The Cruelest Cut

Well, I promised you-all the story of my most favorite work-related injury, and here it is:

The Date: Late July of 1998.
The Time: Early Morning.
The Place: The Bookstore.

My day began at 8:00am, opening mail while sitting at the bottom of a huge cup of coffee. Mornings were usually quiet; just the sound of hangovers echoing from the employee bathroom and the constant hum of writerly angst. the bookstore got mail in from all over the world; from five of the six continents, dozens of countries, and in all kinds of conditions. Not all of it was clean. Not all of it was pleasant to touch. And the mailman was rather frightening.

So opening mail was an adventure. There was always something unexpected and exciting. On this day I was opening mail with such wild abandon that I gave myself a papercut on the cuticle of my right ring finger. It was a tiny papercut. It didn’t even bleed. And I had mail from Deepest Darkest Jenison to open. Therefore, though injured, I stayed at work.

Given subsequent events, I can only assume that somewhere in here I did something stupendously vile with my right hand. Like hand-feeding a buzzard. Or unclogging the customer bathroom toilets. Or chewing my fingernails after eating at McDonald’s.

Round about 9:30 the papercut sting began to turn into a hit-it-with-a-hammer throb. I didn’t pay it much attention. What was a little finger pain, next to the horror of writing a review of Chicken Soup for the Pet-Lover’s Soul ?

After another hour, I began to feel sick. Headache, nausea, disorientation. I attributed it to the Danielle Steele novel I had just unpacked. No problem. A little Hunter Thompson, a little Howard Zinn, maybe some Allen Ginsberg, and I should feel right as rain. Right?


At noon, finger swollen and head pounding, I went home. As soon as ass touched couch I fell asleep.

Tracy the roommate got home from work at 5:30. I woke up feeling awful. Head pounding, vision blurry, disoriented. I hadn’t felt like this since the most recent local Slam Poetry evening (back in the day, Grand Rapids had the worst slam poets in the state). My finger was a nameless beast gibbering mindlessly at the end of my hand.

And there, on the inside of my forearm… wrinkles from the pillow? No… hallucination? No… hot, swollen skin over infected blood vessels? YES! Like a relief map of the rivers of Hell, lines of infection rooted in my hand were pointing their way up my veins to my heart.



“If you have time tonight, could you drive me to the emergency room?”

“Are you serious?”

At this point Bob the Wonder Cat came over and sniffed my finger. He ran spitting nad hissing from the room.

“If you need to go to the emergency room we’re going RIGHT FUCKING NOW!!!”

At the hospital my hand was so stiff Tracy had to fill out all of my paperwork. Also, I was so disoriented I couldn’t understand what the receptionist was saying to me.

An hour went by. Then two hours. The other people in the emergency room looked much worse than I. There was a guy with a broken nose. Some people obviously in for VD shots. A big skinny pale guy with a scythe. Crows. Flies. Some of this might have just been in my head.

All this time I could feel myself getting worse. When I checked in my temperature was 101 degrees. After over two hours, it was much higher.

A day passed. Two days. The lines of red had reached my shoulder and stopped. Well, not stopped, exactly; more like dove under the surface and shot like torpedoes into my chest cavity. My temperature continued to rise. A bratty little kid was screaming. I pointed The Finger at him and he burst into flames.

Tracy told the nurse “He’s getting worse.” Bob the Wonder Cat wandered in. He sniffed me, then tried to bury me.

Finally the doctor came out and said “Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fthaghn!” “YO!” said I, and in we went.

One syringe of penicillin to the ass, and I was on my way. Tracy’s boyfriend Russ – a God among Men – showed up with a tub of icecream and some spoons.

The next day at work, arm still sore but red streaks diminishing, my co-workers were quite sympathetic.

“Hi John. How do you feel? OH! Ouch! A paper cut! Oooohhhh.. Tammi? Is that you? Everything is so dark… Mom?…” and the like.

So there it is. I recovered. My arm was sore for a couple of days and I learned to set fire to the mail before opening it. So if one of you sent correspondence to the bookstore between July 1998 and August 1999, sorry, but your mail was sacrificed for the greater good.

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