The Old Man On The Mountain

A View From the Backwoods of NH


I first experienced the pain of childbirth when I was 24 – well, more like what I imagine childbirth must feel like. From how I’ve heard it described, it’s a black-out type of pain – and that’s what I felt. Hard to imagine you could get a response like that from something as little as a baby toe.

I’ve been lucky in my life, as I’ve only broken a couple of bones – both legs and that toe. The first time I broke my leg was at 14, while skiing in my neighbor’s back yard – on a tiny 15 degree slope. For most of the morning I kept slipping out of the bindings (only later would I truly understand the term “release bindings”). I ended up swapping boots with my friend – his sole had separated at the heel and held the binding – no problem with that nasty “release”.

On what I had determined would be my “last trip” down the hill, I ended up hitting a tree and fell over. I didn’t think too much of it until I looked at my leg, which was pointed in a direction I’d never seen it pointed before. Then I wiggled my toes – at first it felt like someone had taken a whole box of wooden matches and ignited them right under my toes. So, I did the only thing that came naturally – I screamed.

My friend came over and unsnapped the binding, and I watched as my foot spun around (it was like watching The Three Stooges). Long story short, I had a spiral fracture and needed to be carried out of the back yard on a stretcher. In a small town the Police do most of the work. They asked me where it hurt and, since I’d never known anyone with a broken leg, I said ankle (I knew someone who’d broken that). And so they put on an air splint for the ankle – it came right up to where the break actually was.

They carried me across the ice-crusted snow, falling through every now and then, shaking the stretcher and making me howl, then slid me in the back of the police station wagon and set off for the hospital, hitting most of the bumps along the way (with me howling each time). When I got to the emergency room, they sent me into X-Ray, which is actually code for “torture chamber”.

Because of the spiral break, my foot was at an odd angle. They had me lay on one side – no problem – my foot rested on the table. When they asked me to lay on my other side, my foot would only go halfway down. The technician asked “Is that as far as it can go?”, and when I answered yes he grabbed it and twisted it toward the table. Mom and Dad had just arrived and said they could hear the scream as they came through the emergency room door.

My next leg break happened when I was almost 40, on an “almost spring” morning where we’d had a melt, then a freeze, then just enough snow to cover the ice below on the daycare center’s driveway. Dropping my son off, I’d left the Bronco running, since it was a cold morning, as I got out and came around to get him. That’s when “Operation Dumbo Drop” happened (a movie from the same year). Down I went, and I knew it was gonna be bad when I heard the crunch. What scared me more was that I lay with one leg under the front wheel of the truck and a curious 5 year old inside. All that went through my mind was him pulling on the shifter and me becoming road kill.

As I slid down toward the passenger side door and began to sit up, the door suddenly flung open and almost slammed me in the face. It was my son, wondering where I’d gone. I pulled myself up, helped him out and hopped over to the door of the daycare and went inside. As soon as we were in, he bolted up the stairs with a “So long Dad” – so much for love or concern on his part.

It turns out that I’d fractured my leg bone as well as crushing the outer part of my knee and tearing a few ligaments. While less painful than the spiral, in the end this was worse in that it’s never truly healed and causes me problems to this day.

But I digress – the real story was about the toe. It happened in an apartment I was living in – the second floor of an older house, 4 rooms. The phone was located in the kitchen, and I was sitting in the living room, 10 feet away (through the wall) but for me, it was across the room, up the hall, turn right down another hall and the phone was on the left. If you can’t tell, this was back in the days of land lines – and of O.J. Simpson’s commercial for Hertz.

That commercial showed O.J. rushing through the airport, hurdling over various objects, cutting and running to get where he was going. And when that phone rang, with thoughts of O.J. in my mind, I jumped up off the couch, hurdled over the coffee table cut and ran toward the door out of the living room just like O.J. – except that, right next to the door, was a chair – and that chair had a solid wooden leg. My cut was off by about an inch, and I “full-steamed” that baby toe into that chair leg.

It was like a cartoon – everything got black, then filled with spinning stars. Then the pain finally made it’s way through, slamming me like a screen door in a hurricane. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move – I waited for the pain to subside enough to just sit down (I found myself leaning against the wall). But it didn’t, not for what seemed like an eternity.

Of course, as almost everyone knows, there’s really nothing you can do for toes, except to stay off your feet. It’s like a cut in your mouth – takes forever to heal. The odd thing was, even years later, when I’d go swimming, the water moving between my toes would bring back pain in that one toe.

Oh, and I NEVER ran to answer the phone again after that. As I sat there, finally able to breathe again, I realized that we were all programmed to run for the phone like Pavlov’s dogs to dinner. Sure, I missed a few calls, and some folks were upset that they had to call back. But for me, it just wasn’t worth the pain.