Resolutions 2: Shouldering the Burden

   I still have some unresolved issues from last year, some anger simmering on the back-burner that has yet to be brought to a word-punching boil on this blog. But it’s about time, I say. It’s about time I write a word or two about my dislocated shoulder.

   This is the story of something that happened to me a year ago last weekend. Here’s how it all went down:

   Friday, July 9th. I am walking down a busy Chinatown street toward an art gallery to deliver a submission form for an upcoming show. I had just run into a friend of mine who was doing well after about a year of physiotherapy following a dancing accident. I told her about my amazing new job I’d been hired at only the day before after a lengthy, painful stint of no-money-hood. I was thinking about my good fortune, and how much it would suck if I got injured just when things were finally starting to turn my way. Such were the thoughts swimming through my head when I saw the guy. I suppose I’ll go ahead and give him a name… Douchy McPunchyFuck. The street was crowded, but not so much that you couldn’t walk without bumping into someone, and here was this guy seemingly beelining straight for me. He was giving me the old Stare Down- you know, when they walk right at you as if they’re on a collision course, but at the last second they walk around you just so they can stare you down as you walk by (it’s their little way of telling you that the streets belong to them, and you’re not welcome. Or they’re just staring at your boobs). Seen it, been there, done that, ignored it, remained steadfastly unimpressed with each new occurrence, have come up with a staggering list of synonyms for the word “douchebag”. But the sidewalk was messy with trash and fruit baskets and those ring-shaped poles you lock your bike to, and wowzers, the dude really meant it. Lacking the space for total maneuverability, I raised an arm (my left) to protect myself, which brushed lightly against his shoulder as he passed (and by “passed”, I mean, “fully intended to body-check me”). I said “excuse me.” And that’s when the first punch hit.

Perhaps I was so used to the old Stare Down that I hadn’t counted on the old Punch Out. In any case, the dude randomly erupted on me in a fist-shaped explosion. He connected with my right shoulder- the one I broke as a teenager and never let heal right- which was promptly dislocated. Clean dislocated right the fuck out of its little shoulder-hole. It had happened to me before, but this time I couldn’t pop it back in. The ball was out of the park, out of the socket, and somewhere in my back.

He took off rather briskly. I realized I couldn’t move my right arm and I couldn’t pop the joint back in myself. I tried to somehow simultaneously fish out my phone and cradle my right arm with my left, and I realized that I’d be no match in a fight. So, I just let him go without another word, figuring the damage was done and there was no point in seeking retribution. Oh, wait, no, that’s not what happened at all.

So I shouted. “Hey! That isn’t okay! Why would you do that? Are you going to apologize to me?”

“No,” he answered brusquely, the only word he said.

“Well you owe me an apology. You can’t just go around hitting people.”

By this time he had dashed halfway across the busy street, disrupting traffic. I said something about him running off, thinking that he could get hit by a car for all I care, when he spun around and came at me with a fresh volley of blows. These I deflected from my face and neck, gaining a few extra bruises on my shoulders and chest, but nothing serious. He continued off on the same side of the street, and I yelled after him, “do you want me to call the police?”

“No,” he predictably answered.

As I watched him hurry off, I considered my options: walk back to the police station (nearby), and report the incident. Walk to the nearest emergency room (also nearby), and get my immobilized and increasingly numb arm taken care of. I looked around. One person hovered near with a concerned look on her face; everyone else continued with their day.

And that’s when the degree of my injury sunk in.

If you have never suffered a severe shoulder dislocation, I assure you, you cannot imagine the pain.

My arm didn’t move, couldn’t move, and I was in more pain than I had thought possible (and take my word for it, I know pain). I considered calling 911. Not being a frivolous person, I realized that if I was considering it, I should probably just do it.

“Police,” I answered to the first question. I related the details of the incident and described the assailant as best I could. I told them where I was. They asked about my injuries, and I told them I couldn’t move my arm. Did I feel safe staying where I was? The guy was long gone and everyone else was ignoring me, so sure. They said to stay there, they’ll send someone for me. Sure. I hung up. The girl with the concerned look asked if I was okay, if there was anything she could do. I’d be fine, they were sending an ambulance. She offered to wait with me. It was nice of her to offer, but no, I’d be okay. The truth is I just didn’t want anyone around, I didn’t want anyone near me. I was having a hard enough time standing up, I couldn’t engage in conversation. My body didn’t know what was happening and it was reacting strangely. There was water in my eyes. But for the record, Concerned Girl, wherever you are, thank you. Thank you for being kind.

The ambulance arrived, asked for me, I got in. The paramedic asked if I wanted to wait for the police, but I didn’t want to wait for anything. He rolled up the sleeve of my slightly-tight-but-only-article-of-UofT-clothing-I-have t-shirt and winced- apparently, it was that dislocated. We were off, he fished my Health Card from my wallet and every bump and pothole felt like it was going to rip my arm right off.

We get to the Emergency Room, and the nurse at Admitting looks at my shoulder and winces. I sit down in front of another nurse who tells my paramedic he can leave as she looks at my shoulder and winces. After I’ve explained what happened yet again (met with yet another “he just hit you?”), she sends me to the next window. I answer the same questions and tell my story again to a guy who’s looking at my shoulder, wincing. He asks for an emergency contact number. This is the person they call if you die. I give my parents, and picture their reaction to the news that I’m dead. I hope it doesn’t come true. He tells me to have a seat and wait.

I text my significant other, whom I had made tentative plans with for that night, telling him I wouldn’t be making it out. He texted back asking if he should come to the hospital and wait with me. I said no, but realizing how difficult it might be to get home since my entire nervous system was starting to feel like it was doused in acid, I might need help getting home. I tried to focus on my book (Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test), but as the pain was crescendo-ing to a plane where I was fairly certain I would not be able to bear it (which really makes you wonder what your options at that point are), I couldn’t exactly concentrate.

Fortunately, I wasn’t waiting long, although it felt too damn long for me. I pictured them taking me into a space blocked off by curtains, giving me a leather strap to bite on, jamming my shoulder back into place, and giving me a lollipop before sending me on my way (okay, maybe the lolly was wishful thinking, but the rest seemed reasonable enough). Clearly, I did not understand 21st Century medicine.

Once behind the curtains (I got that part right, but I hadn’t expected such hideous stripes), they managed to get my shirt off without cutting it. I lay down, and the nurse grabbed my left hand and started explaining something.

“First, we’re going to give you some Gravol, because the other drugs we’re going to give you will probably make you sick. Then, we’re going to give you some morphine (she couldn’t have started with the morphine?), and then some anti-inflammatories.” I could tell by the way she was holding my hand that these were not to be in the form of orange-flavoured chewable tablets.

I have yet to meet the person who is completely comfortable with needles. Maybe I don’t hang around with enough junkies. I’ve known a diabetic or two, but I think that even they flinch and die a little inside at the sight of an IV. In any case, I kept my eyes averted from my left hand, the hand she stuck the needle (which I have named Excalibur) into, which gave me a chance to look over at the shoulder that everyone had been wincing at. It was weird. It looked like a cross between “mis-shapen” and “gone”. It didn’t do any good, looking away, as she insisted on describing what she was doing as she was doing it. And it hurt. It hurt badly in a sharp yet achy and deeply uncomfortable way- I could feel it fishing around in my vein. I expressed a little discomfort, and she responded with “oh, the needle’s not in there anymore.” Oh, good, but then, why did it hurt even worse? “It’s a tube now. We’ve fed a tube into your bloodstream.” Lovely. Like being violated and having to be grateful for it.

The morphine turned my blood cold- a frozen numbness crept through my veins, and started to make my head spin. But the pain was still there. It was not diminished, I had just sort of.. gotten used to it. Like if your roommate was a murderous robot shark who smelled of sulphur oxide and left the seat up. You just start pretending he’s not there.

This is when Detective Detached and Lieutenant Literally Bored By This Bullshit showed up. They asked me the same questions whose answers I’d started considering changing up a bit just to keep the novelty going. I didn’t, because violent crime happens to be something I take somewhat seriously (one of my buttons, you might say). I answered their queries as best I could, but man was that morphine starting to kick in. Yet somehow, the pain remained undiminished. It only seemed… a little more distant somehow…

After pumping me full of enough anti-inflammatories to kill an elephant who’s allergic to anti-inflammatories, they sent me to X-Ray (no relation), where a delightful technician looked at my shoulder and winced. He asked me what had happened and I told him.
“He just hit you?” He asked.

He was appalled, but had a sense of humour, which was important, as I was trying desperately to keep my own. Freaking out doesn’t do any good. Panicking helps no one. Stay cool, stay calm, find the humour in any situation. I looked at the clock and realized that the gallery would be closed. It was the last day for submissions. That asshole had cost me my spot.

X-ray guy choreographed my poses as we joked about the whole ridiculous mess. The room was not cold, and even though I was in a hospital gown, I didn’t feel a breeze or chill. Yet I was shivering. Was it the drugs? I felt like I was shivering on the inside. I mentioned this to Mr. X-Ray.

“It’s the shock,” he said. He gave me a look that said that he was sympathetic to my determination to stay strong. “Whether you acknowledge it or not, you’ve been through an ordeal. And your body knows that.”

I went back to the en-curtained bed. Ordeal? The word stuck with me. I was walking down the street, minding my business, just another day downtown, where I live. How did this become an ordeal?

I remembered the nurse telling me that I’d be awake when they put my shoulder back, but I wouldn’t feel it, and I wouldn’t remember. I held on to that- not the not-remembering, but the being awake part. I didn’t actually like the not-remembering bit. I much preferred my leather strap idea. But I supposed that they knew best- after all, it’s not like they were going to mis-lead me in order to get me in a position where they could do something even more traumatizing to me that I wouldn’t be able to resist.

As I lay back, another tube was jammed into my hand. Saline solution, I guess, to flush the other drugs out. So now that I couldn’t move either arm, the nurses casually mention that I was not going to be awake for the procedure after all, that I was going to feel a little funny, a little loopy, a little out of it, and then I would feel nothing at all.

I was being put under.

I’d never been put under before. I wasn’t okay with it. I can handle douche canoes on the street who want to get up in my shit, but not this. Being restrained and helpless on a slab as strangers did God knows what to my body… I tried to let them know that I wasn’t okay with it, I tried to tell them no, but they were shoving oxygen tubes up my nose and I couldn’t stop them, and the little electric pads stuck all over my torso made the machine beep in ways I didn’t understand. I tried to object, I wanted off this ride, but everyone was so far away, and they weren’t listening. They weren’t even there, they had all left, they’d left me, and I was all alone. Alone staring at the stupid striped curtains forming grooves and folds and valleys with voices in them that I knew I could understand if only I could hear them, voices that might not have been there, but I wanted them to be, because then I wouldn’t be alone. But maybe they were bad voices, maybe they didn’t care about me, maybe they were out to get me, and I was so helpless, but they tried to guide me, Ken Kesey and Neal Cassaday and the unpredictable pranksters that I couldn’t trust but they tried to guide me through the abyssal wilderness when I knew we were all nothing and existence was insignificant and I was going to die and I was already on the other side, and God help me, it was all real, and I didn’t know what was happening. And among all the colours and the voices that only I could comprehend there was a face, a floating two-dimensional face in front of the endless stripey fields of three-dimensional, four-dimensional, five-dimensional colour, running off into their vanishing points, emptiness now, and now, a face. And now it’s gone- flat face, alien, stranger, it doesn’t belong here. I feel sick. It isn’t part of this world, I don’t understand, it has a smile, and something sickens me. I feel sick. Why is that face here? Is there a head behind that face? Whose is it? Is it familiar? Why is it familiar? Who is in this world who shouldn’t be, whose monument, whose Easter Island, Zardoz, God-Head gazing down at the folding world, head in the abyss that rings a bell of recognition somewhere beyond the stripey plain? What are you doing here? I want to ask it but the words won’t come. I cannot speak, I never could. Forming words are beyond me- they’re already taken by the echo of a synthesized robot voice being carried on the wind from somewhere far away. Why are you here? I try to speak, but the electronic interference takes over again, a buzzing washes over me like a nightmare on the wind. Is it coming from me? Is that my voice? I try to speak again, and I realize the sound is in my head, the spirit of dizziness, migraines and confusion, the interference is in my head and it is coming from me. It’s coming from me from somewhere far, far away.

I can’t move. I have no body. There is a net-like discomfort where my arm should be. I look at the face. There are shoulders now. Soon it will have a whole body. One shoulder, two. Where are my shoulders? I recognize the face. Was it him? It was the Boy. The good guy. The wonderful guy I’ve been with for three years. I’d texted him, earlier that day. Was it the same day? How long had it been? I’d asked him to pick me up when I was done. I wasn’t done, so what was he doing here?

I considered that I was imagining him. I tested my voice again- I was still in the eternal field of stripes, I now lived on the cover of a Yes album. He looked confused. I realized what was going on: they hadn’t told me this was going to happen, that I’d lose grip on reality. I didn’t know I was going to hallucinate, but I was, in fact, tripping balls.

I realized that I probably seemed very strange to him, so I tried to explain. I was high. I was extremely high. I was higher than I’d ever been in my life. And I was terrified. I had no idea what was happening to me, where I was, who I was, how long I’d been gone, what had happened to my arm. My arm! Did I still have it? Were they going to cut it off? Had they done it already? My right arm- my right arm! How was I going to draw? How was I going to write?! It wasn’t fair- I was absolutely terrified, and too stoned to express it, and he laughed. He laughed, and the nurses laughed, and everybody laughed at me.

Did I mention I felt sick?

No one seemed to care how I felt. Everyone had left. I was still in stripe-land with the voices I couldn’t hear, my mentors still trying to tell me about the electric Kool-Aid. I didn’t know what to do, where to go. My arms were still restrained. I leaned over the bar on the side of the bed. Eventually, he was there, holding a container a little too late beneath my retching, terrified face. I was not entirely in contact with my body and yet it went ahead and did horrible things without me. And he was there. We’ll call him Charon, because he was my moon that day, never leaving my side, even if I had been knocked down a peg or two by the world.

I started to come around. I heard the beepy noises of the EEG. The rolling stripe field turned back into a curtain. The cops meandered back in, and I answered the rest of their questions as best I could. It isn’t often that you can say to a police officer “I’m so high” without fear of reprisal. My arm was still there, in a sling. It was over, and I didn’t even remember passing out.

After another round of x-rays (during which I tried to throw up again, but as I hadn’t eaten that day, nothing came up but frothy bile), I was wheeled back on a stretcher by the kind nurses to the bed where I faced the challenge of getting my clothes back on. Charon and a nurse helped. I couldn’t quite follow the sling instructions, and so eventually decided that the process of getting it on comprised solely of getting the Velcro to stick to absolutely everything except what it’s supposed to stick to. I set a follow-up appointment at the fracture clinic to determine my eventual physiotherapy needs, took a bottle of Percocet for the road, and leaned on Charon all the way home.

The drugs didn’t agree with me. I was hungry, but I felt too sick to eat. Charon picked me up some food- grapes, baby carrots, Digestive cookies, crackers and cheese,- and had also brought with him some gummy candies, because they’re my favourite. My weekend was ruined- I couldn’t go out, but he stayed in with me. But I couldn’t write. I was angry about what had happened to me, but I couldn’t write, and I couldn’t draw, so I couldn’t express how I felt.

I couldn’t work, either (as a bartender), but that was okay, since I was starting a new job. A new job that I also couldn’t do, it turned out. I couldn’t type. I couldn’t file. Hell, I could barely make a cup of coffee. Using only my left hand, everyday tasks became challenging to impossible. No more wearing certain clothes or washing my hair. Forget redecorating my apartment which I was in the middle of- I couldn’t even tie my fucking shoes. I couldn’t even put on goddamn deodorant. Fishing out my wallet for my debit card took ten minutes, never mind counting change. I couldn’t do anything fun. I had plans to go hiking, camping, play frisbee, fucking bowling- none of that happened that summer. Possibly ever. And forget sex. I could tell it would be a while before that would happen again.

I couldn’t sleep from the pain (the painkillers did nothing), and from spending most of the night trying to find positions that didn’t hurt or damage me further. My left side began to ache due to the added responsibility. I couldn’t be comfortable or accomplish anything. I couldn’t cook, could barely eat, barely sleep. I couldn’t do fucking anything but feel pain and remember the fear I felt in the hospital. I felt like I’d lost everything, including faith in myself. That one random crazy guy took it all away from me.

And even at the time, I knew I would heal. Soon enough, it would just be another story to tell (again and again and again..). It didn’t matter. This was one of the last summers of my youth, and I spent it being impotent, because of him.

Have the police caught him? What do you think? Of course not. My stoned-out description of the remarkably generic-looking guy I’m sure was a real help. So he gets away with it, right? And I’m just supposed to accept that. Right?

That’s a problem, you see. I don’t think I can. I can’t accept the tongue-clucking, the condescending “my, the streets are getting so dangerous these days, but that’s what you get for living downtown” attitude. I can’t accept the acceptance that this kind of thing is par for the course, the status quo. I can’t. And I won’t.

I have become a target for other douchebags who have some kind of fascination with a girl in a sling. They use it as a pick-up line, they use it to put me in my place, they use it to debase me, to threaten me, to make me feel like a victim. One Kinko’s employee, outside on his smoke break, said to me as I passed by, “hey, can I break the other one?” Strange, when you’re hurt, people feel the need to point it out to you, make sure you feel weak. That doesn’t work on me, fucktards. You think I can’t handle your old Stare Downs? Because I’ve handled worse. You can’t hurt me worse than I’ve been hurt. If Punchy McDouchehat couldn’t do it, you don’t have a chance.

And as for you, asshole…

I know you’re out there. And while I’m sure you’re not reading this, somewhere in your whirling coked-out fever nightmare of a brain is a seething awareness of what you’ve done. You took my independence, my art, my means of expression away from me. You made me feel fear in that hospital. I did nothing to you, nothing. But your ugly face and stupid sweater are burned into my memory, and one day we will meet again. One day, you will feel the wrath of rage contained no longer by fear and social courtesy. You get no more politeness, no more calm requests for an apology. If I ever see you again, you motherfucking assmunching douchecunt waste of human filth, you will know my rage and pain and it will be unleashed a thousand times upon you by an army of righteous souls, and you will have no escape. I have loyal friends, Asshole, and they will straight-up fucking murder you. And I will laugh, and punch out your crooked teeth with my swinging right arm, and I will tell you that that’s what you get for not apologizing. Dickwad.

There is no lesson to be learned here. I was walking down a busy street in the middle of the afternoon in broad daylight, minding my business and getting in no one’s way. And there’s no way I could have seen it coming. There is no lesson, no silver lining. Just rage. The rage is all I have.

It still hurts, you know. I still have to be careful- it slips, every now and then. I’ll never be able to use it like I used to, never be completely free of the fear that something could happen, something could aggravate the injury, and I’ll require surgery. That’ll mean going under again. It’ll mean losing mobility. It might mean an end to my art, or at least my current drawing style. I hope you’re happy, Punchy McAssdouche, but you probably don’t even remember me. You have no idea what you’ve done. You feel no guilt, and while I’ve been in excruciating pain for the last year of my life, you’ve been tra-la-la-ing through yours, blissfully punching strangers and bearing no consequences.

And that’s gotta be the most infuriating part of it all.

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Harpercalypse!

Ack! I mean, Jesus! Really? I mean… goddamnit! Seriously! Goddamn those goddamn bastards! Argh! I’m so angry! I don’t even have the words. I don’t even know what to say. Just… just…

AAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Who Doesn’t Like a Big Dick? Aside from, well… Everyone.

In an exclusive lounge that you have to be uber-rich to get into, a patron approached the bar. The bartender- whom I shall assign a fake name to, and since it is my blog, that name will be “Optimus Prime“- naturally said “what can I get for you?” “Scotch” said Mr. Rich Douche (referred to from here on as “Rouche”). “Neat. No ice. I mean it. If you put ice in it, I will come behind that bar and beat you.” Optimus, who knew perfectly well what “neat” meant, gave him the type of smile that only customer service professionals know, the smile that says, “you are way out of line, but any appropriate response I can offer will cost me my job.” Optimus’ co-worker, who was closer to the scotch than she was, started pouring. You’d think that this would cause the Rouche to lose interest in our dear Ms. Prime, but you’d be wrong, and kind of an idiot. “Seriously,” Rouche said with what he probably considered a grave smile, but since that isn’t a thing, was just a creepy leer, “I can do it. I’m certified.”
“I’ll bet you are,” thought Optimus, but she only laughed. “Really,” he insisted, “I’m allowed. I’m legally entitled to beat you.” As Optimus wondered how any human being could possibly get off saying such a thing, Rouche winked. “Not like that,” he said. “More like a spanking. I’ll spank you.”
That wasn’t the last poor Optimus saw of the Rouche that night, but since it doesn’t get any better, I’ll spare you. But FYI, there is no official certification that grants you the right to assault another person who has done nothing to deserve it, just so you know.

See, the irony here is that Optimus had attended a mandatory Health and Safety meeting only two days before, outlining the new, extremely extensive Bill Amendment for Worker’s Rights, or some such nonsense. Some of these rights involved refusing work if one felt unsafe ( like for example, if a patron threatens violence or bodily harm against a worker), and the necessity of escorting such a patron outside the premises via security, even, in some cases, calling the police. Were any of these actions taken? Did you miss the part where he was rich?

When I rule the world, we will not need a 1,000 page document telling us how to not abuse people. We won’t need bills and laws defining exactly what constitutes discrimination, harassment, or assault. We won’t need procedures to be ignored in the case that something awful like this does happen, and we certainly won’t need to be told which words we are or aren’t allowed to find “offensive.” There will only be one law, one Sacred Commandment unto God and Man upon Earth:

Don’t be a dick.

Why is this so difficult to understand? Why is this rule so seemingly impossible for everyone to obey? Because some people are dicks. They apparently like being dicks. They are satisfied with being dicks, and why not? They get away with it.

Okay, I get that there might not be a clear consensus as to what does or does not constitute a “dick move.” But really? Are we really that unsure? Because it seems to me that the only people who would be defending a dick move as a non-dick move are themselves dicks.

Fine, the word “dick” may be offensive to some. Maybe it sounds like it’s just a male thing (it isn’t. Chicks can be dicks, but they’re not to be confused with she-males, who are chicks who have dicks). If you prefer “asshole,” “jerk,” “prick,” or, as situations warrant, “douche bag,” then be my guest. The point is, it’s the intent that counts.

And okay, we’re not telepathic (unless you’re Professor X, but then, if you are, you already know what I’m going to say, so why are you reading this?), so we can’t know what a person’s intent is. But the law is not to “catch someone being a dick.” It’s to not be a dick yourself. You are responsible for your own behaviour, no one else. If you find yourself justifying your actions, then you’re probably being a dick. If the reason you want to do something is because it’ll hurt someone else or make them uncomfortable (which maybe you get off on), then you’re definitely being a dick. Rules shouldn’t be about catching bad guys after they’ve broken them. They should be about taking responsibility for your own behaviour, and not breaking that rule in the first place. Law enforcement should be pro-active, not re-active. People shouldn’t be dicks.

Ms. Prime has a ripe sense of humour herself. She is not easily offended, and, like an eleven-year-old, giggles at the word “teabag.” She is the first to announce “that’s what she said!” after someone mentions fitting a large pole into a tight hole. Detailing exactly what words are or are not “appropriate” or “offensive” only serves to censor communication and construct barriers between people who are no longer free to express themselves, or share a laugh with another reasonable human being. It wasn’t that she found the word “spank” to be rude- it was that the Rouche wasn’t being funny. He wasn’t being carefree with someone whom he had built an understanding dialogue with. He said what he said because he likes to watch powerless people squirm. He threatens those who cannot defend themselves in order to feel like a big man. He thinks he’s entitled, thinks he’s better than you, and that he can get away with it. In short, he’s a dick.

If you’re just being yourself, laughing in the moment, sharing a joke with a friend, or even a stranger, then it shouldn’t matter what you say, because it’s coming from a genuine, friendly place. But if you are contriving a situation in which you are in a position to make another person feel inferior, and you justify it by assigning words like “certified” and “entitled” to yourself, then it doesn’t matter what you say- you’re a dick.

So, if you are not a dick, then congratulations. You may live in the New World, once it exists.

And if you are a dick… well, just stop it already.