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Oct 16, 2012


Hard working husband and father, Lucky Morton, isn’t as fortunate as his nick name would suggest. He’s losing his senses one after another. He can’t smell, he can’t taste. What next? Can Lucky’s doctors halt his plunge into sensory oblivion? Would a loss of all senses raise a quality-of-life issue? Is a life devoid of contact with the outside world worth living?

Jill, his wife, takes up the fight for Lucky’s survival, while dealing simultaneously with all the pressures of managing a family of four. But she may be in over her head. While trying to do what’s best for Lucky, she must confront some powerful adversaries with their own ideas and agendas. Inevitably, the reader comes face to face with the question: how would you respond if it happened to you?

Oct 16, 2012

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Senses - F. Walter Thomas


Lucky for Me

I was born on the seventh day of the seventh month of the year 1977. This numerological confluence was not overlooked by my young peers. By the age of eight I was known as Lucky Seven, later shortened to Lucky. For the record, I do not believe luck is something we are born with or granted for good deeds done. We cannot conjure it or control it. Luck is nothing more than the normal perturbations in the ongoing stream of everyday events. It is chance, coincidence, happenstance, probability. No more, no less.

That is not to say that as a child and on into my teens I did not feel that my moniker gave me some ever-so-slim advantage over those around me who were luck-neutral. I consciously or unconsciously reinforced this erroneous notion by accentuating the positive events in my life and discounting the negatives. It’s what psychologists like to term a form of distorted thinking known as filtering.

Like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny before, however, the truth about luck and its nonexistence eventually caught up with my maturing belief system. During my twenties the name Lucky increasingly became a burden to me, an anachronism, a relic of my youth more tolerated than trumpeted. I often fantasized about moving far away where I could be known to a completely new set of friends, coworkers, and acquaintances by my birth name, Paul. However, there were too many traces of Lucky scattered about here and there. The Internet, public records, and six degrees of separation ensured that Lucky would never fade away completely.

And so I went on wearing the moniker like an ill-fitting suit. If my nickname did not fit me well, however, my life did. The things I could count as good far outnumbered the bad. There were the major good things: perfect marriage, two perfect children, a perfect house in the suburbs, the perfect job, perfect semi-annual vacations, and generally perfectly good health had by us all.

There were also the little, everyday good things. Experiences that could be easily overlooked or quickly forgotten in a hectic life. There were the subtlest of smiles from my wife, Jill, when I said something funny. The two of us sitting on the back porch together soaking up nature on warm summer afternoons. Quiet moments spent in front of a crackling fireplace when the winter world outside seemed so far away. Or the elation of unexpectedly finding a long-lost tool in the hopelessly disorganized garage. These were good times.

Sure, there were the obligatory bad things sprinkled among the sea of good. Jill totaled our faithful old ’91 Volvo 240. Fortunately she walked away unharmed. Our oldest daughter, Bethany, broke a tibia in two places falling off the parallel bars at school. Nine year olds mend quickly and she was back on the bars within 12 weeks, much to our consternation. Stephen, our seven year old son, got beaned by a baseball during Little League practice and suffered a minor concussion. The following days were stressful as we waited for the results of CT scans and blood tests, which thankfully revealed no permanent damage. And in 2007, on my thirtieth birthday no less, we came back from a week at Disney World to find 20 inches of water in the basement, the result of a ruptured pipe. All of these unpleasant events and others were eventually swallowed up by time.

I mentioned my own disbelief in luck, good or bad. And Jill, a pragmatist of the first order, shared my belief. The tossed coin comes up heads half the time and tails the other half, she would say when anything the least bit unsettling happened, as if to reassure both of us that fate’s next turn would swing back the other way. What were the odds of three tails in a row, I once asked. Having aced statistics in college, she was ready for me. One in eight.

I supposed I can live with those odds, I replied, and we never discussed probabilities again.

Chapter 2

Mano a Mano with the World

One Tuesday morning, about a year ago, I was making the eleven-block trek from the train station to my office downtown. Over time it had become obvious that the shortest path between these two points wasn’t the fastest. Throngs of commuters like me jammed the sidewalk, slowing the pace to a frustrating crawl. Each intersection created a human accordion that ebbed and flowed as the traffic lights changed from green to red and back to green again.

I experimented with alternative routes and found that diverting my course to a parallel street two blocks to the north was the road less traveled by commuters, slashing more than 15 minutes from my twice-daily trek. Even better, I could simply walk, putting one foot confidently in front of the other without bumping into my fellow sardines. In the morning I could use this time to prepare myself mentally for the day ahead, and on the return trip at the end of the business day I could let my mind drift.

The lack of pedestrians along this alternate route was predictably apparent. In those two short blocks the neighborhood transitioned abruptly from prosperous to squalid. Rows of decaying structures, their doors and windows covered by a layer of plywood. Plywood covered by a layer of posters. Posters covered by graffiti. Accumulating piles of trash. Glass shards everywhere. Gray, humanesque figures huddled in porticos and alleyways. This was the underbelly of the city.

While rarely, if ever, have I had a conversation with a fellow commuter, here on this back street conversation was commonplace. It was nearly always initiated by one of the locals. Hey buddy, can you spare a buck? To which I would reply, Sorry. I don’t carry any cash with me.

It was a sincere retort. My Starbucks card paid for coffee and my ATM card paid for everything else. I had no need of cash. And so I believed this logic effectively preempted any further solicitation. Never did I feel threatened or suspect that anyone would demand more. I was naïve.

On this particular Tuesday, a year ago, I was walking down the sidewalk on the dingy side of the city deep in thought, planning my strategy for a ten o’clock meeting. I absently noted two men standing in a doorway 20 or 30 feet up ahead observing my approach. One wore a mismatched suit with fraying cuffs. The other wore a brown hooded sweatshirt with several large holes and twice as many dark stains. The faces of both men were completely wrapped mummy-like in scarves, either protecting them from the cold or the sun, I speculated. Only their eyes, black and hollow, were visible through thin horizontal slits. One of the men approached me slowly, limping as the sole of his right shoe flapped with each step.

I kept walking, thinking I might pass him before his trajectory intersected mine. But his pace picked up and soon we were face to face. Man, I need … he said haltingly, his hunched shoulders rising each time he began a new, unfinished sentence. Y’see I need … Could you spare some, some … You got any change man, I … Need to buy food for, for …

I quickly pulled out my patent reply, I’m really sorry man. I never carry any cash. I feigned an empathetic look and began walking on. Suddenly I felt a violent tug on my left arm as the man grabbed me and swung me around. I barely stayed on my feet. The world spun as I tried to regain my bearings.

The magnitude of the situation struck me immediately. I had only a second to choose between flight and fight. I calculated my odds in a one-on-one encounter at barely even at best. Never a fighter, I’ve always preferred legerdemain to fisticuffs. It was time for evasive action.

I raised my arms to the sky, stared directly into those dark eyes and yelled at the top of my lungs, POLICE! I waited briefly to gauge his reaction. Would he retreat or pursue? At the end of what seemed like an eternity I saw his right foot take a step towards me. I hurled my briefcase at his feet, hoping to slow his movement long enough to allow me to turn tail and run like hell. Two good feet are faster than one good foot and a flapping sole I assured myself.

I did a 180 and tried to push off with my left foot and make my escape, but some broken bits of glass robbed me of any traction. I watched helplessly as my attacker kicked the briefcase to one side and lunged for me. Like a spring-loaded trap, his arms wrapped tightly around my ankles.

Now lying prone, I twisted my body to the right and then to the left, but my opponent wasn’t letting go. The only weapons I had free were my hands. I sat up, grabbed his head, and began yanking it back and forth. I could feel his grip on my legs loosen ever so slightly. This is working, I thought.

Then I heard footsteps approaching and felt an excruciating pain in my left shoulder blade. Only after a second shot of pain did I realize that the other stranger had joined in the fracas, planting his heel squarely in my back. Both men were now on top of me, punching wildly and randomly at my body.

I crossed my arms over my face, trying to deflect the blows, but a hard punch to my lower abdomen forced the air out of my lungs and I instinctively dropped my arms. Attacker number one drew back his arm and thrust his fist upward into the base of my nose, producing a crunching sound.

I was not a conscious witness to what took place over the next few minutes. All I can say for certain is that the two men grabbed my wallet and cell phone and took off with their spoils. I’m not sure how long I lay on the sidewalk before trying to move. A methodical, limb-by-limb self inventory led me to believe that I suffered no broken bones except for, perhaps, my nose.

Common sense told me I should seek medical attention. But I had no idea where the nearest medical facility was. I had never needed one before. And even if I found a clinic or hospital, I rationalized, what would the nurse or doctor say about my lack of judgment. What in God’s name were you doing in that neighborhood? Are you terminally stupid or do you have a death wish? After my ordeal, I wanted a little sympathy, not ridicule. But my options were few. I couldn’t show up at the office with bruises from head to foot and blood running down my chin.

I considered walking back to the train station and catching the first train home. But my wallet was gone. I had no monthly ticket, no debit or credit card, no cash to buy even a one-way ticket. I had no phone to call anyone.

I studied the street as far as I could see to the left and then to the right. In the middle of the next block I could just make out a sign. Kenny’s Liquors. Cerveza Fria. If it was open, they might know where I could get help. It took me half an hour to get there walking slowly, pausing frequently, feeling new aches and pains after each step.

Approaching the liquor store, the first evidence that it was open was the sound of music coming from a speaker mounted over the front door. It sounded like Indian music. I pulled open the front door and walked in. The same tune was playing inside. Behind the counter a lone clerk stared blankly in the direction of a Budweiser display along one wall.

As I made my way to the counter the clerk’s eyes remained fixed, as if I were invisible. Surely I must be a sight, I thought. Then it struck me. I probably didn’t look that much different than many of the regulars who frequented this establishment. Where’s the nearest hospital or clinic, I asked, wincing as I moved my jaw for the first time since the mêlée. At last his eyes turned to me. There is a clinic three blocks in that direction, pointing his head. Can I offer you something to ease the pain, he asked in a soft, sympathetic voice as he reached under the counter and pulled up a half empty bottle of Old Grand Dad whiskey.

I’ll admit, the offer tempted me. But as I played out the upcoming scene at the medical facility in my mind, I saw myself looking very much like a bum, smelling of alcohol, being sent straight to the drunk tank. Thanks for the offer, but I better not. The clerk nodded, as if to acknowledge my good judgment and watched me hobble out the front door.

An hour passed before I reached the clinic. I kept a close vigil for my attackers along the way, but saw no one. The waiting area in the clinic was everything I had expected based on movies and TV programs I had seen depicting inner-city healthcare facilities. I walked up to the receptionist’s window and stood there for several minutes as the woman on the other side filled out several forms. Finally she looked up. Yes?

I was mugged, I said with an emphasis on the last word.

Have you been treated at this facility within the past two years, she asked as if she already knew the answer.

No, I’ve never been here before.

She nodded slightly as if confirming what she expected. Do you have a medical card?

Sorry, they took my wallet. I don’t have anything, I said apologetically.

She handed me a clipboard with a blank form. Fill this out, put it in that basket when you’re done and we’ll call you up as soon as a doctor is available.

I began to open my mouth, but before I could say anything she said, I can’t say how long you’ll have to wait. We’ll get to you as soon as we can. Please complete the form and take a seat.

I settled into a chartreuse fiberglass chair in the corner and got familiar with the clock on the opposite wall. It was after ten. Nearly two hours had passed since the attack. Soon my eyelids grew heavy; my head began toppling to the left and then the right. I was dosing off. As if in a dream I heard someone in a distant voice say, Don’t let that patient fall asleep! When I opened my eyes, a nurse was standing in front of me. We don’t want you slipping into a coma before the doctor sees you now do we, she said with an expansive smile.

An hour and a half later a nurse called my name. Lucky Morton? Lucky Morton? I stood up, a little wobbly at first. Oh, there you are, she said. Sorry, I was expecting a Filipino. Follow me.

I was placed in a small exam room, number 7, and told that the doctor would be in soon. I counted the beige vinyl tiles on the floor three times—eleven in one direction and thirteen in the other. I counted the beige acoustical ceiling tiles four times—same number as the floor tiles. I then moved on to counting the beige concrete blocks that made up the four walls. After more time passed, the doctor arrived. How are you feeling, he asked. I was tempted to respond with Based on how I look, what do you think doc? But he seemed like he truly cared about my well-being. I opted instead for, Like a punching bag.

He looked me over thoroughly from head to foot, gave an occasional h-m-m-m, and nodded once or twice. Other than the obvious contusions, ah bruises, your body seems to have held up pretty well. There is the possibility of blood clots whenever you have deep contusions, but I would say the chance of that is small. The good news, your black and blue marks will change to green and yellow and eventually fade away with little or no trace. That should take a couple of months or so. You really should have a full set of X-rays to check for bone fractures. There are no splinters penetrating your skin, he said with a smirk, but smaller fractures aren’t apparent from the outside. We don’t have an X-ray machine here I’m embarrassed to say. We’d have to admit you to the nearest medical center. I’m guessing you’d probably want to go to your regular facility anyway.

What about my nose, doctor?

Yes, as you probably have guessed, it is clearly broken. Several of the small bones have been damaged. It will need to be reset, perhaps some reconstructive surgery will be required. I would recommend that you see your own doctor as soon as you can. There is the risk of infection if not treated. Overall, from what I can see, you should recover completely.

Thanks doctor. Am I okay to go home on my own?

The Doctor frowned. Do you have someone you can call?

Yes, my wife.

Then call her and have her pick you up here. You can use that phone over there on the wall. Dial ‘9’ to get an outside line.

Thanks doctor.

Don’t thank me. Thank the stars that you’re still alive. You’re a lucky man.

Chapter 3

A Head by a Nose

Jill came to pick me up. Although I had tried to prepare her over the phone, I still expected a considerable reaction to my appearance. But I wasn’t at all ready for that first look she gave me at the clinic. And that was after a nurse had cleaned up much of

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