The Year Before the Flood: Idelber's Accident

(Boing Boing guestblogger Ned Sublette is a writer, historian, photographer, and singer-songwriter who lives in New York City.)


Excerpt from The Year Before The Flood

To hear me reading this excerpt (in a shout, as I tend to do in clubs) at Joe's Pub, click here. Oh, and if you want to get on my e-mail list, send an e-mail saying "subscribe" to ned.sublette at

Fully conscious and quite annoyed, Idelber was lying on the sidewalk on Magazine Street, bleeding from a long window-glass cut on the side of his head. It looked dramatic, but he wasn't badly hurt.

You can easily get creamed driving across Magazine. You have to creep way out into the street until you can see around the parked cars. Then you have to look both ways and go! In the time it took Idelber to look left and right and turn onto the street, an SUV came barrelling down the road from behind the phalanx of parked cars, outside his field of vision. It was going at least fifty when it made impact over Idelber's left front tire. Had he started out from the intersection a half-second earlier, he would probably have been dead.

As I got there, Idelber was being strapped onto a stretcher, and was asking them not to immobilize his head until he could have a cigarette. He had asked bystanders to come tell us about the accident not because he needed help but because he was concerned we'd think he was a jerk for pulling a no-show at dinner. I went through his glove compartment and scooped up all his insurance and personal info and jammed it into a bag. I called Chris, who raced over. The police said that since Idelber had a head injury he had to go to [cue ominous music] . . .

Charity Hospital! [Sound of screams in the background.]

Founded in 1736 (though not at the same location) with a bequest of ten thousand francs from a French sailor, Charity was the oldest continuously operating hospital in the United States. In 2004, Charity was the only place a lot of people in New Orleans could go for medical attention, and it was famous for its combat-hardened medical staff. It got the head wounds and the Saturday night gang-war casualties. A couple of years before, there had been a gunfight in the emergency room.

Chris went in the ambulance while I stayed with Idelber's car until it was towed. About an hour later, they called to say they were bailing from Charity, and they'd be waiting outside for me to pick them up. No one at Charity had looked at Idelber, who was perfectly able to walk and had had it with waiting around in what he called, possibly being hyperbolic, the hip-hop version of Dante's Inferno. As Idelber waited, someone came in with an eye torn out. Then someone arrived who'd been shot in the stomach, and then someone who'd been shot in the leg. But the one that sent Idelber out of there was the man who came running in, covered in blood, holding his detached penis in his hand and shouting, "My woman just chopped it off!"

Idelber was basically fine, though his head needed stitching up. We went to another emergency room, Touro. I sent Chris home and waited it out under the fluorescent glare in the orange plastic bucket seats while Idelber kept slipping out to smoke cigarettes, his head still bleeding somewhat.

Most of the people in the waiting room at Touro seemed to be there for emergency liposuction. They looked like eyes and mouths set in blobs of fat. I wasn't sure which ones were patients and which ones were waiting, though I figured the enormous teenage girl who went out and came back with a bucket of fried chicken was not a patient. Yet.

Idelber and I would have had plenty of time to go out for fried chicken. Since he wasn't bleeding to death, it took a couple of hours for the doctor at Touro to see him. When he did, he took a quick look and gave Idelber the choice of having the wound closed up with stitches or staples. But, he pointed out, the injection of anesthetic along such a long cut before the stitching would be about as painful as the staples. With the staples, no anesthetic, but it's quick.

"If it were me?" he said, "I'd choose the staples."

He was pretty much telling Idelber which to choose. Well, OK, said Idelber without realizing that what the doctor was really saying was that staples hurt like a motherfucker, but they were quicker and easier for him to do.

I had never seen this procedure. I thought, staples, well, that's some kind of technical term. No, the guy pulled out a stapler. Not a puny little office stapler, either. A big one.

If you are ever given this choice, don't choose the staples.