A couple of weeks ago I was riding my bike and my leg slipped off of the right pedal. At first I didn’t think anything happened at all, my ankle had only made very brief contact with the chain. But I stopped and took a look and, yeah, it was actually a pretty deep cut. Not big, like maybe half an inch across, but deep. The blood started pouring out, soaking my sock red.
Whenever I get a big enough cut, I always think, well, that’s definitely going to get infected, I’m probably going to lose my leg, the doctor’s will try to keep the infection from spreading to the rest of my body, but they’re going to be fighting a losing battle, I’ll be patient zero for a new class of superbug, they’re going to quarantine me in some government hospital, and I’m going to die behind three layers of sterilized glass in some faraway laboratory, they’ll let my wife in the building to say goodbye, but she’ll be wearing some ridiculous biohazard suit and I won’t even know it’s her, she’ll be trying to hold my hand, give me one final hug, but again, the infection is going to spread to my brain, I’ll go into some blind rage, rip the suit apart, only to discover too late that it’s her underneath, that I’ve condemned her to the same contagion, that …
And then like any really long daydream about my horrible, impending doom, it kind of just faded away into the background of my mind, and I must have zoned out for the rest of the day, because my next conscious thought was of me standing at the kitchen counter making dinner. My wife came home and started asking me about my day when she stopped, “What did you do to your leg?”
Because I had totally forgotten. I don’t know how, it wasn’t even hurting. I can’t believe that I didn’t come straight home to clean it out. I didn’t feel it, but now that my attention was brought back to this deep red cut on my ankle, now that I noticed that the edges were still black with bike chain grease, that I hadn’t come home and even tried to wipe away the dirt, now it started to hurt, now it started to sting, to throb, I immediately thought about this article I read about Calvin Coolidge in the New Yorker, how his son developed a blister playing tennis, and it got infected and he died, dropped dead, and now I’m going to die too, and maybe I could have avoided it if I had just come home and taken care of it right away.
But I was in the middle of dinner, like I had stuff on the stove, so I tried to willfully ignore it again, maybe the pain would disappear once more. But it wasn’t happening. It was getting worse. I abandoned dinner and jumped in the shower. Wow, now it really stung. It was the kind of searing pain that was almost fake, it was so intense. Part of me was like, this is crazy how much this hurts, is this real? Is this a real feeling that I’m having?
And then the next day at work, I didn’t want to cover it up, because I didn’t want to give it a warm, wet environment to really develop an infection, but I didn’t want to think about it either, so I just kind of rolled my sock right on top of it. But my whole leg hurt, the more I stood up all day, the more time I spent walking around from table to table, the more I was convinced that I’d have to be hospitalized immediately.
Out of nowhere, I started freaking out. I showed the closest coworker my leg, “Does this look infected?” and she immediately responded, “Yes. Oh my God, gross.” Not exactly the assurance I was going for. So I sought a second opinion. Another coworker said, “No, just keep it clean.” Whew. I was going to make it.
The next day I was on the train and some random guy told me to buy a bottle of liquid skin. I’d heard of it, but never tried it. Usually I hate it when people tell me what to do, but I figured that if this thing was attracting unsolicited medical advice from strangers on the subway, maybe I should at least try something else, maybe an ointment, a Band-Aid, something.
I bought the liquid skin. The subway guy told me it might sting a little. A little. Ha. It was double that searing pain I was describing when I took that first shower. That stranger was lucky I didn’t take down his contact info and sue him for malpractice. Jesus Christ it stung. But then it went away and it was like, OK, this isn’t so bad, and I think it’s getting better. Yeah, definitely better.
But I didn’t read the liquid skin instructions. I just kept adding a new layer twice a day until there was this buildup, a liquid skin wall protruding from my ankle. I couldn’t even see through to the cut anymore. Worse, this stuff was impenetrable. I tried taking it off, but it was like trying to take off my own skin. I finally looked at the bottle.
“To remove, apply a new layer of Liquid Skin and quickly wipe away.” Huh. I guess I hadn’t been doing the remove part. And so I went to apply another layer, but the bottle was empty. And then I thought, what if society collapses? What if this stuff ceases to be produced? Is this the only way of removing it? Will I have any other options? Or am I going to be this guy, this impervious layer of liquid skin permanently stuck to my leg? How am I going to explain what it is? What if there’s an itch underneath? What if …
But I forgot about that also after a while. My leg’s doing OK now. It’s there, the cut, like I said, it was really deep. And the liquid skin is still there too, but I don’t really care, because I hardly look down there anyway, it’s at such an awkward angle, and it doesn’t hurt at all anymore, so I just pull up my socks and hopefully by the next time I give that part of my body some consideration, everything will be OK. Or I’ll be dead.