By S M Chen, posted 8-11-2016 by D Kovacs

It was in the early 1970s that we drove to a self-supporting institute, at which a brother worked as medical director. It was late afternoon when we arrived. There would be only a few more hours of light before darkness supplanted it.

It had been a long, but endurable trip. We stretched our bodies and, after exchanging the usual pleasantries, were about to do the same with our consciousness, not having been there before. All seemed copacetic.

But it wasn’t.

My little (barely beyond toddlerhood) daughter, ever an inveterate animal lover, had rushed over to Ringo, my brother’s German shepherd mix, who was chained near one of the buildings on the premises. As she bent down to pet/hug him, he bared his fangs and snapped at her. It may have been an instinctual response on his part, a territorial rather than malevolent action.

Screaming, she ran to us, blood dripping down her face.

The laceration ran obliquely along the medial margin of her left cheek, not that distant from nose and lip, and only a little farther from the eye.

What to do?

The nearest emergency room was miles away.

The facility was, at one time, a sanatorium for tuberculous patients, and had on its premises an operatory and some medical supplies.

I asked my brother (who was a surgeon, albeit specialized one) if he would like to address the injury. He demurred.

I am not a surgeon, but sometimes desperate situations require desperate measures.

I recalled another brother, who, decades earlier, had sustained a deep lip cut when the car my father was driving went off the road. The cosmetic result was not one of which a plastic surgeon would be proud.

I did not want my little girl to, years hence, have a scar to which she might point and think, if not say, ‘My father did this to me.’

We took her to the now musty ex-operatory. A dedicated surgical light was thankfully still extant. After draping the area and cleansing the injury, I tried to remember some suturing technique from medical school days. Also thankfully, she remained remarkably calm. In retrospect she was traumatized more deeply than anyone knew; to this day she does not recall being bitten.

Decades later, the scar is barely perceptible. I see my daughter frequently and am not visibly reminded of the accident. I can only bring it to the fore of memory by conscious removal from the back burner.

We allayed my brother’s sons’ concern about whether Ringo would be put down. Some years later he went to an unchained dog heaven for unrelated reasons.

How easily my daughter could have sustained damage to her nose or lip. Or, even worse, had eye injury that might have required additional treatment, even surgery, and perhaps resulted in loss of sight.

Decades earlier, a brother-in-law had lost an eye playing tennis in college. Unfortunately, the college was in a small town without a skilled ophthalmologist. Though few knew this, he spent of the rest of his long and fruitful life with a glass eye. Fortunately, that did not prevent him from having a satisfying professional and personal life.

Years ago, a young woman from another part of the world, who lived with us for a time, stopped near a freeway on-ramp to aid someone in a car whom she thought to be in distress. Whereupon, the stopped car was struck by another vehicle and burst into flames. The would-be modern Good Samaritan subsequently underwent multiple surgeries, including brain and facial reconstructive. She, too, lost an eye. It speaks to her character that she says, could she relive the incident, she would do no differently.

A few years after the dog bite incident, a group of family members caravanned to Mexico. During the trip southbound destined for La Paz, my father, who was driving a VW minibus, went off the narrow road (his apparent penchant for going off the road was less than such; two does not a series make). His head hit the windshield with such force it cracked the glass. My mother flew off the backseat, upon which she had been stretched out, resting. My nephew, sitting in the front passenger seat, whose simple action of opening the glove box had momentarily distracted my father from his driving, was unhurt.

The VW, having descended onto off-road rocks, some the size of boulders, was undriveable and had to be abandoned. Lacking more than rudimentary medical supplies, and not wanting to visit local medical facilities (of which there were none nearby; we were also under time constraint), I first shaved around my father’s deep scalp laceration, then cleansed it as best I could. After cutting some Band-Aids into Steri-type strips to approximate skin edges, I wrapped my father’s head with a roll of gauze and asked him to keep things dry until he returned Stateside (which he did; the wound, with good fortune, healed without untoward event).

But how easily it could have been much worse – severe injuries, even fatalities, in a foreign country where the barrier of language was high (were it not for an accompanying sister-in-law, whose native tongue is Spanish, the trip would have been bumpier than it was). In the big scheme of things, the fact that we journeyed south in four vehicles and returned in but two was a small matter.

A brother was involved in a car accident one wintry night in college (he, too, went off the road. Genetic? Probably not). Though his life was spared, one foot sustained multiple fractures. Again, a small town with likely suboptimal medical care. To this day he walks with a limp. Yet he also, like my brother-in-law, has had a satisfying professional and personal life and lived beyond the three score and ten years of which King David wrote.

In high school my son, in a foolhardy act of bravado, jumped off a building onto some ivy. Unbeknownst to him, sprinklers were contained therein, and he landed on one. It impaled one foot. Two surgeries by a skilled orthopedist were required to bring the foot back to health. Today, he has no functional or cosmetic deficit.

Einstein observed there are two ways to view the world. One is that there are no miracles. The other is that everything is a miracle.

Sam Chen biopic


S M Chen lives and writes in California.