There’s a steep hill that leads into Oakwood Cemetery next to a dormitory at Syracuse University where we would occasionally sled when I was a student. (What in God’s name was I doing sledding next to a cemetery. I don’t know. You do all kinds of crazy things when you drink terrible beer in college.)
Yes, highly educated students would bundle up in heavy coats, scarfs, mittens and hats and jump onto anything made of plastic for a fast and fun ride down this one hill. The path we would sled down was a good distance from the gravestones and we were always careful not to veer anywhere near the stones or markers embedded in the ground. When I think back now, I realize that I deserve everything that I got.
It had been a average, run of the mill night of partying and bacchanalia at Syracuse that fateful Saturday night in February of 1980. In case you haven’t heard, in addition to producing great scholars, Syracuse also has a reputation as a bit of a party schools. And as all good alums, we were doing our best to uphold that tradition.
I vaguely remember making the rounds to a few different parties, drinking the usual bad beer and then walking back to my dormitory with friends. However, instead of doing the smart thing and continuing to walk into the dorm where I could find comfort and a warm bed, I decided around midnight to check out a group of noisy school mates who were sledding down the aforementioned path.
I was welcomed with a round of hellos and huzzahs, and since I didn’t have my own piece of plastic I was handed one. The idea was to start atop the hill, lay down face first on your belly onto a sheet of plastic. Next you’d give yourself a push and proceed down the slope and then, using your body to direct yourself, veer off to the right until you came to a stop. I did all of this perfectly, until the part where I was supposed to veer off to the right. Instead, I spun out of control and veered to the left – directly into a darn head stone like one of these.
I know, it looks so serene. And in a way it was. But I was in pain. Serious, terrible pain. But I had been lucky, for if I had hit the marker with my head I would not be sitting here typing my blog entry for today. I would be dead. But I guess in my spinning I instead hit the stone with my midsection/side. I stood up and immediately fell down again. I vomited blood. (Never a good sign.) And there I lay for about a minute before my pals noticed I was down and out.
Slightly out of breath, I recounted to them my unpleasant diversion from “the sledding route” and it was quickly determined I needed medical help fast. Thanks to the Syracuse EMTs they were there in a jiff at the top of the hill where my adventure had started.
Now the challenge was for the EMTs, assisted by my buddies, to carry me on a stretcher up a steep hill without dropping me. Well, wouldn’t you know it, they dropped me. Which made my side hurt a great deal more. But into the ambulance I went and if was off to University Hospital Emergency Room – STAT.
Surrounded by several doctors poking me and probing me and doing unspeakable things with their fingers to try and determine my injury. And asking lots and lots of questions.
Had I been drinking?
Yes, a little.
How fast was I going when I hit the headstone?
You get the idea. Finally some not-too-bright intern decided I probably had broken ribs and sent me for x-rays. So there I was on a cot in an empty hallway at about 1:30 in the morning by myself and having an increasingly hard time breathing.
“I need to see a doctor,” I would plead every time somebody walked by. “All the doctors are busy,” I was told.
You see the problem was that I didn’t have broken ribs, I had a ruptured spleen, which was a much bigger deal in 1980 than it is today. I’d show you a picture of a ruptured spleen, but I don’t want to make you sick. It’s disgusting. But a spleen, according to Wikipedia, “is an organ found in virtually all vertebrate animals (me included) with important roles in regard to red blood cells and the immune system.” As I would later find out, a spleen is very important when you’re a child. When you’re an adult, not so much.
But when ruptured, the spleen causes internal bleeding which leads to death. Which I was trying to avoid that night. The chief symptom is shortness of breath, which I definitely had. After what seems today like an eternity, I found a sympathetic nurse who took my blood pressure, called out “Code Red” or something serious sounding and all hell broke loose. People started running, moving my cot into one room and then another. Catheters were being inserted into places where things normally don’t go. I was introduced to a Dr. Mahrburger (You never forget the name of the man who saves your life.) He told me he would have to call my parents to get authorization to do “exploratory surgery,” which basically mean they cut your belly open and see what they find. Once they had that, it was time to count backwards from 100.
I guess that’s what it might have looked like. All I know is that good old Dr. Mahrburger, who I later found out had not slept for two days, did a fantastic a job, allowing me to live to tell this tale. The next thing I remember was waking up with all kinds of tubes coming in and out of me. I was so high on Morphine, I didn’t know my name. My parents and my sister Elizabeth had jumped into a car that night and made the 6 hour drive to see me in a haze of opiates. I sorta smiled, picked my head up off the pillow and said “Hi folks” and went back to sleep. God bless them for coming. It was great to see them.
I was in University Hospital for 2 weeks before I was pretty much back to normal, just like this kid only a little older.
I’m fine now except once in a while I get a weird kind of sensation, “spleen envy.” I do have privileges like a special licence plate with a spleen and a marker going through it. So I can park closer to the supermarket. I’m only joking!
Oh,by the way I’ve sworn off sledding…especially on hills next to cemeteries.