I’m not sure if this is the first moment I ever wore a cowboy hat and boots. The leather looks decent, but it would be quite a while before I earned my spurs.
There were only two things I wanted to be when I grew up: a fireman or a cowboy… And I’m sure there are people out there who would profess that I never really grew up and that I should have left behind the dreams that belong to little boys. But those people would only be about half right.
So where does that leave an unemployed cowboy, horse long gone and low on ammo, not to mention an array of Mexican standoffs that turned into several shootouts at high-noon?
Not withstanding the many assassination attempts when the sun went down, and my scars to match (I’m speaking metaphorically now) I often think back on the time when my journey didn’t involve mobs and enemies, only the occasional danger…
…Such as the venomous sting I received from a black scorpion in Tobago [& Trinidad]. It had sent me sprawling from bed and into the hallways of the five star hotel, stark naked and stung bad enough to kill a Plains buffalo. A cleaning lady was wide-eyed at the gringo heading her way. “There is a scorpion in my room.” I proclaimed.
Together we hustled to the lobby where an upscale senior couple were in the middle of their check-in. Not wanting to face the bad PR a scorpion would bring, I was quickly sequestered to a side room. All that separated me from eternity was a ring-operated vintage telephone on the table in front of me. It rang, barely. Not even a full ring the receiver began to dissolve in front of my very eyes, melting into my hand. “Hello?” seemed to buzz from the other end. I heard a person clear their voice as it hadn’t adjusted to the early morning. By this time the poison was doing what God intended, so whether it was a man or woman, I have no recollection. “Are you the one who was stung by the scorpion?” I looked at my right hand, which was pounding like a drum and seeming to blossom into nay number of impossible contortions. “Yes.” The person on other end appeared to ask questions as if it was a survey:
“Where were you stung?”
On my thumb.
“What color was the scorpion – was it brown, clear or…”
I interrupt: Black.
“Do you have the scorpion?’
My mind went back to the vision of lifting the pillow to reveal the creature cocking its venomous fang for a second strike, with its claws slowly scissoring, as it took a few assured steps towards me.
I was not about to grab it for safekeeping at that moment, and answered:
No. It’s in the room.
“And how big was it?”
This question instinctually turned my split Norwegian/U.S. mind into an internal conflict of whether this country used cm or inches. I decided to answer in inches, since we were speaking English.
About 3… maybe 4 inches.
“I see. You have to go to the hospital.”
Is it dangerous? I had to ask. Anybody would. By now the phone and my hand appeared in my consciousness as one strange flesh and hard plastic and metal machine.
Can I die from it?
“Yes.” It was a cautionary response filled with warning.
I noticed that this kind of information was processed differently than how the human mind absorbs normal daily information. But somewhere in there, I remembered having been in these predicaments before, I wasn’t afraid, rather in search of experience to draw from.
How long do I have?
“And when were you stung?”
I don’t know. 5 minutes ago?
“You have some time. Maybe 40 min…”
Ok. I’ll come.
And that was it. We hung up. I was back to looking at the phone like it was a dead bug. The room was annoyingly silent, and empty. So I exited to the lobby. I looked back while in the poisonous trance and wondered if I left my hand back with the phone. No, it was still attached!
The front desk staff seemed annoyed to see me again so soon. They offered to call me a taxi, which reminded me of the intolerable laziness of the one cab driver from the airport who appeared to handle the entire island. I said, no thank you, “You need to drive me, or get an ambulance.” The last thing they needed was a dead gringo on the lobby floor. They got an ambulance.
Meanwhile the staff turned my suite upside down, in search for the identity of the venom which was slowly but surely turning my right arm grey and blue like a thermometer raising from the bottom toward the shoulder. It was much too late to tie a knot with my shoelace, but I hadn’t worn any such shoes in the first place.
After what felt like a two hour wait, the hotel staff told me that the scorpion was nowhere to be found. I asked if they had checked my luggage, to which they said they had, but I sensed that was a lie. Eventually the ambulance came and I was lifted onto a stretcher and placed in the back. From there I remember a good reverse view of the long and winding roads towards the hospital.
Halfway there, the journey included an unscheduled stop at a clinic, where they indecisively wheeled me in-and-out of the building in a wheelchair, before finally instructing me to drop my shorts and bend over. I looked over my shoulder to see the lady take out an oversized syringe, which I learned was a substantial doze of steroids. She jammed the needle all the way into my hip bone, causing my right leg to buckle, before sending a incomprehensible jolt through a central nerve — far more painful than the black assailant had delivered a half hour before.
Soon I was back in the ambulance, sirening its way to a hospital which was appointed on a high point on the other end of the island. The strong and muscular paramemedics onloaded me in what appeared to be an outdoor corridor-inlet to the hospital. I remember an air conditioner suspended in the overhang and that the floor was made of dirt… as they pulled up a white patio-type plastic chair. Then I was left alone, to look at other sick people equally lined on both sides of the “corridor.” I sat there with several questions in mind, before a few chicken hens came strolling past. Chickens? Nobody seemed upset about this. I however raised my hand and told a uniformed person that I had been told I was to be under careful “observation.” The woman promptly assured me “This is observation,” and told me to sit back down.
Someone from the hotel staff arrived with my cell phone and some more appropriate clothes. A call to my doctor in Burbank alleviated many questions. I was then ushered in to see a “Dr. Potts.” Like his name, he was large and barrel chested. The hot humid weather held its sway and Dr. Potts’ office chair more or less stuck to his body as he rose and sat down. Or, was I just hallucinating?
I liked Dr. Potts. He gave worldly assurances to my situation and soon determined that he was very happy with my treatment. He complimented my body’s ability to absorb the steroids and fight the venom and was mostly interested to learn about my life in Los Angeles. I soon started to regain my senses in direct proportion to the steroid injection.
I left the experience with knowledge that my body now contained inherent antidotes of natural defenses against future scorpion bites. I felt like I had just received an upgrade! I’m invincible, I told myself with palpable irony. And speaking of upgrades, after some elated discussions the hotel offered to comp my stay and moved my suitcases into the “Frank Sinatra suite.” After reading some topical western books on the beach that day, I spent the evening rechecking my luggage to ensure I wasn’t transporting the live spideypower-like body infuser back to LA. Once the bag was resealed, my taxi driver friend from day one, got me to the airport where I took the last single prop plane out, leaving The Chairman of the Board’s suite to the history books.
I touched down in Trinidad at 01 am and was happy to sleep on an airport bench outside of McDonalds that night. Within the next days, I wrote this two-day vacation up as valuable and relevant, on par with my back-surgery and the other grave trials and tribulations along the way. Experiences I would not want to have been without.
Over the next five years, there were actually many unexpected potential assassins; bad falls, malfunctioning guns from another decade, food poisoning, rattlers, runaway horses with broken reins, and encounters with wild animals where I felt rather naked without the heft and steely Colt Peacemaker .45 slung to my hip. (I hated the fact that civilian laws required me to disarm, and put the gun belt away, whenever approaching city limits.)
Yet it wasn’t any of these dangers that got me — what clipped my 30 year dream was vipers in the grass… I simply didn’t see them coming.
Much like the scorpion bite, there was no antidote for this experience either — what doesn’t kill you do make you stronger.
– G. Ryan Wiik