The Cast: Diane Sauther (neighbor & nurse), Mom (under control), Myself (injured), Rawlin (around 12).

The flesh around my eye began to tear…

I was about four years old at the time, but, as I lay there in the hospital bed I was learning about a new kind of fear. One I would eventually have to overcome.

Just another day. Just another typical summer’s day. Except it wasn’t, because it didn’t end that way. When I reread that last sentence it almost reads as if I enjoyed my experience of that day all those years ago. Let me assure you, I did not enjoy it all.

I think that I’m getting slightly ahead of myself, so, let me set the stage: As I mentioned earlier, it was just another summer day, my family had recently moved to a new home/community/state and was outside enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. It was a beautiful day. The sun was lowering in the sky, allowing the temperature to drop a few degrees, while at the same time there was plenty of daylight left. The neighborhood kids were over, we were celebrating my sister’s birthday, and my dad had just barely left for a company meeting in Michigan—taking our only car. Also, there was a friendly game of baseball taking place in our backyard.

My older brother, Rawlin, and my other sister, Erin, were participating in said baseball game. They were standing on the far edge of the patio and were kinda spread out (that’s the way I remember them, being almost too far apart. they may not have been, but, in my child’s mind, it looked that way) while the other kids were all about the lawn. I was going in and out of the house—through our sliding glass door, trying to figure out what toys I wanted to play with outside, while spending time with my family. Eventually, I had decided to play with some action figures out on the lawn, while I cannot recall exactly which action figures they were, I am pretty sure they were some Fisher-Price figures and trucks. What I do distinctly recall is that I wanted to get off the patio because I was afraid of accidentally getting hit by the swinging bat or a ricocheting baseball.

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My home on Cheryl Street, Billings, Montana.

“Can you guys stop, please, so I can get past?” I asked my brother and sister.

“Just walk past.” Was my brother’s response. “We’re not gonna to stop.”

“Ple-ease.” I was afraid of getting hit, and said as much.

“No. If you wanna get past, just walk past. We’re not gonna stop for you.” This was stated as he demonstrated as much. Erin—the pitcher—kept pitching and Rawlin—the batter—kept swinging the bat. My sister had a wicked-fast pitch. That only made me more nervous about passing between the two of them. I could either get hit by the pitched baseball or by the batted baseball. Either way, I didn’t want to chance it.

“Come’on! Just stop for one second. Erin, just don’t pitch until after I get past.” I begged again.

“Forgetit. Erin, pitch the next one.” Rawlin wasn’t giving on this.

Well, if I couldn’t go in front, maybe I could go behind. Rawlin was far enough away from the house wall that I could walk behind him. “Fine. Then, just stop long enough for me to go behind you.” I figured a new strategy would help. It didn’t. Rawlin was still of the opinion that if I really wanted to play in the grass then I could just walk in between him and Erin. Well, that wasn’t going to happen. So, I waited.

Watching the two play baseball without a seeming care for me only made me more determined to want to figure a safe way past. If they weren’t going to stop, then I was going to get past, somehow. I began to get a sense of the timing of Rawlin’s swings and Erin’s pitches. Within a few moments I had it. Now that I had it, I had to use it. So, I did. At what appeared to be the perfect moment, I ran.

Now, I am uncertain as to what exactly occurred. But, I do know the end result. See, once Rawlin had swung at Erin’s pitch, I knew I had just enough time to run behind him, and get to my desired goal: My precious lawn and all that warm, soft grass. This was the moment where my plans went horribly, horribly awry. A few possibilities—as I see them—exist that could explain why what happened happened. Either, Erin caught the hit that Rawlin had made, and made an almost instant return pitch that Rawlin then swung at. Or, Rawlin, in his older brother bullying/arrogant/whatever mind felt that he could not be outsmarted by his younger brother, and so, decided that he should take a practice swing in an effort to keep me from going behind him—thus forcing me to run between the two. Or, finally, I just timed it wrong. Honestly, I have never bothered to push the issue—it was a long time ago and it wouldn’t change a thing. Also, I can’t trust what my brother says, these days. So…

Anyway, where was I in the story? Oh, yes. First contact—between the baseball bat and my eye. It hurt (the understatements of understatements of understatements).

As I darted behind my brother, he swung. Hard. As the bat came around, the end of it made solid contact with my left eye. Hard.

The blow knocked my head into the nearby wall. This caused me to ricochet off the wall, drop my toys, and fall backward onto the cement patio. I could hear my mother’s screams and cries, the sound of the bat hitting and bouncing on the cement, then rolling into the grass, my sisters asking, “What happened?”, and then my mother coming to my aid. The only sound louder than all of that ruckus were my own personal cries of pain and anguish. The hurt was unlike anything I had experienced before or since (and I’ve broken things).

My mother is amazing. Even with her child in obvious pain and agony, she had everything under control. Orders were given. The way needed to be cleared to the sofa in the front room so that I could be brought there. My sisters were to put some ice in our blue reusable ice bag, grab a towel, then bring them to me. My mother carried me to the front room sofa, laid me down, put the towel and ice pack over my left eye. At first there had been no swelling. That quickly changed. My mother began to panic. She was new in town, didn’t know her way around, and didn’t have a car (remember my dad had left for Michigan). This was one of the few times in her life my mother couldn’t formulate a plan.

“Our mother’s a nurse.” One of the neighbor kids volunteered (one member of a household that we would grow close to over the next four years). “I’ll go get her.”

Off he ran to next door to get his mom, Mrs. Sauther, the nurse. Meanwhile, I was in such pain that despite her being right next to me, all I could do was cry out for my ‘mommy’—something I would only do one other time. Enter: Mrs. Sauther.

By the time Mrs. Sauther arrived the skin around my eye had swollen so much that it was beginning to tear apart. Mrs. Sauther knew I had to get to the hospital to get medical attention. The bone around my eye might have shattered, or any number of complications might occur, based upon how bad things were looking in so short a period of time. She asked if my mother had insurance, medical records, and other stuff. My mother reminded her that we had just moved in and had nothing available—including a car. Mrs. Sauther volunteered her car, my mom volunteered to drive. That wouldn’t work, as both family’s kinds would be left unsupervised (it would have been about 12 children under 14 years and under, not a good idea).

Quickly, it was decided that Mrs. Sauther would take me. She was a nurse. She knew the way to the hospital. She worked there. She could get me admitted. It was a good plan. The only downside was that I would have to go it alone. Nothin’ doin. I was hurting so much that I needed emotional comfort. I needed Kermit the Frog. Mrs. Sauther had brought her car around to our driveway and I had been loaded up, my mom ran back inside to get Kermit, handed him to me, and was left behind to watch those who remained (it was very hard on her). I had pain, an ice pack, pain, Kermit, and did I mention: pain? (it was suspected that my skull around my eye might be shattered), we could go to the hospital now.

My mother has said, “It was one of the most horrible things I have ever seen (this coming from a woman who, as a child, had a parasitic worm rip its way out of her forehead like a stomach burster in one of the Alien movies). Your eye was so bruised and swollen that the skin around it was stretched too thin and it began to tear open.” Thanks for sharing, mom.

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The very same Kermit the Frog from over 40 years ago. He is still a good friend.

Once at the hospital, I was placed in a room by myself. There was a nurse there to help me. She was blonde and pretty. And, I don’t mean that I was looking her over (I was four, what would I know). She was physically attractive but, it was that kind of pretty that just comes from the inside, she talked to me and made me feel alright. She was able to get me to relax. I could trust her. That kind of pretty. She made an attempt to take Kermit away so she could examine my eye—I was holding Kermit close and tight (I almost popped the stuffing out of him). He was my security, I couldn’t just let him go.

“How about we set Kermit over here? Hmm?” The nurse smiled and rolled a small table over that would be within my sight. Kermit could see me, I could see him, this was acceptable. Pretty nurse.

Once Kermit was moved, the nurse laid me flat onto the bed to examine my eye. I could no longer see Kermit, but I knew he could see me. Then, she took a cotton ball and some sort of liquid (disinfectant I assume) and wiped over my bruised and swollen eye area. At this point I could see part of the tremendous bulge that had formed under and around my eye. Then, the nurse set a semicircular disk of gauze pad below my eye area, but on top of the bruise. She was so gentle. Pretty nurse.

Next, she turned around, picked up something from the tray behind her, turned back around, and aimed the object at my eye!

The nurse was leaning over me, her left hand gently holding my head. Pretty nurse.

In her right hand I saw the object, a syringe! A few drops of clear fluid dripped from the tip of the needle. It was coming for my eyeball. She was aiming for my eyeball! Evil nurse! EVIL NURSE!!!

I truly believed the needle was about to pierce my eyeball. I was frozen in terror. I began to scream, loud. The nurse just calmly said, “Shhhh. It’s alright.” in her soothing tone. It sort of worked. Pretty nurse, again.

It also helped that the needle did not go into my eyeball—hey, I was four, and as far as I understood how an eyeball worked, if you stabbed it, you were blind, and this pretty nurse was about to blind me. But, the needle actually went below my eyeball and above the lower portion of my eye socket. I had to watch as that slender cylindrical sliver of metal ease into my flesh, bringing the hypodermic closer and closer, then, watch as the plunger was depressed and the contents of the syringe deployed into me. All at the most up-close view you could have—or ever want.

Yeah, I was traumatized by that. Think about it. I was just hit in my eye by a baseball bat. Then, a nurse brought a syringe toward my eye. From the angle I could see, and the path of her approach with it, it appeared to me that stabbing me directly in the eyeball was her intent. The needle was kinda like Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing skimming the surface of the Death Star and my eye was the exhaust port. I was four-years-old! I knew nothing! (hey, Star Wars had premiered just two years before this, it’s a relevant analogy)

Within a few moments of that newly traumatic event, the doctor came in and carefully patched me up. He had decided to use butterfly bandages rather than sewing it up. I guess he figured it would be easier. Then, I went home, laid down in bed, and eventually went to sleep. However, not before my mother took a photo of my eye. The swelling was down, the bruising did not look as bad as it had a few hours before. Later, I would take a few trips to visit both the regular and eye doctors to ensure that I had no permanent damage to my skull or sight. I didn’t.

So, now I have a cool story and a healthy fear of needles. That being said, the Marine Corps helped me get over the needle-fear (sort of). I learned quickly that I don’t get a pass on getting stuck. I just have to shut up and take it. So I did—and do. Yeah, 15+ prick-n-sicks in one hour will help you get over a little thing like needle nervousness (and that was just one of the several let’s-stab-you-and-draw-blood days).

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Photo from the day of the beating. You can sort of see wear the butterfly bandages were set (older film camera technology/quality).
If you look to the background you can see my family’s canvas sheep tent.

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