A couple weeks before I moved out of my parents’ house to go to college, I had one of the weirdest, as well as scariest, things happen to me. I was drinking a can of cola, from the largest cola manufacturer in the world, which I guess isn’t all too weird unto itself. People often say that you shouldn’t drink out of cans for fear of contracting some weird disease/sickness from random rodent urine. I always found this theory to be somewhat of a stretch, and even now, if I wasn’t so terrified of the can itself, I wouldn’t concern myself at all with the idea of rodent waste. So, I was drinking out of this can of cola. I popped the tab as any good citizen would have done, but here is where the tricky part occurs. You know how when you pull up the tab, there is a small piece of metal that folds into the can? If you happen to be drinking a darker beverage, as was the case with my choice in cola that day, you really cannot see if the little piece of metal is still attached. We just always assume that it is attached and hope for the best before diving in, but for the sake of argument, let’s just assume that on this sunny day in small town Ohio, the can decided to revolt. This little piece of sharpish metal decided that a can was no place for it, and decided to attack me with everything it had. The assault started when I was taking a giant, teenager sip out of the can. It was one of those sips that decimates almost the entirety of the drink in one gulp, or at least it would have been, if the metal disc had not launched its attack. The tricky piece of metal snuck past my outer defenses entirely, but didn’t really start any problems until it reached my esophagus.
Choking is one of those things usually described as “not a very fun time.” With that being said, I can attest that this was no picnic. I couldn’t breathe for a few seconds, when finally my gag reflex kicked in, and I proceed to vomit out my drink and the remnants of what I had eaten earlier. I had no idea what I was choking on at the time, but hoped that it would be done after the bout with the emetic, but it was just not my day. This insanely smart disc of aluminum decided to up the ante, and slipped partially out while I was puking and then snuck back in, eluded my epiglottis, and decided to take up residency in my trachea, not far from my lungs.
It took about five minutes to figure out exactly what had happened. Once it was established that I was having a hard time breathing and we figured out what exactly was wrong with the can, the only thing left to do was to rush to Ashtabula Hospital’s Emergency Room. Emergency rooms are about as much fun as self performed vasectomies, and this trip was no exception. I was rushed right into the x-ray room, so the doctors could verify what had happened. They inform us (my parents and friends that rushed me to the hospital) of a few things: one, they had never seen anything like this; two, they had no clue how to fix it; three, someone in Cleveland may be able to help; four, I had to wait until they figured out what to do with me; and five, there was a chance that I may die.
The idea of death at the time was preposterous, so I wasn’t too worried about it. I was 17, and invincible. Death is for the dying, and I was obviously not having any part of that. Plus, according to the doctors, there were only two things to worry about. I couldn’t relax (i.e. fall asleep) because they were afraid that if I relaxed too much, my trachea may close enough to cut off air entirely from my lungs. In addition to not being able to relax, they didn’t want me to get excited. If I got excited, they were afraid that the metal may become dislodged, and travel further into my lungs, possibly puncturing a lung from the inside out. I was to remain in a state of perpetual unrest. This is no easy feat for a 17 year old with severe attention issues.
I sat at the hospital, waiting for the doctors to come up with a realistic game plan to help me fix my problem. After I had waited for about 3 or 4 hours, I realized that their plan was to wait it out. At this point in time my mother, who has the patience of a saint, took it upon herself to go and ask the closest doctor what he would do if it was his child in my position. He informed her that he would have his child flown to Cleveland where he/she would receive the best treatment money could buy. She then asked him who would be liable in case anything did happen to me. Up until this point in time, I honestly believed that this doctor was mildly slow or possibly quite stoned, because his reaction time to anything else was varying degrees of unresponsive mixed with apathy. The question of liability stirred something that I had not yet witnessed in this man, and that was a firm degree of need for self preservation. He immediately got on the phone and set up a Life Flight. I was actually excited to get to travel by helicopter! We waited another 45 minutes or so before they informed us that the helicopter would not actually be picking me up; this could possibly have been the worst news I received that day. Instead, an ambulance was outside, and it was ready to drive super fast to wherever I needed to go.
The ambulance had two people on duty. One sat up front and drove while the other sat in the back to keep me company/awake. The doctors had informed me not long before getting aboard the ambulance that I probably shouldn’t talk too much because it may also move the piece of metal. Once again I was reminded that, if the metal moved the wrong way, it could either block my windpipe entirely or go into my lungs. And, from the way they described it, both could prematurely end my life. The guy in the back of the ambulance didn’t quite understand this idea though and took it upon himself to keep the small talk up until I finally snapped on him. By this point in time I was getting slightly uncomfortable. A good portion of my day had been wasted in hospitals and there was no end in sight and I may have taken a little bit of my frustrations out on a guy that meant well. Had the doctors not explicitly warned me about talking I am sure he and I would have become the very best of friends.
A rather long ambulance ride later, I ended up at one of the Cleveland hospitals. The ambulance guys passed me and my x-rays to the doctors on duty, and happily got back on their way to good old Ashtabula. The new doctors seemed to have an idea, but they were just waiting for their point man to get there, so he could explain their game plan to me. Their radical idea involved knocking me out and using something small with a clamp to pull this piece of metal out of my throat immediately while I fell asleep. The doctor, in his gentle, placating way, informed me that it was something like the claw game at the arcade. I personally thought it was a rather great example, where my life was the equivalent to a little stuffed bear that cost less than 50 cents. But I also knew that wasn’t what he meant, and his ideas seemed quite sound. I mean, he did go through all of the hassles of becoming a doctor, so I may as well have listened to him, right?
When I awoke, it felt as if they had ripped part of my throat out in the procedure, but I could finally breathe again. I found a little urine cup sitting on my bedside table and in it was the maniacal piece of metal. The overall hospital visit was just about over, and the eternity spent in the emergency ward was actually clocking in somewhere less than 24 hours.
I would love to tell you that due to all of this, I became a multimillionaire overnight, but that would be a fallacy. I found the best attorney that Ashtabula County had to offer. He then pointed me in the direction of the best attorney he knew, and from there the case began. My new lawyer was based out of Cleveland. From all of the expensive pieces of paper displayed on his wall, he seemed quite accredited. I didn’t doubt his ability or his tenacity in the slightest, but when all was said and done, I guess I should have doubted everything about the experience. I met with my lawyer maybe two times total. After the initial visit, he seemed rather sure of himself, and quite confident that there was a case to be made with some rather large dollar signs on the horizon. He spoke with such sureness that my 17 year old self was taken in, but after a couple of days, the best result that he could show me was that the soft drink company wanted to settle out of court, and that they were offering $10,000.
Let me stress the fact that this is 1998, I was 17, and to most 17 year olds at the time, this seemed like a lot of money. My lawyer told me that it would help me pay for college, and that he didn’t think that there would be any more offers after this one. Looking back on this years later, I should have told him that I wanted to go to court. Since the event happened in my small town of Ashtabula, it would have to be tried there, due to the fact that I was a minor when the event took place. Large businesses hardly ever do well in small town court cases, but in retrospect, my 17 year old counterpart wasn’t the most savvy of individuals. I was offered something with four zeroes in it – that was surely enough money to live comfortably forever, right? To make matters worse the money didn’t come until I was living in NYC, 20, and about to get married… But that is another story unto itself.