Friday, June 12, 2009

Of Tetanus and Fishing Line

"I heard you have free shots here, and I think I need a Tetanus shot." He is a friendly middle-aged man with a thick accent.

"Well yes, I usually do, but I don't have any Tetanus today. I'm sorry. But call me in two weeks and I'll have some for sure. Is it urgent?" I ask.

"Not really," he says. Pulling up his sleeve, he reveals a fairly large slice on his bicep, sewn together with blue fishing line.

"I work as a carpenter, and I often cut myself," he explains. "Whenever I do, I get out my needle and fishing line and stitch it up myself." He is obviously proud but simultaneously nonchalant.

"Wow. That's impressive," I reply, examining his needlework and the reddened area around the wound. "Do you know when your last Tetanus was?"

"Not really," he replies, "but I'm sure I'll be OK."

"You can go to several places that offer free care. They may have Tetanus in stock."

"No thanks. I'll call you in a few weeks and get it then. No problem."

I give him my card and tell him to call me in a week or so. My vaccine order is late this month and I feel badly that I wasn't able to make the order in time for this month's clinic. His DIY stitching was indeed impressive, but it drives home the point that there are millions of Americans just like him who have no health insurance and no way to receive even the most basic medical care without a great deal of effort and expense.

So, this man carries fishing line and a (sterile?) needle in his toolbox when he's on the job. How many people walk around with poorly healed wounds, unnecessary infections and God knows what else while corporate executives make off with billion-dollar severance packages?

It's enough to make me want to go fishing and leave it all behind.
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