Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Plum On My Heel

The Health Services building at the University of Rhode Island sits sunk at the bottom of the campus like a clump of leaves sucked down a drainpipe. There is something unnerving about going underground to talk to a doctor and the squat dingy white brick structure did nothing to counteract that lack of confidence. I have two stories of medical incompetence that emanate from that place, one which I can't even bring myself to publicize. But the wart? I'll talk about that fucking wart.

It was what should have been my senior year except I knew I was taking a 5th year to spend in France. So what do you call your senior year that isn't your senior year? Junior the 2nd? I'm not really sure. This slippery nomenclature must have ruptured the time/space continuum because my senior-not-senior-second-junior year was a fucking train wreck.

As usual, my life centered solely around the theater department. What shows were scheduled, what classes I'd be taking, what costume shop duty I could avoid. This last question loomed large because I'd finally decided to officially declare as a theater major. I'd not done so before because if you were a theater major you had to work BACKSTAGE to fulfill certain requirements. Somehow by NOT declaring as a theater major I could act in all four main-stage productions without setting foot backstage.

But by this point I'd taken so many theater classes that a degree was well within reach. Which meant that there were certain classes that I'd have to take in order to finalize the deal. One of which was a Costume Class. Are you getting the picture yet? The costume shop was, for me, a place of darkness and terror.

Now, don't get me wrong. The Costume Shop at the University of Rhode Island theater department was actually GENIUS. True artists ran it, true believers bought into it, true sewers muscled those sewing machines towards magical creations.

But all I wanted to do was act. I put off taking the Costume Requirement until second semester, the LAST semester of my senior-not-senior-second-junior year. This will become important later on.

Senior year began with a production of 'Crimes of the Heart'. I played Barnette Lloyd, the lawyer who becomes smitten with the youngest sister. This production was, to say the least, troubled. The entire play takes place in the kitchen of a small farmhouse. The design team created a kitchen that you could comfortably plop Versailles into. I found myself playing intimate scenes across a teensy kitchen table four hundred feet of fake linoleum away from any audience. Total disaster.

Next up came 'Camelot'. This play featured a live dog and a live horse. I gave a terrible audition and didn't get the part of Arthur which I think I would have been great at. Instead I played King Pellinore who is supposed to be old. I affected a Monty Python accent, put flowers in my hair, and let a cocker spaniel upstage me every day.

Except for the day the spaniel didn't show. I pranced onstage to my horrified cast members and asked if they'd seen my dog. I was upset that I'd lost my dog. I held the leash sadly. This was my favorite moment of the whole run.

Somewhere in here a wart began to form on my heel, the inside of my right heel. At first I ignored it because, you know, I was in college and drunk most of the time. But by the time spring semester rolled around it had started to hurt. I was also in Costume 412 poking myself with needles to get a theater degree.

The final project of the class is a dreaded conundrum called a 'Fabric Morgue'. It is a testament to my inattentiveness that I do not know what the hell this means. To finish it you had to write some sort of thesis on fabric, subject every sort of fabric known to man to flammable tests, water-proofing, cloaking properties, scratch-and-sniff lacquering and simple draping.

This might as well have been a particle physics exam for me. I was going to FAIL.

The week before finals I finally had to do something about the pesky wart. It hurt to wear shoes. My girlfriend and I were in our own downward spiral of disaster that rivaled the impending 'Fabric Morgue' catastrophe. We'd started seeing each other at the end of my first junior-not-senior-year. Just as it got serious an old high school friend that I'd had an on-again off-again long-distance flirtatiousness with wrote to me and said she wanted to be with me for real this time. I broke up with the new girl, had second thoughts, bounced between both of them for several months and probably stressed myself right into a big-ass wart on my heel.

Cut to the low-brick Rats of NIMH evil experiments building of Health Services. The incident that I will never write about publicly still filled me with dread when I thought of going to the URI doctors but in spite of the fine sheen of sweat that accompanied the making of the appointment, I shuffled down there between classes.

The same nurse who'd bungled my previous visits of course was on shift. She apologized for the earlier lawsuit-worthy fuckup and then proceeded to use about four times the amount necessary of liquid hydrogen on the wart. Of course I didn't know she used too much at the TIME. No, I walked out of there under my own power and was told that there might be a little swelling, I might get a bit of a blister, but it was to be expected.

The next morning I woke up and there was a blood blister the size of a plum on my heel. I thought it was hard to put on shoes with the fucking wart; this was like trying to shove a bowling ball into a change purse.

So accustomed was I to bullshit health occurrences, I didn't even THINK ANYTHING OF IT. I went to a Theater History Final. I went to a Chemistry Final. All wearing flip flops and apologizing to my vomiting classmates who wondered what the fuck was on my foot. During a lunch conversation with my now-on-again girlfriend I was raving a bit and vaguely almost passed out.

She convinced me to go BACK to Health Services. When the doctor came in he took one look at my foot and said, "Oh my god!" Not what you want to hear from your doctor. They held me down and LANCED the fucker, with blood spraying all over that bitch of a nurse who'd burnt my god damn foot off.

When I say it was the size of a plum I am not exaggerating. Imagine a plum sliced in half. Then glue it to your heel. That's what this looked like. The wart sat white on top of the dark red blood blister like a glaring white eye and I'm so sorry that I've spread that image from my brain to yours but I've got to get this OUT there and move the fuck on.

Okay. So. I'm on painkillers and crutches AGAIN. I get a note from my doctor saying I won't be able to study too hard for my finals because, you know, he just CUT OFF HALF OF MY FUCKING HEEL.

The silver lining? I was relieved of the requirement of producing a fabric morgue, which was lucky because I still didn't know what the hell it even was.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Torn Tendon, Or The End Of A Dream, Or More Aptly, A Delusion

High school has hit like a tornado. Even expected and planned for, it's still a natural disaster.

I am involved in the Drama Club. I run track. I watch the Celtics. I shudder under the weight of Red Sox history. And I still play soccer.

I still play left fullback. I am still slower than everyone else and I still can't kick very well with my left foot even though I'm left handed. I am what coaches call "an effort guy", meaning I have no innate skill but I simply TRY harder than everyone else. I am intense on the field to a degree that sometimes simply unnerves my more talented opponents into frustration. I also am not against kicking you while the refs aren't looking or tackling you extra hard when I have no chance of stealing the ball. I can't out-play you but I can sure as hell make sure you think twice before you come into my area.

I am a starter on the junior varsity team as a sophomore. I'm ahead of a couple of juniors on the depth chart and feel a valued member of the squad.

Junior year starts and I look forward to possibly moving up to Varsity level. I'm in good shape. I am ferocious.

Tryouts begin before school starts. On a Saturday afternoon all the hopeful show up to the rutty field adjacent to South Kingstown High School. We go through drill after drill designed to weed out the have-nots. This is a team that has a State Championship as its goal so there are some obvious slots on the roster that are filled. As I said, I'm gunning to be a reserve on the Varsity squad.

The drill that ends my soccer career is a cone drill. Cones are laid out roughly ten feet from one another in a grid, two cones parallel, ten feet, two more cones parallel...

Offensive players enter the grid from the top and face one player per square. Practicing one on one offensive/defensive skills.

I can't remember the player I was facing but I do remember that he was one of the top players on the squad. There was a buzz as he entered the grid because his footwork was so good that you knew you'd get to see quite a show. I was determined to stop him even if it meant knocking him over. Again, I'm determined to be on the Varsity and if that means bruising a senior starter, that's what I'm going to do.

He jukes the first two guys in the grid and then comes at me. He is really fast but I have figured out his trajectory before he gets to me and I rush at him. As usual I don't use guile because my skill-set doesn't contain it. I ambush him head on. The ball ricochets out of the grid.

Somehow his foot pins my ankle to the grass. My body keeps going forward. There is an audible pop as my foot stays behind.

I get up quick and hustle back to the back of the line. I've still got two more chances in the grid. But before the drill comes back around to me I know something is wrong. There seems to be a space between my ankle and my foot. It doesn't hurt which is actually kind of disturbing. There is simply a blank where the connection ought to be.

I step out of line and let an assistant coach know that I have hurt myself.

Shortly thereafter it becomes difficult to put any weight on it whatsoever. I've damaged a tendon. 6 weeks of therapy before I can even think about playing soccer. I am on crutches.

I am crushed. The season is over for me.

I halfheartedly go about my rehab, which there is no hurry on since it won't get me back on the field in time for any of the season. Senior year I try out and do not make the squad. My enthusiasm is not enough to make up for the step I lost with the injury. I was already borderline too slow. Rabid hustle won't help you catch a guy who has already blown by you.

I would never play a team sport again.

I dove into cross country running and brought my psycho brand of competition to the woods, elbowing other runners and shouldering them into trees, but it just wasn't the same for me. I loved the race, the rush, but nothing compared to being part of a SQUAD.

Which brings me back to the title of this post. I think I still harbored childhood fantasies about my athletic talent. My desire was so great that I had not yet been faced with the fact that my athletic career was going to end in high school one way or another. The ankle injury gave me a quick preview of what was to come. So in an odd way I'm grateful to that grid exercise for softening that terrible blow.

I stopped that mo-fo, though. Damn straight he didn't get by me.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Bunny Who Sailed Away In A Boat

My mum and dad used to laugh about the pictures I would draw of people as a little kid. Everything was normal and in proportion except for the ears. The ears I drew almost as large as the head itself and within the ears I put several circles to signify the tubes and eardrum inside.

I was plagued by ear infection as a kid.

At least once a year I would wake up with my head on fire. The infections usually lasted two or three days and there wasn't much you could do about it. Antibiotics, sure, but the symptoms just had to be endured.

One time, however, stands out from all the rest. I was having trouble hearing. I hadn't noticed it until I got one of my typical infections. When I went to my pediatrician he told us that my ear was completely blocked with wax. I know, gross. But it was affecting my hearing.

What I remember of the pediatrician is the plaid pants. Or maybe plaid suit jacket. There was a touch of the plaid about him and he seemed like a comic book figure to me. He had big bristly black hair and huge eyebrows and a fat fleshy face which held twinkly eyes. I was conflicted about him because he was really nice and funny but every time I saw him I was in agony.

This time was no different. The pressure in my head was extraordinary. But the doctor had a solution for the blockage in my head. A giant syringe full of water. He assured me that it wouldn't hurt which was a big fat lie.

He had me lay on my side and he flushed the wax out of my ear with a jet of warm water. It was like a knife in my brain. I screamed. I kept screaming. All of a sudden my mother was back in the room. The pain was intense but the most indelible facet of the whole experience is how much more SOUND was coming into my skull. The sound of air hurt. The slight hiss of a wind against a windowpane was like a gong being slammed inside of me.

I was given a shot of a painkiller. I don't know what it was. I don't even remember the needle, so lost in the rush of sound and fury was I.

The doctor and my mother then left the room, turning off the light to give me the opportunity to calm down. And this is when it happened.

I was staring at the painting on the wall, a bunny in a small sailboat on a slightly choppy sea. I'd seen this photo a hundred times. I knew it by heart.

So when the boat started to move across the water and the bunny moved within the boat I knew something was up. I watched with fascination as the boat turned away from me and began to sail off toward the horizon instead of parallel to it.

I was hallucinating!

On the ride home I told my mum about the bunny in his boat. I also told her not to drive so fast because everything looked funny. The doctor would later tell me that I'd have been deaf if I'd been born in the 1800's. Which was oddly reassuring.