09 May 2019

A Toast to The Survivors


by Eve Fisher

In "The Kindest Cut" (from the book Never Sniff a Gift Fish) the immortal Patrick F. McManus writes about how much hunters love to talk about how they got that scar.  Endlessly.
"I have heard some scar stories approximately the length of Churchill's A History of the English Speaking Peoples, but such brevity is rare."
The trouble for the hunters is, to get a chance to talk about a scar, etiquette (yes we're back to that again) requires that
(1) someone ask (most experienced hunters know better),
(2) it be relevant to the conversation (and most hunters apparently can make it relevant - "Speaking of boats, I've got quite a story about my thumb...") and
(3) it be visible.
Pity the poor person (like Retch Sweeney) who gets a scar on his hiney - no one's going to ask, it's embarrassing to mention, and hard to display, even in unmixed company.

But one thing doctors are good at, is asking about old scars.  I have a story (you knew it was coming) about my shin.  I was having x-rays on my knees (arthritis), and the x-ray technician asked me if I'd ever been in some kind of, uh, well, brawl?  Or had an accident?  Because I've got a half-inch dent - he showed it to me - in my shin bone.  Answer:  Field hockey.  Generations of hysterical middle-school girls, armed with hard sticks and even harder balls, but without shin guards, have been, are, and will be cheerfully sent out in one more attempt to cull the herd.  Someone slammed a hard ball right into my shin, and I was out of the game for the rest of that day.  But back then nobody x-rayed it, just checked that I could actually move my ankle, and I was back to out on the field the next week.  Just left a permanent dent - in my bone - to mystify my future doctors.

I have a few other scars, but most of them are from falling - off a fence I was trying to climb (split my lip on some barbed wire on the way down), down a trail, on a rock, into a mess of cactus, etc.  Nothing dramatic.  And that was the norm for most of the people I knew.

That changed when I started volunteering in prison, where tattoos and scars rival each other for commonality.  But inmates generally don't brag or even talk about either one.  Occasionally I'll ask.  One inmate I know well - a big, burly guy - has a scar on both sides of his forearm, running one-quarter to half an inch deep, 2 inches wide, and running about 4-6 inches long.  He's had tattoos over it, but they certainly don't hide it.  One day I finally asked him if it was a burn.  Nope.  Gunshot.

Now I honestly did not know that getting shot could leave that big a scar for that long.  I don't think most people know that (non-military, non-EMTs, non-police).  I think most people get their information about gunshots from TV and movies where, as Doolin' Dalton (Brian Thornton) pointed out in his "Shoulder Wounds", all gunshots are flesh wounds that leave no scars at all and don't slow anyone down.  But that is total BS.  Let's start by checking out this article from New York Magazine, complete with pictures.

This is Anthony Borges, shot 5 times, and still wearing a colostomy bag.  He "barricaded a door to a classroom to protect other students, saving as many as 20 lives. Was the last of the injured to leave the hospital."  From his words:

"I was in the hospital for like two months. I wasn’t bored — the pain wouldn’t let me get distracted. It was all over my body, not just where I’d been shot. Imagine that someone stabbed you with a knife and wouldn’t take it out, would just push it in.  The physical therapy is helping a lot. A lot of the exercises are like the things you do before a soccer game. Still, I can’t feel my left foot. I’ve gotten skinnier, and when I stand up, I have trouble breathing. The goal is just to be able to move my entire body normally. I can’t run, and I want to run."

I hope you can run some day, Mr. Borges.  And that the pain will stop.  And that nothing bad ever happens to you again.

According to the CDC, every year about 80,000 people survive gunshot wounds, about twice as many as actually are killed by gun violence.  Jeff Asher - New Orleans reporter and crime analyst - wrote, that "Shootings are a better measure of gun violence than murders are. There is a lot of randomness in what happens once a bullet leaves a gun — whether someone lives or dies depends heavily on luck. Focusing just on murder leaves out all the people who could have died. And it ignores the life-changing injuries and emotional trauma that often accompany nonfatal shootings."   (HERE)

Sheriff Israel visits victim Anthony Borges.[62]
Speaking of life-changing injuries, did you know that gunshot wounds require a lot of inpatient care, follow-up surgeries and other treatments, mental healthcare, rehabilitation and skilled-nursing care, durable medical equipment, personal care, and living costs while the patients are not able to work?  And that very little of this is covered by health insurance?  See Modern Health Care to understand how dire your situation will be if you ever become a victim of a shooting.

Reminder:  We live in an age of very high deductibles and coinsurance requirements, which is fine when you don't have much in the way of health care troubles.  That can change quickly.  Look at Mr. Borges.

And it is indeed random.  The inmate I spoke of earlier wasn't shot in the course of committing a crime.  He was the victim of a drive-by shooting.  And, lest you think that all drive-bys involve punks and druggies standing around on a street corner, looking for trouble, I bring to your attention the 13-year-old girl who was injured in a drive-by shooting back in January in Houston, Texas.  In her bedroom.  In her bed.  As an officer pointed out, "We can't even say wrong place because she was in her room, at home, at nighttime, where she should be as a 13-year-old." Article here

Randomness is scary.  I think one of the reasons people read mystery and other crime fiction is because most of the randomness gets filtered out - ideally there's a motive, an investigation, an arrest, a conviction, and people come out of the tale feeling relieved that once again - good triumphed over evil. Or something similar thereto.  Even my characters do that.  In one of my (as yet unpublished) stories, Officer Grant Tripp's boss replies to the suggestion that a shooting was random, with, "Random?  In Laskin?  If it is, I'm moving to Gann Valley and raise sheep."

The truth is, most people I know can't bear the heavy weight of the reality of sheer randomness - luck - in life.  It's too frightening.  I know.  I agree.  And I have lived a wildly improbable life, with such levels of randomness and luck (how else do you go from homeless teenager to university professor?) that I can't ignore it.  I am, and have been, very, very, very lucky.

I know too many people who literally, through no fault of their own, if they didn't have bad luck, wouldn't have any luck at all.  And that terrifies me.  Because... it makes no sense.

And I also know others who have, in the immortal words of P. J. O'Rourke, "farted through silk" their entire life, with the result that they know that bad things only happen to bad people, and that they will never be in that kind of situation, because...  well, because they're delusional, but I never say that to their face.

And these very lucky people are usually the ones who say stuff like:

Memorials to victims outside the Tree of Life synagogue
Wikipedia
"Well, they must have done something to deserve it." (Going to church?  Or a synagogue?  Or school?)
"They were in the wrong place at the wrong time." (See above.)
"The shooter is/was mentally ill."  (SO WHAT?  Even if this is true - and I rank all mass shooters and suicide bombers at the same level of pathological toxic rage, which should be its own category under the DSM - it's still no excuse to kill people.)
"If I'd been there with a [insert weapon of choice here], I'd have stopped him."  (I don't trust 99% of the people who say this to actually do anything but pee their pants.  In fact, I don't trust anyone who actually says this, because you know and I know they're fantasizing out loud.)

The truth is, every day, a certain number of people in this country are shot.  Among those are survivors, left breathing, but with wounds that will scar them, affect them, hurt them, for the rest of their life.    Since apparently this is going to continue to happen for the foreseeable future, we need to come up with something more practical than just thoughts and prayers.  "Relatives and friends of many mass shooting victims, even those with good employer health benefits, have had to set up GoFundMe crowdsourcing donation sites to help with the bills. This raises the broader issue of how to enable people who are partly disabled to continue working, rather than giving them no alternative but to apply for Social Security Disability and Medicaid."  (Modern Health Care)

We need to face the fact that people who get shot are going to have aftereffects for years.  Hell, I'm getting cortisone shots now for the knee I blew out sliding down a mountain at 25, that no longer has any cartilage in it.  When I fell off a fence at 12 and got cut by barbed wire, that caused nerve damage that to this day lets me know when freezing cold weather is coming.  If that's what it's like for the little scars, what are the survivors of Parkland, 9/11, the Boston Marathon, etc., going through?

We need to come up with health care plans that won't bankrupt people like Mr. Borges and leave him in debt as well as scarred for the rest of his natural life.  Maybe a new sub-chapter of FEMA that would cover mass shootings in the same way that fire, hurricanes, and other disasters are covered.  A mass shooting is a disaster - just not a natural one.  Or is it?

Meanwhile, let us raise our glasses and toast:

"To all the dead - may they never be forgotten.  
To all the survivors - may they heal in body, mind, and soul.  
To all of us - that we may help the survivors on their path, remember how fragile life is, 
and do all in our power to make the victims fewer every year."

Image result for a toast

7 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

You make a lot of good points, Eve. As you say, there is much randomness. And bad things definitely happen to good people, despite what some people might think. That’s why there’s a whole book on that subject.

And I think people read mysteries because they often end up tying things up in the end, the bad guys (mostly) get their comeuppance and the world is righted. Where that doesn’t always happen in real life

janice law said...

A good post and your memories of field hockey took me back! It's a wonder more of us don't have scars from that.

Eve Fisher said...

Paul, that desire for tidy endings is why, in hard times, I read older mysteries and Victorian novels. (Too many modern thrillers seem to have made a turn to either the villain winning or leave everything hanging.)
Janice - I am amazed we all survived field hockey.

Elizabeth said...

A 12-year-old boy was watching TV in his 2nd-floor apartment here in Buffalo a couple of weeks ago, when a bullet flew through the window & killed him. AFAIK the perp has not been caught. There are gangs in the neighborhood where this happened & the boy was an immigrant. Of course, nobody saw a thing.

I also played field hockey in high school! I played left fullback.

Lawrence Maddox said...

Very thought provoking, Eve! 80,000 is a staggering number for gunshot survivors. Does that just pertain to Americans, or is that world-wide, I wonder. Speaking of old wounds, I think of all the punishment TV’s Mannixes and Rockfords survived. I think today’s TV writers lessen the injuries to their protags because audiences are too savvy about what real violence looks like.

Eve Fisher said...

Lawrence, that's just in America. After all, in Colorado this week, 1 died, but 8 were injured. In Aurora, Colorado, 12 died but 70 were injured, 58 of those from gunshots. It's no wonder that we have 80,000 gunshot survivors.

Leigh Lundin said...

>… hard to display, even in unmixed company.

Too funny, like that quip, "This next joke isn't suitable for mixed company. Will all the gentlemen please leave the room?"

A very funny article until it wasn't. I'm glad you reminded us of Anthony Borges; we need to remember true heroes.

>I have lived a wildly improbable life, with such levels of randomness and luck (how else do you go from homeless teenager to university professor?)

Ah, the curtain slightly parts. I suspected as much.

Eve, I don't know if it helps or not to disbelieve in luck. The mathematically inclined realize luck is a human construct, obscuring the underlying stastics. Ian Fleming loved to portray part of Bond's superiority with his 'luck' at the gaming tables. I tended to read those passages as 'spy behaving recklessly'.

I'm still digesting your article, Eve. It's very, very poignant, and as Lawrence Maddox said, thought-provoking.