I’ve been accused by a couple of people recently of not telling stories here anymore.
I’ll accept that I am guilty, and share a story as penance.
I’ve told this story before, but not for a very long time, and not in this blog.
Back in 1981 I was in Respiratory Therapy School at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio. I was in the Navy, but it was an Army school.
Part of our training included working in the world-renowned “Institute of Surgical Research” (ISR). More commonly know as the Brooke Army Medical Center Burn Unit. Some of the worse burns suffered in the world have been treated in this facility – for more than 25 years.
ISR was a very scary place for a 20 year old. The amount of suffering and tragedy was offset only by the miraculous care given by the staff.
My job at the time was to give inhalation therapy treatments to burn victims. Since burn victims often inhale smoke and super-heated air, lung damage is a common malady.
On one occasion I entered a room with two guys laughing like freaking maniacs. Neither of these patients should have been having that much fun. One of them was in multiple splints and had severe burns all over his body. The other was in a sling, holding him up in the air with his now hairless ass stuck up for all to see. He was hanging facing the floor.
But both of these guys were damned near in tears when I entered their room.
Once they realized I was there, they finally calmed own enough for me to ask what was so funny. The guy in splints told me the beginning of the story…
“We were just telling each other how we got here. You will not believe this!”
One thing I learned working in ISR is that every story had an amazing component to it. It is unfathomable the ways people find to burn the human body.
He continued, “I was going to replace some shingles on the roof. The roof didn’t leak, but there were some shingles blown over and folded back from some extreme wind. By wife thought they “looked bad” and she was concerned the roof would start leaking. So I was tasked with fixing this problem.”
“I have an A-frame house”, he continued. “It has a very steep roof. I was very concerned I would fall off of the roof. And since I had never been on the roof, I was really afraid of it. So I got a rope from the garage, tied it to the bumper of the car, threw it on the roof and tied it to my waist before I made the climb up the ladder. Once on the roof I edged up onto the peak, wrapped the rope once around the chimney, then lowered myself to where the shingle damage was. I had no sooner started working on the roof when I heard the car start. I did yell – as loudly as I could, and I started scrambling up the roof. I couldn’t climb fast enough, and eventually the slack in the rope was pulled taught. And I was dragged up the roof – against the grain of the shingles, around the fireplace, and eventually down the other side, off the roof and into the driveway. My wife had no idea she was dragging my now almost lifeless body 60 feet behind the family car. She drove three blocks before people finally stopped her. Of course I remember little of this – after I hit the driveway I must have blacked out. But I am in the burn unit, and I have no burns. I was sanded – my flesh was worn off by shingles, bricks, and asphalt.”
He finished by saying, “But this fuck over here – HE has a story you just HAVE to hear!” And he started laughing to the point of tears.
Patient two was a little younger – and not in the military. He was married to the military. His wife was an Army Nurse. He was a civilian welder. And he had tattoos, and long hair, and a beard. And a bike. A motorcycle – brand new Harley Davidson. And his story started the day he first road the bike – with his wife riding bitch.
No, they never got into an accident on the bike. No road-rash brought this man to the ISR. His story was much more interesting! I’ll let him tell it (paraphrasing, of course).
“Well”, he started, breaking into painful bouts of laughter – “We got this bike. I had always wanted one, and my wife was excited about it as well. It cost a lot of money – and it took us a couple of years of saving, but we finally bought it last Saturday. We went or a ride and had a blast. It was even more fun for my wife I think. She had never been on a bike. We rode for a few hours, and when we got home I parked the bike in the garage and noticed we had ridden on some wet tar – my brand new baby had tar all over it! I took out an oil-changing pan and poured a little gasoline in it as dipped in a shop rag. I slowly worked the tar spots off of the bike as my wife took a shower.”
Now, I thought I knew where this was going – I was wrong.
He continued, “I finally got the bike clean, and went in to get me clean. I stripped my clothes off – taking my cash and cigarettes out of my jeans so my wife could wash them, and got into the shower. I didn’t hear my wife come into the bathroom. I was focused on getting clean. I decided I needed to take a seat on the throne in the bathroom and sat down to do my business. I reached over to the sink where I left my cigarettes and lit one, waiting for nature to take it’s course. When I was one with nature, and done with the cigarette, I dropped it between my legs into the toilet. That’s the last thing I really remember before I woke up here”.
Now I was laughing my ass off, because I had figured it out – while he was in the shower his wife dumped the oil-changing pan into the toilet – and didn’t flush it. When this guy dropped his smoke into it, he was literally blown across the room and through the bathroom door!
They both recovered – and their odd story was covered in the San Antonio papers. The odd stories of two burn patients that ended up sharing a room – and a friendship. The last I heard of them was several years later – they had become great friends and neither of them did roofing or rode motorcycles!
I’ve laughed so hard remembering that day that I have tears in my eyes now!