It’s Been Thumb Weekend

I always take great pains to avoid other animals when walking our dog Tito. He gets excited easily, so I always keep my distance.

On Friday afternoon, I was walking him when I noticed a family walking their dog up ahead. I crossed to the other side of the street to give us more space. Unfortunately, their dog decided it really needed to run at Tito. Also unfortunately, the small child holding the leash could not keep the dog controlled, and was thrown violently to the ground. Suddenly the dog was bolting for us.

Before I could think, the dogs are fighting like crazy and I’m trying to break them up. Like a moron, I put my hand in there to get Tito to release his bite. Eventually I lie on top of them and they separate. I’m crying and yelling my name because I want to make sure the other dog is okay. But the family has apparently vanished and I’m giving my info to some random passers-by.

The people who live in the house where this all happened (two blocks from our house) come out and call 911. I remove my glove and realize that my thumb is all bloody and messed up. I’m frantically clutching Tito’s leash and trying to calm him, insisting that I need to get him home right away. Everyone tells me to stay put.

I text Diane, who (fortunately) had left work early. She shows up when the ambulance does. They put me inside and take me to St. Mary’s. My biggest worry is: How will this affect my ability to play video games?

In The ER

Once we reach the hospital, the staff takes x-rays and gives me pain meds. I wasn’t hurting too bad, but they said the adrenaline can block some of it. Throughout the whole ordeal, they kept asking me how bad it felt, on a scale of 1-10. I never went above a 5. (Still haven’t, for the record.) Diane is a goddess of patience and support, and I can’t help thinking about how much more difficult the whole ordeal would be without her.

The surgeon stops by. The bone has been crunched, he explains, and the top part of the thumb has come away. It’s still attached, but not very well. He explains that had I not been wearing my glove, I would have lost the top part. They’re going to re-attach, and there’s a very good chance it will all heal up just fine.

Then there’s a lot of waiting. Apparently my wound is not time-sensitive, so they have to triage others ahead of me. It’s annoying, but I’m on some serious meds so I lose track of time. At one point I look up and there’s a former student, working hard in the ER. She was a creative, hard-working student, so it’s a lovely surprise. The other staffers are all very kind and in good spirits. I don’t know that I could handle that kind of work.

Unfortunately, I can’t eat — or even drink water. I haven’t eaten since 1:00 PM, and I’m really thirsty. They explain there’s a Subway on the fifth floor, which is open until midnight. I go into surgery around 9:00.

As the guy comes to wheel me to the Operating Room, I ask if I’m going to get the machine that goes bing. My driver lights up and gushes about how much he loves Monty Python. We trade lines from Meaning of Life all the way to the OR.

They put me under and stitch me up. When I wake up, I have a compulsion to tell dumb jokes to the nurse attending to me on the other side. (She likes the one about the ducks in heaven best.) They contact Diane and I describe my order for Subway. They run some tests and take my blood pressure a dozen times. Then they move me to my recovery room, where Diane is waiting with my dinner like a sandwich angel.

My hand is wrapped in a huge gauze wrap, and I look like Pee-Wee Herman hitchhiking in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

A Rough Night

It’s a rough night. They put these weird vibrating stockings on my legs to prevent blood clots. They massage my legs constantly. I’ve never been a fan of massage — it’s just not my thing. Plus these stockings make my legs sweaty. I send Diane home around 12:30 and tried to sleep. I didn’t have much luck. They gave me meds, but they didn’t help. I dozed off around 2:00 and woke up (as usual) at 5:00.

On Saturday morning I walked around the floor a few times (this helped me get free from the stockings). I ordered an omelette (they have a pretty good room service menu) and watched an episode of Law & Order. I had never seen that show before, and I was struck by how rapid the pace of the storytelling was. Lots of info-dumping. Also the episode featured a young Major Rawls from The Wire.

I’m told I need to stick around until the late morning, so I can be visited by the surgeon again. Then I will be referred to the hand clinic for the next steps. They pump me full of antibiotics all day, and I’m told that my primary concern needs to be preventing infection. Keeping my hand elevated is the most important thing I can do. I hear The Offspring in my head constantly. (“Ya gotta keep it elevated.”)

More waiting. Fortunately I find a Futurama marathon on The SyFy Channel, so that keeps me busy. Diane returns mid-morning with a book (which I don’t read) and the cake I requested from HyVee. (Crazy craving. I can’t explain.) As requested, she has written a haiku on top:

Eric, what happened?

Watch out the dog and your thumb

Here’s a cake for you

Eventually a physician’s assistant stops by and explains that she doesn’t want to disturb the sterile wrapping around my thumb. She says it went well and everything looks good and I should meet with the hand clinic ASAP. I have to stay in the hospital to get more antibiotics.

Diane gets me McDonalds (because I haven’t filled up on enough crap yet) and we eat lunch while watching Futurama.

I get discharged at 3:00 PM. I don’t feel too bad, but I get prescriptions for pain meds and more antibiotics. When I get home, I hop on the special Saturday edition of the Veteran Gamers podcast for a bit. (My buddy Mike was halfway through a charity gaming marathon.) Meanwhile, Diane gets my meds from Walgreens. I’m relieved to see there are some guest hosts on the show, so I don’t feel bad about showing up late and leaving early. I tell the story, talk about Caveblazers, and say goodbye.

Home Again

The next 24 hours are a mixture of pain, regular weekend stuff, and boredom. My hand doesn’t hurt too bad, so I don’t take any meds until Sunday afternoon, and then only over-the-counter naproxin. I’ll save the heavy stuff for when I need it. Some people are surprised I’m not in more pain, and I wonder aloud if I’m experiencing less objective pain, or if I’m just good at dealing with it. We’ll never really know.

I sleep okay (10:00 PM to 5:00 AM) and in the morning I take a shower for the first time since the incident. I have to wrap my hand in a towel, then a plastic bag, and then tie off with a rubber band. It’s awkward, but it works.

Then Diane and I go for our usual Sunday morning brunch at our local tavern. It’s delicious, but I only finish half. I’m surprised when our usual waitress (a lovely woman) doesn’t ask about my enormous thumb bandage. But it’s busy and I’m not having too much difficulty cross-stitching, so maybe she can’t tell. I drive to brunch and back, and it’s pretty easy. Still, I’m catching a ride with my buddy Chris tomorrow morning, just to be safe.

Back at home I watch a bunch of episodes of The Wire (end of Season 1 and start of Season 2). I try playing Rocket League with just the keyboard. After some awkward refiguring, I map out some keys that seem to work. After a lot of fumbling around offline, I try a game online and actually score a goal. Woo!

Then I write this.

The TakeAways

It’s been crazy, and definitely not the weekend I would have chosen for myself. But it’s reminded me of several very important things. First, I am blessed in many important ways. I have an amazing supportive wife. I have loving family and friends. I have access to health care and I live in a place with a good infrastructure.

This all could have been a lot worse. Easily. My recovery will be annoying — when you’re disabled, everything takes longer. But inshallah I will soon have full thumb function again. I’m going into school tomorrow, and I have to lead a 12-hour field trip on Wednesday. Hopefully I can visit the hand clinic on Tuesday and get some news on the recovery. (Maybe get a smaller dressing.)

I was supposed to grade some papers this weekend — just like every weekend. That’s not going to happen, and I think my students will understand. I hope they do. But I also hope they can see me keep a positive determination with this whole affair and draw something from it.

Diane and other folks remarked on how calm and zen-like I was during this craziness. I was glad to hear it, because I strive for calm when stuff gets critical. I work hard to manage the stress in my life, but you never know when a serious test is going to come along. I guess I passed some tests this weekend.

They say you should not pray when it’s raining if you don’t also pray when it’s sunny out. I believe the same is true of mindfulness and clarity of self. Therefore I think this weekend, more than anything else, is proof that mindfulness practice works well for me, especially in a crisis.

For the record, I have written two books about mindfulness. Both are available for very little money in print, and there are free PDF copies on my website. (The first is also available as a free audiobook.) I hope the techniques that have helped me so much will also be valuable for other folks.

I want to thank Diane once again for her indefatigable support and care. Thanks also to my awesome mom and brother, and all my friends who have shown such love. (And excellent GIFs from The Simpsons.)

I’m a really lucky guy. This too shall pass.

Random Thoughts from a Much Better Thursday

  • Very little has changed in the material reality of my life. Trump is still an atrocious empty suit; I still have mountains of papers to grade; many students are still paralyzed by fragility or lack of confidence. Yet I feel much much better today.
  • Mac Barnett is awesome.
  • Thanks again to friends and family that were willing to help or just put up with me as I dealt yesterday with my occasional swing into depressive terrain. As promised, the pendulum has swung back into the manic.
  • It can be healthy for me to have these occasional episodes, because it gives me a glimpse into the lives of people who suffer from actual depression. It’s not a choice, it’s not a moral failure, it’s not a light switch. Things change, but sometimes they don’t change much or very quickly. At those times we’ve got to be careful that we don’t say or do things that will make the person feel even worse.
  • Granola bars are tasty.
  • I’m tired of being chastised and gaslit by Trump apologists. I work really hard to be open-minded, compassionate, and intellectually honest. People who try to convince me that I’m not — well, haters gonna hate.
  • I’m working on Part Two of my Resisting Oversimplification thing. Maybe I’ll put in some work on it this weekend.
  • Soon I’ll get to do a thing I’ve wanted to do for a while. Yay!
  • I still don’t know if that horrible rumor is true or not and I still have no way to find out. That still sucks.
  • Some students write some really awesome stuff.
  • Today a student asked to read Nelson Algren’s Nonconformity, my favorite book about writing ever. This was the first time a student ever asked to borrow the book, so I’m very happy. I hope they like it.
  • There’s nothing like a slightly-too-small pair of pants to remind you that you should do more sit-ups and eat less stuffed-crust pizza.
  • It’s tough to teach a text you really love. If students don’t love it (or don’t love it enough) then you might take it personally. And it’s not personal.
  • A student just asked to see my copy of The New Jim Crow after I mentioned it in class. There is no better way for a school day to end. We’re done here.

Random Thoughts from a Terrible Wednesday

  • It’s very difficult to grade papers in the midst of an existential crisis of despair.
  • I struggle with great pain to remain hopeful in a world so filled with people who ignore the pain of others, and blind themselves with certainty about Truth.
  • Ideology and cowardice make people do terrible things. All my life I have struggled to inspire people to transcend ideology and summon courage. Days like today (Betsy DeVos, fragile children, demons in my head) fill me with despair.
  • “the only true defeat is to be capable of playing a part in the world, and playing no part at all.” — Nelson Algren, Nonconformity (c. 1950) p. 50
  • Happy birthday to my brother Mark. I wish I could be more positive and upbeat on this happy day.
  • I am eternally grateful to my friends and family as they wait out yet another swing of the pendulum toward depressive. I’ll snap back to manic soon, I’m sure. Thanks for your patience.
  • Sometimes the most important thing you can do — and the most difficult — is nothing.
  • AP is correct on em dash spacing. Suck it, Chicago!
  • I keep finding stuff to inspire my students to write stories and create real characters and compose great poetry and I have no time to write except for tiny jabbers of tweet-length stuff like this.
  • “When one is peacefully at home, life seems ordinary, but as soon as one walks into the street and begins to observe, to question women, for instance, then life becomes terrible. The neighborhood of Patriarshi Prudy (a park and street in Moscow) looks quiet and peaceful, but in reality life there is hell.” — Anton Chekhov, Notebooks (Dude was tweeting back in 1901.)
  • Any teacher who feels that s/he is good enough should not be teaching.
  • It’s hard to be satisfied with a day’s work when you know it’s never good enough.
  • I’ve made some really cool presentations for classes over the years.
  • When I can’t even finish one stack of papers in a day of grading, I feel like a failure.
  • I heard some horrible news recently but I have no way of finding out if it’s truth or rumor.
  • Alan Watts is awesome.

The Didactic Interview: Sofia Ali-Khan

To confront the existential horror of President Trump, I’m joined by my longtime activist friend Sofia Ali-Khan. We discuss our lives as progressive rabble-rousers, educators, and Americans. We sort through the problems we face and some concrete steps for action. Let’s get to work, everybody!

Links to things we discussed:

Here’s the song at the end, “Simply Are” by Arto Lindsay:

10 Things Every American Should Do When a New President is Elected

1. Read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Know what it says about the rights of every human being on the planet. Be prepared to stand up for your own rights, and be prepared to defend the rights of other humans.

2. Read the United States Constitution. Know what it says about the rights of every American citizen. Be prepared to stand up for your own rights, and be prepared to defend the rights of other Americans.

3. Build community. Wherever governments or other forces try to violate the rights of people, they have less success when people know each other. Meet your neighbors if you don’t already know them. Reach out to friends and family and reinforce networks of support.

4. Pick a specific movement for good and work with other people. I have been a member of Amnesty International for over 20 years, because I believe in its mission to protect the UDHR. Perhaps you’d like to work specifically to help children, or protect the rights of LGBTQ individuals, or stand up for religious freedom, or defend freedom of the press, or preserve the environment. Whatever issue is most important to you, be active and involved.

5. Stay focused on what people say and do. Avoid demonization and oversimplification. JaySmooth from the website IllDoctrine.com once made a very important video called How to Tell Someone They Sound Racist. If you’ve never seen it, please take three minutes and watch it right now.

6. Learn how to be angry for a long time. As I wrote in my book MindWipe:

It’s absolutely essential for people (especially young people) who fight the power to learn how to be angry for a long time. Otherwise the rage and fury will clot your blood and clog your pores. No one will protect you from the exhaustion and emotional toll these struggles will take; you must protect yourself. And in my experience, bitterness and bile are supreme enemies against which you must be vigilant. Nothing will make you burn out more quickly than succumbing to the belief that there’s no point.

The chapter “How to Be Angry for a Long Time” is on the Medium website. Please have a look.

7. Take care of yourself. Eat well, drink water, breathe deeply, and exercise. Watch funny movies and play fun games. Garden, take walks, or do whatever makes you feel good. Resist the temptation to escape into clouds of oblivion or bottles of despair.

8. Made good art. As Neil Gaiman said: “Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art.” Read the comic from Zen Pencils.

9. Find a book about history and read it. I recommend Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States or perhaps East Timor: Genocide in Paradise by Matthew Jardine. Learn about those people and organizations who have resisted violence and oppression in other places and times.

10. Educate others. If you are unhappy with the result of an election, you must know and/or believe things that other people do know know or understand. Use this opportunity to share important facts and perspectives with which others may be unaware. Stay focused on specific things that people can investigate for themselves. Find common ground where possible and challenge everyone to be their best selves.