Communion Of Dreams

Swirling . . . swirling . . . down the drain.
May 20, 2008, 4:16 pm
Filed under: Emergency, Health, Humor, SCA

OK, I’ve been tagged by Hank Fox:

That pest Hank Fox (of has tagged you with another idiot blog meme:

Tell the story of a (non-surgical) scar you have somewhere on your body. Answer and tag three other bloggers.

I tagged: PZ Myers of Pharyngula and Brent Rasmussen and Jim Downey of Unscrewing the Inscrutable.

(Hope you don’t mind.)


This is a story many of my friends know, and it’s bloody-well about time that I wrote it up.

So, about 25 years ago I was living in Montezuma, Iowa. I’d moved there after college, wanting to spend a couple of years working while sorting out what to do with my life in terms of graduate school and so forth. The old farmhouse I had bought at auction (a long story in its own right) had come with an established garden and many fruit-bearing trees. Out of simple self defense, I had taken to doing a lot of vintning, and started to earn a reputation within the SCA for my various homemade wines.

One summer evening, late (about 10:30), after a long day of working around the house, I was racking off some rich, golden, crabapple wine for an upcoming SCA party. It had been a very hot day (the house was without air conditioning), and all I was wearing was a pair of cut-off jeans. Furthermore, at this point in my life my hair was long and my beard was full – I worked at a local radio station in a non-public role, and my employer didn’t care too much how I looked.

Anyway, I transferred over some of the wine into a gallon glass cider jug. Since it was going to be drunk up in just a couple of days, I wasn’t too worried about properly corking the thing – the screw-top metal cap would be fine. After finishing up, I took the bottle into the kitchen where I had a deep farmhouse-style sink, suitable for rinsing off the jug under hot water.

As I was standing there at the sink, letting the hot water pour over the jug, I looked out my window to the north, where on the horizon I could see the glow of the local fair grounds. It was all lit up because the annual rodeo event was going on – this is the sort of thing that would have the entire town in attendance. Not a lot happened in Montezuma, and people took advantage of what few opportunities came around for entertainment.

Looking out the window, thinking about this, my attention slipped from what I was doing for a moment. And the jug slipped out of my hands.

I have very quick reflexes. Always have. One of the reasons why I was such a successful fighter in the SCA. Unfortunately, my quick reflexes frequently get me into trouble. Like this time.

I had instantly realized that the jug had slipped, and quickly moved to cradle the bottom of the thing to stop it from smashing in the deep sink. My hands were directly under it when, unfortunately, the neck of the bottle clipped the edge of the sink.

In a flash I pulled both hands out of the way of the falling glass shards. And I almost made it. Except one fresh edge of broken glass managed to slice across my left wrist. It wasn’t a particularly deep cut. But if you hold your hands as though you were going to cradle something, wrists bent 90 degrees, you’ll note what happens to your inner wrist: the tendons pull back from the surface of the skin. And the vein and artery tend to push up against it. That’s what happened to me.

As my hands flew away from the sink, a spray of brilliantly red blood streaked up the wall. And onto the ceiling.

I have had a fair amount of first aid training. Instinctively, I clamped my right hand across my left wrist, base of the palm up the arm to apply pressure to stop the bleeding. “OK,” I thought to myself, “I’ll just roll my hand back, keeping pressure on the wrist with the base of the hand, and see just how bad the damage is.”

Blood spurted like some bad horror flick. All over me, all over the window, and all over the sink and countertop.

“It’s bad.”

Now, what to do? I couldn’t dial a phone – my left hand was numb and useless, my right hand needed to stop from bleeding to death. Oh, yeah, the blood was still squirting with disturbing regularity between my fingers.

“Get help. Go to a neighbor’s,” I thought. I kicked open the door from the kitchen to the garage, and ran out into the street. There in the street I looked up and down, trying to figure out which of the few houses in my part of town to go to. Every one was dark – all the neighbors were at the damned rodeo.

I’m starting to worry a bit.

Then it hits me. There was a nice octogenarian who lived at the end of the street, a bit more than a block away. She wouldn’t be at the rodeo. I ran.

Got to her door. Could hear the TV blasting (she was a little deaf). Frantically, I started kicking her front door, trying to get her attention over the sound of the TV. “Lena!!” I screamed at the top of my lungs as I kicked on her door “open up! It’s Jim from down the street!”

A few long seconds later I hear her say “Coming!”. Light on the small porch went on. Door opened a crack. She looked out at me, and her eyes grew wide. The door slammed shut.

Of course. Here was a long-haired loon, nearly naked, covered in blood and glass and wine, standing on her doorstep, raising hell.


I slumped down and sat on the edge of the porch. The adrenaline burn was starting to give out. I was getting cold. I’d lost a fair amount of blood, and figured I was going into shock. I needed to sit a moment and try to figure out what to do.

I heard a rattling of chain. The door opened behind me. Lena had to close the door to remove the security chain. She stood there, still wide-eyed and clearly started, but she stood there. “Jim?”

“Lena, call an ambulance. I need an ambulance. Hurry!” Montezuma is 20 miles from the nearest hospital, a little one in Grinnell which usually didn’t even have a doctor attending at night. The amulance would have to leave there to come get me.

Door slammed shut again. What seemed like an eternity later, she came back.

“Here, Jim, I brought you a towel so you can wipe yourself off a little.”

She was smiling. I figured that I was dead.

“Lena, I don’t need a towel. You have to call an ambulance.”

She looked confused. “Here, I brought you a towel so you can wipe up.”

“Lena, I need an ambulance. Hurry, please.”

“Well, here, you’ll want this.” She draped the towel across my shoulder. “I did call the ambulance. They’ll be right here, don’t you worry.”

I want to interject something here. I have long known that I have the best bad luck in the world. That is, I have bad luck – things happen that seem absurdly improbable – but then it’s like someone flips a switch and everything works out for the best.

I hear the sound of an ambulance siren. From the fair grounds, not a mile away.

“See, here they come,” says Lena.

What should have been a 20 minute wait is less than three. That’s a guess, of course, since by this point my sense of time was badly skewed.

The ambulance pulls up to the street. I recognize the two responders who pop out of the back, because part of my job at the radio station was to get accident reports and so forth. They recognize me, as well.

“Hey Jim, what happened?”

Briefly, I explain. Said I figured I’d hit the artery. They got me over to the back of the ambulance, sitting on a gurney. One guy grabs a compression bandage, another holds onto me. “OK, remove your hand, let’s see what we’ve got. Just get a glimpse to see how bad it is, and then we’ll slap this compression bandage on and get you to Grinnell.”

I remove my hand. Blood fountains. Compression bandage gets slapped on. I fall back onto the gurney.

“It’s bad,” says the driver, standing there watching.

Next moment, I’m strapped in, metal clip shutting off the artery on my upper arm, and we’re making about 90 mph to Grinnell.

Couple of minutes later, driver hollers back to me: “Hey Jim, you’re in luck!”

“How’s that?”

“Oh, seems that there’s a doctor from the U of I who happens to be there at the hospital already. Micro-surgeon of some sort.”


We get to the hospital. Without further fanfare I’m wheeled into the OR adjacent to the emergency room. By this point I already have IVs and whatnot. They drape my arm, doctor comes in, freshly scrubbed. Pokes around a couple of minutes.

“You are incredibly lucky.”

“People keep telling me that.”

“How did this happen?”

I explain.

“Huh. Amazing.”

“How so?”

“Well, the position of your hand meant that the tendons receded. All you did was slice the surface of the skin, and through both the artery and the vein. And fresh-broken glass is sharper than a scalpel. No rough ends, no damage to the tendons. I’ll have everything neatly back together here in just a few minutes.”

He was true to his word. About a half hour later, I was out of the OR.

“You can go home. See your doctor in a few days for a follow-up.” The surgeon nodded to a nurse. “She’ll give you some information on caring for the wound. And some pain-killers for when the stuff we gave you IV wears off. Don’t drive tonight.”

“Well, my car is at home.”

“Can you get someone from here to take you home?” asked the nurse.

“Yeah, just get me a phone.”

I called a kid who worked at the radio station with me. He came and picked me up. Pretty decent of him, since it was now about 2:00 AM.

We drove back to Montezuma, me mostly silent, somewhat in shock, somewhat dopey from the painkillers. As we pulled into town, I told the kid to go around to the front of the house, and I’d let him in.

“Yeah, sure.”

We got to my driveway, got out of the car. He went towards the front of the house. I went in through the garage, still fully lit from earlier. It was like following a trail. Of my blood. Through the garage, up a slight couple of steps and turn into the kitchen. Door still standing open from where I’d kicked it. Sound of water running.

It looks like someone has slaughtered a pig in the kitchen. Blood was everywhere. I go over and turn off the faucet. Look at the glass. Look at the blood. On the counter. On the wall. On the window. On the ceiling. I stood there, just taking it all in.

Until I heard the sound of someone walking into the kitchen from the front of the house.

I turned to see my buddy enter the room. He took one look around, and vomited.

* * * * * * *


It was because of this experience that I choose my SCA Arms, designed the way they are. You can see them here. What it is supposed to represent is a whirlpool. Which is what I saw for just a brief moment when the jug first burst. A whirlpool of golden crabapple wine, and my blood, swirling . . . swirling . . . down the drain.

Jim Downey

(Also posted at UTI.)

3 Comments so far
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[…] Science Fiction context.  I tend to stay away from horror movies.  I’ve had plenty of experience with adrenaline dumps, thank you very much, and don’t particularly like having that button […]

Pingback by Don’t order the eggs. « Communion Of Dreams

[…] in my life, moments when with the slightest difference in luck I probably would have died. This is probably the most dramatic. It’s certainly the most graphic. But there have been others […]

Pingback by Final countdown. « Communion Of Dreams

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