Ouch City At 75th Street Medical clinic in Ocean City, doctors tend to the waves of disappointed visitors whose summer vacations are cut short by injury and illness.

July 27, 1998|By Sarah Pekkanen | Sarah Pekkanen,Sun Staff

8:58 a.m.

The door of 75th Street Medical in Ocean City swings open. A goateed guy wearing shorts and a T-shirt enters the clinic, then uses his left hand to shut the door behind him. He walks to the receptionist's desk and raises his right hand.

Arcing through the middle finger, in the fleshy tip just above the top joint, is a flounder hook.

"I was on my way to go fishing," Ben Gusciora laments as he is hustled down a short hallway to exam room three. "I wasn't even there yet."

He tried to yank the hook out, he tells a doctor. But it hurt too much. Strange, because it didn't hurt a bit going in. It happened when he dropped his cooler on the floor of the fishing boat. His rod was tangled up in the cooler, and somehow, the weight of the sodas pulled the metal hook clear through his finger.

By now the fishing boat is out in the Atlantic Ocean, filled with people enjoying their vacations. Ben shakes his head. So much for his relaxing day at the beach.

An aide rinses the finger with bubbling brown antiseptic and holds an X-ray up to a light. It shows the hook embedded millimeters away from the bone.

Dr. Victor Gong, the clinic's owner, pokes his head into the room. He has seen worse: Nearly every week, kids who step on fishhooks at the beach are carried in, shrieking and wailing. And just days ago, a guy kept tugging on his line, not realizing he'd snagged his ear. Dr. Gong moves on. The clinic won't close until 4 a.m., and already patients fill the waiting room.

The aide shines a light on Ben's hand, which is resting on a metal tray covered in white gauze. Dr. Sameer Ahmad hunches down and wiggles the hook back and forth, back and forth. The light reflects off his glasses as he works.

"I'm going to have to open it up a bit," the doctor finally says. He grabs a silver scalpel. Ben looks up, then down - anywhere but at his mangled finger. Right about now, he should be leaning against a railing, watching his line bob rhythmically in the water. After a few hours of that, you can achieve a state of relaxation so deep you're practically catatonic.

"Ah, man," he sighs, as the doctor triumphantly holds up the fishhook.

Then comes the really bad news. The finger needs to stay dry for the rest of the week. No splashing in the ocean. No diving into the pool. Even showering will pose a challenge. Ben isn't heading home to Pennsylvania for another three days, but his vacation is basically over.

He leaves the clinic clutching a consolation prize: a plastic bag containing the bloody hook. At least he'll have something to show the guys back home.

12:06 p.m.

At the time, it seemed like a perfectly logical idea. John Welgus was perched atop a Pepsi vending machine last night - and at the time, that seemed a logical thing to be doing - when he decided to get down. Jumping was the fastest option. A second later, John was sprawled across the sidewalk, clutching his right foot.

He didn't think anything was broken, but he might have been anesthetized by the eight beers he'd consumed. Or was it 10? Certainly no more than 12.

He limped home and discovered his friends were throwing an impromptu party in their rented condo. Soon, he wasn't feeling any pain at all. But this morning, as he stumbled by an unfamiliar couple sleeping on his couch, John realized his foot was tender and swollen.

"If you hurt yourself, it's not your fault," John's friend Steve counsels him as they sit in a stark white exam room. Pepsi is to blame, they figure.

As he pops a thermometer in John's mouth, Jason Cantow, the clinic's site manager, says drunken accidents are about as common as sunburns in Ocean City. It's worst in June, when high school seniors overrun the beach. Come 1 or 2 a.m., a cluster of teen-agers often appears on the clinic steps, carrying a limp body. Clinic workers hate those cases, because they need parental permission to treat minors. The students always get hysterical when they hear that. And forget about telling young vacationers they need antibiotics and can't drink alcohol for a week.

John is lucky. His foot isn't fractured, just badly bruised. And, because he is 22, his parents don't need to know about his mishap. He accepts a pair of crutches, hops off the exam table - "You like jumping off things, don't you?" an aide observes - and slaps his Visa card down on the $245 bill.

He hobbles out the door, dreaming about how good a pizza would taste.

3:50 p.m.

When he hears his wife scream, Bryan Mindte races from the waiting room into a private exam room. He sees Wendy's face and in an instant, he knows.

It's been the longest vacation of their lives: A week spent dodging Wendy's parents, who want to know why their daughter looks so run-down. A morning spent shushing Wendy's young nephew, who wants to tell everyone how he caught Bryan and Wendy huddled in the bathroom, staring at a plastic stick.

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