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Blame the Jello

I’ve been thinking about the reaction I had to that first bite of jello when I was hospitalized long ago. Jello doesn’t normally make me angry as it did on that occasion. When I later realized what forces were actually in play, that experience gave me some seriously valuable latitude in excusing  or comprehending human behavior (in others). The taste was quite different from other times that I’d dined on the quivery stuff because there were factors newly present that changed the experience substantially. No one warned me and none have confirmed, but I’m sure I’ve accurately nailed the explanation.


While I hadn’t planned to enlarge the post to the whole story, it does merit telling and sooner or later it would be. Since the innocence of jello is at stake, I should take you back to the earliest memory of that week when I showed up to work in my hand painted 1969 Cheverolet pickup.


For the record, I very much regret ever selling it. Grandpa bought it new upon retirement. The dent on one side was the result of a camping trip where he parked on a soft shoulder and it ended up on it’s side.

The winch on the front bumper was hand made by my father.

When I say, “hand painted”, I mean with a brush. It was ugly. But it ran very well and was monsterously powerful. What a great piece of history I let go in my poverty! All I have left is the license plate.


I was a union Ironworker at the time, certified to weld flux core, spray arc, stick, tig, and submerged arc to x-ray quality. Lately I was assigned to the Pandjiris to do flange to web submerged arc welds on enormous bridge parts. The Pandgiris is a welder on rail type tracks with a boom. The tracks allow smooth movement foreward and the boom provides some serious reach to position the weld heads where needed and to adjust for bead travel variations. See in your mind the wide sweeping curves of elevated freeway sections and you realize that if the steel inner structure forms that curve, the pieces are designed accordingly.


But that day I was the next bay over doing subarc welds on tube girders. They were heavy little buggers that each required some repositioning to accomodate the weld process, but to proceed was not possible because the “big crane” was tied up for several hours. Rather than wait and waste the time, I devised a solution involving two smaller jib cranes and special rigging that protected them from exposure to the full weight of the girders I needed to roll.


Except that the effect of age and use had weakened them, my plan would have worked. But the wall cranes were of world war two construction and the track wheels had age hardened so the stress was too much and they shattered. When they went, one crane came down on me.


There was no pain whatever. My mind raced with crystal clarity that I still smile to remember because it suggests that the mortal cognizance is seriously detuned from what’s possible and I got a taste of having the limiters removed. It was a treat I very much appreciated having!


The moment a rusty arm of steel tore open my back, bore down on two ribs and snapping them off came just as I’d realized the crane had fallen and (as I thought at the time) “got” me, I scanned quickly to see if any were there to witness the event. Time would be of the essence in repairing the damage I was about to sustain. One man came to view and I knew his temperament well enough that I feared he would be more concerned about reacting personally than about getting help. Not his fault, he was just a sensitive guy. In fact he called me to check on my progress for months after the accident and for reasons I can’t explain I found it annoying. He was a good guy and harmless. But he also wasn’t going to be much use to summon help so I opted to scream out so as to increase the chances that someone would hear and act. I wasn’t convinced that the pending crash noise would alert anyone that a man was down. At that moment, my lung was torn open and the air escaped out my back, muting the attempt. It was an odd feeling.


The angle iron that snipped off ribs and spinous processes of backbone then caught on my belt, which being leather did not give way. The relentless fall of the larger crane pulled on my skin until it ripped open at that hip, fully exposing the bone outside my skin.


Then I came to rest on my butt on the steel slab, jellying my tail bone and fracturing the girdle of the pelvis. For a long time, the triple crack in the right acetabulum (the insertion for the ball of the upper leg bone where the rotation of the leg is facilitated) caused discomfort like you’d expect. ouch.


Until I came to, there was no pain. men were all about. Some were assessing. Someone took photos. One man held my head still. The pain was intense, but as I learned later it was only introductory. That part got worse.


My first act was to wiggle toes in each foot and flex my hands. Everything worked, so I wasn’t afraid. I’m not sure I’d have been afraid in any event, but I needed to get an idea what I still got to keep. Energized by the happy discovery, I tried to diffuse the somber crowd with humor, but I don’t think they recognized that. Upon hearing me awake, they asked questions. Really, they were ‘last wish’ sort of inquiries. I told them that on the seat of my truck there was a hard drive for a PC XP that I’d sold to a guy named Ken and he could pick it up and take it. At no point did I expect to die from the event.


Someone with a torch cut the cables off me. The drum had released the cable with wild fury upon landing and it sawed through and lashed my back.


An ambulance arrived and took me away. The two fellows in the back were somber. Every irregular surface of the roadway found it’s way to the pain receptors that by then had center stage in my day. I despise speed bumps to this day, not just because of that but because the idea of hindering progress of others for personal gain is the provice of shallow thinkers.


The ambulance arrived at a nearby hospital and they took me into the emergency room where my daughter was brought in to see me one last time. They made the exception for her despite her tender age. She was ten.


The pains were intense and nothing seemed to be being done. Questions were asked and I was clear minded. I knew who was president and what day of the week it was and my name.  Again I joked with them, believing that if they were relaxed, they would do better work and I needed their best efforts so that the rest of my life would be as unhindered as possible.


As luck would have it, the physician assigned was the best possible. His care plan would prove brilliant and no doubt saved me. Rodger L. Humphrey, now in Ohio was superb in his handling of the care from start to finish and I can’t imagine how anyone could have improved on his work.


After laying on a gurney for an eternity while the emergency room people did whatever emergency room people do I began to wonder what the deal was. The pain began to subside somewhat, though it never ceased being intense. Then I went into shock. I’d never experienced that from the patient’s vantage. It was like I had provoked an ant hill. Someone called out, “he’s in shock!” and I was wheeled into surgery.


There, Dr. Humphrey cleaned out all the filth from the dirty shop, repaired what could be repaired, and closed me up.

I awakened on an air bed to begin what would be a six week stay, only leaving the bed to be cat scanned, exrayed,or moved. By the time I was allowed to stand later that August (the squishing happened June 10) my legs were so weak that they barely held me up despite the loss of nearly 30 pounds, mostly muscle (since there wasn’t any fat).


But going back to the early days of my stay in intensive care, they decided that they’d wean me from the nasal gasteric tube with a test meal of jello. It was red and beautiful and I gave it a go. The taste was so intense that I suspected that they’d packed it with all manner of suppliments and such. I thought it was only a vehicle to transport those into my system. I felt tricked. The taste was just awful and for a brief moment I felt anger.


Later, I realized that the cuplrit was the effect of treatment upon my sensory system. I blame the morphine. Turns out it was just garden variety jello and my sense of taste had become hyper sensitive. Sense of smell also.


One of the nurses was a pretty and very sweet asian who wore perfume that just turned my stomache it was so strong. Now, I’d bet she wore only a faint hint of the essence. I will never show up at a hospital reeking of after shave now that I see what the drugs can do to one’s senses.


Later I realized that if such a small thing could readjust my own senses, why would it not be possible that in the normal course of life the sensitivities of other persons could be more hightened than my own? I began to realize that the way others percieve events and situations could be under the effect of exaggerated intensities that to them are normal sensations. I realized that not everyone has the same response to the same situation because consequential to their humanity, the situation may not in fact be the “same”.


That jello was unlike any I’d ever eaten and it was awful. But now I’m betting that it was the same quivery delight that I’d ever had, but in that instance it was me that was different. I still blamed the jello.


It’s pointless to allow ourselves as artists to be too thin skinned about reactions to what we produce. People come from different places in their lives than we are in and they apply their minds to react accordingly.


So it is.



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