My father raised me to be invincible. Growing up the reminder that “We are Tellers” cured my headaches, propelled me on marathon bike rides and excused his refusal to heat our house to above 58 degrees. Recently, though, I was tested.
On a random street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I am stabbed. In the foot. By a screw. Some one didn’t clean up their construction site, and their mess penetrates my boot sole and forges its way into the middle of my left foot. It is not in my DNA to cry about physical things, so I remove the screw and hobble home.
Before I was born, my parents spent two years in the Peace Corps in Africa. It was there that my mother caught walking pneumonia. With an emphasis on the former, my father encouraged her to soldier on. And she did. In an ID photo taken at the time, her eyes say only one thing, “Please let me nap.” And ultimately, she did lay down (after they climbed Mount Mulanje).
I am reminded of this at home as I dress my wound. My mother didn’t need a doctor. Neither do I. I ignore the pulsing pain in my foot, and my certainty that I haven’t been vaccinated since the Reagan era.
My therapist echoes the chorus of my loved ones. “Kate, you should see a doctor.” Whatever, I didn’t get stabbed in my need for approval. I hobble from therapy to the gym where I bike ten miles with my left food sideways.
As luck would have it I’ve signed up for a two day conference in Queens, thus dramatically increasing my daily commute from the 60 feet to my coffee machine to two train rides, one of which is the notorious G line. I spent the better portion of my commute waiting for the train in the flamingo stance.
At breakfast my fellow attendees muse on tetanus, the now basically extinct disease that I am most at risk for. Several of them suggest the tetanus shot. I tell them that I don’t believe in shots. I have not had the flu shot, and yet I have had no flu. I am a Tellers! My father once grated a portion of his finger into the mozzarella and he kept going! They remind me that nobody ever lost a foot to the flu.
On my lunch break I Google “tetanus” on a whim. I am surprised to find out that three out of ten people infected end up dead, that treatment for those that survive consists of months in the hospital and that sometimes symptoms won’t surface for up to two months. Also, it’s spelled with an “a.”
In my next lecture we are encouraged to watch a series of TED talks then write our thoughts on brightly colored post it notes and stick them to the walls. I realize that my brain has become capable of releasing only one thought, “I have a rare case of asymptomatic tetanus.” I can’t focus on the man who swam the English Channel or the seriously fierce lady guitar player.
My invincible body has met its match: My unstoppable mind. The idea of living with this train of thought for the next two months undoes me. My father may have raised me to be invincible, but my mother gave herself hives planning my graduation picnic. She may have lost in Malawi, but mom wins in Astoria.
I excuse myself, call the doctor, and surrender.