Little kids should never be left alone to practice medicine on themselves, their friends, or their pets. They tend to ignore the do no harm part of the Hippocratic Oath; most of the treatments they prescribe are based on witchcraft and voodoo rather than science.

A case in point:

I grew up in the country so I always wanted to be a cowboy and everybody knows that cowboys don’t run around barefoot. Cowboys, after all, die with their boots on. The only people I knew that ran around barefoot were long-haired-hippie-freaks and my nephew from New York, Jeff Miller. Although Jeff was not a hippie, he lived close enough to Woodstock to be influenced by osmosis.

Hillbillies are known to run around barefoot, but country kids from Kansas are not. The reasons we didn’t were largely because of two things: animal dung and sand burrs. One does not want to step barefoot in a freshly minted cowpie while racing from The Cows of Hobson’s Pond. Stephen King has yet to write a horror novel that will make you convulse quite like stepping barefoot in a fresh cowpie.

The other enemy of barefootin’ are sand burrs, little Torture Devices From Hell. About the size of a pea, they spread out on the ground so you don’t just step on one at a time, you step on forty-six at a time. They are as mean as middle school cheerleaders.

I tried once to run around barefoot, but never could get the hang of it. To this day, if I walk barefoot across a graveled road I dance like a hillbilly at a hootenanny and squeal like a greased pig being chased by a bunch of little kids.

Jeff, on the other hand, could walk barefoot across molten lava. When Jeff popped out of his Momma’s womb, the first thing the doctor noticed was that the bottoms of his feet were made of leather:

            “Mrs. Miller,” the doctor said, “The soles of your new baby’s feet are made out of leather.”

            “I’m not surprised.” my sister, Carmen, said, “The way he’s been kicking the last four months I swear he was wearing cowboy boots and spurs.”

            “At least you won’t waste a lot of money buying shoes for him.”

            “Just as long as he doesn’t grow up to be a hippie, I’ll be okay. But I was kind of hoping for cowboy. I kind of like cowboys.”

One summer Jeff convinced me that I needed to go barefoot. He was a year older than me and I held him in the highest esteem, even to the point of hero worship. I worked hard to hear him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

However, my Mom saw my lemming-like inclination with Jeff and often questioned my logic;

“Would you jump of a cliff if he told you to?”

“Yes, Mother, I would.” I dutifully responded.

One hot summer day we were racing through yard and I cut the underside of my big toe on a piece of glass. I looked down to see a gusher of blood erupting from my foot. I howled like a coyote caught in a steel trap. As I writhed in pain, Jeff grabbed his EMS gear and began performing triage.

“We need to get inside, quick, before you die.” He said as he put his stethoscope away.

“But I don’t want to die,” I wailed, “I’m only nine-years-old.”

Jeff reaffirmed my growing concerns about my imminent demise when he asked if he could have my Hot Wheels collection. I hopped inside with one hand on his shoulder and the other hand tightly squeezing the gaping wound. Copious amounts of blood spilled on the linoleum as I sat down on the kitchen chair. Jeff quickly handed me a wet dishrag to stop the bleeding.

“I think that might need stitches.” His opined.

I had three great fears in my childhood. Missing the rapture; my niece, Colleen Miller; and the hospital. I saw the inside of a hospital once when my Dad was recuperating from surgery. He opened his robe to reveal several copper staples holding together an incision from his neck to his waist. After that experience, I assumed the doctors opened you up like that every time you went to the hospital even if it was for a tonsillectomy.

In retrospect, I have a few questions about that day I was wounded. One, why was Jeff performing triage? Usually, when we were injured we immediately ran to our mothers and let them nurse us back to health. Therefore, I can only conclude that The Generals, our mothers, were off somewhere else and left us at home alone.

That leads to my second question: Who, in their right minds, ever thought it was a good idea to leave us home alone?

“Let me look at it again.” Jeff said. “I might be able to help.”

I pulled back the dishrag and started bleeding like a stuck hog again. I wailed louder.

“I know just what you need. This works every time.” Jeff jumped up and ran to the kitchen cabinets.

Since Jeff was all that stood between life and death for me, my spirit soared with confidence in his ability to keep me alive just a little bit longer. Reaching into the kitchen cabinet, he pulled out the blue, round carton marked, “Morton Salt.”

“Are you sure about this?” I whimpered.

“Yes,” Jeff confidently said, “I use it all the time to seal up deep cuts. Works like a charm.”

“But won’t it hurt?” I trembled somewhere in that chasm between absolute terror and wilting hope.

“Nope, not one bit.”

“Should we pray first?”

“Probably wouldn’t hurt.”

“Dear Lord, thank you for this day and the food we’re about, oh, wait, wrong prayer, I mean thank you for the miracle of modern medicine and for Jeff. Please be with the missionaries in Africa and forgive the people who decided it was a good idea to leave the two of us at home alone today. Amen.”

Jeff  launched into a scientific explanation about how large amounts of salt poured in an open wound provide instant coagulation of blood, numb the surrounding nerves, and heal the wound almost immediately so we could run back outside and torment the cows again.

Jeff was much more scientific than I was. One often found him peering through a microscope at the things he grew in petri dishes in his bedroom and found under the basement stairs. He could wax long and eloquent on the nature  of scientific rationale and I sat mesmerized as he talked, thus elevating his hero status in my heart. Salt was obviously the cure for all that ailed the human race.

Again, I have to ask; Who thought it was a good idea to leave us alone?

Trust me, he said, I do this all the time, he said, it won’t hurt a bit, he said.

I opened the wound and he poured in the salt.

After Mom got home, several neighbors called and asked her why the ambulance came to our house. Mom reassured them that no ambulance had been there that day and wasn’t sure what they were talking about. Apparently, about three o’clock in the afternoon, most of the neighbors within a two-mile range heard what sounded like an ambulance wailing.

Mom launched a full-scale investigation after she hung up from the last phone call. She saw the bloody dishrag in the trash; saw bloody fingerprints on the Morton Salt container; saw bloody footprints on the kitchen ceiling; saw the curtains ripped to shreds; saw all the crystal shattered in the china cabinet; saw the dog whimpering in the corner like it was shell-shocked; saw the cat having a seizure on the floor and saw that the milk in the fridge turned to cottage cheese. She then hauled me into the dimly lit interrogation room.

“What happened? She began.

 “I cut my foot on piece of glass?” I replied.

“Why were you barefoot? I thought you wanted to be a cowboy and everybody knows that cowboys don’t run around barefoot.”

“I know. It’s just that Jeff said that I was a sissy if I didn’t run around barefoot and I don’t want to be a sissy.”

“So would you jump of a cliff if he told you to?”

“Yes, Mother,” I replied dutifully, “I would.”

“So where did all the noise come from the neighbors called about?” She kept grilling me.

 “It may or may not have been me screaming after we poured salt in my cut.”

“You did what? Why did you pour, oh, good grief, never mind, Jeff told you to, right?”

 “Yes, Mother, he did.” I sat proudly.

Mom mumbled something about us being the death of her and The Cows of Hobson’s Pond were right about little boys being stoopid and who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to leave these two little idiots at home alone for the afternoon.

Jeff found more important research to conduct while I was being interrogated and later checked in on me while doing his rounds. He was pleased I held up so well under cross-examination and that I now held scientific discovery in such high esteem. He patted me on the head and said, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

For a splendid moment in time, heaven came down and glory filled my soul.


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