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COLUMN: From the Etowah River to the emergency room: A cautionary tale

Severo Avila

Severo Avila is Features Editor at the Rome News-Tribune.

I went and visited my buddy Michael at a local hospital few days ago after a harrowing experience he had on the river.

I walked into his hospital room and he was laid out flat on his back with his left leg all bandaged up and propped up. He looked pitiful. But he perked up when he saw the box of Harvest Moon cookies I brought for him.

Here’s the back story.

Michael, his wife and a bunch of family members and a friends went floatin’ down the Etowah the other day. They were all in sort of a big flotilla and having a good time on their inner tubes and whatever else they were floatin’ on. They had put in at Grizzard Park where the soccer fields are.

Now there’s a rope swing on the bank of the river near the Second Avenue bridge close to the liquor store.

I use Chick Fil A and the liquor store as my go-to landmarks for giving directions. Every time I give people directions to anywhere in Rome I either use the Second Avenue liquor store (the Depot I think it’s called) or the Chick Fil A as starting points.

Don’t you dare judge me.

Anywhere you need to go can be found with one of those two places as a starting point because MOST people know where at least one of those places are.

Anyhow, some of the kids wanted to play on the rope swing so Michael (not the fittest or most nimble guy, God love him) climbed up the rocky bank to secure the rope swing so the kids could use it safely.

As he was climbing up the bank, he held on to a tree branch for balance since the bank was so steep (almost cliff-like, he claims). Well guess what? The branch broke off in his hand and he was immediately thrown backward, falling about 15 feet and landing in the river but so close to the bank that his feet hit some rocks.

Michael said his foot hurt and when he swam back to his kayak, that’s when he saw all the blood. A sharp rock had sliced a massive V-shaped gash right in the soft part of his foot. It was bleeding so profusely that he thought he’d either pass out or die.

“I didn’t wanna die on that river,” Michael told me. “So I picked up the paddle and I hauled .... outta there.”

You can just use your imagination to figure out what he said he hauled outta there.

His wife said it looked like he’d been shot out of a gun he was speeding along the water so fast. Fear and desperation drove him to paddle quickly from the spot near the bridge all the way to the landing at Heritage Park where they had planned to end the float.

Now like I said, Michael ain’t the fittest guy in the world but I do believe on that day he would have won some sort of canoe race because from all reports the man was flying down the river at break-neck speed.

Michael’s wife still wasn’t aware of exactly why he was paddling so fast. No one really knew the extent of his injuries till they got back to the park and Michael was almost passed out.

When they realized how bad it was they immediately all took him to the hospital. You can imagine what they all looked like walking into the hospital together. Michael had taken his shirt off to wrap around his foot and everyone else was dressed in swimwear and soaking wet and muddy.

I saw a photo of the bottom of Michael’s foot when he got to the hospital, and other than the terribly deep cut, I could also see his toenails caked in mud. It looked like an alligator snapping turtle’s claws — those big nasty ones.

Anyhow, the hospital staff cleaned and sewed up his foot but later realized that the wound was badly infected (from all that river water) and then had to remove the stitches and start treating the wound. Well it swelled up and his trip to the emergency room turned into an extended stay at the hospital.

I guess Michael couldn’t rely on his kids in his hour of need because when they sent their daughter to quickly get him some new clothes at a local department store (their house is all the way in Cedartown), she brought back an embarrassing shirt with a strategically placed hot dog on it which Michael refused to wear.

And when their son was instructed to bring a bag of clothes from their house in Cedartown, he packed up the bag then got all the way to Rome before realizing he had left the bag on a chair inside the house on account of going back inside to get him a drink.

Michael stayed a few painful days in the hospital with his leg propped up, looking so pitiful that friends and relations visited every day bringing him all sorts of food and snacks. His very tall and immature friend Jason cheered him up by visiting and writing completely inappropriate things on the dry-erase board in his room that the nurses use to actually keep up with his well-being.

Michael finally got to go home a couple days ago but he still can’t put any weight on the foot and is forced to use a walker and crutches to get around. I suppose if there is a moral to this story it’s that you should be really careful if you get an open wound in the river. Don’t take any chances with it. Also, make sure you sire competent children who can adequately assist you in your hour of need. And if you have a gigantic, immature friend name Jason, don’t let him anywhere near a dry erase board.

Severo Avila is features editor for the Rome News-Tribune.