Earlier this month, my youngest stepson, Matthew, nearly cut off his left thumb. In the greater scheme of things, this might not seem like relevant news.
After all, what does a six-year-old boy’s thumb have to do with the earth-shaking events now going on in Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach?
Voters will not decide in November whether Matthew should see a plastic surgeon. The stitches will be removed long before public access television returns to Biddeford’s airwaves. And — most importantly — Matthew’s thumb will have no effect on the special town council election in Old Orchard Beach.
But Matthew’s accident —and that is exactly what it was — does serve as a prime example of our collective problem. It is one small fraction of our society’s biggest flaw: the fundamental failure to value personal responsibility.
There are a few reasons why I waited a few weeks before writing this particular column.
First, my team of high-powered attorneys has been poring over Matthew’s case file, searching for liable parties.
So far, it would seem, there are at least 438 people responsible for Matthew’s injuries.
The trick now is to determine which of those parties has the deepest pockets. Those are the people we want to face in court.
Since Matthew was injured at school, the town of Old Orchard Beach automatically becomes Defendant Number One. After all, if the town was willing to pay off its tax assessor, why shouldn’t Laura and I go after a little of the green?
And if one of our town councilors (wife of the aforementioned tax assessor) can cost the town more than $3,000 for a special election simply because she got her nose out of joint, then I should be able to get at least three times that much.
And then, there is the state of Maine. If Maine didn’t require children to go to school in the first place, Matthew would never have stuck his thumb in the door. Next, let’s find out who made that door.
Why was the door not child-proof? Add another litigant to the equation. As for the little boy who accidentally slammed the door shut, we’ve checked out his bank account. Excluding that $10 check he got for his birthday last week, his only other asset is a vintage ‘Tickle-Me-Elmo’ toy. That toy could fetch a handsome sum on e-Bay.
Okay, add that kid to the list of defendants in my growing lawsuit — not to mention the architects who designed the school, the school nurse and every member of the school board.
You will notice, however, that I have excluded Matthew from the list of those who are responsible for his accident. And that — although perfectly acceptable in today’s world of self-serving justice — is just plain wrong.
There is only one reason why Matthew was injured: he was not doing what he was supposed to be doing.
He stuck his thumb in the door jamb, and then —without warning — another kid came through the door and slammed it shut. It is, despite all my ranting and raving, an open and shut case of pure stupidity.
To this day, Matthew is still unable to explain why he opted to stick his thumb into the jamb of a perfectly good door. He does know, however, that he will never do it again. And that, I suppose, is as much as I can expect from a six-year-old boy.
The thing that annoyed me most took place after I hustled Matthew into the emergency room at Southern Maine Medical Center. While going through the ER paperwork, a clerk asked me if we were planning to hold the school liable for the injury.
I know the hospital clerk was just doing her job, but this is exactly why affordable health-care is about as realistic as the tooth fairy in this country. Everybody wants to sue somebody else.
So many people did so many great things on that day. So let me wrap up this week’s column by thanking some of the people who reminded me of the basic goodness that is in all of us when faced with a crisis.
First, Sherry Couture, the Courier’s business manager, didn’t hesitate when I ran out the front-door of our office to go get Matthew. She knew that someone would have to ride with him in the back seat and hold his bleeding hand.
Sherry missed her lunch break that day because of something I needed. She was great to Matthew, even though he was hysterically screaming all the way to the hospital.
Secondly, Jan Clark, the school nurse at Jameson Elementary School, deserves major kudos for handling the situation like a true professional. She also called our home later in the day to check on Matthew and left her home phone number. Principal Mike Pulsifer helped put Matthew in my Jeep, and Jackie O’Neill, the school secretary, coordinated the entire effort with amazing professionalism.
Some Biddeford firefighters were at the hospital when I arrived. They immediately jumped up and led us through the emergency room, making sure that Matthew knew he was now in good hands. Although I recognized Firefighters Bill Langevin and David Dutremble, a younger paramedic, whose name I didn’t get, stayed with Matthew until the triage nurse could see him.
The staff at Southern Maine Medical Center was outstanding, as was the 911 dispatcher I called on my cell phone while driving 110 mph on the turnpike.
Make no mistake, it was a tense day, but I can’t help feeling really lucky to know that we are surrounded by such true professionals and decent people. I think that I’ll fire my lawyers and instead remember why I choose to live in southern Maine. Maybe that sign is right, after all. The way life should be.
Matthew was scheduled to have his stitches removed on Tuesday. His thumb works just fine. It will be ugly for a while, but he will not need a plastic surgeon. So all is well. And we can leave the door open for whatever happens next.