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Scott Paulsen

Halloween in the ER

Halloween in the ER



As we sat, waiting in the emergency room, I thought of several good stories to tell the doctor. I had been defending my wife against a knife-wielding attacker. Coming upon a wrecked school bus, I had no choice but to break the windows and pull the kids to safety. I had a run-in with mafia.

None of those stories sounded right, because they were all lies. I didn’t defend anyone, rescue anyone, or make a promise to the mob I could not keep, resulting in them coming for my finger. Instead, I had done what I do best – I had been extremely clumsy with a sharp object during a major holiday.

I wanted to come up with a better story because I know the doctor very well. I wanted him to think this was not just another holiday-inspired visit. We see each other in the emergency room nearly every major holiday.

Laugh if you will, but it’s not easy carving a pumpkin into a Jack O-Lantern. Eleven stitches later, we returned home to clean up the bloody mess. The kitchen resembled a pumpkin murder scene. At any moment, the cast of True Blood would arrive to begin filming.

Other people look forward to holidays by planning get-togethers, wrapping gifts or decorating the house. Not me. Each time a major celebratory holiday nears, I make sure my medical insurance is up-to-date and my coverage card is readily available.

It all starts at Christmas, when they allow me to work outdoors with a chainsaw or stand in snow while holding electrical wiring. Although it should be obvious to most that I am not a man who is safe anywhere near sharp or electrified tools, I am handed the saw and pointed in the direction of the woods. Hours later, I return with a tree that is too big to fit into anyone but Lebron James’ house. If it’s a good year, I will have all of my appendages intact. It’s not always a good year. During most years, I will wait until the next day to rig the lighting for the outside of the house. You want to wait until your stitches set before you return to the E.R. to be resuscitated, due to electrocution.

New Year’s Eve brings many more chances for personal injury. It began long ago, when I was a child. As most children do, I experimented with alcohol by walking around at a New Year’s Eve party, taking sips of everyone’s drinks while they weren’t looking. The result was a horrendous case of induced vomiting after I took a sip from what I thought was a can of beer, but was actually Uncle Vinnie’s spit cup.

Easter is a time for religious reawakening, or falling off the roof. It all depends on who the subject of the story is. Why people need to decorate their houses at Easter is a question that has never gotten a satisfactory answer. Why I accepted the offer to help the neighbors place their giant light-up Easter bunny on their very steep garage roof is up for discussion. It could be that I wanted to be a good neighbor. It could be that I was drunk at the time. It’s your choice. After the bunny was secured and ready to light up the night sky, we all decided we’d get off the roof and have a celebratory toddy. My neighbor used a ladder. I did not. I wanted to. But gravity has a way of making these types of decisions for me.

The fourth of July is the king of injury-related holidays. It was me they were picturing when they came up with the phrase, “You’re going to poke someone’s eye out with that”. One July night, while working the all-night shift at a radio station, myself and some other fun boys got into a small fireworks battle. As we were shooting bottle rockets at one another, a stack of teletype paper ignited. Before the entire building burned to the ground, your quick thinking disc jockey sprang into action, grabbing the fire extinguisher from the wall. I aimed it towards the smoldering paper and promptly sprayed myself directly in the face. I was holding the extinguisher from the wrong end.

That brings us to Labor Day, when once again, someone, somewhere, annually thinks it would be safe if I am placed in charge of the gas grill. I can be forgiven for wanting to play with fire. No matter how many injuries I incur, I always believe “I’ll do better this time”. I never do. Burned skin is a familiar smell to me. No one is ever surprised. Yet, no one stops me from being the cook for a day.

Ah, the holidays.

As we sat, waiting for the doctor to finish reattaching my pinky, he asked how my family was. The emergency room doctor on duty and I are on a first-name basis. He knows most of my family members, because one or more of them has had to take me to see him during a holiday. We’ve grown so familiar that I send him a card at Christmas. Actually, I handed him a card last year. I grabbed it on my way out to the car, careful to not drip blood on the envelope.

“What are you going as this Halloween?” he asked.

“I haven’t decided yet,” I told him.

It was then that he snipped the last stitch and said, “Why don’t you go as a klutz. You can just wear what you have on.”

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