Don Shook

© Copyright 2021 by Don Shook

Photo of a guardian angel in stained glass.

The flatbed truck braked, but still hit the small boy who had suddenly appeared in the middle of the road. Fifty feet away, rose-trimmer in one hand, three-month-old baby under the opposite arm, Dorothy Ann turned at the sound of the squealing brakes and muffled bump. Her eyes widened in horror as her two-year-old son flew through the air, tiny arms flailing like a ruptured windmill before crashing onto unforgiving asphalt. Dorothy Ann’s urgent scream failed. Her heart stopped She stood paralyzed. The baby wailed.

This was my first experience with pain and injury. I can remember neither. I’m told the driver had the presence of mind to rush my mother, my baby-sister, and me to the Monticello, Arkansas hospital. A broken arm, broken leg, fractured skull, and minor scrapes and bruises attested to the severity of the accident.

Days later a devastated truck driver brought me some Lone Ranger pajamas. He shared the responsibility with my mother who hadn’t been watching closely enough as I started across the street to play with a neighborhood girl. The rest of the experience is a void, a large black hole. From that point on, my life was filled with various pains and injuries. I always seemed to be hurt or hurting…always. Some sources of my discomfort were serious…others almost humorous.

When six years old, after moving to Dallas, my father had remarried and he, my little sister and I were going to meet the plane at Love Field where his new wife would arrive. Before leaving, my sister hit me in the head with a canning-jar. At the airport, my stepmother’s shock was obvious upon seeing me with a large bandage wrapped around my skull. Then, to seal the deal, when getting into the car to leave, she accidently slammed the 37’ Chevy door on my hand. Another huge bandage made me look like a candidate for discharge in the recently-ended conflict called World War II. She almost turned around and headed back to New York. My father grinned knowingly before saying, “Yep, if there’s an injury, Donald will have it, a bug in the air…he’ll get it. mumps, chickenpox, you name it…he’ll catch it.” Such was the plight of a boy attracting fate’s ills. But the worst was yet to come.

Earth’s organic creatures, such as man, are actually fragile beings. Metal and glass can cut, rock can crush, water drown, and even the air attempts to occasionally smother. We are far from representing the strong and invulnerable. In fact, quite the opposite. It’s as though the elements conspire to vanquish us. Or, at least, cause us pain and anguish. Epitomizing proof of this condition, I have found misery a frequent companion.

Surviving childhood, scarred but intact, I suffered a multitude of injuries and every common disease possible during that time except polio. In this regard I was fortunate. Otherwise, not so much. I fell out of trees, ran into walls, and was even bitten by a huge cur-dog. This required stitches, for both me and the dog. I bit him back. Although susceptible, I was also blessed with vice-like jaws. These disappeared with childhood as the woes of adolescence faded with the years…

As a 148 lb. high-school quarterback I was frequently squashed by 200 lb. linemen intent on making me a permanent part of the field. What they didn’t know but I did was, despite my parents’ objections, I was playing with two ruptured discs in my fourth and fifth lower lumbar region. So much for potent pain pills taken copiously before and during each game. This experience bequeathed me major surgery, a month-long stint in a body-cast, and a full year wearing a back brace. However, this did not deter fate continuing to cast me under the pain shadow of the aforementioned surgery by having a catheter rammed up my male member. What else do three nurses and an intern have to do?

Still, two years later I lettered on the college tennis team. But paid the price by severely reinjuring my back when falling on the concrete court during practice. In recovery, I was victim of the ubiquitous Asian Flu. Deciding that a week in a college hospital bed was tantamount to an Asian Torture Chamber, I girded my loins and recovered sooner than expected, but maintained a persistent cough for two years afterward. Such are the tales of mice and men.

Ignoring a bevy of ills experienced during college, afterward I worked as a teacher and professional actor/singer where I met my wife-to-be, a wonderful girl who not only could beat me at chess but at being an acceptable marriage partner. Not long after the wedding, she empathized and suffered with me through a kidney stone which manifested its excruciation as I trudged through Central Park with our German Shepherd during a nine-degree winter night in The Big Apple. Throwing up in the reception area of New York City Hospital was not the most picturesque of my performances as an erstwhile actor in that fair city. Yet, this incident was only a precursor to events leading up to my most severe anguish and enlightening epiphany.

A diagnosis in the New York hospital indicated my kidney stone was a result of at least two years spent gulping and guzzling anti-acid ingredients. All were used to alleviate what amounted to a consistent heartburn and frequent indigestion. I also had consumed gallons of milk and gobbled tons of ice cream…the doctors deducing the calcium content therein resulted in a physical anomaly. Ill-advised habits have consequences. Mine was a kidney stone.

Scurrying back to Dallas, we consulted specialists about the ailment who, after a number of tests, made certain recommendations to alleviate my digestive problems. None worked. Further examination by another specialist revealed that a hiatal hernia was the cause of my discomfort and posed fatal possibilities somewhere down the road. Immediate surgery was recommended. “Great!” I thought. “Just what I need. What does it entail?”

We’ll separate your ribs, go in and get it done.”

Will it hurt?”

Oh, only about like a couple of broken ribs.”

That didn’t sound too bad. Of course, neither does frostbite. “Anything else?”

Well, afterward we will have to drain the fluid out of your lungs.”

That did sound bad. But, sometimes we have to “…suffer the slings and arrows…”

The surgery went well. Hours later, as I awakened, my young wife stood by my bed in the Intensive Care Unit and asked, “Honey, if you had to do it over again, would you?”

“No way.” I groaned, reeling from a six-hour, ribs-jacked-open hiatal hernia operation. In my early thirties and previously having been through a spinal fusion, a kidney stone, and a fractured skull, I was no stranger to pain. But this topped them all. Still, small potatoes compared to what came next.

Eight hours later my surgeon, accompanied by an intern, looked down solemnly saying, “Sorry, Don, but we didn’t get it all. We’ll have to go back in tomorrow morning.”

Through a mask of misery, I squeaked back, “You’re kidding?”

They weren’t. The tube they had run down my throat, past my larynx and into my lungs hadn’t extracted all the excess fluid. “Get it out or lay there and develop pneumonia.” The doctor wise-cracked as he and the intern pivoted out of the room. Left behind was a black, dwarf-like nurse, at least seventy-five years old, glaring at me. My eyes locked on hers, she shook her head, turned and followed the medical men down the hall.

I lay there in excruciating pain, trying to recover from the procedure I had just endured. Later, my wife visited again. She cried in sympathy as she commiserated, explaining how her pleas for avoiding another lung invasion yielded no effect. There simply was no other choice. I asked for a stronger pain killer. Wonderful darkness took over.

A tug on my arm disturbed my sleep. The room was dark, night had come. Through a haze I assembled the face of the withered nurse staring down at me. What could she want at this hour?

She spoke: “Ya’ll don’t want that tube no more, honey?”

No way.” I responded weakly.

Then, up.” She ordered, pulling on my arm.

What?” I protested. Up? I could barely move.

Undeterred, she literally pulled me up out of the bed. “Now, walk.”



I tried. Two steps. Pain. Three steps. More pain. I was dying.

Now!” she screamed and slammed a bony hand into my back. I died.

But with the pain came the fluid…out of my lungs…out my mouth spewing onto the floor. Next morning I didn’t need the tube. Standing beside the doctor, she smiled smugly. I sighed.

Weeks later, fully recovered, I returned to the hospital to thank that angel of mercy. To my surprise, I was told no one like her was on the staff. Furthermore, they couldn’t recall any such person ever being there. I sighed, temporarily bewildered. I could only lift my eyes to Heaven, certain she was standing beside God shaking her head and smiling down at me.

Since then I’ve gone through many other aches and pains, a few intestinal and upper-respiratory bugs, a knee replacement, and a perforated stomach ulcer. I think I’ve managed them all fairly well. Why? Because despite the misery and suffering some entailed…none have compared with the hiatal hernia operation.

You know, the first noble truth of the Buddhist philosophy regards life being equated with suffering. This is further attested to by various historical sources such as The Bible, Greek Mythology, and The Road Runner. But still, this suffering can be, and is often, dealt with by mysterious means, sometimes obvious, occasionally inexplicable. I mean, how often does your guardian angel whack you in the back?

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