Volume 14, Issue 22 ~ June 1 - June 7, 2006

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

They Didn’t Put Me Down Yet

Burton’s back, writing and rolling — in his wheelchair

Had I known I’d live so long, when younger I’d have taken better care of myself.


After five weeks since I last wrote this column, I’m back at the computer and wondering how many readers of my generation could disagree with the above words. It’s too late now; doctoring and other health care can’t be retroactive. Paybacks are hell.

I’m paying back for neglecting this body now in its 80th year, and I can attest that at this age health care is simply a matter of patch, patch and patch.

You know you’re old when you spend more time in the pharmacy than in the market. Why you cross paths with your doctor so frequently you get on a first name basis; formalities go out the window. You are no longer Mr. Burton, just plain Bill, and you drop the Doc in favor of his given name.

You dispose of more time filling out forms for Blue Cross and Medicare than for an IRS audit. As they say, the golden years are not shining nuggets. They’re tarnished brass.

Brother John’s Story

Despite the pitfalls of age, why gripe? It surely beats the alternative. I agree with Brother John, a Smith Islander, remembered by storyteller par excellence the late Alex Kellam of Crisfield, who was also the best fisherman to ever wet a line on the lower Eastern Shore.

Seems there was a revival meeting on the island of the lower Bay complex, and the enthusiastic preacher was grilling the worshipers: Brothers, are you prepared to meet your maker?

With the exception of Brother John, all in the congregation responded by raising their hands accompanied by an enthusiastic Amen.

Brother John, aren’t you prepared to meet your maker? quizzed the reverend.

Oh, I’m prepared, he responded, It’s just that I thought you were making up a bus load now.

Like Brother John, I’m in no hurry to take that one-way Greyhound. Too many fish remain to be caught in the Chesapeake.

Barbaro and Me

Yes, paybacks are hell. And here I am wheelchair bound for some weeks to come, paying back for more than ignoring a healthy lifestyle in years long past. If you’re wondering why this publication has recently been running some of my past columns, truth is a phony rockfish did me in.

And with a little help from the cell phone market, which in the past I have lambasted in this space — especially the use of the cellular gadgets while driving — here I am something akin to Barbaro, who’s hobbling around these days after that bad misstep at Pimlico’s Preakness.

They didn’t put Barbaro down as often is done with horses, and neither did they put me down — though there were some moments when I’d have considered the bus ride if offered. Unlike Barbaro, I didn’t have the promise that survival would mean spending my remaining carefree days enjoying hand-fed carrots and apples — not to mention servicing mares at a posh horse factory.

My Fall

The lowdown: Several years ago at the popular Pasadena Sportfishing Group’s annual flea market, I purchased a three-foot-long wooden carving of a rockfish created by Hayes, Va., artist Mark Cunningham. Mounted at the peak above the front double door entrance of the Burton home, I imagined it would be a fitting landmark for visiting fishermen and others.

It served its purpose well until a windy night the last week of April when, unbeknownst to me, down came the rockfish replica to the cement sidewalk. Halfway through an intended column for this sheet on the woes of mixing phone chatter while driving, I ignored the advice of doctors to slow down and dashed outside to grab the morning papers to read over a late breakfast. These ancient legs tripped over that fallen striper.

Had it been a real fish and I went into the drink, what a story to be passed on in family lore. But it wasn’t, and there I lay in excruciating pain on hard concrete next to an imitation striper — payback for the thousands of rockfish I’ve reeled over my half century on the shores of the Chesapeake.

I struggled unsuccessfully to get up, figuring once upright I could brush the whole thing off as just another fall and go about my business. No need for wife Lois to know.

When the left leg wouldn’t respond, I began to suspect I had done my hip in. But at least, I imagined, someone would drive by to solve my predicament.

Usually on a weekday, vehicles pass the house at least every few minutes. But not this day. I crawled to the rail fence by the side of Park Road and tried to pull myself up. The pain quickly ended the effort.

A vehicle approached. From a prone position I yelled for help while waving my arms. Help was imminent … Ahh, but the driver of the big SUV was gabbing on a cell phone. He lost the opportunity to be a good Samaritan.

Ten minutes later, a car driven by a young woman headed by. But she, too, had a cell phone propped against her ear. Chalk up another gotcha for cell phoners.

In another 15 minutes that seemed like an eternity, the neighbor lady across the street heard my calls and summoned her husband. The both of them got me upright and standing on my right leg as I held tight to the rail fence.

The ambulance that took me to Harbor Hospital at the south side of Baltimore hit every pothole in the road. I now know how Barbaro must have felt as he took his long ride from Pimlico to the fancy horse hospital in Pennsylvania.

In the emergency room, as attendants removed my belongings from my pockets to stow in a bag as I was donned in a hospital gown, I spied a little black pouch. It couldn’t be, but it was. My cell phone!

I had tucked it there after toying with it to better relate in the half finished column that will never see the light of day the hazards of trying to handle one while driving. It’s a phone that hasn’t made or received 50 calls in the decade I’ve signed on with Cingular. It’s one I rarely carry. It could have spared me further hip damage in trying to right myself and crawling to the fence.

So here I am after four days at Harbor Hospital, another 17 at Kernan Hospital and nearly two weeks under the care of visiting therapists — also Lois and granddaughter Grumpy — at home with a fractured hip that’s mending, also an elbow chip and abrasions that are pretty much cured.

You might say I’m like Barbaro — chomping at the bit. Barring any possible complications, you’ll see this column here regularly from now on. I’m not taking the bus any time soon. Enough said.

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