28. Toothpickishly


“Things are not always as they appear”, said the blind man to the deaf mute, who told me.  I’ve told this story a thousand times, and it’s still true, unlike some politician’s tale that changes depending on the crowd and where he is in the polls. It’s about a toothpick that nearly killed an adolescent girl. Yes, that is correct, but how is it possible? Let me explain this truth to you,  Grassbloggee. What appears to be the case is not always what is…and what is is not what it appears to be.

Years ago, when I was still teaching, had hair, could run without severe consequences, and never imagined this moment, I had a lovely student named Mary in my homeroom, my English class, maybe in study hall, my clubs, etc. I saw a lot of this vivacious, vibrant, healthy 13 year old brassy-haired blonde at the start of seventh grade. She loved school, came early and hung around after hours. She also had two close girlfriends  who hung out with her– Julie and Jenny. And you know how hard it is for three girls to get along. Anyway, Mary began to miss school in late fall. No big deal, attendance goes down once the windows are closed. Still, you miss such a ray of sunlight.

I’d inquire of Julie or Jenny, “Where’s Mary?”  and find out, “Oh, she’s got a bad cold or the flu.” This went on here and there. Mary would be out for a few days then back, but she was less vivacious and vibrant and her hair was a bit dull. She did not look as shiny and healthy as she had. By Christmas that year she had been out for over a week. I asked her friends again, “What’s up with Mary?”

“The local doctors moved her to the big city hospital. They don’t know what’s wrong and she keeps losing weight. It’s like she has the flu but it won’t go away. It does not look too good for her.”

I could not wrap my mind around this situation. How can a kid who is the picture of health waste away in a  matter of weeks? How is it that antibiotics can’t take out this flu? What is wrong with this picture?  My heart was heavy as I drove home for that Christmas break. I thought of leukemia and mystery diseases draining the lifeblood out of sunny Mary.

After everyone returned in January, Mary’s friends informed me that she was better but was on crutches now. Huh? They did not have the exact story, but it had something to do with an infection in her foot. A few days later Mary showed up on crutches and connected the dots for me. Her mystery went like this.

Three years ago she was running around her family’s home with siblings and cousins during a Christmas party where little finger foods were served with round toothpicks. Inevitably some relative dropped a toothpick and it landed pointy end up in the carpeting. Bare feet came thundering through the living room and Mary’s heel came down on the toothpick with such force that the toothpick pierced her heel bone. Ouch!!!

Off to the local ER, right? And the folks on duty dutifully removed the toothpick and swabbed it with antiseptic and sent her home. Well, they got most of the toothpick. The part they did not remove sat in her heel bone for three years and rotted inside the bone. Blogee, this is the recipe for sepsis, home brewed poison. It took years for her body to break down the bacteria-laden toothpick tip into a pocket of black mamba venom. A tiny cobra curled in her heel bone; it woke up one day and shocked her bloodstream with a squirt of death.

All the antibiotics did was to chase the cobra back into its lair. Once they wore off, the cobra slithered out into her veins again. This mystery stumped many doctors over several months, until one doctor looked at her entire medical history. He came across the ER visit three years prior. He thought about the consequences of an incomplete treatment in that ER and concluded that a sepsis pocket would be the result. Everything would fit together in that scenario. He ordered an X-ray of Mary’s foot, and sure enough there was the hollow lair of the viper. Soon a surgeon opened up her heel and cleansed the pocket of deadly pus. Almost immediately Mary began to shine again.

And there it is, Bloghopper. Just a tiny part of a little thing, smaller than the stone that David used to kill a giant. Nearly microscopic…and deadly. Many hearers of this parable-like story feel a connection. They process it immediately and identify a word, a gesture, an old wound that they had ignored for years… and realize it is septic to their souls. And you,blessed  Blog reader? Do you have a toothpick in the lungs of your soul or perhaps stuck in your throat? Hey, it’s just a little thing that may kill you if you ignore it.

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