by Robert Lanz, LCSW
(I wish this was not a true story. But it is.)
Welcome to the ER. Now on your first day, try to consider the range of human depravity.
I realized immediately that understanding the range of human depravity would be essential to doing my work well in that setting. Without this understanding, I might fall for the lies, subterfuge and other forms of denial that patients employ in order to complicate their diagnosis and treatment, often to their own detriment. Working in the ER was like being a social worker with a badge. Hey, I thought, I was one of those in another life, so maybe this won’t be so hard.
The eight-year-old boy was late getting ready for school that morning and it angered his father. I never did find out where Mom was, but it is my natural inclination to think that women are less depraved than men, and that makes me think the trauma wouldn’t have occurred if Mom had been home.
Anyway, the depraved response to tardiness in that household was to take a pair of scissors, cut off the child’s penis and flush it down the toilet. No, I didn’t make this up, it really happened. I didn’t like it when I heard about it, either.
When the paramedics and firemen arrived, and it was never clear who called them, the little boy was sitting in a pool of his own blood, crying softly.
Our paramedics, who always impressed me as quick-thinking and skillful people, started first aid immediately, and every one of them took a personal interest in his task, I’m sure. This led to the decision to immediately close the sewer system in that area in hopes of retrieval. When the fire department called the public works department and explained the situation, there was not a moment of bureaucratic dithering. A penis had been flushed down the pipes.
City workers and paramedics stationed themselves at sewer junctions with rubber gloves and towels. There was no hesitation by volunteers eager to station themselves at these junctions, and no complaints about standing in poop and pee and who knows what else, on the off chance that they would not just see the appendage, but actually be able to grab it as it whizzed by. After an hour or so it became clear it wasn’t going to work, and that the penis had already slipped by and was on its way to some giant macerator where it would be liquefied along with the rest of the stuff down there—the absolute last thing any guy would want for his Johnson.
“Let’s not give up yet,” my friend Chris, the paramedic said, perhaps feeling acutely the meaning of such a loss. He grabbed a big wad of toilet paper and flushed it down the toilet. Less than ten seconds later someone downstream yelled, “I got it!” and the little boy’s chances for some sort of a normal life increased exponentially.
Months later, I talked to a surgical nurse at the county hospital who told me that the microsurgery team had reattached the penis and that it had been a successful operation. She told me that the penis was fully functional and at worst, the boy may have suffered a 10 to 20 percent reduction in sensitivity.
Hell, yeah. If he hadn’t been sexually active, and at eight years old I’m assuming he wasn’t, he wouldn’t really miss that reduction. Not a bad outcome, all things considered.
Welcome to the ER, and remember to treat everyone well, maintain your empathy, never get cynical, and when you go home at night, try to relax and get a good night’s sleep. Your health is important.