Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Pierced by an [poisioned sludge-covered] iron spike

That moment when you realize, "huh. This isn't good. Things have taken a decidedly 'Not Good' turn of events." 

That was the moment when I looked down at my left foot and saw the rail road spike pushing up against the underside of the skin on my foot. It had slid between the middle and left metatarsals, avoiding both bones, but decidedly lodged between them. It didn't hurt. Oddly, at the moment it happened, and for an indeterminate time afterwards though probably only nanoseconds,there was almost no sensation whatsoever. 
For some time, my Mom had chided me to make sure I wore shoes while wading through the small stream that ran behind our house. It was the runoff from a now, mostly, defunct coal tipple about a half mile upstream. Tipples, the intermediary in the "old-school energy flow" paradigmn, were where the raw coal was washed and graded before being shipped out to consumers to heat their homes. By the this point in early 1980's that I was aware of, not many people used coal to heat their water, any longer, locally.

The stream was strewn with broken glass and bits of rusty iron from others in the neighborhood who had used it, for years, to dispose of household waste. At least the neighborhood had gone to public sanitation so toilets and wastewater/greywater were no longer sluiced into the 'crick'. 

No, instead, all the fish and vegetation my Dad and his family had told me once lived in the crick, had long since died. The stones and sand replaced and covered with a burnt umber orange sludge from the sulfur washed off the coal ore, choking the oxygen out and making the water too acidic to host life. The clinical, scientific had term become "Acid Mine Drainage", but the people who lived by it knew it simply as "dead, undrinkable water".

 All the trout? Dead. Minnows? Dead. Raptor birds like eagles who lived on the fish? Long gone because their food had disappeared, so off to happier, safer hunting grounds. Not even algae grew in the water, any more. Even insects like mosquitoes and water-jiggers wouldn't hang around the stream.

Just orange sediment sludge covering the bottom of the waterway and anything the water touched.

In retrospect, that's probably what saved me from a massive infection. The sulphur sludge. Bacteria coudln't even thrive in that level of PH shit in Pennsylvania. 

In that moment, as I looked at the peaked line from the iron spike piercing my foot, there was a rapid calculation in my head of, "oh shit, this should hurt. A LOT. I wonder why it doesn't? Where's all the blood? Oh, the spike has the puncture sealed. Am I going to get lockjaw from the rust? I'm going to have to pull my foot off this [insert a string of expletives an 8 year old should generally not know or utter] spike. Mom is going to be so angry with me. And the quintessential, 'now what??' This is all a bunch of SUCKTASTICCRAP."

Mom had been adamant about me wearing shoes while mucking about in the crick. ['Crick', in my parlance, having an entirely different designation as a flowing body of water that was larger than an rivulet of water, but smaller than a stream, as far as I was concerned.] Having the logic of a kid, and an extra quarter inch of skin on the bottoms of my feet through a peculiar genetic abberition, I usually went barefoot. I had better traction with the use of my toes. To be fair, that extra layer of cheap rubber from old sneakers probably wouldn't have prevented the spike from going into my foot. It possibly could have even pushed broken bits of fungus infused rubber up into the wound. But I knew she was going to be pissed, regardless. And it's not like we didn't know the spike was there. The old, rotting railroad tie, creosorte eroded long ago, somehow embedded in the stream upside-down with the spike sticking up through some course of events long before my time, had been there as long as I had know. It wasn't a new surprise. I just wasn't paying attention.

So I stood there, looking at the peaked line on the underside of skin on my foot, and made the conscious decision to pull my foot back up and off the hunk of gross, slimy iron. It took more effort that I expected, as the vacuum wanted to keep the spike in its new home. Regardless, I made it out it leave my foot. Then the scarlet blood, mere moments later, swirled downstream in an ever widening ribbon. Then the screaming howl with fat, hot tear, started. Apparently coming from me. 

It took my Mom perhaps a minute to run out the door, around the house and get across the water to me. Given that the bridge was on the far side of the property, traversing what was probably a quarter mile, it was rather impressive. To this day, I'm still not sure how she did that feat so quickly.

She scooped me up in her arms, which was no mean feat, given that I was almost as big as her [she was never very tall, standing about 5 foot 2 inches and maybe 110lb sopping wet in heavy fabric], but she gathered me up and brought be all the way back into the house as the friend who had been stomping around in the crick with me patiently explained that, "yes Dory had really stepped on the spike. No it wasn't just a piece of glass that had cut her foot. The edge of the spike had been obvious on the underside of the skin."

Mom wasn't having any of that, though. Instead I got lambasted for having been barefoot, and she insisted it had just been a piece of glass that made a deeper than usual cut. I think, in retrospect, she was more scared of what really happened than I was.

After washing my foot as best she could with soap and public, town water, then cleaning it topically with rubbing alcohol and putting a gauze bandage slathered in Porter's Linament on my foot, we called it good, and I sat on the couch with my foot propped up, with instructions to "Think About What You Did." which mostly consisted of me contemplating why she didn't believe me when I told her it was the spike and not a piece of glass and feeling guilty for freaking her out so badly. My Dad, her husband, had been dead about a year at this point, and things had been very difficult for some time for her even before he passed. Here I was, making a mess of things for her, and she had enough on her plate to deal with as it was.

My friend had told her older sister, an R.N. nurse like my mom, what she had witnessed, and her sister had called my mom to stress the fact that, just maybe, perhaps, she might want to take me to the hospital to be checked and get a tetanus shot. My mom decided that the tetanus shot was probably a good idea, if nothing else. Perhaps it would scare me into wearing shoes while I was tromping around that area.

The local hospital was a State run institution. It had been a teaching institution where she had actually got her Registered Nurse Certificate, long before that profession had been turned over to the bailiwick of Universities to accredit. She still knew many of the nurses, doctors, and other employees working there. Perhaps that was what made the vist so uncomfortable for her. 

I have to admit, I don't think I ever saw quite the look of nausea and chagrin on my Mom's face as I did when the long, wooden cotton swap slipped into the wound on my foot to clean the puncture while sitting on the bed in the Emergency Room. My foot, soaking in a basin of iodine, an orangish-red color, similar but with a different, metallic lustre, to the sulphur sludge, with an inch and a half of cotton swab concealed within the mysteries of of bone, gristle, and muscle, had seemed an unlikely candidate to make my mom look so queasy. Given everything else I had viewed me mom contenting with over the previous few years, and the stories she had told, I expected her to have a more, "Huh, didn't expect THAT!" look, and less of a "I may vomit" look. In that moment, I had a smug, yet very unsatisfying feeling of, "I told you the truth." The physical wound hurt far less then the events that had transpired and the emotions I percieved from my Mom. I loathed 8-year-old-me, in that moment, for so many reasons. 

I hobbled around for a few weeks afterwards at school in in slipper on that foot to accommodate the bandages, and my butt cheek hurt from the tetanus shot [though only a few days]. It was harder to deal with the recrimination from my schoolmates, teachers, and the reproach  from my mom. I had been stupid and caused anguish and discomfort that outweighed my own, to others. 

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The peculiar, herditary skin issue [Palmar-Planter Keratoderma] had facilitated a massive fissure at the edge of the ball of my foot for years. It's slowly closed and healed back into a smooth expanse of skin, recently. For the first time in ages, at 42 years old, the two inch scar is visible on the sole of my left foot again. It's real. This all really happened, at one point, in my timeline. Even if, at times, I might wish it was all a story I imagined.

Not sure what to make of that, nor many of the other events that have happend over the past few years, but there it is. Take away from this what you will, Gentle Reader. I'll talk to you again, later.


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