Reduced

I had the apartment to myself. A sprawling, second floor, 3 bedroom with an enclosed porch and more living space than we knew what to do with. I didn’t live alone, normally, by my roommates were out-of-town for Christmas.

I also had the flu, so I was missing a fair bit of work. What was a young, single man to do with all that time?

Masturbate, obviously. So I did that a few times. But you can’t fill all of your time with masturbation, or so I’m told.

I played around with my MySpace page, which dates me, but I’m not ashamed. I moved my top eight friends around a few times. Then I changed it to a top 16. Then back to eight. I picked out the perfect song that summed up how I felt at that point, and I put it on the page. I can’t remember what it was, but I can guarantee it was depressing.

Besides work, and MySpace, and Masturbation, I didn’t have a whole lot going on. I had big talk. I was writing the next Great American Novel. The plot involved aliens; or did it? That was up to the reader to decide. At least until the last page when I would reveal that it had been aliens all along. I had already written one whole chapter! And a killer prologue which would bookend nicely with the epilogue. Eight years later, and that’s still all I’ve written of that book.

Work was certainly no source of inspiration. I was a deli clerk for the third largest grocery chain in the NorthEast United States. Fourth if you counted Wal-Mart. I dealt with idiot people, day in and day out. And the customers were pretty stupid, too. Looking back, I was not actually all that much smarter than my co-workers, I just thought I was because they weren’t writing the next Great American Novel.

There was one bright spot at work. A new employee transferred over from another store. She may have had the brains to go toe-to-toe with me. She certainly had mastered a level of sarcasm that I could only marvel at. Her name was Annie, and she was very pretty.

I had a crush on her almost immediately. Which means, of course, that I tended to act like an absolute ass in her company. I made crude jokes about our co-workers that no one (except me) found funny. I did her dishes for her, to get her attention and paint myself in a positive light. Work became about getting Annie’s attention.

And it worked! She noticed me, and probably noticed me noticing her, as well. But then came the flu.

No work, meant no Annie. So I busied myself, and my right hand, and I passed the time (3 days, to be exact). The one thing I hadn’t done, was shower. I was ripe, and my hair had a miasma of dried, old sweat. I needed to get clean, but my skin burned. The thought of standing under a shower head, and being sprayed with that hot water deterred me. So I put it off as long as I could.

The next day, though, I was going to have to go back to work. I had to shower before I went back to work. I had to smell nice to get Annie’s attention. I was a fool with a crush. So I pushed myself away from my desk, grabbed a towel and a change of clothes, and stepped into the bathroom.

***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***

I needed a drink, I would grab a drink.

Oh, did my shoulder hurt. Ibuprofen, I would need Ibuprofen, too.

Man, did my shoulder hurt.

***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***

I woke up from a dream, one of the most vivid and terrifying dreams I’d ever had. I wanted to drink something, so bad, but I couldn’t get the bottle cap open. And I wanted pills, but the top wouldn’t budge. I tried, and tried, but I couldn’t get them open.

I opened my eyes, and my first thought was: oh man, does my shoulder ever hurt. My left shoulder. I went to move my arm, but it didn’t respond to my mental commands. I thought I had maybe slept on it wrong. I tried to sit up, but the pain that shot through my body was incredible, like a bolt of lightning electrifying all of my nerves at once. A sense of unreality began to wash over me. Maybe I was still dreaming?

I remained in bed for a while, weighing my options. Obviously, I’d have to get up sooner or later. I couldn’t let a sore shoulder keep me from getting up and going to work in…how many hours? What time was it?

I remember going to take a shower at around 8pm. I didn’t remember the shower, but that was nothing strange. Sometimes the body just goes on autopilot, right? But I also didn’t remember getting dressed, or going to bed with my bedroom light on. I must have just dozed off, it couldn’t be any later than 9, 9:30 at the latest. I just needed to check the time, as a reality check, and I’d feel better.

I reached over with my right arm and pressed my hand down on my shoulder, only there wasn’t any shoulder there. The skin was still there, there was no wound, no holes for my fingers to probe, but there was nothing solid beneath the flesh. My skin sunk into an empty socket of skin. Confusion gave way to terror as I felt my way down my left arm with my right hand. The arm was still there, but it didn’t feel right.

HOlding my left shoulder socket with my right hand, I sat up. The pain was excruciating, causing me to howl. I stood up and looked down at my arms. My left arm was pale, almost to the point of translucency, but it matched my right, so there was no cause for concern there. The source of the concern was that my left arm hung limp at my side, and about an inch or two lower than my right.

I checked my computer, to see the time: 3:00 a.m. Five hours?! I’d lost five hours and dislocated my shoulder? What I needed now was my phone, but it wasn’t in my bedroom. I grabbed a t-shirt from my closet and tried to pull it on, but my arm protested strongly. I dropped it on the floor and reached for a buttoned shirt, first slipping my left arm through one sleeve, and then working my right into the other. I didn’t bother trying to button it, appearances were the last of my concern as I stood there in an unbuttoned shirt, gym shorts, and one arm hanging lower than the other.

My phone was in the bathroom, on the floor under the sink. Painfully, I reached for it. My shoulder knocked into the sink, sending shock waves of pain through me. After I caught my breath, I dialed 9-1-1.

“9-1-1 emergency, what is the nature of your emergency?”

“I don’t know. I think I dislocated my shoulder.”

“Are you sure?”

“I don’t know, but I’m pretty damn sure. My one arm is hanging lower than the other.”

“Okay, sir, calm down. I’ll have someone over to your address. They should be there in a few minutes. Are you able to meet me at the front door?”

“Yes.”

Three and a half minutes later, a team of paramedics were at my door. I opened it and let them into my narrow stairwell. The leader among them, a mustachioed fellow with wide shoulders and large, rough hands, met me with a rough grip of my left wrist.

“Ow!”

“What makes you think it’s dislocated?”

I turned my shoulder to him, and he poked at it with his rough hands.

“Yes, that’s definitely dislocated. How did you do this?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay, St. Peter’s or Albany Med?”

My apartment was snug in the middle between the two hospitals. I had never been admitted in a hospital before, and had no personal experience with either, but I had visited Albany Med many times when my grandmother would have one of her episodes.

“Albany Med.”

“Okay, can you lower yourself onto the gurney?”

I nodded, and realized that the shock of my injury was wearing off. Suddenly it didn’t just hurt when I moved it. Now it hurt all the time. It’s hard to describe the pain. Imagine a terrible beast is tearing at your arm from below, while a white-hot poker is driven into your shoulder socket from above. Doing my best to ignore the pain, I climbed onto the gurney, and they lifted me into the ambulance.

I was in the emergency department for about 10 minutes before a doctor came to check on me. He diagnosed the dislocated shoulder, and then asked me a follow-up question that surprised me.

“How did you cut your head?”

“Oh that,” I brought my right hand around to the spot on the left side of my head where my little brother had accidentally split my scalp open 12 years before. The scar still bled, occasionally. “That is old, it just leaks sometimes.”

“I understand, but the injury I’m talking about is on the right side of your head.”

“Oh.”

“Do you remember how it happened?”

“No.” I was really beginning to worry now.

“How about the vomit in your beard?”

I ran my fingers through my beard, felt chunks of half-digested carrot sticks and buffalo wings.

“Oh,” I repeated, “No.”

“Okay, you have head trauma and loss of memory, I’m going to have to admit you to the neurology department. I’ll get you something for the pain, just hang tight.”

I didn’t see him again for another hour, but in the meantime a very pretty nurse came and stuck an I.V. line in my arm. There was a rush of warmth, and then I felt as if I was floating on a cloud.

When the doctor did return, he had a team of nurses with him, and another needle full of clear fluid. The pretty nurse was with him, too. “You know,” I told them, with the gravity of a man delivering a death sentence, “I watch ER all the time. And the biggest problem I have with that show is how everyone on it is so damn pretty. It just seems unrealistic, yes?” There were nods of agreement, even from the pretty nurse. “But now here I am in an actual emergency room, and you are all so beautiful. Especially you.”

I pointed at the pretty nurse, or at least, I intended to. By now my limbs were just so much jelly.

The nurses laid me back, and the doctor stood over me, explaining the next step of my treatment.

“I have to reduce this shoulder, Mr. Scully. There are two methods we can use. The first is I wrap this sheet,” he held up a sheet tied in a knot, to demonstrate, “around your wrist and pull as hard as I can. If that doesn’t work, I’ll simply twist your arm in a backwards motion until it pops back into place. Both of these are extremely painful. I’ve seen police officers pass out from the pain of reducing a shoulder. I don’t think you want to be screaming and crying in front of all these pretty nurses, so I’m going to give you something to knock you out, ok?”

I nodded, weakly. He stuck a needle in my arm.

“Ok, now count back from 100.”

I started counting in my head, but I was skeptical. How could one little shot knock a person completely out, it didn’t make any sense. And I was right, it wasn’t working on me. My body was fighting it, even as my eyelids got heavy. My head dropped forward, I nodded off for one moment, but I was strong and I fought it. I lifted my head back up, and the room was empty. I looked up at the clock which had just a moment ago told me it was 4:15 a.m., and saw that the time was now nearly 6 a.m.

I looked down at my shoulder, which was starting to hurt again, and saw that it was right back where it should be. The weight of my arm was supported by a sling. I was mildly impressed.

As I adjusted to the fact that I had lost about six hours all together this night, an orderly entered the room. In a bored monotone he informed me that he was going to be moving me to neurology.

He didn’t speak as he wheeled me to the elevator, then up three floors, and through a long hallway to my room. A nurse entered and gave me a tour of my room; phone, tv control, bed control, nurse call button. I thanked her, and again later that day when she returned to take some of my blood.

I slept for a few hours, but I didn’t dream. When I woke up, I made a few calls.

The first call was to a friend of mine, Scott LaMountain. I told him I was in the hospital, that I was fine, and that he and his wife had been right, I did have a neurological disorder. I should have listened to them, I told him, and I should have called a neurologist a long time ago.

The next call was to my mother. She seemed annoyed that I was calling her at work. It was a dry-cleaner, very important stuff. I told her what had happened, and asked her to grab me a change of clothes, and to lock my front door as she left. She didn’t sound too willing, and I didn’t say thank you.

Finally, I called work. My boss picked up, and when he heard my voice, sounded exasperated. He asked me what I wanted, I told him why I wouldn’t be in to work that day. He sounded doubtful, but he wished me well.

I settled back into the bed and turned on the television. It was early in the day, so nothing good was on. I realized I should have asked my mother to bring me a book. Then the phone rang.

Before I picked it up, I knew who it was. My mother had changed her mind and wouldn’t bring me my things. But the voice on the other end was not my mother’s. The voice was shy, and pretty. It took me a minute to realize it was the new girl at work, Annie.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“I heard you were in the hospital?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. How are you?”

She laughed, quietly, surprised, “I’m fine. Get better.”

“Thanks, have a good day.”

“Thanks.”

She hung up. I laid back and smiled. Despite the pain killers running trough my veins, my heart was racing.

It had turned out to be an alright night.

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