Introduction by Bob Aronson Story by Bob Huck This is a humor column. While normally we delve into those topics that are of great interest to the donation/transplantation community once in a while we take a break to have some fun. This story is one with which we can all relate because there’s not a one of us that hasn’t been in a similar situation. Perhaps not quite as dramatic but similar nonetheless. Bob Huck and I were adversaries before we became friends. Total opposites, we began our relationship on Facebook arguing political philosophy. Two men could not be more different in their politics. One day, though, we found common ground. I won’t go into detail but from that discovery came others until it was obvious there was much to discuss and much upon which we agreed. We set our differences aside and concentrated on developing a friendship and it worked. Bob Huck is a fascinating man with a background rich in human experience. His narrative here is dedicated to those who have had to assemble something for their kids and I guess that’s most of us. “So easy a child can put it together” is a commonly used phrase. Commonly used but inaccurate. When you read the words, “Some assembly required” It usually means you must reinvent the wheel and you can be guaranteed that the directions were translated from a foreign language by someone who does not speak yours. “Insert part B as seen on Illustration C and also on B14 in book 2″ are common instructions that boggle the mind. I’ll go no farther. Here’s Bob Huck to tell you his story about assembling a simple kit for his kids. One more note. Bob is now fully recovered from the experience. THE FLAT BOX A Narrative Case History From The ICU The following tragic case history was dictated from the patient’s bed in an anonymous hospital intensive care unit. It has been recorded as a patient interview and except for the more profound interruptions, outlined in the parenthetical notes herein; most of the routine interruptions have been excluded as the patient’s voice was faltering and weak at best. He alternated frequently between extreme agitation and short bouts of catatonia throughout the interview process. Also, the patient would occasionally issue sounds rather than words. In such instances the sounds have been added as accurately as possible to the text in an effort to reflect the level of stress the patient was suffering at the time. The following is the chronology of events as dictated by the patient. The interview was conducted over a period of several weeks as serious relapses followed by extended recovery periods were common. Day One, The Morning “It was a bright Saturday morning. It started in a routine way. A quiet breakfast on the deck after sleeping in, a second cup of coffee read the morning paper and plan for the day. Things like grass cutting, gutter cleaning and gardening were in my mind. It was a sunny day, the birds were singing, the air had the fresh smell of new summer flowers and I was looking forward to some pleasant time in the sun without much brain power required. All was well, really well.” “My pleasant mood didn’t last.” “About 9:30 or so there was an almost ominous knock at the door. (On hindsight I could swear I heard chains dragging across the front porch.)” “The sound it made was a slow klunk… klunk… klunk…. I looked out the living room window on my way to the front door and noticed that the birds had stopped singing and the small, wild animals were all running for cover. The dog hid, the cat’s tail fluffed out, some of the fish floated to the top of the aquarium and the canary molted as I went toward the front door.” “I opened the door.” “There was a tall, pale boney person dressed in a long, hooded black cape framed in my front door and staring at me, not speaking. All could see of his face were those deep set, haunted eyes of someone too accustomed to witnessing horror.” “The sun went behind a cloud.” “I thought at first it was a Halloween promotion, but it was only June. Then I wondered who at the office was playing a practical joke. These fleeting, almost half thoughts, were interrupted when the person slowly reached out with both pale, bony hands and handed me a large flat box marked ‘1 of 25’.” “He remained silent expect for his labored breathing which produced a profound groaning sound.” “I looked past the figure to the porch and sure enough there were twenty-four more large flat boxes. It was then th at I saw the caped person kind of glide away and drive slowly off in a hearse driven by four black horses.” “The boxes contained the combination swing set, jungle gym and trampoline I had ordered for the kids from a home shopping television show. The large flat box I held in my hands, number 1 of 25, contained the instructions for putting it all together. The “Made in Madagascar” label was one of my first clues that this was not going to be a fun thing, at least for me.” “I checked my liquor supply.” “The two quarts of gin in my closet seemed to be more that enough, especially if I had to invite the neighbors to help me. And I had all weekend to build the thing so I thought I was in good shape.” “Then I opened box 1 of 25. (Note: There was a significant pause here as the patient seemed to blank out for several minutes – apparently the memory of this initial shock was too much. The dialogue continued after the bed was cleaned up and the drool was wiped off his face. It should be noted also that following most of these noted interruptions the patient’s voice was almost inaudible so some words may have been missed. We will never know for sure.) “There were five very big volumes. Each wrapped very tightly in an overabundance of heavy gauge shrink wrap and industrial strength duct tape and each labeled in a different language: one for English, one for French, one for German, one for Chinese and one for a language yet to be determined by the linguists at the United Nations. The so called English version was a 375 page volume entitled ‘Instructions for Assembly.’ Each flimsy page was printed in a 4 point font and single spaced. Small illustrations with strange markings and Greek lettering with metric dimensions attacked my senses.” “I checked the liquor supply again.” “The first 15 pages where on 17 by 22 inch foldouts printed on very flimsy paper. These pages contained the parts list, a lot of which was obscured by the folds in the flimsy paper. I took my first drink – well, it was approaching noon.” (Note: The interview was stopped here as the patient began screaming and crying hysterically and the alarms on his medical monitoring units were all declaring an emergency. We were able to continue following the CPR and the injections to his heart.) Day One, The Afternoon “Where was I? Oh yeah, the gin exploded nicely and I felt a warm comfort. ‘After all, I have two engineering degrees, how hard could this be?’ I told myself in an effort to cover the terrible feeling of foreboding and pending doom which I could not seem to shake. But I knew I had to go on. I would not be defeated by a bunch of foreigners with a primitive printing press!” “I began an intense study of the parts list. I noticed that there were pictures of each part. Most of the pictures were very small and blurred or smeared or where obscured by the folds in the flimsy paper so that similar parts looked the same. The distinction between metal screws and small bolts was blurred on the paper (as it turns out that was the easy part) so was the number of required individual parts. It seems that the printer had missed all but a few segments of the column listing how many of each part was to be in the kit.” “After a while I took a break. The eye strain was too much so I put the instructions away and started carrying the boxes, on a rented forklift, to my very large garage, which doubles as an indoor basketball court. I figured I could spread the parts out on the floor and try to match the parts to the instructions. It seemed like a good plan at the time.” (Note: The patient started to become agitated here so the interview was interrupted briefly until his hyperventilation subsided.) “I opened each box of the remaining twenty-four and found bags of screws, packages o f nuts and bolts, odd looking clamps, just plain weird looking washer like things packaged in what looked like some kind of animal skin, assorted wooden and plastic pegs, large folded templates made of more flimsy paper, springs of all sizes and configurations (round, coiled, flat, oblong and very long ones,) wheels, gears, cable clamps, assorted hairy little bugs that had invaded the packaging and a lot of strange looking items which I later determined to be tools – ‘tools of hell’ as I learned called them.” “During the next few hours I unpacked 693 packages and 113 odd tools of hell.” “After that I ran to the liquor cabinet and took a long pull straight from my gin bottle. It didn’t seem to have any impact on my strong desire to scream and cry. I considered taking a fist full of valium too but had been warned about mixing booze and valium so I restrained the urge and stuck to booze.” “Now I had 693 packages and 113 odd tools of hell scattered in little \piles around my indoor basketball court.” “I stepped back and suddenly to my horror I realized that I had not noted which box the packages came from!” “Gack!” (Note: The patient was able to continue after the seizure subsided.) “Gasp, pant – I’m okay now. As I was to find out later this package, box and tool thing was critical.” “I made an excuse to my wife and skipped dinner and went back to my instruction book to try to recover from my error. I was too nauseated to eat anyway.” Day One, Late Evening “During the next hours I struggled to match package to box and tool to box. At 9:30 or so I had matched 568 packages to boxes and had not yet started on the tools from hell.” “My wife looked in on me and said she was a little worried about me. I told her it would just be a little while longer. I think she went to bed about midnight.” “The burning in my stomach told me it was time for another drink. I needed the nourishment. This time I did not fool around. I found a 12 ounce drinking glass, filled it with gin and gulped it down. That seemed to stop the uncontrolled facial tics and severe full body twitching but did not help the incredible feeling of panic that had descended on me. But I was ready to rejoin the fight. The primitives would not win! Wheeze.” (Note: The patient became winded trying to raise his clenched fist into the air above his bed in a show of defiance. The interview continued after his brief bought with projectile vomiting and the hospital staff had applied restraints.) “Finally, at 1:45 AM after much frantic searching, reading decoding and just wild guessing I had matched the packages to the boxes. But I seemed to have lost one package. No amount of searching helped. No amount of hopeful recounting helped. I felt like I was living in that horrible instant just before the head on collision! I felt I was now truly doomed.” “So, I did the only thing that made sense to me at the time, I finished the first quart of gin and passed out in a heap on top of my pile of packages. I must have slept for a few hours before the nightmares woke me up.” Day Two, Early Morning “It was 3:30 in the morning when I awakened, wiped the now dried drool from my unshaven face and staggered to my feet. I needed to finish matching the tools of hell to the boxes. I was driven.” “My wife looked in on me again a little later to tell me that the neighbors had called to complain about all the loud swearing and banging noises coming from my garage. It was, after all, only 5:30 in the morning. I promised to mumble instead of scream and to place rather than throw the boxes and parts. I knew in my heart of hearts that while I would try, this was a hollow promise.” “I had my first real victory at 7:54 AM on day two. I had finished matching the tools of hell to their respective boxes. I tried to dance around in small victory circle but tripped over package number 58 of 89 from box number 12 of 25. I think it was then that I crushed the nerves at C-6 in my spine. My hands went numb and I was in pain. I took a fist full of aspirin (and a healthy slug from bottle of gin number 2 of 2) and in no time I felt like I was on the way to victory. I was told later that the internal bleeding would eventually be controllable.” “I stepped back to survey and savor my victory. I felt a sharp burning pain as I was impaled by a large metal screw which penetrated my foot. Within an hour the flesh around the wound turned black, started to stink and show signs of necrosis. It had been one of those parts wrapped in the strange animal skin. So, I poured some gin on it, wrapped it with a greasy rag and continued my study of the plans.” (Note: The patient interrupted the interview here and complained of pain in his now missing foot.) “It was three hours later that I attempted the first step of the assembly process. Again, I experienced maximum chaos.” “ I had screw 13 1/2B12-3i from package 12 of 34 in box 2 of 25 as shown on page 2, paragraph xxiv, of the instructions in one shaking hand and a small fernoodledink as shown on page 2, paragraph xxiii in the other shaking hand. My hands seemed to shake even more wildly as I tried to insert the screw into the fernoodledink using the tool from hell shown on one of the large the foldout sheets. My hand slipped and screw 13 1/2B12-3i skittered across the floor into a crevice near a pile of packages. It was then that I experienced my first serious crying incident – there were to be many more. I removed the fernoodledink from my abdomen with one to the tools from hell, stuffed an old rag into the wound and began searching for the screw. It was an hour later when I realized victory again. I had found the screw. My second attempt at inserting the screw into the fernoodledink worked. Again, I danced, that is limped, around in a little victory circle. I was on fire to continue the challenge.” (Note: There was a faint smile on the patient’s face as he recounted this part of his story. The interviewer was not to see further smiling incidents.) “It was early afternoon of day two and I knew the gin would not last and that I would not finish this assembly before Monday morning in time to go to work. So I took a break, left a message on the office answering machine – I noticed that my voice sounded like I was sobbing, but I paid no attention – and went to the liquor store for more gin and a little Everclear for backup.” “The clerk noticed the blood trail I left on the floor. It seems the necrosis on my foot was a little more advanced than I thought. He covered his nose and averted his eyes in an effort to control the gagging noises he was making.” “When I returned to my driveway I was going a little too fast and drove across my newly landscaped lawn, ran over some bushes and crushed my new sprinkler system before skidding to a stop at or near the garage door – I think I heard a crashing noise. I opened the Everclear while I was still sitting in the car and took a long deep drink from the bottle. This time there was real pain in my stomach but I kept it down. I found two slightly soggy, semi-crushed and moldy cheese crackers wedged into the bottom of the glove box and ate them – I needed the nourishment. I was ready to go again. The pain from my abdominal wound subsided but my hands were still numb.” (Note: The patient began to loose track of time here. He was not really certain about this time frame. The interviewer has estimated the chronology from here on.) Day Two, Afternoon “After some foggy looking around I found the next step in the instructions package. It was the same old story: hysterical crying followed by a two hour search through the packages and tools from box 2 of 25. The crying stopped when I found metal screw (or was a bolt?) number 1265-76Aix C and tool from hell 45 of 113. My next victory seemed almost hollow. I had found the gazelschpatzen which connected to the fernoodledink using screw number 1265-76Aix C and tool from hell 45 of 113.” “As I pushed the gazelschpatzen gently into the fernoodledink I noticed that more force was required. So I pushed harder. Nothing happened. I put the assembly in a vice and nothing happened. I tried a bigger vice, same result. I then rigged up a 10 ton hydraulic jack to push the gazelschpatzen into the fernoodledink using screw number 1265-76Aix C and tool from hell 45 of 113. I thought I heard it snap into place just before the whole assembly exploded violently into lots of shrapnel. I was crying again, as I removed screw number 1265-76Aix C from deep in my left eye. It was a good thing it was not my right eye. I am right eye dominant you know.” “By now my screams had become high pitched, rasping gasps so nobody heard me as I used an old tire patch and some crazy glue to fix my left eye.” “I began to loose track of time about here in the process. I think I passed out sometime during the late evening.” Sometime Later “As I came around for the first time I remember seeing the EMT through a kind of out of focus haze and hearing my wife sobbing in the background while they treated my more immediate hemorrhaging. I noticed a shoe on the floor with a foot in it. I wondered whose it was. I recall fighting the EMT’s to the point where they had to apply restraints. I did not want to go the hospital. I wanted to finish the job! I had to beat the primitives! Gurgle.” “ My last conscious recollection after being loaded in the ambulance was hearing an EMT screaming into his microphone over the siren noise, ‘I’ve got a Flat Box Syndrome, in shock, suffering blood lose, alcohol poisoning, and serious necrosis. He is not able to respond to oral commands and appears to have no feeling from C-6 downward and is blind in his left eye from a wound I have never seen before. His remaining pupil is dilated and not responsive. I can’t seem to remove a variety of strange tools which have penetrated his upper trunk in several locations. He also appears to be suffering from starvation and scurvy. We’re going to need the entire emergency room team to pull this one out! Also send a hazmat team. The cleanup here is going to take a long time, be sure to include biohazard suits! Better alert the terrorism units too!’ Funny how I remember those details so clearly from my out-of-body experience.” Sometime Even Later (Note: Nobody is sure how long the patient was unconscious after he passed out and before he was discovered. His wife thought he had left town on a business trip so the best we can estimate is that he was lying in the wreckage for about 3 days before the stench of rotting flesh attracted a neighbor’s attention.) “T he next thing I remember is struggling to recover from the coma. It was as if everything was happening in slow motion. I was doing pretty well but then the memories came back and the nightmares began: the figure at my door on that Saturday morning seemed to be standing at the foot of my hospital bed beckoning me to come with him; large, ugly volumes of instructions were falling out of the sky and crushing me under a huge pile of paper; small fernoodledinks were swarming over me and a giant gazelschpatzen boiled up out of the ground and attacked me. It was horrible!” “Sob!” (Note: The excessive screaming brought the orderly and the session was stopped briefly while the restraints were tightened.) “Whimper, then one day as I was coming out of it again I heard a doctor say, ‘Poor soul. Another flat box case. That’s 231 this month alone. We must do something about this flat box thing! Oh! Will the inhumanity never end? Get my senator and congressman on the phone. Call 60 Minutes. Call Ralph Nader and the ACLU. Get some truly horrid, stomach wrenching, vivid red and yellow color photos for publication on the Flat Box Syndrome website. It’s time to take action!’” “I struggled mightily for the next several weeks to recover. I joined a flat box recovery group and shared my story with other victims. I even sponsored another victim for a while. I faced my fears and actually touched one of the tools of hell recovered as part of the clean up effort at my garage. It helped that I was blind in one eye and could not feel what I was touching.” “I have a message for America. I am begging you! Please record this! It is a matter of national security!” (Note: The interviewer, along with several internationally recognized medical reviewers, has become convinced that the Flat Box Syndrome is indeed cause for international alarm and needs to be brought forward as a social issue on a par with any other life threatening disease or potential terrorist attack. Therefore, the following was recorded exactly as dictated by the patient and may have been his last conscious expression.) “People of the world, think before you – wretch, gasp – open the door of your home to dark figure in a black, hooded – wheeze – cape carrying one or more flat boxes! America awaken! Everyone – choke – is vulnerable to this – gag – horrible plague! Don’t let – gurgle – it happen to you!” (Note: The patient lost consciousness again and was rushed into surgery.) This is a true story. It was recorded for posterity and to give warning as well as to protect the innocent.
Bob Huck – BioBob Huck graduated from the Pennsylvania State University and conducted post graduate studies at Dartmouth College. He has now retired from his career as a civil engineer (although he claims the civil part to come into question from time to time.) His career spanned most of the geography of North America and some of South America. But his specialty and passion was arctic engineering and remote site construction which kept him living and busy in Alaska beginning in 1963 and ending in 2000. He has written two books. “Alaska Letters” was written in 2013 and is a compilation of stories from his adventures in the arctic. And in 2011 he wrote “Winnifred Mason Huck, Member 67th Congress 1922-1923; Prisoner #1558 1925” The latter is the biography of his grandmother who was the third woman to be elected to Congress, the first mother to be elected and the first woman to preside over either house of Congress. He has now settled down in Charlotte, North Carolina and when it snows there on rare occasions he threatens to move to the desert. And when he is not threatening to move to the desert he enjoys golf and writes things. -0-
Now retired and living in Jacksonville, Florida with his wife Robin he spends his time advocating for patients with end stage diseases and for organ recipients. He is also active in helping his wife with her art business at art festivals and on her Rockin Robin Prints site on Etsy.
Bob is a former journalist, Governor’s Communication Director and international communications consultant.