Wednesday, October 23, 2013

* Rash: Dodging Death

This is not a cheerful essay. 

I had a reaction to penicillin yesterday and am now covered with what looks like measles.  It reminds me that I almost died of the mumps as a child.  I was actually delirious and unconscious for awhile.  I recall waking up but not much more.

Actually, I almost died of birth

Iarrived  two months premature December 28, 1944 and had to spend a week or so in an incubator, a newly invented contraption that insured I would not be touched or cuddled, but would guarantee I could manage to breathe.

Two other times I missed death.

It was summer of 1971, the year  after the Kent State shootings and I was walking across the very Commons where the Guardsmen had launched their ill fated fatal (to students) armed  march up Blanket Hill on that Ohio campus.

No one was on the Commons that sunny summer day, but a guy was throwing balls to a batter in the distance.  Suddenly I heard a scream, “WATCH OUT”.

I froze.  Two inches in front of my head a hardball whizzed by at amazing speed.  Had I not frozen, that ball would have hit my temple and killed me.

(Note: Although I was present at the Kent State shootings, I was out of bullet range (465 feet was the furthest victim).  I have often thought my activism was spurred by survivor's guilt.)

The second time was six years later at Yale Divinity School in 1976.  I was riding my bike down Canner Street Hill,  showing off for onlookers.

I had books in one hand under my arm and used a single finger of my other hand to hold the handlebar---mostly pointing at it, not gripping it

As I transected the main route, Whitney Avenue, at about 20 MPH from speed garnered on the roll down Canner Street hill, , cars were waiting on Whitney at a red light in both directions. 

Suddenly as I passed the center of the intersection,  the front wheel of my bike hit a pebble in the road and that front wheel (unrestrained by my dramatically placed index finger barely touching the handlebar),  turned instantly with a jolt at s right angles to the rest of the bike, catapulting me and my books into the air while the drivers waiting at the light looked on in astonishment at this fleshly missile flying across  what was about to become the asphalt tarmac.

I could only see asphalt and the cement sidewalks beside it.  It looked like doom to me. 

 I put my arms under my chest instinctively, and somehow---some HOW --- I managed to land on the two-foot wide grass strip between the curb and the sidewalk.

Because my arms were under my chest, all the wind was knocked out of my lungs and the onlookers who rushed to my aid thinking I was dead, discovered I couldn’t utter a sound.  I had no breath with which to speak.

I gathered my books and my bike and with my tail between my legs, walked my bike the rest of the way home.

 I should have broken my neck.

There was a third time too which I just recalled. when I was driving my ’65 VW in the dark on the wrong side of  a highway entry ramp which had no street lights,(the Oak Street Connector) in New Haven that same year  and barely missed hitting a car head-on before I realized my error.

Back to my penicillin rash,which started this essay.

It reminds me very vividly of my mortality because my entire body appears to be on the verge of decomposing. 

This rash looks very much of what I imagine Mercutio was thinking when he says, “They’ve made worms-meat of me.”

In 2014 I will turn 70.

Such a possibility no longer seems remote.


I suppose you could say having half my kidney removed for cancer five eyars ago was another, a fourth, dodging of death. 

But I never felt any discomfort, was never ill, and was back on my feet and driving after four days-----so I never fully computed it as a dodge.  I did have to refrain from work for ten weeks though, but still with no discomfort.  It wasn't like dodging a hardball to the head.

Maybe it was a dance----- and luckily, I led.

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