Archive | March, 2015

Can’t Take A Joke

13 Mar

My wife talked me into taking the family camping over the 4th of July weekend many years ago. I was raised on a farm and saw no reason to spend a weekend roughing it when I did that every day, but we borrowed a tent from a neighbor and found a campsite at a park 120 miles from home.

The next morning I tried to start an alcohol stove to make hot chocolate for our three-year-old daughter—she had a temper until she’d had her morning hot chocolate. After many tries, I still hadn’t managed to light the stove. Maybe it was out of fuel?

I put my hand over it to be sure there wasn’t a flame (you often can’t see an alcohol flame in daylight). Satisfied that there wasn’t a flame, I poured alcohol into the stove from a one-gallon can. One of our boys said, “Daddy, look at the pretty fire.”

Flame raced up the stream of alcohol. I saw it enter the can, which exploded in my hands a fraction of a second later. All I can remember is thinking, “drop and roll.” I tried it, but that doesn’t work well when you’re covered with a highly flammable liquid. Someone finally tossed a blanket over me and smothered the fire. My polyester pants were melted to my skin—at least in places where there was anything left of them or my skin.

I tried to think of jokes, stories, songs—anything to keep the pain at bay, but it shouldered aside all attempts to think. It was like a two-year-old on a tantrum in my mind, refusing to let me focus on anything but it. It continued like that for 45 minutes while I waited for the ambulance and the 45 minute ride to the hospital.

I was finally given morphine IV, and a lot of it, at the hospital, where they cleaned my burns and decided whether I’d have to go to the state burn center or could go back to the hospital in our hometown. The burns covered fifteen percent of my body, which was right at the cut-off point for mandatory referral to the burn center. I was sent to my hometown hospital, as it was a highly regarded regional medical center.
Two hours later, the ambulance delivered me to the ER of St. Joseph’s Hospital in my hometown. The surgeon on call that day spoke English as a second language. He was a colorectal surgeon who specialized in removal of rectal tumors–go figure. But he was the one on call.

For the next several days, he entered my hospital room, examined my bandaged legs, looked over my hospital chart, bowed gravely, and left without saying a word. To try to get him to say something, I finally said, “I know you’re a colorectal surgeon, and that it was a dumb stunt that put me in here, but does this mean you guys think I’m a flaming ass?”

He never came into my room again, although I could see his hands on the back of his resident as he pushed the poor guy into room every morning.


Easy Riding

13 Mar

Imagine yourself driving on a strange road, looking for the intersection with another road. Through the fog you strain your eyes to see this sign, hoping it’s the one you need.

(From Rachel Being Chatty🙂


6 Mar

I told my boys when they were in college that they didn’t have to worry about
making mistakes in life. It happens, and I’d gotten more things wrong than they
ever would. A few years later, I told them I hadn’t meant to imply that it was a

On Sex

2 Mar

On a winter evening some years ago, my wife Cheryl met me at the door when I came home from work. “Don’t blow your stack about it. There wasn’t much damage,” she said.

With three teen-age boys, I’d heard this before and knew that “not much damage” is an ambiguous and misleading term when the speaker is not the one who writes the checks.

“Trevor was driving your car home from high school,” Cheryl explained, “and the car went into a skid on that slippery corner coming down the hill. The car slid into a snowbank—no one was hurt and no damage was done.”

An outcome that unremarkable didn’t sound normal for my family, but I could take that. I’m resilient. I didn’t even bother to look at the car, just picked up the newspaper and made myself comfortable in my recliner. Tyler, our youngest son, came into the room as I was reading the comics.

“Hey, dad! Did you hear about Trevor’s accident?” he asked. “I was riding home from school with him when he spun out. Man, if it hadn’t been for that fire hydrant he hit, we’d still be plowing down-hill across lawns.”

I put on a coat and checked my car—bumper dented, fender crinkled, headlight broken—and prayed there was no damage to the fire hydrant. This outcome was normal for my family.

I’d been reading scientific papers that considered the cost-benefit analysis of sexual reproduction in evolutionary terms. After all, why should complex animals have developed something as expensive in time and energy as sexual reproduction when so many life forms just split into two?

It had been posited that sexual reproduction provides greater genetic diversity and improved resistance to parasites and diseases, an opportunity for more rapid evolution, better protection against damaging mutations, or all of the above.(1-4) The leading benefits seem to be staying ahead of parasites and pathogens and cleaning up harmful mutations in the genome.

The data looked compelling, but nowhere, and I mean absolutely nowhere, in the papers was there any mention of the cost of auto body repairs. The omission was inexplicable, for although the scientists working in this field probably didn’t know my kids, at least some of them must have known other teenage boys.

1. Zimmer, C. On the origin of sexual reproduction. Science, 2009;324(5932):1254-1256
2. Jokela J, Dybdahl MF, Lively CM. The maintenance of sex, clonal dynamics, and host-parasite coevolution in a mixed population of sexual and asexual snails. Am Naturalist 2009;174 Suppl 1:S43-53.
3. Morran LT, OG Shmidt, IA Gidarden, et. al. Running with the Red Queen: Host parasite coevolution selects for biparental sex. Science, 2011;333:216-218.
4. Hussin JG, Alan Hodgkinson A, Idaghdour Y, et al. Recombination affects accumulation of damaging and disease-associated mutations in human populations. Nature Genetics, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/ng.3216