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I like doctors. I like them when I have my recurrent kidney stones and I’m rolling all over the floor, yanking on my hair, writhing in uncontrollable pain, and they stick in the intravenous drip full of happy juices; morphine, codeine, I’m not particular. I like doctors when I have pneumonia and they prescribe an antibiotic that knocks out the inflammatory infection in my lungs. Yes, I like doctors…today. Once, I hated doctors. Maybe hated is a little strong. I was terrified of doctors is a better way to put it. Doctors were no more or less scary than the Mummy, Frankenstein, or the Wolfman. The funny thing is, as a kid, I was always going to the doctor. The truth is, it wasn’t the doctor I was afraid of; it was the pain or fear of pain associated with the doctor. Although doctors are supposed to alleviate pain, in my case, they caused pain more often than not. It was all of those darn shots and vaccinations; tetanus, polio, and smallpox, to name a few. Every time some malady visited me, it required a shot.

I remember going to the doctor on one occasion due to an injury that happened while playing with the lawn mower. Although most people wouldn’t consider the lawn mower something to play with, the Bay kids considered almost anything worthy of entertainment. Dad’s lawn mower was the old-fashioned, hand-reel lawn mower. It had a two-pronged handle that ran down to the two large wheels on either side. Between the two wheels were six or seven horizontal steel blades that when the mower was pushed, would rotate in a circular motion and cut the grass. Dad wasn’t trying to be “environmentally friendly”, he just found the cheapest mower on the market, and it happened to be man-powered, not engine-powered.

So, here the four of us are in the backyard, Dad at work, Mom somewhere in the house, and we get the lawn mower out of the garage and gather round. As I was examining the blade construction, I stuck my finger down into the blade cylinder, and for some reason, one of my siblings decided to give the mower a push. I was impressed with the construction and mused, “Wow, these blades are really sharp. I bet you could lose a finger in here if this mower was moving.” Timmy, holding the handle, must not have heard me clearly and as he pushed the mower forward said, “Okay, I’ll move the mowa.” My response was one of agony and pain, “Aaaahhhh! Ow, ow, ow!”

After running around in circles, with my finger swinging wildly through the air, I stopped long enough to examine the wound and realized that stitches were a strong possibility. I also figured that a tetanus shot was also on the agenda. We were told that anytime you got a cut, you had to get a tetanus shot. What I didn’t know was that tetanus had another name: lockjaw. Lockjaw! That name sent fear throughout the neighborhood kids. The legend went like this; step on a rusty nail and you would get lockjaw (it was always stepping on a rusty nail that caused it, nothing else, and what are the odds of stepping on a rusty nail?).  Anyway, the legend said that if you got lockjaw, your mouth would become sealed shut, and you couldn’t eat and then you would die. We were all scared that we were going to get lockjaw. This turned out to be a catch-22 situation; if you got lockjaw, you would die. If you got a tetanus shot, you wouldn’t die, but the shot would hurt so bad that you wished you had. In the final analysis, I didn’t get to make that choice, Mom did.

Missing out on the beginning of this ordeal, Mom saw me running around the yard and asked, “Ronnie, what’s the matter with you? Why are you wailing and crying and running around the yard?” Holding my finger in the other hand with blood squirting with every heart beat, I responded breathlessly “I cut my finger in the lawn mower!” Mom asked an odd question, “Why did you do that? (What kind of question was that and what kind of answer would suffice?) Now I have to take you to the doctor to get a tetanus shot.”

See there; right out with the tetanus shot. She didn’t even consider the lockjaw option. Off we went to the doctor’s office. The entire trip there, all I could think of was the tetanus shot and how big the needle would be (the needle had to be a foot long if it was an inch).

As the doctor came into the room (after I had sat on the table, the one with paper spread over it, for what seemed like an eternity; sweating, shaking my leg, unable to sit still), he kept the needle down by his side in an attempt to keep me from seeing it. All the while I was craning my neck, trying to see exactly how big that needle was. As he brought the needle up, I saw it; and I began to say in a loud voice; “No, I don’t want a shot. Please don’t give me that shot!” “Now son, turn your head. This will only hurt for a few seconds.” He admitted it! It was going to hurt. A few seconds? A man could fall from a hundred stories building in a few seconds. A foot-long needle sticking in my arm for a few seconds was an eternity. I began to get louder and more agitated, kicking and flailing about, “No, no, please don’t! Mommy, don’t let him hurt me!”  The doctor called for reinforcements, “Nurse, come in here. I need help holding this patient down. And bring the other nurse with you.”

All three of them couldn’t hold me still. Somehow, they got the needle in my arm. After the needle incident, the stitches seemed like a breeze. I did overhear a conversation between the doctor and my mom when the ordeal was finished. “Mrs. Bay, please do not bring your son back here in the future. We will refuse to treat him.” Mom was apologetic and said, “Doctor, he’s really not a bad boy. He just gets a little scared of some things. Where can I take him then?” Without missing a beat the doctor replied, “The psychiatric hospital down the road has strait jackets in ample supply. Try there.”

I wasn’t the only one of us four to get their finger nearly chopped off in Dad’s lawn mower. It happened to two of the others. Always helpful I told the little ones, “Hey guys, you ought to stick your finger in the lawnmower blade while one of us pushes the lawnmower. You get to go to the doctor’s office and get a sucker.”

Timmy and Kathy, after seeing their older brother’s example, decided that they too wanted to visit the doctor (he was a nice man). How they didn’t learn from my example, after all they were intimately involved in the first experiment, is a question that may never get answered. Because she had smaller hands and fingers than Timmy or me, part of Kathy’s finger was cut off. Mom, thinking I was involved in some way told me, “Ronnie, run out in the yard and see if you can find the rest of Kathy’s finger. We need to take it with us to the hospital.” I wasn’t going to take all the blame and grabbed Timmy, “You pushed the lawnmower. Help me find it.”

The finger was sewn back on, and we all lived to play another day. It would be years before another lawnmower incident would occur.

(This story is an excerpt from Little Heathens and a chapter titled “Doctors, Needles, and Dead Men”. Little Heathens is scheduled for release in the spring of 2013.)

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