Sometimes, the office gets a little stifling. I find myself drawn into details, immersed in minutiae, heading down a slippery slope toward micro-managing my staff. Which I hate, and I strongly suspect makes my people mutter darkly about me. And nobody needs darkly-muttering employees.
I needed to get away, so I did. I went to the cottage my grandfather built upstate. A mere three days later, I felt better. Solitude, fresh air, trees, birdsong and wood smoke will restore a man very quickly.
Near the edge of a small town not far from my cabin, there’s an excellent little antiques store, run by an eccentric, energetic and effusive little gray-haired couple. It’s a very cool store, and their collection contains much more than fussy old furniture, which bores me extremely. I’d called ahead, looking for a set of antique medical instruments – the perfect gift, I thought, for a physician client who’s about to take a biotechnology company public.
I was in luck. The couple had several items of interest, and I left with a lovely mid-1800s French surgical set in a leather-covered wooden box. It included scalpels, tweezers, surgery scissors and a rather terrifying bone saw. My client would love it, and therefore love me all the more.
A sunny, breezy day meant I had the car windows down. On the way out of town, a sign warned me that speeding fines were doubled in the school zone, and I obediently slowed to a crawl, even though school was out for summer. I passed a playground where a flock of kids were busily and loudly being kids on and around an apple tree.
Then I heard a piercing shriek. It wasn’t a normal sound from a child at play. It was different. It was full of pain and fear. You know the sound I mean. Someone was hurt.
But it was none of my business, so I kept driving.
No, of course I didn’t keep driving! What’s wrong with you? You think I’m heartless?
What I did was pull over, hop out, hit the “lock” button on my key fob out of habit, and run hard toward the source of the screams.
A half-dozen children were clustered around a girl of about eight, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, who was curled into a fetal position, emitting high-volume distress.
“Guys, what’s happened?” I said, as small white faces looked up at me. “I have training as a medic, and I can help.”
Six voices chirruped urgently over each other, but I understood that Britney had fallen out of the tree. I knelt down beside the girl, who was sobbing and gasping.
“Britney, my name is Duff, and I’m going to help you,” I said. “Can you show me where you’re hurt? Let me have a look.”
“Mylegmyleg!” she hollered, tears streaming down her face. I uncurled her as gently as I could. She was holding her hands to her left thigh, covering a wound that was obviously bleeding pretty freely.
“She fell on this,” said a wide-eyed boy a couple of years younger, holding up a bent stick with red on the end.
“Okay, Britney, just lie down and let me have a quick look at your leg,” I said. Blood was flowing pretty fast. The wound didn’t look too deep, but it was clear to me that she would need a doctor’s care, most likely including stitches.
I put my hand firmly on the gash. “Britney, I’m putting pressure on your cut. That will slow down the bleeding,” I said, as she continued to cry inconsolably. Then I thought about next steps.
Not wanting my time off interrupted, I had purposely left my mobile phone at the cabin. “Does anybody have a phone?” I asked. Three hands went up. “Do you have a phone with you?” I clarified. Three hands went down. I sighed.
“Where are Britney’s parents?” I asked the group. “Does she live nearby?”
“No,” said a breathless girl about Britney’s age. “She came to my house for a play date.”
“Alright, you live around here? Can you go get your mom or dad?” And my first tiny emissary was off.
“What’s your name, son?” I asked the tallest and oldest-looking of the kids, who was perhaps nine or ten. He was Hayden. “Hayden, there’s a first aid kit in the trunk of my car, over there. Here’s the key. Press this button and the trunk will open. Please bring me the first aid kit as quick as you can.”
Hayden ran off across the grass. Things were under control, I thought. Then a younger boy spoke up.
“You shouldn’t touch her,” he said, tentatively.
“Pardon?” I asked, looking up from Britney, my hands still on her wound.
“You shouldn’t have your hands on her,” the boy said, more confident now, a blush rising to his cheeks. “No touching!”
“That’s right,” chimed in a concerned little girl in jeans. “You’re not allowed to touch her. I’m telling!”
“Now listen,” I began, trying to sound authoritative. “This isn’t bad touching. This is helping. I’m trying to help Britney.”
“Are you a doctor?” asked the girl.
“No, but I…”
And my car alarm went off. I looked across the field to see Hayden hopping from one foot to the other, pointing my key fob at my car, frantically pushing buttons.
The loud alarm seemed to unsettle the kids even more, and they began to pepper me with questions.
“Who are you? Where did you come from?”
“I’m from Manhattan – New York City,” I said, praying that somebody’s mother would soon arrive.
“Are you a pedophile?” asked the ‘no-touching’ boy.
“WHAT? A pedophile? No, I’m not a pedophile! I’m a businessman!” I barked back, irrelevantly, as Britney continued to moan and cry, and my car continued to honk obnoxiously.
A pedophile! Christ on a cracker! I decided I needed a woman, and in a hurry.
“Can one of you run to one of those houses for me?” I asked, pointing. “Go get an adult for me, would you? A woman would be best.”
A girl in pigtails spoke up for the first time. “I live over there. My sister is a teenager.”
“No, not a teenager. An adult woman, please. A big person,” I said. The girl ran off, and I turned back to Britney. “You’ll be just fine, honey. Help is on the way, and we’ll get you fixed up.”
I realized the car alarm had ceased, and looked up to see Hayden scampering back toward us, a package in each hand. He’d brought both my first aid kit and the box containing the ancient surgical instruments.
“Thank you, Hayden,” I said, ignoring the antiques and unzipping the emergency kit. I grabbed a good-sized bandage, ripped some strips of tape and covered Britney’s wound, then reapplied pressure on top.
“Duff is a weird name,” said ‘no-touching” boy. “Is that your real name?”
“Uh, no,” I said, a little distracted. “It’s a nickname.”
“Who’s Nick?” he wanted to know.
“No, no. I mean it’s not my real name, but it’s what everybody calls me.”
Britney had calmed down a little, since I’d put the bandage on and wiped the blood off her hands. “Do I have to go to the hospital?” she asked, sniffling.
“Well, probably, honey, but you’ll be just fine. You’re okay now.”
I heard huffing behind me. The pigtailed girl was back. She’d brought a neighbor, a pleasant-faced, rather plump lady in her sixties, who had clearly hustled to the scene.
“I brought the biggest woman on the street,” said Pigtails.
“I beg your pardon?” said, the lady, glancing at Pigtails and flushing.
“He said he wanted a really big woman, so…”
“No, no!” I said quickly, looking from the little girl to the lady. “Just an adult woman, sweetheart.”
“Don’t you call me sweetheart,” objected the lady. “Who are you, anyway?”
“I’m not calling you sweetheart…” I attempted.
“He calls himself Duff, but that’s not his real name,” said ‘no-touching’ boy. “He’s from New York City, and he’s touching Britney, but he says he’s not a pedophile.”
“I am NOT a pedophile!” I said, hotly. “I am helping Britney sigh. I mean Britney’s thigh! Her thigh! Look at her thigh!” I said, flustered, pointing at the bandage.
“What did you do to her thigh?” the lady asked suspiciously, her eyes narrowing.
“Nothing! I was driving by…”
“Yes, you did,” said ‘no-touching’ boy, nodding. “You put your hands on her leg.”
“Wow! What are those?” piped up a voice behind me. I turned to see that Hayden had opened the box of antique medical gear. All eyes swiveled to the array of sharp, wicked-looking tools.
“Now… now, wait a minute,” I stammered. “I just bought those. They’re not for me. You see…”
“He might be a serial killer,” said one of the older children. “Like on Criminal Minds.”
“Are you a doctor?” asked the lady, backing up a little, and holding her mobile phone in front of her like a crucifix.
“He’s not a doctor,” said ‘no-touching’ boy, helpfully. “But he’s a manic.”
“MEDIC!” I said, too loud. “For heaven’s sake, I’m trained as a medic!” I turned to the lady, eyes pleading. “Madam, thank you very much for coming. I wanted another adult around to make the kids feel safe. I’m just trying to help.”
A few minutes later, all was well. I was not taken into custody by the local constabulary, on suspicion of being a serial-killing pedophile. The play-date mom arrived, and turned out to be an occupational health nurse. She took charge of the situation. Britney was soon off to the local hospital to get the gash in her thigh patched up. The neighbor lady laughed until she shook, once my involvement was properly explained. She offered me a blueberry muffin from her kitchen, and I accepted gratefully.
Then my muffin and I got in my car and got the heck out of town.
I’m not sure what I learned from this episode, but I think it has something to do with making sure I never go anywhere – anywhere at all - without a woman by my side. You never know when you’ll need a woman. Because I hadn’t realized how scary men can be.
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