Little Agonies

Attention conservation notice: this post is mostly about a freak accident today in which I cut my foot badly. Semi-graphic details follow.

During a break in my 6 p.m. Democracy in Asia class I stepped outside to take a call from the campus photographer who is taking snaps for my latest college article.

I spoke to her, feeling kind of important to be, you know, talking on my cell to my photog and also feeling kind of ridiculous for feeling important over this. We hung up, I walked back to the building and, distracted by the chatter of my mind, opened the glass door in a weird, jerky, spastic way, hard and fast.

The door raked over my left foot. I was wearing flip-flops.

Immediately my foot began to hurt far more than it should for what should have been just a scrape.

I looked down. I saw pink, scraped flesh for the briefest of instants. Then the blood began weeping out in tears that turned to thick, red drips. Three of my toes had been mangled by the sharp metal edge of the door.

Holy shit. I am bleeding; I am at school. I am about to review for an exam. I can leave, but it’s not a very good idea before exam review in a class that meets once a week.

I grabbed a paper towel from the bathroom and decided to try to tough it out, blood in the classroom and all.

I limped back to class in such pain my mind was jerky and scattered, trying to be in student mode when all my instincts told me go home and curl up on the couch, bathe the blood away, tend to myself, tell someone I loved what was happening.

I took my seat and had a look at the damage. Blood was already pooling in my shoe. The cuts look so bad that I flex my toes to see if I have cut a tendon.

Dr. S starts the review.

I had to force my attention back to the class again and again. I couldn’t do anything to my foot — sop up blood, apply pressure — without attracting unwanted attention to a gory, ugly wound guaranteed to freak you out with one look. I feel very Japanese as I decide to sit in silence, processing a long ugly wave of pain, listening and taking notes, and occasionally checking to see if the blood in my shoe has overflowed onto the floor.

It’s five minutes or so before the pain recedes enough for me to think clearly. There’s still close to 90 minutes of class to go.

After about 10 minutes of class I start to feel freezing cold coming at me from the left, a freezing draft. I look up at the ceiling to my left, expecting to see a vent blowing cold AC.

I just see ceiling.

I wrap the green scarf I am wearing tighter around my neck. The left side of my body is freezing. I look around and don’t see anyone else who looks cold, just people in t-shirts taking notes. Almost shaking with cold, I pull on the cardigan I brought.

I look down at my foot almost expecting to see a Reservoir Dogs-like pool of red beneath my foot, spreading over the floor.

Nothing. But I can feel the growing slick in my shoe, like rain in your flip-flop, only warmer, thicker, and more of it.

I make it through class freezing, distracted, and having missed chunks of exam review material. And I don’t think a soul in the room but me knows what went on with my private agony. It’s my mystery.

Class ends and I walk to the elevator. No one’s around so I slip off my shoe and put the paper towel in like a gel insert, to soak up the blood so I don’t leave a spoor along the poli sci hallway.

As I drive home I am stricken with a sudden sadness. I had needed help horribly and wasn’t able to get it, to give it to myself or to tell anyone who cared about me what had just happened. I had been hurt so badly I was almost driven out of class by pain and the inability to think straight, but had had to weirdly divert my mind and attention, ignore myself.

And it was all too much to keep inside. Sad, strange feelings start ringing around my soul. I had just had a swift and horrible little drama that no one in the world would ever know unless I told them.

There is no lesson here. There is just a snapshot from my life, with whatever lessons it brings you. May it bring some.

In an ugly coincidence, today was supposed to be my best day yet of the school year. I was having a meeting with a friend in the a.m. about something cool. Then I was picking up Geniune and taking her to a downtown seafood lunch with my girlfriends. Then I was going in for a quick car repair, afterwards heading to the NEMAC lab to work my internship. Then at six, my favorite class of the semester.

But this morning one of my cats went missing, and I was distracted at my morning meeting. My heart wanted to go home and find my little cat.  (I came home to find him trapped in the neighbor’s garage, hungry but unharmed. In a strangely cursed day, there is indeed that.)

And I had a great lunch with my girlies. If I had less of this strange melancholy that set in with my toe-wounds, I would write about how we three students all realized how much happier we are now in our best-choice majors.

I switched from chemistry to journalism, Heather from chemistry to Spanish, and Rowan from psychology to health and wellness. And we went from three pale, hollow-eyed college hags to the women we were today, with time to share a brief but sisterly lunch and, instead of desperately propping one another up along a plodding journey of misery, celebrated one another on a journey of success.

Our lunch wasn’t about fear and exhaustion the way our lunches used to be, back when we gathered swiftly and furtively like refugees passing bread through a fence. This time it was about Heather doing research to present at an international conference in 2009. It was about Rosie, after a two-and-a-half year battle with an ignorant and uncaring UNCA administration, having her ASL credits accepted toward graduation as her foreign language.

It was me saying that I don’t really feel like I do less homework as a journalism major, I just feel like I do my homework and I ROCK that homework until it begs for mercy. No more studying 15 hours for a grade of 68.

It was a lovely time. The shadow was that Geniune, still recovering from a months-old injury, was in PT way longer than she expected and didn’t get to join us.

Then my quick, in-and-out car repair turned into two hours and $100. No NEMAC internship for me.

And then I went to my favorite class, all bright and shiny and expectant, and spent most of it bleeding in silence. Unexpected, that.

Even queens of the universe, it seems, get the blues.

11 responses to “Little Agonies

  1. Oh, Jennifer…I’m so sorry you had such an awful day. I squirm uncomfortably when I read your account of being unable to ask for help because I recognize myself in that. In fact, I have had similar experiences where I was seriously injured or ill and could not for the life of me bring myself to ask for assistance. I have always been like this, even when I was young. I’m not sure why, but maybe the lesson is that we need to learn to ask for help? :-)
    And, by the way, may I suggest you might want to take your foot to the doctor? I’m all for self-treatment, but that sounded pretty serious.

  2. Hey Beth. I didn’t really need help. All I really needed was to clean my foot up, to not have to act like I was not in pain, and to tell someone I loved about my mishap…

    And today I that while see my foot bled a lot and hurt a hell of a lot, it doesn’t look like it needs more than time and antibiotic ointment.

  3. OMG! I can’t believe you went back to class!! I hope your toes are all right.

  4. Ow! So sorry to hear about it. In time, I hope the memory of the day will be more about the great lunch, less about the painful foot.

  5. CCR, what I already remember about the day is finding my Sidney-cat in the rafters of the neighbor’s garage, dirty and hungry but fine. And the lunch, too.

    This morning I put on a good song on the way to school and it blew my blues away. I really, really recommend “Before This Time” by Olabelle for mood management. A crisp September morning and some coffee are also effective.

    Beth, I did end up deciding to go to the student health center today when I had a good look at the carnage this morning. They had me soak my foot in peroxide water and very gently put on three bad-aids.

    They told me the ER probably would not have stitched me if I had gone in; the wounds are not the right shape to heal better with stitches. BTW I learned doctors generally won’t stitch you after 12 hours. Good to know the next time I get in a fight with a door.

    Wil, I would probably not have gone back to class if I knew I was going to have problems paying attention, or how awful it would be to just sit there and BLEED. Not only do I tend to be oblivious generally, I have an extremely high pain threshold and can be a hard case.

    I’m not sure it worked to my advantage this time…

  6. I’m so sorry the end of your day turned out so yucky. You know, I have done the exact same thing. Only I was super-duper-way-too-drunk drunk. I think the alcohol might have thinned my blood, I bled like crazy. Now I have a tiny scar and a bad memory of making a bad decision to drink too much white wine and fight with doors. I am careful every time I open doors now though, I bet you will be too. Jerky doors. I’m sending soft fluttery air kisses to your owies.

  7. Awwwww!! How are your toes today??

  8. LOL healing up OK. Putting on fancy colored kids’ band-aids today, looking forward to it.

  9. Those bandaids are the best you know. They make everything better.

  10. Reading that story was like listening to fingernails down a chalkboard. My entire body was cringing. I seriously hope you’re on your way to healing… I don’t think I could sit through a description of infected and gangrene ridden toes.

    Hope the sun starts shining for you!

  11. LOL no gagrene here. Today started out great and went to hell fast. I think I’m handling it well.

    I’ve decided that I had some kind of existential crisis Wednesday night. The class was largely about horrible political repression in Singapore (imprisonment, torture, destroying people’s lives) and floating at the back of my mind was the idea that as truly painful and awful and isolating as my freaky accident was, it was as a tiny drop to the great ocean of suffering others have endured.

    The physical pain was normal; the mental state it took me to was completely unfamiliar and frightening. I didn’t so much want my own suffering to go away as I was overwhelmed by one tiny insight into the suffering of others. I wanted hundreds of lives to be wiped clean of agony. I wanted decades of jail time to be lifted from minds and hearts.

    But all I could do was sit there and bleed. Much like many other people have to do, only for them it takes decades to end rather than one strange night.

    Anyway, Mari, great to hear from you, my toes really did get mangled but shit fucking happens, in a way over which no one has a lick of control.

    It’s sunshine and gangrene, all at once, forever. We can’t look away but we must smile nonetheless.

    If I was in prison, I’d want some strange wordy injured girl to live, live, live for all she’s worth, and suck life of all the joy I was deprived of, and think of me, and pray her joy up to me like incense to the gods.

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