There was a very brief period of my life in which I was positive I was going to become a doctor. It started when my German Shepherd bit another dog – uncharacteristic for her, as she was a retiring sort, but this terrier had, we think, been harrying her for quite some time, and while they were out running around my grandfather’s farm, she took a chunk out of him. I remember it vividly, a four-inch gash, through which muscle was visible.
I rode with my aunt and uncle to the emergency vet clinic, and watched with great interest while they stitched it up. I was surprised by my own lack of shock. I thought only, “Well, that’s what the inside of a dog looks like, I guess.” (The kind of thing sociopaths think, but whatever.)
I don’t remember what stopped me. It was probably my middle-school math and science mediocrity, standard for girls at that age, who are told, over and over again by the world, that it’s all right for us to suck at numbers. I liked the words, though, and the visceral experience of medicine. I was afraid, however, of making the wrong call, the wrong diagnosis – of not knowing what to do in a situation where it really mattered.
Luckily, two semi-gross things have happened to me in the past week. And in both of them, I flourished! Allow me this brief indulgence of pride / regret over my wasted medical school potential!
This summer, I’m a camp counselor again. Duke TIP this is not – our weeklong camps are engaging, sure, but a bit light on the academia, as the elementary students tend to side-eye anything that looks like school. The camps all have fun themes; two weeks ago it was Zootopia! (we built a cardboard box city and argued about currency), and last week it was Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse.
Imagine the type of kid that zombie camp would attract, and then multiply that by 28.
Add in three counselors with liberal arts backgrounds.
Then put us, on our final Friday field trip, in the woods.
The day before had been all about preparedness. I had my BFF-forever-roomie Michelle in to talk about zombie anatomy (tl;dr – it’s not physically possible for zombies to exist, sorry, kids, but you need a working heart to pump blood to your brain) and bug-out bags – what to put in an emergency pack. They made their lists, and I was delighted by the practicality of them (Michelle’s sensible nature is contagious). For instance, only a few of them wanted to bring big-screen televisions.”So what should you bring to the woods tomorrow? We’re going to build shelters and purify water…” I asked.
“I’m bringing my medic’s kit!” said Wilbur.
Wilbur is not his real name, but it is like it in general adorable doofiness. Wilbur is seven, stocky, with red hair and a big smile and – okay, this story suffers somewhat in print retelling – the thickest lisp. It took me ages to figure out what he was saying, and only when his sister translated did I really understand.
“Your medic’s kit!” I beamed. “Won’t that be nice?” Thinking all the while: Wilbur, you goof, we’ve got first aid supplies, we three capable adults. But if you want to carry your child-size doctor bag around, you go for it, buddy.
Cut to the nature preserve. To tire them out (the zombie campers had a truly astonishing amount of energy), I insisted that we go on a three-mile walk before attempting to build shelters. “Oooh,” I said, trying to make it fun, “here are some old train tracks! Look, signs of a campfire! Traces of life before the apocalypse hit!”
The children looked at me, exhausted under the weight of their backpacks. They were game for anything, but they were only, on average, eight years old, and this looked an awful lot like work, what we were doing.
And then disaster hit. I looked up to see one of the few ten-year-olds clutching his face, tears welling up in his eyes. A cluster of friends surrounded him – these kids were flies on the meat of any tragedy. “Oh god,” I said, “what’s going on?” Thinking: obviously the one “very active” boy in the group has hit him in the face, on purpose or accidentally, and now I have to pull him aside and have yet another talk –
“I got thtung!” he said. “On the lip!”
He pulled his hands away, and holy shit. There was indeed a bright red mark in the middle of his lower lip, and it looked – well, Jacob had big lips – but this was beyond big, this was bad-plastic-surgery proportions –
I panicked. Then I stopped panicking. I pulled out my water bottle and dashed him in the face with its contents. He stood there under the rain of Aquafina, hoping against hope that it would provide some amelioration, but it did not, he started to cry again, “It thitll thtingth….”
“MY MEDIC’S KIT!” roared another, similarly lisping voice from behind me.
Wilbur dashed up, little chubby legs pumping, and held out his kit. “HOLD ON!” he said. “I’m here!”
I looked around for the other adult with the true first-aid kit, but he was far behind us, possibly lost in the woods. “Okay, dude,” I said, and cracked it open. “Let’s do this.”
I had misjudged him. Wilbur’s kit held everything anyone might conceivably need – innumerable Band-aids, gauze, iodine, tweezers. “Let’s see, let’s see,” I babbled, “what do we do for a sting, you’re not allergic, are you, no, okay, well, ha! Here! Anti-sting pads! Wilbur, you genius!”
Wilbur beamed and beamed. And as Jacob held the pad and an ice-pack to his face, I whispered, “You sweet guy. How nice of you to get stung so that we could use Wilbur’s kit.”
Behind his Kardashian lips, a hint of pride illuminated Jacob’s face. And on we marched. He didn’t end up building a shelter, but did pretend to be a creepy fat-lipped zombie for the benefit of the other campers til the ice pack worked and the swelling went down.
I am not supposed to be in the sun. Like, ever. Unfortunately, I like walking, and the Writers’ Workshop, in its infinite wisdom, sent me to New Zealand for a while, where the ozone layer is at its most porous. I am foolhardy indeed.
Shortly after my return, I started a routine of yearly dermatological checkups. As my dad explains, these are normal for Hennens – we must submit to being scrutinized by a doctor who makes small talk about our current employment status while looking at all the moles on our boobies.
They find something every year, but it’s always fine. Sometimes they have to do a deeper scrape, and there’s a week of tension while I wait for the stitches to heal and them to tell me that I don’t have cancer. Still, as long as I have health insurance (thanks, Obama; no thanks, Trump), I’m golden.
Today, my doctor – a nervous and very nice woman who isn’t much older than me – found one on my back, as per ushe, and one on –
“I swear that’s just dirt,” I said.
She frowned and swabbed at my foot some more. “Nope,” she said, squinting.
“I’ve thought it was dirt all year.” A mark of how much I wash my feet, I guess. “Or maybe like a scar from a stick?”
“We definitely have to take it out,” she said, patiently.
While they stuck the numbing needles in – first one, then another – I consoled myself with the thought that the sole of the foot is not a place any sane person would put sunblock, and unlike other forms of cancer, this could not be in any way my fault. “Last year, when you took one from my cheek, I wore gauze door-to-door while I was election canvassing, and everyone was so nice to me,” I babbled.
“There! Done.” She stuck a Band-aid over it. “Don’t stick your feet in water for three weeks, all right?”
I glowered. “But I was going to do a sensory deprivation tank.”
She and the nurse backed out, giving me looks like, all right, crazy.
Bandaged, I dressed, then headed out. I realized I was very close to one of my favorite consignment shops, and that I had an event I had to buy a dress for – Miles is DJing for an expensive party tonight in which everyone wears only white and eats canapes on a lawn, and I was his DJ +1. (Yes, I should be working on my novel instead of doing shit like this, but come on.) So I waltzed in, grabbed all the white dresses they had, thinking idly, wow, hello, my foot is a little sticky, but I bet it’s just my imagination…
You know where this is headed.
As I unbuckled my Chaco to step merrily into the first dress, I said, “Oh, holy hell.”
Blood. Blood everywhere. It was a Red Wedding sandal. It was cartoon blood, seeping through a soaked bandage, coating my heel. I froze, white dresses in hand. Set them delicately on the rack. They quivered in horror. So did I.
As I panicked, I was also simultaneously laughing about how horrible this could have been, had I not noticed the blood, had I shoved my foot in anyway. How like the world it would be, were I to be forced to buy five blood-spattered, ill-fitting white dresses. I realized that the sane thing to do would be to walk out of the dressing room and go directly home before anyone else shopping noticed the fact that I was covered in blood.
But – dammit – I was right there.
And the thing was tonight.
And I am a Hennen, and Hennens just find stuff like this funny rather than traumatic. And so I kept my foot in my sandal and wiggled into three of them, and one of them looked quite bangin’, and now I have had the experience of purchasing clothing with a horrible, horrible secret in my sole.
It was quite empowering, actually.
It’s been that kind of week.