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The Perfect Disasters of Life

This past Sunday I was out back, cutting up a partially downed pine. It, and another tree that I really loved had come down in a recent storm. It is an old forest and trees are falling all the time, and my goal usually is to cut and remove some of the trunks so that the saplings have a bit of a chance.

The thing is, I neglected to bless myself in the usual way with sage before I’d gone out. Bad move.

I wasn’t rushing, as I usually don’t when it comes to lumberjacking, and I was wearing my safety gear as I always do. I’m kind of psycho about that actually. But, as I was between cuts with the chain break engaged on the saw, I looked up at the remaining part of the tree hanging there like a cat, and that was when whatever it was decided it was the time to hit my eye.

I felt searing pain. Instantly. I dropped my saw, ripped off my helmet and safety glasses and did what every ophthalmologist tells you NOT TO DO. I rubbed my eye in a panic and made the situation far worse. I don’t know how, but I stumbled through the woods and made it to the house, where Shannon and I flushed my eye with water from the sink. Another bad move. We soften our well water, and the salt felt like the proverbial knife I was feeling, but now it was twisting in a circle.

So, what’s weird about this is that it calmed down after a time, and I actually went back out and finished the job for the day. I’m a bit of a hardass about that kind of thing. It wasn’t until after that, as I was driving my ATV down the driveway, and the wind caught my eye when things really began to ramp up.

Cut to me waiting in the passenger seat of our minivan screaming and writhing in pain while Shannon convinced the boys that their grandparents were on their way, but that we had to leave before them. As we raced to the ER, it was all I could to do not scream. I mean, I’d like to think I’m a tough guy. I was always in sports, especially long-distance sports, where I could outlast almost everyone. I’d thrown heavy band equipment around for years and had taken many hits while living out in the country. I’d grown up in manufacturing and have a pretty high threshold for pain.

But this? This was something I’d never felt before. Thank God it was late afternoon on a Sunday and not St. Patrick’s Day or something like that with a bunch of drunks doing stupid stuff. We got right back into a room, and this is where things just sort of fell off the rails and continued until about the time of me sitting down to write this.

Numbing drops didn’t do anything other than burn. The little optima-meter-eye-checker-thingy didn’t detect any scratches, and irrigation didn’t relieve anything. Shannon’s picture of that is nothing short of Frankenstein-ish. Some doctor came in to look at my eyes but seemed more intent on fiddling with the aforementioned doohickey and then left. I could hear him talking about buffalo wings outside the room and how he gets annoyed when they don’t have much meat on them. Thanks man. You’re a great doctor. Really.

Then they gave me a tetanus shot, before which, both Shannon and I asked numerous times if that would interfere with my 2nd pending COVID vaccine that I was to get in two days. “Nope, you’re fine.” More on that later.

Then they gave me this antibacterial goop which sent me INTO THE STRATOSPHERE. I was bending over in my chair, and I remember the attending doctor saying, “there’s just nothing there, are you sure you don’t want some Vicodin to calm him down? We’ll make an appointment with an ophthalmologist anyway, okay, time to go…”

Sleep didn’t come easy. In fact, it was torturous. Every time I blinked, with my eyes closed…and I think I had a nightmare as well, it was instant, stabbing pain. When the morning came, I could hear my wife talking on the phone, and then the next thing I knew she busted into the bedroom and said, “they fit you in, in the next 20 minutes. We have to go. Now!”

Another race down our gravel driveway. You can imagine the sound of the gravel tinking against the car. Shannon was worried about speed. Yet in my pain, I was worried about the paint job. We got there in time, and she helped me stumble to the back and into an observation room.

The doctor came in shortly and asked me to look into the very same optima-meter-eye-checker-thingy from the night before, and then said…in about 5 seconds… “oh yeah, you’ve got a massive corneal abrasion. It’s encircling your iris. You’re lucky man.”

He gave me some dye and checked both eyes to be sure, then prescribed some antibiotic drops. He asked me if they gave me a tetanus shot? “Yes…will that affect me getting my COVID vaccine?” “Nope,” he said. “You should be fine. I’ll put this protective contact on your eye, and I’ll see you in two days.”

Usher in even more massive discomfort, so it was a game of who wants to feel more pain? My eye was swollen shut from all the prodding, and I looked a mess. A real treat. I mean, if I had been reckless, that would have been one thing, but I was being super careful, and we got more help in 5 minutes than we did in 3 hours at the ER. We were both drained, but relieved there wasn’t permanent damage.

Having now been limited to my left eye, at least for a time, I started looking at things more gingerly, and I actually laid on my home office floor that night and listened to a podcast on Ian McGilchrest, something I suggest anyone do if they are interested in the way humans have come to treat each other and see the world. Somehow, not having to put all my trust in seeing was nice. I listened to my kids’ voices that evening – so small and bursting with kid-ness. I went outside before dinner and listened to the birds calling. It was, in a way, a revelation of the beauty of sound, that of which we hardly ever really stop to appreciate.

Come today, with my visit to the vaccination location. Shannon drove, and I stumbled up to the registration table on my own, showed the nice old lady my card and answered all of the questions. My eye chose, at that very moment, to begin massively seeping, and anyone who knows me will say that I can’t lie. I just can’t. So, when the questions came, “what’s wrong with your eye?” “Have you had any vaccinations in the past 14 days,” I answered yes, and that it was because I had an eye emergency and had no choice in getting the shot…yes? Help? Please? Yes?

Now, I’ve been rejected many times in my life. From girls or colleges, whatever. But this particularly felt like a stick to the other eye. I explained that the ER swore up and down that I would be alright, even the ophthalmologist. Nope. No dice. Come back in two weeks. I told them I’d even sign a waiver and that I had an EpiPen. Nope. Get lost.

Now I know, in my rational mind, two weeks flies by quickly in the life of a middle-aged parent. But in the age of COVID, another two weeks felt like an eternity to me in that moment. As my wife and I drove back to get the boys from their grandparents, yes because they helped us out again and are totally awesome, we were in silent shock.

I mean, we haven’t done EVERYTHING perfectly, but…we’ve been staying at home tons and only venturing out for takeout, making the hard choices to turn down loved ones for holiday dinners and getting annoyed as we see pictures of people we know having a grand ole time on summer vacations and spring break-beach getaways, taking pictures with 3-4 families with no masking and just general dumbness. As an HR professional, I won’t even go into the long and politically charged history of what I’ve had to go through at work trying to both educate and keep people calm…about both the virus, AND the vaccine. To go back to work and tell people that even I had been turned away would be nothing short of embarrassing to say the least.

“No, you can’t get the vaccine today. I’m sorry sir. And when you pick up your children, be prepared for the MASSIVE meltdown your younger child will be throwing, of which you’ll walk into.”

No the lady didn’t say that, at least the last part, and yes, that happened as well. Both of my boys have autism, but to different degrees, and when the younger one is particularly in the middle of it, be prepared to be insulted beyond the normal vocabulary of a 7-year-old. “You’re stupid…you’ll die in hell…I’ll kill anyone you love…” Yeah, not kidding.

So, with a seeping eye and my body reeking from nearly three days of not washing, I held my child on the back porch of my in-law’s house while he insulted me with just about anything he could think of as he writhed and kicked, and yes, hit me in the face a couple of times. Such are the times we find ourselves I like to remind myself.

He did calm down. Eventually. And on the drive home, of which was done by me because Shannon was mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted at that point, I noticed, through my good eye, how rich the evening sun looked upon the trees. How the sky was so blue. How defeated I felt, and how absolutely nothing could be done at that point.

My boys carried on during the ride, joking in the back, as if nothing had ever happened, asking if they could finish the rest of their Bunny Big-Ears from Easter. Nothing of what I just went through even mattered. Such as children shift from one thing to another. They were going home in that moment. To their place of location. Of comfort.

And so, I went along home with them, picked dandelion greens for our salads and made dinner for my exhausted wife. Yes, of which both the boys found complaint with. The dinner, I mean.

As I write this, my eye is aching, and Shannon just fell in the dark and skinned her knees over lego blocks that should have been picked up 2 weeks ago. Not kidding.

I had better stop while I'm ahead. Ah, the perfectness of each disaster.

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