Sometimes being a colleague means helping someone figure out
an administrative problem, or making hallway chit-chat about teaching issues. But
sometimes—on very rare occasions—you might have to stick your hand in a
colleague’s mouth. All the way. That’s more or less the thought that crossed my
mind last Thursday when helping a friend and colleague with some
gauze-replacement following a rather brutal wisdom
tooth teeth extraction.
Brutal is actually my interpretation: the nurse told me they had to “saw more
bone” than usual, and that there was a lot more blood than usual. [If the
patient is reading this, I elected not to tell you the blood and bone bit until well past the moment
when the Vicodin wore off. You did great, by the way. A total trooper.]
My point to everyone else is that sometimes gauze moments arise, and we just need to do these things.
Though some really just don’t. Do them. This I learned my first year as an assistant professor when I flipped my mountain bike, landing knee-first on a pointy rock, and spent late June and the better part of July with my knee immobilized so that its new hole could drain, be sewn, and then heal. I was prescribed vicodin then, and it made me vomit on the floor beside my bed in the middle of the night. I wasn’t mobile enough to make it to the bathroom. That, my friends, is what they call a low point.
Aside from my biking partner, who helped me fashion a tourniquet out of my bandana and sat with me at the ER, I had four friends (one colleague in my department, two cross-campus friends--hi, MP!--, and another friend) who helped a ton, bringing me food and videos and walking Jada, who was terrified of me on crutches and so pretty much abandoned me for about three weeks. And of course E, upon hearing about the vicodin incident, got in her car and drove 10.5 hours to come help. She also painted my toenails a nice summery blue. But before she got there I needed something specific. What I needed was fresh gauze, because the ER nurse told me I’d need to change my gauze after a shower, and I had not had a shower in a few days and was crutching around in disgusting barf clothes.
Not knowing who to call, and not knowing nearly as many people as I do now, I called a colleague’s house at 10 in the morning. The person was in the middle of something I guess (my guess is writing), and so asked if it could wait until 5 pm. It couldn’t. But I got off the phone quickly, not to try the next person on my list, but to cry. And cry. It wasn’t so much that the colleague couldn’t help (I understood that to a degree), but that I needed help. And also that I was drugged and had puke on me and needed a goddamn shower. I called one of the cross-campus friends who was packing for a month-long trip to the field in Africa, and she arrived in under 15 minutes, my gauze angel.
And so I didn’t not think of her when last week I reached
for a fresh batch of gauze, rolled it up tight, told my vicodined-up colleague to lean back, and then said “OK,
I’m just going to stick my hand in your mouth now.”