Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Real 3rd-Anniversary Bash

This past Monday was the 3rd-year anniversary of Sucking on Oranges. I had been planning on a celebratory post, but the party has been officially postponed. Last Friday, Melanie, Edison, and I were in a serious car accident. Thankfully, we are all well and alive. We’re not all quite in one piece, however. More specifically, my left foot is not in one piece. While I’m not 100% sure of how many pieces it now consists, I know there are at least two broken bones in my ankle area and, according to the physicians, my heel has been “shattered.” It’s not the most promising adjective, but I assure you I consider myself a very blessed fellow.

So here’s the long beginning of the story. Friday afternoon, Eddie very cutely brings me my socks and takes Melanie her hat and then begins pointing at the front door, letting us know he wants to get out of the house. We didn’t have anywhere in particular to go, but we decided to please the little guy. So we head out just to do something frivolous – we stop and buy some Mountain Dew fountain drinks, and then we go to Hollywood Video and rent a couple of movies to have on hand for the weekend. On our way back home to have lunch and start a movie, we are waiting to turn left onto the street where we live. The light turns yellow. There is a car coming pretty fast in the other direction. I think to myself that the car probably could and should stop, but I can tell that it is not going to do so. So I wait. The car speeds through the intersection. The next car is a bit farther away, so I do not think there is even a consideration of that car not stopping. I barely start to go. I can then tell that this car isn’t stopping either. (By this point, I assume the light must have gone, or at least be turning, red, but I can’t officially say that I noticed – this all happened a lot faster than I can write about it.) I’m pretty certain I stopped trying to turn, because I know I just watched him barreling toward us, and I know I even said to Melanie that we were going to get hit. There is the sound of screeching brakes, and then there is the impact of what is basically a head-on collision.

We spin around so that we’re essentially facing the wrong way in the same lane we were just in, but pushed a little bit further back. Our car rolls a little forward and slightly onto the wrong side of the road (although we’re facing the right way for it now). There is a bit of smoke and I wonder if we have to worry about an explosion. The smoke only lasts for a second, but it’s a yucky smell. I realize, almost as an afterthought, that both the driver-side and the passenger-side airbags have deployed. Eddie is crying. I’m fairly calm, all things considered. I don’t know how much self-assessment I did, or even how much assessment I did of Melanie before I looked back to check on Edison. Blood is trickling down his neck. This frightens me, but somehow—perhaps defensively more than anything—I don’t get panicked.

As Melanie jumps out of the car and immediately goes for Edison, I look down and notice that my left foot is dripping blood. A lot of blood. Very quickly. I don’t feel much pain yet, but the blood doesn’t seem like a good sign. Witnesses are getting out of their cars and running up to us. A self-proclaimed child car seat expert commends us for having the car seat set up correctly. (Can he really tell just by glancing in the back window?) While not in his area of expertise, he looks at my foot. He tells me I have a cut. Maybe it’s broken, I suggest. Just looks like a cut, he assures me. He runs away and comes back to wrap it up in gauze. It’s a nice gesture, but I can’t help wondering if he even knows what he’s doing. Not that I’m going to protest. I’m feeling fairly complacent. It’s not that I’m happy to accept any treatment I can get, due to all the pain and trauma I’ve just been through. I just don’t feel that concerned or worried yet. Perhaps this is my way of being in shock.

At some point, I think about the other driver—the one that hit us. Is he mad at us, I wonder? Does he think it’s our fault? I look back. I can’t see anybody. Melanie is worried about standing in the heat with Edison, who is still crying. A man who works at the Dent Wizard car repair shop across the street (no, that’s not a joke) tells her to go sit in the coolness of their store. She thinks it is a good idea. I think so too. She goes. At some unparticular time, firefighters are on the scene. So is a cop. They’re asking me what happened. They ask me about pain. I’m not really in much, but my foot is finally hurting enough to at least mention it. Oh, and my left arm is kind of sore now that I think about it. There are a couple of cuts on it; one looks deep enough to make me worry. What about your neck? Your back? No problems there, I say. Again, at some uncertain time I realize I’m not wearing my glasses. I look around for them, feel around my body for them. They’re not anywhere. Just magically disappeared I guess. Obliterated. Same with Melanie’s.

The cop takes my license and is gone for a while. When he comes back, he tells me it is my fault based on eyewitness reports. Bad eyewitness reports, I think to myself. But I sign my citation. I don’t argue about it. I don’t think this is the time to argue about it. I know I was turning left and I know I’m probably stuck being at fault pretty much no matter what. Just moments ago, a witness had come up to me and given me his business card, telling me he thought I was in the right. That guy is gone now. I won’t bring him up to the cop, though. I imagine those things get straightened out later. It’s not my concern right now. I ask about the other driver, turning the focus back to concern rather than blame. I’m told he was unconscious right after the crash, so he’s getting priority treatment. They take him away in an ambulance and ask if I want another ambulance sent for me or if I want to find my own way to the hospital. Sure, send me an ambulance, I say. I wonder if it’s silly of me to utilize an ambulance when I’m clearly not on my deathbed. But I don’t know who I would call to give me a ride to the hospital. So an ambulance it is.

Melanie comes back with Edison. The firefighters are saying Edison should be looked at, even though the neck problem is probably just a cut from his car seat belt and nothing very serious. Melanie’s body is sore everywhere above her thighs, so she needs to be looked at as well One problem—babies and adults have to go to separate hospitals, so Edison will have to be taken away from us. I know how absolutely traumatic this would be for Edison (and for Melanie), and I know it’s not going to happen. I don’t think of it as a case of being overprotective—I genuinely think it would be a horrible mistake to pull Eddie away from us after giving him the scare of his life. Melanie agrees to sign a refusal of treatment form so she can stay with our son. But that’s enough to fill another ambulance, so they’ll have to get a third ambulance on the scene to take care of me. Melanie and Edison are gone now. It’s back to the waiting game for me. Luckily, the hospital to which they’ll be taking me is right across the street from the one to which they’ll be taking Edison. Melanie should be able to come find me after she’s done with Eddie. I’m glad we know where each other will be, at least sort of.

My foot is finally starting to get highly uncomfortable. I am still sitting in the driver’s seat, turned so my legs are dangling outside the door. I don’t put my left foot down on the pavement because it just seems like a bad idea. But I feel like it needs to be supported. I can’t twist or turn in a way that makes it feel okay. I try to cross my left foot barely over my right leg, to hold it up a little bit. Somehow, everything is uncomfortable and this isn’t satisfactory either. People keep asking me what exactly I cut it on—there is nothing obvious in that area of the car. I say I don’t know. An ambulance finally shows up for me, and they ask if I can try standing. They wonder if I can walk myself to the ambulance. I’m not thinking it’s going to work, but I stand up. I gingerly put my left foot down. It feels funny – sort of gelatinous-like – and very painful. It’s not going to work. I start to feel a swelling of nausea in my stomach. It’s intense. I recognize it as what it really is – I am going to pass out. I tell the firefighters this, and I sit back down in the car. I lean back and try to breathe very calmly. Gradually, the pseudo-nausea subsides and the threat of passing out is gone. They bring over a stretcher and work me onto it. They move me to the ambulance, which is air-conditioned inside. Being able to lay down, to be out of the heat, to just be wheeled around without any effort on my part—at this point it honestly feels quite luxurious.

And that is just enough to get us to the point where I go to the hospital. The hospital was quite an experience in itself. But I will save that for an upcoming post, which will hopefully appear soon. I’ll probably spend a lot of time just sitting around, so I might as well blog about things. Until then…

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Continual Progression Toward Not Feeling Settled

Hopefully this will be the last time I feel inclined to write about the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE. I say this because I am hoping that I will never again feel inclined to take the GRE. Unfortunately, that is more of a hope than a promise. I still have to mull it over and perhaps talk to those that have some understanding of how graduate admissions processes work. My dilemma is that I performed quite well on the verbal part of the exam, which is what matters most for someone going into philosophy, while I did a very mediocre job on the math section. Common sense would suggest that a lower math score would have no bearing on my doctoral program applications, since philosophy technically gets lumped under the humanities umbrella. Then again, any lackluster line on my resume may hurt me. Certainly in the case of a tiebreaker I could more easily be scratched off the list than someone who performed equally well in both categories. But do I want to spend a month or two beefing up my geometry skills just to improve my math score when I’m not going into a mathematics-heavy field? When I don’t suppose I could do a whole heck of a lot better on the verbal section? It seems it could be a big waste of time, not to mention a major stress. I really don’t want to do that.

To give you a bit more of the story, I have once again suffered at the hands of procrastination. That’s really what it comes down to. When I took the GRE in December of 2005, I did not study for it at all. I just went in and took it, and all things considered, I think I did fairly well. Really, I wasn’t even obligated to take the GRE again this time around, as I could just as easily use my original scores when I begin applying to Ph.D. programs a few months from now. But I was confident that I could perform much better on the exam if I took the time to study. I bought a book, and that book then sat on a bookshelf for several months. Finally, about a week ago, I got the book out and started flipping through it. But only on Friday did I actually begin any intense studying of the text. Silly and stupid, I know. When I ended up taking the GRE the next day, I found that my verbal score had gone up 10% from what it was before, while my math score dropped dramatically. I have no idea how I performed so well on the math section back in ’05. Not that I did great, but it still baffles me how I did so well. This time around, however, I am sitting just under (if my calculations are correct) the 50th percentile in math. Averageville. Maybe not a problem—but maybe so. What to do???

If my verbal score had leaped even a few more points, I would probably feel more convinced that I should just let my new score stand. (For the record, once you’ve got a new score, you have to use and claim that score—the old one is wiped from the record, whether it was better or worse.) Speaking percentile-wise, I am in the mid-90s for verbal, so there isn’t a lot of room for improvement. Nevertheless, I probably could go up one or two notches on the raw score. But that means I would just have to be studying the verbal and quantitative sections over the next month or two, and I just don’t know that I want to put forth that kind of time and effort! Not when I’m supposed to be working so hard on my master’s thesis and teaching two classes and taking a class for credit and auditing a class and doing all the other miscellaneous tasks involved with applying to Ph.D. programs. It’s uncomfortable here on the fence…

By the way, there is one other test area on the GRE, and that is the analytical writing section. For that part of the exam, you have to write two mini-essays on the spot. Compared to my ’05 GRE exam, I am not worried that my score will drop, but I am sad I cannot say anything other than that. I had been very hopeful that I could take this score up a notch and get a highly impressive score, but I think I screwed myself over. Why? Because I lost track of the time while writing the first essay, and all of the sudden I realized I was practically out of time. It wasn’t as well organized as it could have been, and I actually ran out of time in the middle of typing the last sentence. That means it isn’t even complete. I was just a few words shy, literally, but that’s enough to make it incomplete. How good of a score can you get if the essay is incomplete? I hope it will be obvious it was the end of the essay, and I hope the writing prior to that final sentence will be enough to salvage me. If my analytical writing score goes down at all, I’ll definitely retake the GRE. It would just be foolish to accept a lower score in that area, especially because I do not doubt that I should have an incredibly high writing score. Writing is what philosophers do! To accept a mediocre score on the analytical writing section of the GRE would be to spit on my application, not to mention the very people who I am asking to give my application serious consideration.

So there you have it. Because the analytical writing section cannot be scored by a computer, you have to wait approximately one month to find out how well you did. I’m sure I’ll let you know, at least whether or not I found my scores to be satisfactory. Until then, I’ll be wondering whether or not to worry that I’m riding the line on my cumulative score, although the pertinent score (verbal) is quite high. To show how seriously I am on the border, you can check out this post written by Eric Schwitzgebel, an associate professor at University California-Riverside who has served (and may still be serving) on the admissions committee. UCR may be my top choice for a Ph.D. program, so Schwitzgebel’s post is all the more relevant. He says that although he personally does not pay much attention to GRE scores, a cumulative (sans the analytical writing section) score of anything below 1250 is considered “a strike against an applicant.” My cumulative score? 1250. Will it matter that my verbal score was so decent? I don’t know. That’s why I’m only slightly more at ease to have the test behind me. Blimey.

Happy Labor Day!