How I Hurt My Leg

Tom Cole

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My bruising and the darned canal that looked like the little ones I have always jumped but is TWICE as big. Click here to see pictures of such canals.
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It has become a ritual of mine to get up each Saturday and Sunday, whistle up my little dog Noodles, and drive my truck to Elliot and Cooper Roads. The ritual started when a friend told me there were long-billed dowitchers there at the water recharge station. I drove over and found that four miles from my house, in the scorching desert of Arizona, I could watch shore birds. There were acres of shallow ponds that attracted all the migrating shorebirds that were coming in from Alaska and elsewhere. What a deal and a half. It's a short, easy, and comfortable outing but it has, I fear, become a bit of a rut for me as I don't always wind up doing as much as I ought to on the weekends aside from driving back home from there and playing the guitar and recording music or doing whatever I think needs doing on my computer.

At any rate, I awoke on Sunday May 5, 2001, Kentucky Derby Day, and it got into my head to bet on the horses. I made some phone calls and found that the most convenient place to wager was at one of the Dirty Drummer franchises. The Dirty Drummer dives are run-down shopping center saloons. There was one on the northwest corner of Arizona Avenue and Elliot Road. I had never gone in one before and so I was looking forward to testing the place out. I figured I'd hit Elliot and Cooper first and get the gambling done later.

When my dog and I arrived at the recharge station. David Esenbacher, a public works employee, pulled up in a pick-up and offered to unlock the chain link door to the ponds, so Noodles and I could go in and explore the area. David is often there and seems to enjoy letting me go into the place. He loves it in there himself and has nice places at the water's edge where he has set up his own benches for having lunch and stuff like that.

"Keep your eye out for any pot bellied pigs." he asked. "A guy in the neighborhood has lost a pair and he's really upset. They're family pets -- giant things now -- and he thinks they might have headed this way."

I thanked him for letting us go inside and assured him we wouldn't let any pigs get past us.

Inside, we walked along the gravely service roads to where the vegetation closed in overhead. It made quite a pleasing riparian canopy and it was a very natural-looking area, quiet and serene and filled with the beauty of green leaves in contrast with the ochre shades of the dusty service road and the drier flora. It was also alive with the sharp, cedary smells of desert plant resins.

All the regular birds were in and around the ponds: avocets, rough-winged swallows, snowy egrets, as well as a duck I rarely used to see there, the redhead. I was also lucky enough to spot some blue-winged teals and a good flock of big, white-faced ibises.

In the east pond, Wilson's phalaropes were spinning like mad in the shallow water. Their spinning creates a vortex that lifts edible mollusks, crustaceans, insect larva and the like to the surface where the birds gobble it up. This has always been a special bird for me because I sighted it on one of my first bird outings and kind of backslid on bird watching to the point where I didn't see one again for twenty-five years. Now I seek them out regularly.

To get a good look at the birds, I had to jump over a little cement canal. It was the kind Noodles and I are very fond of because Noodles likes to jump into them and swim, and I like to watch her. I also like to pull her out before she drowns; the cement sides are very steep and usually Noodles is unable to climb out on her own unless the canal is dry. This particular canal on this day just had a little water in the bottom. Noodles jumped down into it and ran up the steep wall to the other side. I jumped after her, landing my right foot on the angled wall and hopping to the other side. The birds were just a few yards beyond and I got some good viewing in.

Noodles and I hopped across the same canal twice again, once going back to the road and then heading back towards the birds. On that second hop, my foot didn't land as it should have. My hard landing on the V-shaped canal pushed my toes upwards toward my knee. There was a ripping, discombobulating sensation and I fell on the other side of the canal knowing I had really messed up my leg.

Here's what happened: imagine reaching down, grabbing your toes and pulling the front of your foot up so hard and fast that all the tendons and muscles back in your calf are ripped and torn. Because of the steep angle of my landing spot on the canal wall, that is basically what happened to my leg, although as I lay in the dirt I wondered if it was just plain broken.

I was a quarter mile from my truck, but I managed to hobble back with Noodles and drive home. The right foot merely had to press the accelerator, and that worked out all right. When I got home, however, my leg began to swell so much that I called a Cigna nurse. She advised me to get over to their urgent care clinic and urged me to get someone to drive me, but I drove over alone. The place was at Southern and Stapley, not far from Elliot and Cooper.

When I got there, I could barely walk anymore so they got me a wheel chair. My blood pressure was so high they put me on a cot and wouldn't let me leave. I'd gone off my high blood pressure pills a couple of weeks before and the staff gave me some medicine to bring my blood pressure down.

Then the doctor used me as a training tool. "Look," he showed the people there. "Push on his good leg and see how that moves? Now try the bad leg. See? Nothing happens."

The doctor looked at me and said, "You've torn the tendon back there. You're lucky you didn't tear it all the way off."

The doctor wrapped my leg in an Ace bandage, covered that with another layer of bandage and ice, checked my blood pressure, and let me go.

The ice I believed had some therapeutic value, but I am a skeptic when it comes to Ace Bandages. When there is nothing the doctor can do, out come the Ace Bandages which act as a sugar pill and make you feel you have been cured. I limped out of there all wrapped up and treated.

On the way back I realized I still hadn't bet on the horses, so I drove up to the Dirty Drummer and limped in. My leg was killing me but I wanted to bet in the Kentucky Derby.

Now, I'm no gambler. Oh, I used to play nickel ante Acey Duecey when I worked on a cotton rouging crew in tiny Arizona towns where there was nothing else to do, and I even cheated at it once just to run one player out of the game. (I tampered with the clock.) The night before, that guy had left the game early with all of our money. I was sure he felt sorry now and wanted to give us the chance to win it back, and, well, he did ? although somewhat involuntarily. I still feel a little guilty. But, as I said, I don't care much for gambling. I don't even play the lottery because the odds are ridiculous and it isn't fair that the State of Arizona gets to run a numbers racket when I would be arrested for doing the same thing. If running the numbers is a bad thing, then it ought to be illegal for everybody. Why is the state exempt from the law? Are they somehow better qualified to run a racket than those who have practiced the art so successfully for decades, like the Mafia? I don't get it. I guess they think they can run a clean racket. But heck, so did the Godfather when he finally agreed to let the other families sell drugs as long as it was kept away from schools and children and confined to the black neighborhoods.

Anyway, the Dirty Drummer was not much different from what I expected. It was a rather messy place with the customary thirty-four-and-up male crowd, half of them drunk and dreaming of meeting some decent woman in the dive and the other half basically alcoholic, drunk too, and just hanging out. I'm not really sure about those percentages, but that's the way I looked at the place. And I hasten to add I'm not judging them. I was in there too.

My leg was all wrapped up and I was wearing shorts. I must have seemed as weird as anybody there -- especially whenever I bumped my leg a bit and screamed aloud.

I got a beer from their lousy selection. I can't believe these saloons. They've got Coors and Coors Light and Bud and Bud Light and Miller and Miller Lite and that's basically the whole menu. After two sips no expert in the place could tell one from the other and they all are slightly sweet and otherwise completely watery and insipid. My irreverent sister calls it "panther piss." Give me a Boston Lager or a India Pale Ale any day. You can't drink many, but at least you can taste something.

I had arrived with just nine minutes to spare, so I walked up to some guy who seemed to know what he was doing. "Who are the lousiest nags in the line-up?" I asked him.

He gave me a couple of numbers of slow horses one named Point Given and the other Dollar Bill -- and I went to the window and bet ten bucks on both of them -- to show? To place? Nah -- TO WIN! Why fool around? I figured the only way to make any real money was to bet on the two worst horses to win.

Of course, the two horses didn't win, although Point Given came in sixth. It was the worst Kentucky Derby I had ever seen -- not because I lost; shoot, I never thought I would win -- but because the crowd was a bunch of idiotic, loud-mouthed cheerers. "Go on, Sea Biscuit!" they roared. (Or similar shouts.) And I never even got to hear the band play "My Old Kentucky Home" which is a truly beautiful song and makes me an admirer of Foster as I am of Lennon and McCartney:

Weep no more, my lady

Oh, weep no more, today

We will sing one song for my old Kentucky home

For my old Kentucky home far away

Worse, I didn't get to hear the part where the guy says: "Here they come -- DOWWWNN THE STRETCH!!!

In the days that followed, my leg swelled a bit more. It woke me up at night and no Advil or anything had any effect upon it. It also turned completely red and purple and it was so hideous-looking that I decided I must show people at work. Some just couldn't stand the sight and would have none of it -- even when pressed to look. Others didn't care one way or the other. Still others asked to see it again. I knew that my co-workers silently admired the way I endured such excruciating agony with such stoicism, forbearance, and aplomb. In other words, I milked it for all it was worth.

In a month, I could almost walk without limping and suddenly I experienced a painful, swollen big toe on the other foot. "Gout," I diagnosed. "It's got to be gout because there's no good reason for my toe to hurt." I went to the doctor. "I've got gout," I told him.

But X-rays revealed a huge, knife-like bone spur on my big toe. The doctor thought it was really unusual. "I've never seen one so big," he marveled, and scheduled me to see a podiatrist.

"Gosh, do I have to? Aren't they just chiropractors with scalpels?"

The doctor frowned. He defended podiatrists young and old and insisted that I go to find out if the bone spur was likely to cause any more flare-ups in the future. I went back to work the next day and told everyone he had sent me to a pedaphile. They all corrected me, "A podiatrist," they all said.

"Oh, yes-- podiatrist," I would reply. "I've GOT to remember that name."

The toe and the leg have gotten better and I don't see the ped... er podiatrist until later this month. I went to my Thursday writer's group meeting and when I got home, a scorpion (genus Centroides) stung me on the index finger and the next day I couldn't even type. I had flashes before my eyes just the way Poison Control said I might. My whole finger was as numb as death, my bicep ached, and my arm, hand, and finger would explode like silent, roaring cymbals if you gave them a little tap. By Saturday afternoon, however, I had rebounded so well that I could even play the guitar. I was so pleased that I sat down and wrote my first real blues song, "Even the Sky's Got the Blues." What a killer hook!

It all evens out.




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