While I was waiting for the students to come outside, I scouted the immediate vicinity for potential hazards. Since at least some of them were going to be blindfolded for their swings, it seemed possible that someone might lose her or his balance. I was also worried that, upon the breaking of the piñata, the ensuing scramble might exceed the bounds of the safety zone.
Bearing all this in mind, I decided to stand about two feet in front of the nearest cacti, a squat barrel cactus with a six-foot cholla behind it. That way, I reasoned, no one would accidentally drift in the direction of their spiny threat. Pleased with my plan, the product of a little too much free time standing by myself, I took a few minutes to photograph close-ups of cactus needles, during which time I mused on the way that they provide shade for the plants' sensitive skin and wondered how often people in these parts come in contact with the more fearsome-looking sorts, like the fishhook, barrel and saguaro.
At this point, a certain celestial being looked down from the firmament and said, "Fool, you think you can reason your way to safety. But life doesn't work that way. I will now demonstrate to you that imagining the fate of other, less fortunate souls is the surest way to bring misfortune your way." Unfortunately, I wasn't listening. Thus, a few minutes later, when I was proudly standing at my station, flush with the knowledge that I had devised a way to keep my third-grade charges out of mischief, I found myself being hit square in the chest by an overzealous and surprisingly strong blindfolded girl's follow through. Yes, she whacked the piñata and me in the same fluid motion.
Had I been bracing myself for contact, I might have escaped unscathed. Since I was just standing there monitoring the proceedings, however, I lost my balance and began to tumble backwards. Whether it's because I'm used to blocking out in basketball or whether the aforementioned celestial being decided to temper her or his wrath, I was able to catch my balance before falling on my back. In the process of doing so, however, I instinctively took a few steps backward, thereby bringing my right calf in communication with the barrel cactus.
Many of you probably have experience, as I do, of accidentally grazing a prickly pear or, worse, cholla cactus. Neither experience is pleasant. But, in case you were wondering, the difference between the damage they wreak and what a frightened barrel cactus can inflict is sizeable. How I managed to smile in the aftermath of my initial wounding and let the piñata-bashing continue without interruption is a mystery to me. Perhaps it even counts as an act of bravery.
Soon, though, the curious substance that cactus needles seem to inject when they pierce the skin was magnifying my pain and, visibly tormented, I was sent to the school nurse by my daughter's teacher. She extracted two needles, but didn't really have the equipment to deal with the remainder and told me, since I would need to go to Urgent Care for a tetanus booster anyway, that I should have them do the remainder of that painstaking work.
In the interim, though, since I didn't have a car of my own -- and, to be honest, probably couldn't have driven anyway -- I hobbled back to the class party and gamely tried to take photographs while answering the other parent volunteers' questions about my fate. This turned out to be the day's low point, as my daughter, upon learning that I had bled, got freaked out and told me to leave because she didn't want to think about me bleeding. While I know she was speaking the truth, I was still miffed by the suggestion and spent the remainder of the party waiting outside in a state of profound melancholy.
By the time I'd made it to Urgent Care, I was really sick of not being able to flex my right foot, an action which caused one of the needles embedded in my calf to generate the sensation of a wasp sting. Luckily, I didn't have to wait very long. The doctor who saw me proceeded to engage in what I jokingly referred to as, "medieval surgery," cutting away flesh in order to find the needles hidden beneath my skin while blood spattered the surroundings. "But they didn't have lidocaine in the Middle Ages, she replied," a statement to which I gravely assented.
She ended up pulling out five more needles, making a total of seven that required extraction. The longest of these, which penetrated the narrowest portion of my upper ankle, went almost to the bone. But the most painful was the one I mentioned above, which had entered at an angle and broken in two inside my calf muscle. The minute that last one, the hardest to remove, was out, I felt worlds better. And the tetanus shot I then received was the least noteworthy shot of my needle-shy life, since I'd just been through a lot more intense pricking and poking.
I have to take the same antibiotics they give you after surgery for a week. My arm is sore where I got the shot. My calf feels like I severely pulled a muscle. And I have to be on the look out for all manner of complications, including a special fungus that cactus needles often transmit. On the other hand, I feel relieved to have gone to Urgent Care as soon as possible and am glad I opted -- though that same aforementioned celestial being may be tempted to impart another lesson to me for saying so -- to make very liberal use of the anti-bacterial gel for which the examination room had a dispenser. Not only that, I now have concrete knowledge of something I had long wondered about, namely how much it hurts to have a collision with a cactus.
In case any of you are considering whether you should try this at home, please be advised that, while getting a calf full of cactus needles is painful and potentially dangerous, especially if not properly treated, enduring the same fate with one's torso would be far, far worse. I asked the doctor what could have happened if I had kept tumbling backward over the cactus. "Well, you might have cactus needles lodged in your kidneys, then, and that's truly not a good thing to have happen. So it's best to avoid that kind of accident." There you have it, folks, a useful desert tip. I'll keep you posted on my recovery, which I very much hope will not involve the contraction of that special cactus fungus.