Short Story: Front Page News
“So...How bad does it hurt?” Chuck says to Tom over the steady beeps of hospital machinery. Tom glares at him, writing fast on the notepad in his lap, and then flips it around so he can see it.
how bad do you think dipshit
“Well … couldn’t hurt too bad now, I mean. They must’ve given you some kick-ass pain meds, right?”
Tom’s eyes roll back into his skull as he exhales hard through his nose.
cant walk never have kids cant talk
He starts to scribble out the previous lines, but he stops, flips to another page, glares down at the thick steel pin drilled through his right knee, then to his bulging diaper of gauze and bandages, and scratches fast.
everything sucks and I wanna die
Chuck tells him that they ended up winning the soccer game and that the specialists can repair his torn vocal cords, but Tom just scrawls fuck off and spins the notepad around again, sighing.
“At least McBride went to jail, eh?” Chuck says, giving an encouraging slap on the end of his hospital bed.
He crosses out words and adds others.
fuck off I’ll kill mcbride
“Finally,” Dr. McBride said. His big chance. This wasn’t the last-second tracheotomy in a crowded restaurant or emergency appendectomy in the stuck elevator that you see in the movies, but after attending high school athletics for nearly a decade, this was the best opportunity he’d ever seen. Crossing the soccer field, he waved to people in the stands, beaming, his shadow twisting clockwise and fading and twisting clockwise again from the dozens of overhead floodlights.
“Out of the way. Please. I’m a doctor,” McBride said, pushing players aside to break into the circle of uniforms. Tom, the star player, had taken a crushing hit from the opposing fullback, and, by the unnatural angle his right leg now demonstrated, something was wrong.
“I’m a doctor … step aside please, I need to check him for a concussion. What’s his name? Tim? Tom? It’s Tom? Okay Tom, can you hear me?”
Tom lay there, moaning and writhing while his right leg remained cocked sideways and frozen. McBride knelt at the young man’s side, sweeping his fountain pen back and forth over Tom’s eyes and staring at the retinas. The doctor pulled down the right edge of his white soccer shorts, exposing a deep valley of skin where the femur head used to meet the socket. The players huddled around gave a loud gasp as the doctor laid two whole fingers flat in the deep channel of Tom’s caved-in joint and pressed down.
“Jesus Christ!” Tom yelled through gritted teeth. “What the hell are you doing? My leg is fuc —”
“Ok Tom! Please calm down. It looks like you’ve dislocated your right femur. From your … inchal tubertosity,” McBride said, speaking like a record you slow down with your finger, basking in the stunned silence of the dozen players and coaches surrounding him.
“Tom, we’re going to have to reset it here on the field,” McBride said, bracing his left hand down under the bad hip and grabbing just below Tom’s knee with his other hand. “It’s what’s called the … ah … Bungalow Maneuver, and it’s going to get you back to normal. It’s going to hurt a little, but you’ll feel a lot better after, I promise.” McBride shot him a quick wink, adding, “We’ll have you scoring the winning goal before half-time.”
“Oh God oh God fine whatever make it quick please hurry,” Tom said between big stuttering breaths, tears running down his face and mixing with wet snot.
While Dr. McBride was a doctor, he didn’t specialize in sports medicine. Or physical therapy. McBride was a dermatologist with a hazy, thirty-year-old memory of the Bigelow’s Maneuver from an out-of-date textbook in med school.
“Are you ready Tom? We’re gonna pop it back in real quick, on three.” He waved a few teammates to hold Tom’s shoulders and twisted his own feet into the grass. “Yes, thank you, just hold him steady. Yes, by the shoulders, both of you. We’ll have him back on the field in no time, coach!” McBride announced with a smile, his bright red sweaty face beaming. “That’s perfect, thank you. Now just hold him there, tight, he might jump a little. I need to apply over 500 pounds of force here, boys.”
“Hold on! Stop! Wait a min—“
“Tom, we … Can you make sure he’s restrained? Thank you. We have to do this, son. You don’t want to lose your leg, do you? Necrodis of the joint?” He considered slapping Tom, once and quick across the face, adding Get a hold of yourself, man for effect.
Even professionals shouldn’t perform on-site joint dislocation reductions. Without anesthetic, the procedure is tremendously painful. Gunshot painful.
“No just wait,” he pleaded, his voice still clogged with tears and snot. “Just let me …” he said, trying to free his pinned arms. He was helpless under hundreds of pounds of soccer players pressing his torso deep into the grass.
“Goddamnit just let me fix something!” he said, bucking his shoulders and
snorting back a load of mucus.
“Two …” the doctor said, sweat dripping into his wide eyes, breathing heavy.
On-site joint dislocation reductions also shouldn’t be performed because there are a few things that can go wrong, and they’re not the kind of things a washed-up dermatologist would think of.
“Just goddamn hold on and let me —”
Later that night, the sports editor and the publisher of the local newspaper argued how best to describe the scream Tom let out. Larry, the reporter present at the event, felt that “demonic” was the most apt. “Bloodcurdling” seemed a bit cliché, and however accurate “inhuman” was, it was voted down as disrespectful to the victim.
“Do we even need to mention it? Just put, ‘he yelled,’” the publisher said, taking a long drink from his lukewarm coffee, “and move on already. And you want the front page? We gotta talk about that.”
“No way. You weren’t there. This is big news. You don’t even know. And that scream is all anyone is gonna remember from that game, and for a long time after,” Larry said, hammering at his keyboard. “I gotta say something. I just gotta.”
His right hip made a dull popping noise, like the dent being pulled out of a car’s door panel. And Tom screamed. Loud. Possessed loud. Clawing madly at his soccer shorts, he bucked his shoulders out from under his teammates’ hands and let out a jet-engine loud wail, loud and long and scared. Veins bulged from his neck, thick as cable, as on-lookers in the stands dropped their cell phones and their hot dogs just to cover their ears. And just as the sound reached its impossible crescendo, it crackled, stopped, and Tom went limp.
Dr. McBride’s medical license was revoked roughly twenty years ago. Right after he was found faking inventory records for the hospital’s oxycodone and the booze really started to take over.
The small circle of players and officials stood there, useless, their cupped hands descending from their ears. Stunned under the halogen floodlights. The entire stadium silent and waiting. Chuck gave the unconscious body a poke with his cleat, jostling him, and a red ribbon of blood soaking through Tom’s white soccer shorts started to grow. Each set of eyes swung back to McBride and more sweat began to trickle out from his white hair, his big grin melting from his face. “Well … um … some light … hemorrhaging is common after … after a … procedure like that,” the doctor said, kneeling back down at Tom’s side. “Let me just check if …”
After ten years as an alcoholic janitor, his big chance to play God and come out a hero wasn’t going like he’d planned.
Pulling down the waistband of Tom’s shorts, slow like a striptease, McBride revealed a thick dark fold at the hip, oozing blood, leaking down the notch. The doctor pulled down just a little further, exposing Tom’s penis, lying shriveled and useless on his stomach. Even fans at the top of the bleachers could hear the players gasp when McBride pulled the shorts all the way down.
The doctor, in his rush to shove the ball of Tom’s femur back in its socket, pinned both of Tom’s testicles into the caved-in joint, locking them, crushing them to paste, in between the bones and folds of tough muscle. The stretched skin of his scrotum disappeared in the bloody fold, creating a lumpy bulge at his hip.
The circle of players recoiled. Chuck, still hovering over the scene, gave a loud burp, pale green vomit cascading down from behind his cupped hands.
“That can happen … One in three procedures … Jesus … if I remember correctly …” McBride said, backing away from the scene, his shadows rotating counterclockwise.
“What the hell kind of doctor are you?” the coach said walking after him, giving a loud sniff. “And are you drunk? Christ, somebody call the ambulance …” he said, turning to Tom and then back to the doctor. “And the cops while they’re at it. You can’t do that to my kid,” he said, pointing his finger. “That’s fucking assault.”
“Listen, I …” he said with his hands up, walking back from the coach and players now stalking toward him, sirens far in the distance. “But I fixed him, right? Why … this isn’t … he’ll be fine, promise. Just gimme another chance.”
“Visiting hours are over, son. Let Tom rest,” the nurse says, grabbing Chuck by the shoulders and leading him out of the hospital room. Tom scribbles again on his notepad.
As the nurse escorts Chuck out, just before the door closes, he says, “You know, it’s not all bad. At least you made front page of the news.”