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Jason Toews and fifi (the band)

Jason Goes to Hell: Part I

First…

Pants around my ankles, I opened the door of the bathroom just far enough to poke my head through. “Uh, Honey?” I called to my wife, my voice clearly pitching toward panic. “Can you come in here and, um… take a look at something?”

This was by no means the beginning of my troubles; within the recent past I had experienced unemployment, staples hammered into my flesh, and vomiting on myself in a ditch at night during a torrential rainstorm. Nor was it the end of my troubles; chicken pox, oral surgery, and La-Z-Boy recliner vandalism lurked yet unseen beyond the horizon.

But it was at that moment – using my wife’s handheld styling mirror to examine my undercarriage – that I felt as if my wheels were slipping off the edge of the pavement. At that moment I began to think of my life as a runaway car, engine aflame, brakes shot, steering gone, picking up speed, careening through the underbrush, headed for the rim of a gaping canyon.

And this was well before the broken spine and the fire trucks and ambulances and the destruction of the fence and the teddy bear that the nice EMT gave to my son Max to make him stop crying as they rushed Daddy to the county hospital.

Shitty Stuff That Happened Earlier

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, I had this great job. I had worked there for seven years, I was learning skills, I made a decent wage, and it was stable. Then they passed around an “anonymous” employee survey, and urged us to be “completely honest.” I handed in an eloquent, carefully considered four-page essay, and was fired almost immediately.

At 23, I found myself unemployed, with no savings, and responsible for a wife and newborn son. I took the first job I was offered, at a commercial printing plant, and worked every hour of overtime they would allow. I worked 60+ hours each week for six weeks before my first payday (there was some kind of “payroll probationary period” which I didn’t totally understand). On the long-awaited payday, the manager gathered us together for a “mandatory meeting.”

“I have some good news and some bad news,” the manager announced. “As of one hour ago, the company you worked for no longer exists, and you have all been terminated. As the former company has filed for Chapter 11 protection, and in any case no longer exists, they will not be issuing the paychecks you were expecting today.”

I can only speak for myself, but I found this announcement somewhat unsettling. The red-faced and furiously blinking manager, his cheap shirt visibly sweat-stained, allowed a few seconds for us to absorb this development before continuing.

“That was the bad news,” he explained, in case we were unsure.

“No shit, dickhead…” muttered someone behind me.

“The GOOD NEWS,” he continued, increasing his volume to be heard over the growing chorus of murmurs and whispers, “is that two investors have stepped in and purchased the assets of the old company, and launched a new company. This new company – TRI GRAPHICS – is interested in offering some of you new positions, at a somewhat reduced wage. Although they are not legally required to do so, the new owners have also chosen to cover a percentage of today’s payroll, as a gesture of goodwill.”

“What percentage exactly?” came the inevitable question.

“You will be paid 60% of your scheduled paycheck – of your regular hours, I should say. You will not be paid for any overtime you chose to work.”

Above the ensuing hubbub, one distinct voice was heard from the back of the room, articulating our shared concerns.

“Dude – this is fucked up!

The manager’s face darkened further. He seemed to be having trouble breathing. The crescents of sweat that had started beneath his arms had now broadened and eventually joined, so that his tank-top undershirt was clearly visible through the sodden polyester blend of his Sears “George Foreman Neck Relaxer” dress shirt.

“WHO SAID THAT?” he demanded.

The crowd of would-be anarchists fell mysteriously mute, guiltily shifting on their feet until a clear pathway opened through the center of the group, exposing the ill-advised loudmouth; some guy from accounts receivable.

“THAT is exactly the kind of person we don’t want at the new TRI-GRAPHICS!” thundered the monstrous, wheezing manager, eyes ablaze, his chubby finger pointing accusingly at the heretic.

I must have blacked out after that, though I remember somebody from the bindery department cackling and screaming “Burn the WITCH!”

I never saw that guy from accounts receivable again.

“They Did Not Choose Wisely…”

Soon after, our car broke down, and we were presented with a $1200 repair bill. We charged it, along with all the other expenses incurred while I was out of work. With our debts mounting, my wife working limited hours so that she could care for our son, and my employment highly unstable, we panicked. In retrospect, this was clearly the point at which we could have averted further disaster. Fourteen years after the fact, it is easy to connect the dots from this precise moment to the later episodes of hideously discolored testicles and crushed neck vertebrae, but we were young, broke, and scared.

Plus, come on – my in-laws had that whole basement family room area that nobody was using!

I could spend many, many pages writing about the horrors of living with in-laws, but why? You’ve seen it in a million movies, probably funnier than I could make it because I’m still a tiny bit pissed off about the whole thing, especially the part when my mother-in-law stood in the driveway and, like some demented harpy, shrieked “YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN A FREELOADER!” at me as I drove away.

During the time we stayed with my wife’s parents, I endured all of the expected: fights between my crying wife and her screaming mother, interrogation about why I took a crappy job instead of getting a college degree, agreeing to do every back-breaking job around the house (things like, oh, pulling up a STUMP) out of sheer guilt, hiding in the basement every evening to avoid speaking to my father-in-law, mother-in-law walking in to fold laundry at the most horrifyingly embarrassing moment… These were all daily occurrences. We kept telling ourselves, “We’ll move out next month,” but next month some new disaster would postpone our emigration. It was just about the most depressing period of my life.

It was right about then that I had the double hernia.

In Which My Intestines Bulge Hideously
Through My Abdominal Wall

For the exercise, and also because we only had one car, I had been riding my bike to work. This was the only stress-free part of my day. I found it invigorating, zooming along the path through the University District, rocking out to Toto or possibly Styx, nodding in friendly solidarity to other early morning cyclists. We were out early! Because we were healthy! The rest of the world could waste their days in their antiseptic automobile cocoons, but we chose another way! I could ride my bike to Canada if I felt like it! To Florida! People had done it! Healthy people, like me!

Then I started noticing this odd feeling on every pedal downstroke, almost as if my internal organs were trying to squeeze themselves through a tiny hole in my lower abdominal wall. Which, in fact, they were.

hrninfo

After confirmation by our family doctor (“Yup, you got yourself a textbook double inguinal femoral hernia there”), I scheduled the necessary surgery.

That night, I told my parents-in-law about my bad luck. I suppose, despite everything, I was expecting some kind of sympathy. While I described the surgery (two openings in my lower abdomen, squeeze shut the holes in the muscle, steel mesh to hold it together, staple the skin closed, possible scarring), my mother-in-law’s expression became grave. As soon as I had finished bemoaning my fate, she spoke.

“How much extra would they charge to get a vasectomy at the same time?”

“Mom!” my wife exploded.

“What? I’m just saying, because, you know, I’d pay for it.”

When I asked my doctor about it on my next visit, he chuckled.

“You want to know how much extra work it would take to give you a vasectomy at the same time as your hernia repair?” he asked, obviously getting a big kick out of this.

“Uh, yeah.”

“It would take about this much extra work. Time me.”

He made his fingers into imaginary scissors and casually mimed a single “snip” motion with the scissors. He even said “snip!” out loud, which I thought was a bit over the top.

“How long did that take?” he demanded.

“Um, I don’t know. About two seconds, I guess.”

“That’s right! We’ll be right in there anyway. In fact, we’ll be pushing your stupid vas deferens out of the way the whole time. It’s easier for us if we can just cut the damn thing and be done with it. Hell, I won’t even charge you.”

So it was that I found myself on a stretcher parked in a hospital corridor, succumbing to anesthetic. I counted the indentations in the acoustic tile overhead and waited. Emergency cases whizzed past, interns holding aloft saline drips, and I waited. Nurses gossiped, face masks crumpled around their throats, and I waited. Where the hell was the doctor?

“Okay, surgery is over. Wake up.”

The hallway gradually came into focus, and I realized that I was in a different hallway. An amorphous shape with my wife’s voice appeared and helped me off the stretcher. I was signing some papers, then I was in a car, then I was at home in bed. When I woke up, I peeked under the waistband of my pajamas and examined the two rows of staples – actual steel staples – holding shut the angry gash in my lower gut.

Oddly, I felt great.

“I feel great,” I told my wife. “I thought this would hurt a lot more.”

“You feel great because the medication they gave you hasn’t worn off yet. It’ll probably hurt worse this evening.”

Within an hour, the pain was unimaginably bad, worse than anything I had ever experienced in my life, like two rusty knives being clumsily rotated in my wounds. I gulped several of the pills they sent home with me, and seemed to feel a little better – giddy, even – so we went out to visit my parents. Driving home, however, I began to feel nauseous and ordered my wife to pull over immediately. I tried to step out of the car gracefully, but the drug-induced dizziness and the white-hot pain (located slightly below and to either side of the nausea) caused me to clutch my stomach and pitch headfirst into a drainage ditch next to the road. Lying in the filthy water, I vomited on myself, then howled in agony as the stomach seizures threatened to tear the staples from my flesh. It continued to rain. I lay in that ditch for quite some time, alternately vomiting (apparently some sort of allergic reaction to the pain medication) and shrieking.

After that, I had to stop taking the pain medication and just use over-the-counter stuff, which was somewhat less effective. And when I say “less effective,” I mean that it didn’t do shit. The pain was so intense, so all-encompassing, that I couldn’t walk, or eat, or have sex, or even think very clearly.

Two days after the operation, I called my wife into the bathroom.

“Have you ever seen them, you know, look like this?” I demanded.

“Wow. Um, no. I’ll call the doctor.”

After five (or possibly eighteen) calls, we got a call back from the doctor’s receptionist.

“Nothing to worry about!” she assured us in a tone of voice that seemed more suited to announcing a lottery winner. “Testicular swelling and discoloration is very common after a hernia operation. All that blood and abdominal tissue pooling in the testicular sac, you know!”

I curled into a fetal position and stayed that way for about a week, using up every allowable sick day and then some. The day I was finally able to walk upstairs to the kitchen was, ironically, the day that everything got much, much worse.

On to Part 2 >>>

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