It was late April 1967, after a very long, very hard Old Time Winter.
Now a note of enlightenment: I’ve been hearing all around town about what a long hard winter we just had.
Hate to be the one to tell ya, but we didn’t.
First, it wasn’t hard. We didn’t have a lot of Jack-London-cold days; we didn’t have a lot of snow, we didn’t get nailed with any huge storms.
Nor was it long. OK, it was long – compared to Myrtle Beach or Memphis. But since we live in a place that’s routinely declared the official cold spot in the nation, whattaya expect? Compared to the Old Time Winters, what we just had was a walk in the park. Don’t believe me? Check out old photos and weather reports. Or better yet, just ask me.
Anyhow, 1967 was one of those OTW’s. And once its back had been broken, a bunch of my Paul Smith’s friends and I were celebrating its demise in predictable Saturday night fashion by partying down in the Shamrock. And we weren’t the only PSC guys with that idea – the place was packed to the rafters.
Eight of us were at a corner table and I was the only non-stumpy. Stumpies were the Paul Smith’s foresters, a colorful lot who played as hard as they worked, and like all loggers, they worked more than almost everyone. They were also renowned for engaging in stunts of almost world-class jackassery. As a result, they ended up with strains, sprains, fractures, dislocations and stitches galore.
Atop our table were three or four beer pitchers in various stages of consumption. We’d just finished one of them and I picked it up to get it refilled, when one of the guys, Chet, stopped me.
“Here,” he said, “give it to me.”
“No,” I said. “It’s my turn to buy.”
“You can buy,” he said, “just give me the pitcher.”
I had no idea why he wanted the pitcher, but I gave it to him.
“OK,” he said to the rest of the table. “Watch this.”
He tucked the pitcher under his jac-shirt, took about three steps forward and then dived headfirst out an open window.
It was like a magic act. First we saw him, then we didn’t. All of us were completely taken aback, especially since Chet was the quietest of our lot. He was also the most easy-going, and no hell-raiser at all.
A minute later, when he walked through the door, we gave him a rousing cheer. Given how mobbed the place was, no one heard our cheer, or had seen his amazing plunge either, for that matter. When he got to the table, he had a big goofy grin on his face.
A short while later, when another pitcher emptied, Chet picked it up, tucked it in his jac-shirt, and dived out the window.
When he came back in, we again cheered him, and he again had a goofy grin on his mug.
Crashin’ and burnin’
Some more time and drinking went on, and of course another pitcher emptied. And when it did, Chet again did his thing. But this time wasn’t the same because when he came in, there was no grin on his face. In fact, what was on his face – his pasty-white face, I might add — was a grimace. And beyond that, his shoulders, rather than being horizontal to the ground, were at a 45 degree angle.
He sat down, stiffly, panting and said, “I think I just broke my collarbone.”
No one said anything. Then again, there was nothing we could say. None of us were medical experts, but if he said he thought he broke his collarbone, he probably did. It wasn’t any kind of subtlety; it wasn’t like he said he thought his pancreas had gone awry or his left ventricle wasn’t up to snuff.
So now what?
There was only one option – taking him to the hospital. And since I had a car and lived in town, I was the logical chauffeur.
The ER back then bore no resemblance to today’s. Compared to the equipment and staff we now have, it was practically empty. We got there around 1100 and checked in with a nurse who looked bored as can be.
“Yes?” she said.
“I broke my collarbone,” Chet said.
“You mean, you think you broke it,” she said. “You don’t know you did.”
Chet swore under his breath. He was green around the gills and shifting back and forth, in obvious pain. Finally he spoke.
“That’s right. I think I broke my collarbone,” he said.” I also think it hurts like hell.”
She gave him a dirty look, then told us to take a seat while she got a hold of the on-call doctor.
We did as we were told and in the thirty minutes we waited, for obvious reasons, we didn’t exchange a word.
Finally, about a half-hour later, the doctor arrived. And what an arrival it was.
It was Dr. Gedroiz, one of the old school docs. You could tell by his clothes. While the hipper doctors wore sport coats and slacks, the old school guys always wore suits. Dr. Trudeau, Dr. David Merkel and Dr. Decker wore sport coats. Dr. Bellaire, Dr. Carl Merkel, and of course Dr. Gedroiz wore suits.
But Dr. Gedroiz carried one “accessory” that most doctors didn’t, and another “accessory” that no doctor I ever saw did. In one hand he had a cigarette — in the other he had a miniature poodle. He also had a look on his face that let us know he wasn’t at all pleased having to come into the ER on Saturday night at 11:30 to deal with the fallout from juvenile hijinks.
He dropped the cigarette on the floor and ground it out with his foot. Then he put the poodle down. After that he took Chet into the examining room. A few minutes later, they came out.
“I’m sure your collarbone’s broken,” said Dr. Gedroiz, “but we’ll need an X-ray to be sure.”
At that point, it was apparent the shock had worn off, he was a hurting unit, and the only thing he could do was nod.
Another half-hour or so went by and the x-rays came back, showing what Chet had known since the Shamrock. Luckily, it was a clean break, and the only treatment was a sling. Once Chet had that, we were about to be on our way when Dr. Gedroiz called out to him.
“Say,” he said, “I never asked you how you broke it.”
By then, Chet was stone cold sober…and sheepish.
“Doc,” he said, shaking his head, “you don’t even wanna know.”
“You go to Paul Smith’s?” said Dr. Gedroiz.
The answer to his question was as obvious as Chet’s steel toe boots, frayed denim cuffs and flannel shirt, which Dr. Gedroiz had known before he asked.
‘Yes,” said Chet
“You a forester?” asked Dr. Gedroiz, again knowing the obvious.
“I am,” said Chet.
Dr. Gedroiz waited a bit before he spoke.
“You’re right,” he said, almost-but-not-quite smiling.“I don’t want to know.”