© 2013 Matthew Lee Johnston

The day I shot myself.

In light of recent events regarding firearms and rights, I am re-posting my 2002 personal account of the day I accidentally shot myself in the hand with a compensated .357 handgun. Enjoy.

——————-

07/04/02 – Home (02:21:00 PST)

Now playing on I-pod:  Nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve decided that July 4th is just not my day.

The morning started with a nice trip out to a remote location near the Cascade Mountains called Sultan, to shoot guns in the name of Independence, with a couple of friends.  On the way there, a guy Bill called the “phantom sheriff”, pulled us over for speeding on a country road.  The guy was coming from the other direction, which immediately made me suspicious, but there was another aspect to this ticket that had us all a bit perplexed.

The sheriff asked me how fast I was going and I guessed at 45.  Then he asked me what I thought the speed limit was, and I said 40.  Then he told me the speed limit was 35 and he was going to ticket me for going 45 in a 35.  He was taking my word for how fast I was going.  All this while Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird was playing on the stereo.  I asked him if I could see the radar, and he said “it isn’t locked, so it doesn’t show the speed”.  I expect this to be a key part of my defense when I take the bastard to court.

We only had about 5 minutes more of driving to get to the middle of nowhere, where shooting is legal.  I was vexed, and Bill and Stan were trying to talk me down.  We got to the spot and unloaded the guns.  Everything went well except that my aim was total shit.  I usually hit 90% of the skeet and I maybe hit 15.  I was still fuming about the ticket.

On the way home, I was tripping out on how ironic it was that I got a ticket on Independence Day, on a country road, going to partake in a pastime that Law and Order in this country touts as a cornerstone of the constitution.  I was going to exercise one of the most liberal freedoms allowed in any governed society in existence, and I was pulled over for thinking I might be going 45 MPH.  I have no idea what Stan, Bill and I discussed on the way home, because my mind was completely focused on this conundrum.

Fresh from shooting I hit the gym for a full workout.  Total sweat…felt great.

Blazed home to get ready for the folks that were coming over.  I prepped two racks of ribs, made the sauce, and cleaned the house.  The guns were in the living room, so I started cleaning them as I always do before I put them away.  The shotgun got cleaned up without a hitch, but then somehow while I was cleaning the .357….BANG.

First thought:  Oh shit.  I’ve shot myself.

I checked my body to make sure there were no other holes besides the one in my hand.  I didn’t seem to be hurt anywhere else so that was a relief.  I looked around for the bullet, but didn’t see it.  The cats were freaking out.

Second thought:  Where do I go?  Do I call an ambulance?

No.  I had just seen a special the day before about how ambulances take forever and people die in them.  Forget that.  Plus…too dramatic.  I’ll find someone to take me to the hospital, and I’ll have a friend along to keep me company or in case I pass out, because I was losing blood pretty quickly.

Third thought:  Call the neighbors next door.  No answer.  Call next nearest friend, Kerry.  No answer.

OK.  I gotta get going somehow…  so I decided to take the needle off the record (New Orleans Funk Compilation – Side ‘C’), lock up, and go across the street because I know they’re home.  I walk up the steps and nervously ring the doorbell, knowing very well that I’m a bloody mess, and feeling a mixture of one-half imposition, one-half last thing you want to see on your doorstep, and one hundred percent dumbass.

My neighbor asked me if I had shot myself.  I said, yes, and asked him where I should go because I had no idea.  He gave me driving directions to Harborview, saying that they were really good for gunshot wounds.  It didn’t occur to me until later that this was kind of a dick move, but honestly I don’t really blame him for not offering to take the bloody freak to the hospital on the 4th of July.  Besides… the minute I realized I was driving myself to the hospital, after shooting myself in the hand,  a wash of Steve McQueen inspired bravado came over me.  I was out of there in a minute flat, and was on my way, making sure not to speed.

Just kidding….I sped.  My first moment of dementia came when I was stopped at a red light just down the street from my house.  I looked over at the guy picking his nose in the Ford Ranger next to me and I couldn’t stop laughing.  Here was a shot guy, bleeding profusely while sitting next to some dude on his way to a barbecue, both waiting for the light to change.   Oblivious.

I parked my car and ran into the ER.  I waited for a nurse at the Triage station and she got me in quickly.  As I would find out first hand (ha ha) later, I had beaten the 4th of July ER madness by about 30 minutes.  They put me in a wheelie bed and Stephanie started asking me questions.  Common answers were, “I am a complete dumbshit, and I shot myself in the hand while cleaning a gun that obviously am completely inept at handling”, or, “I have no idea what happened.  I picked up the gun, then it went bang, and now I’m bleeding.  Stupid huh?!”  Then they asked me what caliber and it was time to look more closely at the hand.

What we were all very puzzled by, is that judging by the angle of the tear, it appears as if the bullet somehow went between my last two fingers.  This is the only explanation that the doctors and nurses could agree on.  This fact alone is terrifying, not to mention the thought of the bullet going elsewhere.

Anyway, so that’s pretty much when the long wait began.  Without fail, every time the nurse told me that a doctor would be by and that I would be next, I’d hear an announcement over the intercom about a MediVac chopper bringing in 17 wounded babies or something.  This meant that I was at least going to have to wait another hour, and oh yeah…it’s 7:30pm on the 4th of July.

You guessed right.  It happened all night.  I was next about 7 times, and each time the intercom would deliver my next waiting sentence.  Pedestrian vs. car in Port Orchard – ETA: 25 minutes.  Harley vs. Semi on I-5 North of Marysville – ETA: 15 minutes.  Cardiac arrest being transferred from Highline via ambulance – Now in Triage everybody!  I was back-burnered all night, and based on what I saw coming into the ER, I was totally happy to wait it out because these people needed help way more than me.  They whisked me into Xray, and after my request to have an Xray of me doing the devil sign was politely refused, and I was parked in recess 3.

What became brutally clear to me immediately, was how many people use the Emergency Room as a clinic because they have no insurance, or are on Medicare.  The first time I got moved, they put me next to some belligerent sorority girl gone bad, that looked like she had a bad habit of shooting something into the veins on her legs and was also shitty drunk.  Across the way was a fellow trauma patient with half his face ripped off from a car  or motorcycle accident, but I couldn’t tell for sure because my hearing was so damaged by the gun blast in my face.  Next to him was an older woman who had mixed too many prescriptions with too many beers at the baseball game, and came to the ER so she could sleep off her hangover.  She kept trying to smoke in the emergency room.  Evil Buffy to my left was calling the nurses “bitches” for not letting her leave.  Then they put me out into the hall because the Harley guy needed to be hooked up to a breathing apparatus that was near my bed.  I figured that I was getting the ultimate nod of respect from my new friends at the Harborview ER.  The guy’s hand looks like a carne asada taco, but between the old bitch, the young bitch, and the guy with half a face – he’s the one who can best handle the hallway.  God forbid one of the ladies gets woken up by a move and starts screaming about the “service in this shitty place” again.

So they park me in the hall after about 3 hours of waiting.  This is where I saw everything go down, and time really started to fly.  I saw it all go down.  One state trooper was walking on his was to try and get a deposition from a wounded guy, and I made a joke about how I was just waiting for my friend, and I wouldn’t be parked in the hallway for too much longer.  He kinda laughed.  I was completely wacked out at this point.  My adrenaline was blasting, my hand was disgusting by even Hollywood standards, and I had been looking at a curtain for 3 hours.  Nothing but my thoughts, and then I get exposed to the madness in the hall, and suddenly I have a million things to look at and a new person to attempt conversation with every 10 seconds.

Some of the soon-to-be-classic ER zingers I devised that night:

“Will work for sutures!”

“Nice clogs!”

“Can I play that pong machine I keep hearing in there?”

“Who let Darth Vader in here?”

“Can I get another round of that fabulous tetanus vaccination you guys served me earlier?”

“Wanna see something gross?”

 

Songs I sang out loud while waiting:

Cindy Lauper – Girls just wanna have fun

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Saturday Night Special

Nirvana – Rape me (but instead it was stitch me…stitch me, my friend…) and as they wheeled by another critical patient that would obviously bump me down the line even further…(I’m not the only one…)

It was brutal.  After another few hours of hallway dwelling, people started asking me if I was “Mr. Johnston with the gunshot wound” at least once every 10 minutes.  I knew something was going to happen soon.  Then this badass mutha named Dr. Lee arrives.  He’s this buff Chinese cat from Minnesota, who also owns a Glock (“A 9mm because the .357 wasn’t out when I bought mine”), asked me in a hushed voice, “how the fuck did you do that to yourself?”, and finally agreed with me that, “Yes, you are a dumbass, and you should definitely get rid of that gun.”  I instantly liked this guy.  First he got the OK for me to get some water, because if they have to operate and in this case, surgically wash out the wound, I would not be able to eat or drink.  Once surgery was found to not be necessary and the Xrays were deemed clear, he got me some water.  Aaah….

Next up was finding a place to stitch me up, although he was only going to put three (ended up being 4) loose stitches in my hand because it was a gunshot wound, and risk of infection is high.  So after convincing Lee that he should let me out of the gurney because we would be much more portable that way, I stood up, and immediately felt the dizzying effects of losing  a bunch of blood and then sitting for 5 hours without water or food.  We walked all over the ER, strolling amongst the drunken homeless, the false alarm heart attacks, and the occasional person with an actual need for urgent care.  No room at the inn.  After about 10 minutes of time spent trying to find a place to do it, with Lee carrying his portable plastic tub full of scissors, sutures, cleaning stuff, etc…  I just grabbed him, looked him in the eyes and said, “Dude.  Listen to me.  I’ve been sitting here for almost 8 hours now and my hand fucking hurts.  I shot myself with a .357.  Nothing can hurt more than that.  Please don’t think that I need some comfortable bed to lie in while you poke me with needles.  Let’s do it in a broom closet so you can get me out of here and work on someone who needs you more than I do.”

He said OK, and we found a single stool.  I insisted that the guy with the job to do get the stool, and that since I needed to just sit back and relax, I would hang out on the floor.  Away we went, and that’s when I felt the most excruciating pain I have ever felt in my lifetime and hopefully never will again.  The tiny little needles that I was playing down only moments ago as feeble in comparison to a .357 slug was currently triggering so many pain receptors in my hand that I felt like he was removing it.  I was that guy… off in the back of the emergency room somewhere that you can’t see, screaming bloody murder plus expletives.  After that, it was numb city and away he went with the stitches.  Just before he started stitching he said, “We work 24 hour shifts without breaks.”  I was simultaneously in love and terrified.  15 minutes of Chinese Martha Stewart meets Ed Gein and I was outta there.

While driving home I flip-flopped between laughing hysterically about how stupid and lucky I was, and being completely silent and horrified at the implications of my careless error.

I’m sure things will be much different tomorrow.  Right now I am more alert than I think I’ve ever been in my life.  I’m afraid tomorrow is going to bring an awareness of realities that may not be so pleasant.

Goodnight.

MLJ