1. An off-duty fireman who had sawed a fifty-five-gallon drum in half to make a double barbecue pit, then by accident had tipped one of the halves over with hot coals. The barrel had pinned his bare feet to his deck and broiled them.
The ambulance attendants wheeled the fireman in feet first. The waiting area filled with a smell like charred pork. My mom gagged. His feet no longer looked human. Jaws clenched tight, he flopped his head from side to side on the stretcher.
Shortly, they wheeled him out of the examination room on a gurney. This time they kept his feet out of sight. Another ambulance would come take him to a hospital far away. Doctor McVee was the only doctor in the little oceanfront town where we spent our summers.
I was amazed by the improvement in the fireman’s spirits. With a big grin, he asked me why I was in Doctor McVee’s waiting room on a day when the waves were so good. I showed him the nine stitches in my palm. A week earlier, I had shoved my hand through a hardware store’s front window. The fireman began telling me about a hardware store where he’d worked in high school. After a few minutes, my mom and I went in to see the doctor, but the fireman kept right on talking.
2. A kid who couldn’t talk. He was young, maybe three or four. This time I had blood poisoning. Running around barefoot behind our rented bungalow, I’d driven a tiny sliver of glass into the ball of my foot. Within three days, a vertical red stripe had drawn itself up my calf, and I couldn’t walk on the leg. The doctor had located and removed the piece of glass. Now I was back for him to check my foot.
The kid had a toy telescope. I taught him how to focus the lens. His mother told my mom that she’d never seen anyone communicate with her son so well. Immediately, I started telling the kid about monster movies.
3. The strange metal faceplate Doctor McVee wore while he sewed up my hand. It looked like a welder’s mask but with inch-wide cylinders protruding from the eyes. I’d seen something just like it in a movie called Doctor X. While he worked on me, Doctor McVee told my dad that he’d invented the faceplate himself. They discussed patents until he’d finished my stitches.
Afterward, my dad took me across the street to a bar with the word blarney in its name. He bought me a soda and himself a beer. Soon my mom showed up. For once, she didn’t complain about finding us in a bar. In fact, she sat down and had a beer herself. She was nice to me that night.
4. A woman who had impaled her foot on the tail of a horseshoe crab. Her friends had detached the crab, but the tail spike still stuck out from the top of her foot. The two men who carried her into the office seemed flushed and terrified. My mom winced. I wondered if the doctor would make the woman with the pierced foot smile and get her to talk about hardware stores. But she didn’t come back out while I was there.
That time I had an ear infection, so I couldn’t swim. The next day, while combing the beach, I rounded up all the horseshoe crabs I could find and pulverized them with a brick, filling several public trash cans with their carcasses. When a lifeguard yelled at me, I tried to explain that these creatures hurt people. Then my mom came, and I got in trouble.
5. A drunk man with gashes in his face from a sea-gull attack. He charged into the waiting room, hands clamped over his forehead to stem the flow of blood. I knew the bird preserve where the gulls had swooped down on him. He must have wandered too close to their nests. I’d caught ringworm in the grasslands right near there; that was what had brought me to the doctor’s office this time.
Over and over, the drunk man apologized to my mom for upsetting her, for the way he looked, for getting blood on the chair. My mom urged him to knock on the door of the examination room, assuring him that Doctor McVee would want to know right away about his emergency. But the drunk man just lit a cigarette and crossed his legs. My mom went back to her magazine.
That was Labor Day weekend. A few days later, we returned home, and I went back to school.