A First Time for Everything

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Don’t underestimate the destructive power of your typical air rifle. A good one
can be a beast in the wrong hands. Unsplash photo. Photographer name in title.

I have a weakness for gunshot wounds. That statement reads lamentably ghoulish splashed across my computer screen, but I can’t help it. I’m both a gun nerd and a physician. What happens on the receiving end is kind of mesmerizing.

I’ve seen more than my share. I trained in a violent metropolitan area where people were mean to each other. Every shift in the ER had at least a few. I sought them out like a lawyer hunts money. You just never forget your first.

I enjoyed a fairly feral upbringing. I grew up in rural Mississippi amidst the cypress swamps and water moccasins. Then, as now, guns were everywhere. Responsibility with firearms was beaten into me from birth.

This fateful day we were a foursome. I was maybe eleven years old. My comrades ranged in age from nine to twelve. Two were brothers. We were all of us armed.

The brothers enjoyed a relationship characterized by pugilism. They fought constantly and with simply epic vigor. They get along fine today, but back then kicking, hitting, and tormenting one another was pretty much their full-time occupation.

I toted a single-shot .22 rifle. One comrade had a Powerline 880 pellet gun. The older brother packed a high-end Sheridan Blue Streak air rifle that fired 5mm steel pellets. His little brother carried a lever-action Daisy Red Ryder BB gun with a wooden stock. For sake of discussion we’ll call the older brother Walt and the younger sibling Jim.

We were wandering around the woods shooting stuff as boys are wont to do. In short order, Jim grew weary and headed back to camp. Once he was maybe twenty feet distant Walt realized that Jim still had the pellets for his pellet rifle. Walt commanded Jim to return and relinquish the pellets. Jim countered that he was tired and that Walt should come get them. My other companion and I looked on in innocence.

Things inexplicably escalated from there. Profanities were exchanged, and tempers flared. By now Jim was walking away and Walt was facing him, the powerful air rifle held at the hip and pointed in his direction. I grew justifiably anxious.

Walt explained in an even tone that if Jim did not return immediately with the pellets he was going to shoot him. I was aghast. Jim, for his part, turned around, kept walking backwards, and gave his brother the finger. Before I could intervene, Walt stroked the trigger.

Google informs me the Sheridan Blue Streak .20-caliber air rifle was discontinued in 2013. Trust me when I tell you that this was a mule of an air gun. Jim immediately dropped his Red Ryder and started jumping around in circles flailing his right hand. Walt apparently thought he was just kidding. I wasn’t certain myself until I saw blood tracking across his face each time he shook his injured limb.

We rushed to his side and found that the zippy steel pellet had centerpunched his distal interphalangeal joint on the middle finger of his right hand. That’s the final joint between the two articulated segments of his finger. Jim had been gripping the Red Ryder buttstock. The pellet had traversed his finger and imbedded itself in the stock beneath.

We got Jim settled down sufficiently to make an assessment. In bright light fully oxygenated blood, particularly once outside the body, can look almost black. It was all over his face and clothes and was oozing vigorously out of his finger. The far bit of his finger was now cocked off at a jaunty 20-degree angle. He was justifiably petrified.

Terror in his voice, his elder brother Walt clearly blurted out the first thing that came to his mind, “Don’t tell Daddy!”

We all now turned to Walt incredulous. Jim’s finger was leaking like a faucet, and then there was the issue of its unnatural angulation. I couldn’t fathom Walt’s dad, himself a physician, not taking note of that come dinnertime. Somebody produced a bandana, and we got the bleeding staunched. We policed up the weapons and the two brothers marched off, one to receive medical care and the other to face the consequences of his actions. Amazingly, they both survived into adulthood and developed into productive citizens.

My other buddy and I wandered off with a lot to process. I had never seen a gunshot wound before. Regardless of where life takes you — you never forget your first.

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