“Can I go get it?” I ask as soon as she throws it.
“It” is just a flashlight tossed into the intake of an F-18 Super Hornet. “She” is the super-hot flight engineer for the Canadian Air Force. Yes, I know, it sounds shallow. But she has been explaining the inner workings of a 70 million dollar fighter jet, and I figure the least I can do is crawl in and get the flashlight.
Inside of the intake is a sharp metal fin, something that “she” mentioned to me in her description. Something that, to be honest, I was passively listening to. I go in head first, and rather than crawl in the tight space, I roll over onto my back and push with my legs, hard, sending myself skull first into that shard of steel.
I know instantly that I am hurt, but testosterone and adrenaline are one hell of a combination. I manage to get the rest of the way down the intake and grab the flashlight before I notice the drip-drip-dripping from my head.
Be cool, be cool, I think as I crawl out of the steel tunnel. “I’m fine,” I say. “Might have… bumped my head a little.”
Blood is rushing down my face and pooling up on the floor. “All good,” I repeat, and then I take a knee like someone just shot a black guy during the national anthem.
I have never been a fan of gore. I don’t watch horror movies. I still cringe when someone does that thing on a TV show where they cut their hand for some blood oath. Punch, snap, bludgeon, but don’t break the skin. It’s my weakness. There, now you know. I’m even worse when it’s my own skin. I feel the blood starting to coagulate and matte where it runs through my eyebrow on its way to the floor. Imagination makes the hole larger and larger until I am convinced that shards of skull are mashed into my brain matter.
Now that it’s clear that I’m just wounded and not dead, the other comics with me relax a bit. My buddy Jason pulls up a chair, and I decide it might feel better than my knee. “I’m gonna—“
And then suddenly I am in the chair. In fact, I’ve been in the chair for a few minutes now and I find myself coming back to reality. That’s what blacking out feels like. Like a time jump. Suddenly my brief lightheadedness is gone. I’m lucid and clear, and my head hurts really badly.
The military is quick to respond. Within seconds a Canadian firefighter team has me on my back, stops the bleeding, and wraps my head like a mummy. I look like I have a cartoon toothache. I tell them I am good to walk on my own, and surprisingly, everyone just says okay. They all want a picture with the blood-caked American though, before issuing a salvo of mandatory Canadian sorrys.
“We hate that this happened! You take care now, bahd!”
The American guys in the clinic are even more casual. I’ve ruined their uneventful morning and they’re having fun with it. “Duuuude,” the on duty medic says. “That’s a good one.”
Which is the last thing I want to hear.
“We can try to get some local anesthetic if you want, but you’re bleeding pretty badly.”
“Like shots?” I ask.
“Yeah, a couple.”
“If you’re going to have to stick me anyway, you might as well just stitch it.”
“Whatever you say, sir. I’m just going to trim some of the hair away so we can get to it.” There is a long pause before I hear him ask into the hallway, “Do we have anything smaller than these trauma shears?”
“You’re going to cut my hair with shears?” I ask.
“Haha, nah. I’ll find something smaller.” A second soldier shows up and I feel my hair snipped in awkward chunks, and then the two of them just go to work. Now I feel my skin being pulled and jabbed. Another soldier walks in for something unrelated. “Hey, I just need to grab— holy shit! What happened to him?”
“It’s a good one, huh?” the guy stitching me up says, stopping what he’s doing. “Come look.”
“Ummm, guys?” I say.
“Haha, sorry. We’re gonna have to get a bigger needle. Your skin is being difficult.”
Another soldier walks in. “Damn! What did he do?”
“Tell him,” the doctor says, stifling a laugh.
“I was at your mom’s house and I forgot the safe word.”
I curse. They laugh. What am I going to do, Yelp the Army?
The base is limited on resources, and the clinic is little more than a place to do the most basic of procedures. Because they decided I had definitely passed out in the chair in the hangar, the doctor tells me that protocol requires a CT scan. “They’ll take you to the hospital in Costantza and get it knocked out.”
Within minutes, a Romanian EMT team arrives. They manage, despite my objections, to load me onto a gurney and slide me into the back of a completely unnecessary ambulance. Sirens wailing, we burn off into the city streets. We lurch side to side. The brakes screech as a horse-drawn cart dives into our path.
You’ve probably never been to a Romanian hospital, but I bet you’ve been to a zoo. Or a Wal-Mart. Or a zoo inside a Wal-Mart. The building looks like a playable area in Fallout. Cracked plaster, missing bricks, and untrimmed weeds decorate the entry way. My cart is wheeled past the walking wounded and I’m deposited in a room for the even worse. I glance around, clearly in the wrong place.
An old man lies mainly naked on the bed next to me. His catheter bag rests on his heavily undulating chest, flopping off the gurney and onto the floor with every tenth breath, causing him to have to reel it back in, like he’s crabbing in the intercostal canal. I’m the only one in here that isn’t suffering from some weird Romanian injury. There’s a guy with a dog bite. Another guy has the Thinner curse. You don’t understand gypsy injuries. I’m not a blip on the radar in this place.
One doctor walks by eating a slice of pizza. Are there no health statutes here? A nurse makes it over to me after an hour, with what looks like an IV bag, and while I wouldn’t mind the rehydration, there’s no way anyone inside of this building is sticking me with anything. I protest until she leaves, off to get a doctor who speaks English to translate all my arm waving.
Another nurse arrives. I have absolutely no idea what is happening, or if there is even a plan at all. She hooks up some medical equipment from the future, and by future I mean a future envisioned by 1960’s sci-fi filmmakers.
Jason texts me to make I’m taking notes, because that’s what comics do. “You getting all this?”
“No, Jason. I’m not. They even haven’t invented the pen here yet. This guy just came in to update a patient’s chart – he just Neanderthal-wrote it in his own shit on the wall, like a cave painting telling the tale of how his forbearers killed a mammoth.
I’m in a civil war field hospital. They’re leeching a guy across the room. I hear someone tell someone to bite down on a belt.
And then on cue – and this is going to sound like utter bullshit – my “doctor,” and I use the quotes because I feel like he got the title doctor the way my friend Rob got the title Reverend. Like he bought it online for 20 bucks from the Church of the Holy Light or whatever.
Anyway, my doctor, swear to god, has a Confederate flag on his scrubs pocket. It was so glaring, I thought it must be something else. I actually Googled the confederate flag to make sure. He comes back with my passport and says, “Lone Star state! You’re from the south!”
I was like, yeeeeah, but…
He said, “Looka! I don’t-a like-a the ideas, but hey, Dixie music is-a great!”
And I was like, there has to be a better way to show this. Maybe buy a fiddle, or get into NASCAR?
The bag falls off the guy next to me again. “Does nobody care about this man’s pee?” Nobody cares. Doc Hazzard has wandered back into the bowels of the hospital again, leaving me to sit and wonder what’s next. People walk by me, but I don’t know if they are staff or patients. As each new person passes, I start doing that thing we all do, where we try to make eye contact. Like these are just really bad waiters.
“Excuse me can I get some more iced—Umm, hey buddy—Can I just—Goddammit.”
Even if I decide to walk out, I’m not positive I can find the exit to this asylum. Mercifully, three hours, five dropped catheter bags, and four slices of pizza later, they manage to cobble together just enough combined medical knowledge to get me scanned and cleared.
For me, everything comes down to the story, and this was a good one. Cracking my head open wasn’t the plan, but it happened in the middle of a horrible stretch of travel, a leg of the journey full of sleep deprivation, cramped discomfort, and just about every other dark thing from your travel nightmares. Weirdly, I found I’d forgotten about most of them.
I’ve been fortunate that my grandfather’s baldness never made its way to me, but should it ever, there will undoubtedly be a jagged line hidden somewhere on the pate, and I can’t wait for people to ask about it.