Marie was off to Germany and my car was packed for Sedona. The drone arrived at work that day, and by lunch, I had it out of the packaging with the batteries charging. Do I warn others that if they smell smoke or see fire, not to worry? I might say: “It’s just my Li-Po batteries exploding. They do that from time to time.” I decided to keep silent and get lunch. Eva from across the hall saw the packaging and told me that her husband had a drone. She seemed calm and didn’t leave the building with arms flapping over her head. I found this reassuring.
I shut down my workstation at 5:00 pm and packed the drone for my road trip. I thought momentarily about doing a test flight behind the hospital and over the adjacent Torrey Pines Golf course. Three facts came to mind: 1. We are in the flight path of fighter jets leaving from Miramar Naval Air Station. 2. There is an active hang glider port between the golf course and the nearby Salk Institute. 3. There is a nearby medical heliport, ferrying dying patients to trauma hospitals nearby. Plagued by an overly active imagination, I pictured Armageddon unleashed by me and my drone, with headlines on this order: “Scripps radiologist triggers worst air disaster since the Hindenburg. Scores dead and injured, including patients and their rescue crews, golfers, hang gliders and a Salk Institute scientist on the brink of curing cancer.” I put the drone in my packed car and headed out for that infamous snowbird destination, Yuma, Arizona, for a good night’s sleep.
Yuma might not be the most auspicious place to start my drone adventure, but let me explain. Yuma does have several distinctions. It has the highest unemployment rate in the country, approaching 25%. By the way, this excludes retirees, which if added to the mix, would push it close to 50%. It is also the number 1 sunniest place in the country and given its 100,000 mostly retired snowbirds, has the highest skin cancer and sun-related disgusting weeping sores rating. It is also the site of the Yuma Massacre of 1781 and the more recent McDonald’s massacre of 1984, where 21 innocents were taken by some deplorable white guy named James Huberty. When I googled “cool things to see and do in Yuma, Arizona”, Google looked at me stupidly. I broaden the search to “things to do in Yuma AZ” and #1 is a visit to the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park .
Truth be told, my real motivation for overnighting in Yuma was to heal a psychic wound related to an incident 18 months earlier.
It was Easter Sunday, April 5th 2015. We were packed and ready to photograph Antelope Canyon. We were on schedule and set to pick up a friend and frequent travel companion, Greg Rothman, at the Phoenix airport, mid-afternoon. As we were pulling out of the garage, my car alerted me that the tire pressures were a bit low. I would have pumped them at the house, but knowing we needed gas, thought it best to do it at the gas station. After a fill-up, I pulled up to the air station and deposited seventy-five cents. The pewter colored pump valve head looked worse for the wear, but “sturdy”. Besides, it already had my money. Now, ask anybody and they can tell you, I can pump a tire, but this was not my day. Each attempt led to more air escaping than going in. I cut my losses and decided to press on towards Sedona. The ride was a bit soft, but uneventful, until we hit the town of Felicity, California (population 2), the “official center of the world” and home of the “History of the World in Granite”. The low tire pressure alert went off again, this time with more urgency.
Marie : “What’s that sound?”
Steve: “Low tire pressure alarm.”
Marie : “Didn’t you pump the tires in San Diego?”
Marie : “Well, what!?”
Steve: “Well, the pump was broken.”
Marie: “Why didn’t you say something?”
Steve: “We were already on the road.”
Marie : “We were less than 1 minute from the house!”
Steve: “Yeah, but we were already on the road.”
Steve: “Thank you.”
Marie: “Thank you what?”
Steve: “Thank you very much?”
Marie: “Do you have a plan?”
Marie : “Are you going to fix this?”
Steve: “We are at the Center of the World!”
Marie : “What are you talking about?”
Steve: “We are in Felicity”
This is the mayor of Felicity and citizen number 1. Number 2 is his wife. Notice the granite pyramid and the church on the hill in the distance.
Marie : “And that’s going to help us how? Is there a gas station?”
Stairway to nowhere, Felicity, CA
Steve: “There is a stairway to nowhere, a pyramid and a church on a hill…”
Church on the hill, Felicity
Marie : “AND?”
Steve: “And Yuma is just down the road!”
Marie: “You know we have to pick up Greg in a few hours!”
Right about then, we passed a sign welcoming us to Arizona and I spotted a Home Depot south of Highway 8. I took the exit.
Marie: “Where do you think you’re going?”
Marie : “I asked you a question!”
Steve: “Home Depot”
Marie: “We don’t have time. What are you doing?”
Marie: “We don’t have time for this!”
It is a Home Depot like anywhere else, so I know where to go to find a tire pump. Down aisle 21, I find the prize. It is a red, flimsy floor tire pump for $7.99. Quite a bit more expensive than the .75 cent air fill at the next-door Arco station, but I didn’t want to take a chance of losing more air. I would have taken the open box model, but opted instead for the well packaged one behind it. It was pristine, with its hose bound in place by 8 zip ties.
Two self-checkout minutes later and I was behind the Audi, ready to pump. Marie headed for the bathroom, leaving me to stare helplessly at the zip ties. I had choices. I like choices. I could go back and trade it for the open box model. I could buy a box cutter to free it or I could ask one of the employees to open it for me. But, like asking for directions, the last option was not possible. I looked down at my key ring and saw a never used multi-tool disguised as a key.
The Swiss-Tech utili-key
The Swiss-Tech utili-key has 6 advertised functions, but it is most adept at looking like a key. I opted to open the blade and make short work of the zip ties.
I started with the top zip tie. I insert the blade and swiped…nothing…another pass…no yield. A third violent sweep of the blade skipped past the tie and filleted open the flesh at the base of my right thumb. The wound instantly gaped and blood gushed onto the bumper of the Audi, as well as my right shoe tip and down the pump barrel.
Not to worry! I’m left handed
Ordinarily, I am quick to get out the duct tape and crazy glue for first aid field repairs, but it was obvious that stitches were required. Using the middle and index finger of my left hand, I pinched the wound shut and slowed the bleeding to a trickle. The car was still locked and I needed to get out a coffee stained washcloth next to the driver’s seat to put pressure on the wound. Leaving rivulets of blood on the paint, door handle and sill, I grabbed the towel and wrapped my hand. The coffee stains were quickly overwhelmed by sticky maroon blood. The driver’s side now looked like a murder scene. Would Marie notice? Could I pump the tire with 9 zip ties still attached and just act casual? The answers were a resounding yes, no and no! But, it was after all just a flesh wound. I turned around and saw Marie exiting the store. Just then, an elderly couple passed by me, on their way into Home Depot. The husband was studying, probably admiring, my red tire pump, when his wife spied my bloody hand. She said “Can I…? Oh…oh god…are you alright? He said “Aargh..mmmmph”. His cheeks puffed like he was swallowing back vomit. I tried to act casual, as if saying “This? Oh! Happens all the time! Just need to give it a minute and I’ll be on my way!” Instead, I shake my head no and say “Thanks! My wife’s here and she’s a doctor”.
Marie side-glances the couple, briefly wondering if the man was going to vomit on her. She turned her eyes back to me and said: “Are you ready?”
Steve: “Ready for what?”
Marie : “Ready to leave…what else?”
Marie : “Did you pump the tire?”
Marie : “Why not?”
Steve: “Well, there are all these zip ties and, um, I need to go to the Emergency Room.”
Marie : “Why? What are you talking about?”
Steve: “Here!” (I remove the blood-soaked towel and the wound obligingly gapes open for her, revealing a severed pale yellow nerve and underlying pink glistening and twitching muscle.)
Marie : “What did you do!? I’ve only been gone for 5 minutes!”
Steve: “Can we not do this now?”
Marie : “Do what? What did you do!?”
Steve: “I cut myself.. We need to go to the Emergency Room.”
Marie : “I can’t believe this! We have to pick up Greg! Why didn’t you do this at home!?”
Steve: “Cut myself at home?”
Marie : “Pump the tire!”
Steve: “I tried to…Look, it has all these zip ties. Can you believe it?”
Marie : “What does that have to do with anything?”
Steve: “It has everything to do with it.”
Marie : “Are you telling me I have to drive? You know I wanted to fly…”
Steve: “That would be yes.”
I knew from prior road trips that Yuma Medical Center was just up the road and we plotted our course. I’ll digress here just a smidge to mention that for the past 25 years, I’ve seen patients and X-ray studies from Yuma when they make their way to San Diego hospitals. The care is consistent, but mostly, consistently bad.
The hospital parking lot was nearly full, with beater cars and dented RV campers with cracked windshields. Certainly, this was a good sign? Best scenario, they had loads of experience. Worst case, these were abandoned cars, headstone surrogates, left behind when their owners died inside the Medical Center. I suggested that we park in a handicap spot and Marie asked why. I turn to my bloody hand and ever so slightly, tip my head towards it.
We entered through automatic doors and walked a long, poorly lit corridor to the ER intake desk. There was no line and no other patients in sight, only Yolanda at the desk scratching away at what looked like a lottery ticket. I considered getting out my bloody utili-key and offering it to her. Surely one of its many functions would be lottery ticket scratching. Marie, perhaps reading my mind, gently elbowed my ribs and offered that she thought I needed stitches. Lottie looked up and slowly said “You think you a doctor?” I asked Marie to get the wallet from my front pocket to hand her my insurance card. She passed me a clipboard with two white pages on it and said: “Fill this out and wait to be called”. Blood smeared the paper and obscured some of the questions. I asked for a clean one. She handed it to Marie, rolled her eyes and got back to business.
We sat down in the sterile waiting room. It was more of a wide hallway than a room. The chairs were slightly sticky and beige. Marie turned in the paperwork and we waited about 20 minutes before we saw another living person. A teenager with an obviously broken ankle in a wheelchair ambled past us, being pushed by his cigarette toting mom, or grandmother. Hard to tell, as sun and cigarettes are not kind to skin. The receptionist rowsed herself and sternly told her she couldn’t smoke in the hospital, some harsh words were exchanged, and they were buzzed in, cigarette crushed on the linoleum floor. The door clicked shut and we were again by ourselves, waiting for our turn. I had a bad feeling and at the 30 minute mark, suggested we find an Urgent Care instead. It went something like this:
Marie: “We’re here! Why do you now want an urgent care!?
Steve: “I don’t like this…this place. I think it was a mistake coming here. Ask Siri to find us an urgent care.”
Marie: “Siri is worthless!”
Steve: “Then google it! Please! Forget Siri!”
Marie, speaking to my iPhone: “Siri, where is the nearest urgent care?”
Siri: “Sorry…Steven…you need an urgent car?”
Marie : “care…care…care!” “urgent CARE!”
Steve: “Don’t get mad at technology!”
Marie : “Look, you did this to yourself ! You should have pumped the tires the day before! Now we’re going to be late!”
Steve: “Can we not do this now?”
Marie : “Do WHAT? I didn’t do this to you!”
In case you don’t have children of a certain age, this is a care bear.
Marie : “What the f@#k is she talking about?”
Siri: “Watch your language…Steven!”
Steve: “Great. Now Siri thinks I’m cursing at her. You know all this stuff is being tracked.”
Marie : “What? What are you even talking about!?”
Siri (still listening): “What would you like me to say…Steven?”
Steve: “Turn it off…Turn her off…Just google urgent care PLEASE!”
Marie : “I’m trying to…you wanted me to ask Siri.”
Steve: “Oh..I’m bleeding again…Can you ask for a new towel?”
Marie : “I’m not asking Yolanda for shit. We’ve already wasted an hour. Are you sure you want to leave now?”
A quick google search suggested NextCare Urgent Care. On the plus side, it wasn’t the Yuma Regional Medical Center and it was less than a mile away. On the minus side, a quick perusal of the online reviews included:
NextCare Urgent Care, Yuma AZ (Google street view)
Shyla G: “I like how they have your wait time poated (sic).”
Basia: “..basically told me to deal with the pain.”
Karina: “waited for an hour just to get a 1 minute check-up, even though my throat was closing up.”
Tanya: “My daughter was running a fever for 5 days with zero cough and it started to scare me.”
A Google User: “Aren’t seen by a doctor…worst 200 something dollar I’ve ever spent…I wish there was an option for negative stars…”
Marie called to ask if they could suture a wound and the receptionist said: “Why not, come on over!”
Marie got in the driver’s side and told me that there is blood everywhere. I remain silent as the iPhone driving instructions come to life.
The urgent care is just down the street, probably strategically sited to capture business fleeing the hospital’s emergency room. It was a low building with crisp white stucco. Larger than the NextCare sign was another stating “se habla español”. A smaller third sign indicated that they give paycheck loans.
Again, we were the only ones in the waiting room and were greeted with “Insurance or cash?”. Marie fished around in my blood encrusted left front pocket and grabbed my wallet, producing the now blood smeared laminated card. Within 5 minutes, I was on an examination table in one of their treatment rooms. In walked a slightly plump woman with a plain white coat. There was a pen in her pocket, but no name tag or other identifier. I decided not to mention we were doctors. She sat down and said: “I’m Sheila…let’s take a look at that hand…!” The blood was moist and sticky. By now, maroon clots glued my fingers together. The wound gaped for her and she studied it for a moment. She asked me to wiggle my thumb and it complied. She called back to the front desk and asked for a suture kit, while she prepared some saline, a 50cc syringe and an emesis basin. She trickled some water into the wound and some now blood tinged saline splashed back onto my bloody sleeve. With this, the cleaning was over and it was time to numb me up and open the suture kit. That was when things really started going downhill.
She passed over the standard suture holder instrument like it didn’t exist and picked up plain hemostats. She stared at the needle as if it was something she pulled from her nose and deftly grasped it with the hemostat. Her hand was steady when she tried to pierce my skin for the first suture. There was a slight ting sound as the needle sprung from the tenuous grasp of the hemostat before arcing onto my bloodied sleeve. She said something like “Huh! That’s never happened before!” I held back asking what her job title was and if she had ever sutured before. I thought of feigning curiosity over the use of the suture holder. Three more times she tried and failed to throw the first stitch. Each time, the needle flew from the grip, coming to rest on other non-sterile locations.
She did have a theory. Perhaps the needle was defective or that my skin was too thick. She called back to the receptionist for another kit. Calling back was just that; chin over shoulder with a desperate shout.
The receptionist came back with kit in hand and was now giving advice to Sheila.
“Try grabbing the needle at the end.”
Sheila: “End of what?”
Front desk person : “By the stringy part”.
Sheila: “Like this?”, proudly showing her grasping technique.
Front desk person: “Yeah, try it like that.”
The needle momentarily dented my skin before dropping onto my pants. I wanted to tell her that it was ok…that I probably didn’t need stitches after all or that many have commented on my elephant hide. Instead, I offered: “These things happen! I’ll just go back to the hospital. They probably have sharper needles there…” She asked if I was sure and I gave a casual shrug. Marie was speechless. Her eyes were saying: “Let’s get out of Yuma as fast as a car with one slightly soft tire will take us!”
Our window to pick up Greg and make our lunch reservation at The Mission had closed. I snapped an iPhone shot of the wound and sent it with a message to Greg. The message read “Running late”. It’s worth mentioning that Greg has lots of phobias, including a fear of kitchen sponges and public bathrooms. I asked if she thought Greg would faint and vomit on seeing this picture. I said: “I’d put it at 85%”. Just then, the iPhone rang. It was Greg and Marie put him on speaker phone:
Greg: “Yayeee! Whose hand is that?!”
Marie: “It’s a long story. Are you hungry?”
Greg: “Not anymore!…”
Marie: “We are only to Yuma. We’re probably 3 hours away.”
Greg: “Is Steve conscious?”
Steve: “Hey! I’m listening!”
Marie : “He’s going to need stitches. Can you ask the hotel concierge if there is a good hospital nearby?”
Greg: “Sure. No problem. Should I hold off eating? Are we still going to The Mission?”
Marie: “Can you call and change the reservation?”
Greg: “No problem. Take your time. Be safe.”
Steve: “Thanks, Greg.”
We pulled into the front of the Valley Ho (https://www.hotelvalleyho.com), a hipster mid-century hotel in Scottsdale and found Greg waiting out front, looking concerned. I think it was general concern for me and not the kind of concern you get when you travel from Chicago to Arizona for a photo seminar vacation that has just been scuttled.
We loaded up his luggage and headed to Banner Hospital in Scottsdale. I immediately liked the name. Banner! It sounded confident and Scottsdale is a well to do community. I pictured pulling up to the ER door, a team of hand and plastic surgeons ready to converge on me and work their magic.Something like this (source: Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital)
Well, it was a large, modern looking, well-appointed waiting room and the staff had name tags with real job titles. Lisa handed Marie my paperwork and asked us to take a seat. The room was calm.
There was a young, attractive woman and older companion across from me. She was reading a magazine and he was getting out a stick of gum. I was in Scottsdale! Our eyes met and I managed a little smile.
My eyes moved down her leg to her ankle bracelet. Not the kind with charms on it, but instead the kind you wear when under house arrest. While I’m looking at her, she takes in my bloody hand. She probably thinks I’m some bad-ass dude who was in a knife fight. Yes, we are both outlaws! Me with a key-chain knife cut and her with a yeast infection and a legal kerfuffle.
An aide brought me back to the treatment room. I said goodbye to Marie and Greg who were going just a few blocks down the road to a late lunch at The Mission. Minutes later, Lara the suture tech entered the room. She assessed the wound, motor, and sensory function and returned with proper irrigant, lidocaine, surgical drapes, and a suture kit sporting a nice suture holder. She freed the clots left behind from the urgent care and as I was telling her my experience, she easily closed the wound with 8 horizontal mattress stitches, reinforced with steri-strips. One tetanus shot later and I was on my way. I left with a goodie bag, including extra steri-strips and a script for antibiotics in case I became infected while in the hinterlands of the Navajo nation.
After finishing the leftovers from Marie and Greg’s late lunch, we were soon on our way towards Sedona. Yuma was quickly becoming just a bad memory. As I write this, the scar is visible, but quite manly. Two years later, I have regained about 70% of the feeling in my thumb. Even with the numbness, if I bump the scar, confused tangles of regenerating nerves incite a slow to crescendo sick pain, worse than a badly stubbed toe.