The Humor and Life, in Particular Web site
author:  Margie Culbertson

March '98 Contest WINNER!
Best Short Humor!



Don Emerson

While my mother struggled, manfully— scratch that. While my mother struggled, womanly, to get me out of the canal, three stew–stirring witches, somewhere in a stalagmited and tited cave, chorused a curse: "Give this child the gift of humor... (crescendo) ...because he's going to need it! Ahhhh ha hah a..."

Although there were earlier events, the first significant evidence of what my unavoidable life was going to be like occurred when I fell off the top of an eighteen foot ladder. I was decorating a stage for a high school play. Lying on the floor semi–consciously, a bleeding heap, my companions rushed to my side. My eyes fluttered open and I said, "Thank God I didn't land on my elbows. I would have stuck up like a jack–knife." Everybody laughed.

Broken bones, financial disasters, marriages and divorces, death and taxes... nothing can overcome my sense of humor. Well, almost nothing. For, you see, for some unfathomable reason I raise kidney stones. Nothing challenges my sense of humor like those crystalline baubles. There was a time when I got rid of stones with a six–pack (or more) of warm Budweiser. But that was before technology and medical insurance programs joined forces. Just as our government needs aircraft carriers to attend to political enemies, we, the proletariat, have also gone high–tech in combating our enemy: kidney stones... at approximately the same financial outlay, relatively speaking.

Proof of this came when I got a writing assignment to fly over to Havana, Cuba to do a story on the annual Ernest Hemingway Bill Fishing Tournament (all legal despite the State Department). While packing for the trip, I felt a slight twinge in my back; a familiar signal. I packed anyway and headed for the airport.

We bumpily landed on the pot–holed Rancho Boyeros runway and I took a cab into town where I was soon "resting" in my hotel room— twisting and turning, alternately stretching my legs and then retracting them into a fetal position on the pre–revolution mattress. My assigned room–mate arrived and began to unpack. Noticing my gyrations he stopped what he was doing. "What's wrong?".

"Oh nothing," I replied. "I'm planning to buy a unicycle and I'm mentally reviewing how to get on and off the damned thing. Got a pretty good laugh there.

The fish weren't biting as we trolled along, pitching and rolling in six to eight foot seas. I spent my time burping, nursing the recurrent back pain, and praying our sportsman captain would give up and go back in. Returning to shore in the late afternoon, fishless, I presumed that there probably wasn't a fish within thirty miles of that starving little country, "...they'd eaten ‘em all." That inappropriate wisecrack didn't set well with our Cuban guide. I was ashamed of myself. I seldom poke fun at anyone else's misfortune; I have enough of my own for material.

The week went fast although the winning fish, a 300 pound Marlin, would have been used as bait by Hemingway. But no matter, everyone had a wonderful time. That last evening, while seated at a round table with several Cubans to gather more information (everyone was seasick on our boat), intense pain suddenly seared through my body. I nosed over and spun into my salad. The Cubans rushed me back to my hotel and disappeared. In Cuba nobody wants to get "involved" in anything. An hour later my room–mate arrived. I couldn't see him, but I could hear him. I was under the sink in the bathroom. "What are you doing down there under the sink? "he asked.

"I am trying to see if I can remove the plumbing with my bare hands," I gritted through clenched teeth.

"I don't blame you," he replied, squatting down beside me to touch my clammy forehead "I couldn't get the toilet to flush this morning." He stood up. "Wouldn't it be easier for you to do that if I got you a pipe wrench or a crow bar?" I nodded in gratitude, curling and uncurling on the tile floor. "Get anything you can think of ..."

He returned in about twenty minutes with another American. The stranger dropped to his hands and knees for a better view. He was breathing heavily and smelled of alcohol. Introducing himself as a retired physician he brought out his flask and held it to my foam–flecked, parched lips.

Now, as anyone knows who has enjoyed kidney stones, they either hurt like hell... or they don't hurt at all. There is no lingering pain after an attack. One moment you are writhing in agony and the next moment you feel just fine. The pain suddenly switched off and I climbed from beneath the sink, gratefully shuddering from whatever was in the flask. The doctor sent out for rum (Cuban nectar) and the three of us joked far into the night. The doctor's specialty was ventriloquist jokes and my room–mate was into ducks. About 2AM I staggered into bed (not far to go) with my doctor's admonition ringing in my ears: "Stay drunk until we get you back home."

The next morning, at the airport, weakened by a substantial hang–over and too nauseated to follow my doctor's advice, the stone decided to roll. My physician examined me, disappeared for a few minutes, then returned with his shaving kit. Searching through the bag he came up with a pill. It was covered with grit, a few hairs and something sticky. Blowing on it to clean off some lint, or whatever, he wiped it on his sleeve and thrust it into my mouth. "I'm not sure what this is," he said. "But it ought to help.." He was right. I only vaguely remember the thirty six hours it took for me to painlessly, and happily, find my way back home and into a hospital.

Curled in the fetal position again, but under better circumstances, I listened to my anesthesiologist explain the procedure for giving a spinal. I replied with a dumb blonde joke, the one about four dumb blondes at a four–way stop. Properly sedated from something in an IV that dripped through a needle into the back of my hand, and dead from the waist down, I was rolled onto a cart.

Several uniformed assistants, fore and aft, propelled me in and out of elevators, up and down hallways, around sharp corners and shuffled around motionless, sheet shrouded individuals, then across a ramp and through several doors that hissed and opened without our help. I was soon propped beneath a battery of lights. Several male and female faces peered intently beneath my upraised gown where my stir upped legs had formed a tent. I wondered how I averaged out... then shamefacedly turned my head aside while they did whatever had to be done. The only joke I could think of, hardly appropriate for mixed company, was the one about the fellow who frustrated his wife by reading all the time. I would have told it anyway; but I couldn't get the punchline straight in my fogged mind..

Next, I was rolled down a couple more hallways and into a dank, gloomy place. The lights were dimmed and I was hefted into a sling and lowered into a pool of water. The water felt good. Technicians gathered around me, adjusting valves, gauges, raising and lowering things, re–aligning me in the sling... clamping and unclamping the tubes that led to the IV needle. I noticed my specialist sitting in a swivel chair on a small ledge at the foot of the tank. While he looked down upon me, he was dialing a number on his cell phone.. In the hushed atmosphere I could hear him talking to his broker—– something about roller–blades and the Amish.

My reverie was interrupted by an unexpected KABLAM! And blinking strobe lights! This continued for what seemed an hour or longer; but I was blissfully unmindful of the battering going on inside my kidney. Instead, I was cracking off St. Peter at the Golden Gate jokes. Finally, amid a room full of laughter, I was hoisted from the tank and wheeled back to "recovery." Except for the removal of some temporary plumbing a week later, this was probably the best way to get rid of a kidney stone I ever experienced.

But at what cost? What used to be accomplished for the price of a six pack had now risen to somewhere around fifteen thousand dollars! No doubt about it, when it comes to fun this day and time, there's nothing quite like an aircraft carrier... or blasting out kidney stones.

I received the Patient of the Month Award.

© 1998, Don Emerson

About the author:

My first published story (in a national magazine) was technical, the nextwas a recounting of an aviation adventure... then I busted Argosy with askin diving short (does that date me?). Humor always being my bag, Iturned to writing humorous advertising. Perhaps my largest successes werein the Cleveland and Omaha markets where I kept an ongoing series of adsrunning using cartoon beavers for a real estate developer. The beavers,one working and one the ad man, carried on rather outrageously... but theywon me (or the papers which ran them) several awards. Incidentally, most ofthose ads were full page and in color. I sometimes think I kept thepayroll going at the Cleveland Plain Dealer...full–color inside doubletrucks every week. I ran a different series (widely different characters)for three developers in St. Louis (competitors no less, try keeping thatstraight and fair). THEN I "retired" to my sailboat and took up writingindustrial AV's for a couple of Florida production houses. Name"something" and odds are I've written a script about it...thirty eight atlast count. Straying from humor I could make a fair living... and once,when things were getting tough, I kept from freezing two years in a row ina Flight Jacket I won from Goodyear when I landed First Place in a contestthey sponsored. That story later appeared in an aviation slick.

Whatelse? Well, I have probably gotten more mileage out of parodies on EdgarAllen Poe's Raven than he did.... even a remarkable marriage! Anyway, Iam now writing full–time and having a lot of fun.

And, if you are curious... I never went to college and scarcely got out ofhigh school (C– average for four years).

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©Margie Culbertson

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