it. The ibuprofen didn’t do the trick, but this stuff did. Bingo bango.

Anyway, a week later the stitches came out and now I’m slowly able to half curl the finger, though it barely has a mind of its own yet. Bumping it still pains me, but I’m getting talented, as you can see, of typing with nine fingers, though the backspace key and I have become best friends again as I stumble over words.

So, I can honestly tell you, the six finger fashion thing…it’s a bust. Don’t try it. Even at home.

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