The Biting Bullet

My Dad was almost a doctor.  In fact, he was just his thesis away from becoming one.  It was then that he came to the conclusion that he really didn’t want to pursue that profession, changing his major and pursuing his desire to be a teacher instead.  He loved sports, though–especially any sport that involved his alma mater:  Michigan State University–and that eventually led to his moonlighting as a referee and umpire, mostly for high school football, basketball and softball.  As a result of these two factors, I think my Dad had a certain level of “sports medicine” knowledge that he was able to incorporate over the years.

This, I believe, was reflected in his first-aid kit that he always kept in his vehicle.  It was one of those old metal army ammo cases with a lid that swings up on one hinge, painted white with a red cross on both sides of it (a friend of his had made it for him way back when).  He had everything in this thing!  And I remember him having to use it with my brother and I more than once while growing up.  But nothing he had anywhere else in his arsenal of first-aid gadgetry could compare to what we called “The Biting Bullet”.

The Biting Bullet was actually kept in the house.  Whenever there was a scraped-up knee or elbow or a cut that wasn’t too deep, just hearing the words, “Guess we need to get out the Biting Bullet!” would bring instant trepidation.  It didn’t matter who had the cut or the scrape.  Of course, whichever one of us wasn’t the injured party came running because they wanted to see the antics that were about to play out.  The Biting Bullet was a spray can with a silhouette picture of an athlete running on the front of it.  It had some long medical name on its front for what was in it, but that didn’t matter to my brother and I.  The only thing that concerned us was the fact that this stuff was like electricity in a spray can.  And as a kid, that’s all that counts.  It doesn’t matter what reality is; it’s what a kid’s perception of it is that makes up his world.  And when it came to treating a wound, our world had an evil nemesis that manifested itself whenever the Biting Bullet was used.

My Dad would always shake the can real good, all the while talking to the poor, innocent, wounded child (me) or the guilty, convicted, wound-deserving offspring (my brother) of how this was going to hurt him more than the one being treated and other such nonsensical gibberish that emits from a parent who is thoroughly enjoying an opportunity such as this to torment his or her children.  Whichever one of us it was would sit there on the toilet, tense and braced for the inevitable sting of this spray that looked like pee, while Dad talked and everyone else around  was in generally high spirits as they waited for the spectacle to unfold.  (All that was missing was a concession stand and an announcer:  “Ladies and gentlemen, while you wait for the unfortunate demise of this poor waif, a concession stand with items such as soft pretzels, hummus and lox & bagels is available in the lower level for your convenience.”)  I know my Dad stretched that prep time out as long as he could–or at least as long as Mom would let him.  It was inevitable that eventually the injured boy would be laughing with everyone else about what was happening–until he suddenly felt stinging electricity jolting through his injury, only to realize all too late that the Biting Bullet had struck again.  No amount of blowing on it helped either.  And sometimes a second and third application was “necessary”.  Yeah.  Right, Dad.  Sure.  Gotta protect against those germs and infection, right?  Uh-huh.  Thanks.

Would you believe I kept that can until well after I was married?  I’ve got memories of these tragic events happening as early as four or five years old.  I got married when I was thirty.  So how many years is that?  My wife finally threw it away (unbeknownst to me).  Who knows what the expiration date was on that can?  All I knew was it still stung after all these years, so that must mean that it still works, right?  I guess now I’ll never know.  It’s been gone for quite a few years now.  Now I can’t show my boys what that was like.


10 thoughts on “The Biting Bullet”

  1. I don’t recall referring to it as “the biting bullet.” I remember it as “biting the bullet” with dad blurting out, “time to bite the bullet, followed by our vehement protests. Whatever…potato, potahto…

    1. You were the vehement one. I, being the older sibling and prone to setting the example for you, handled it with the usual perpetual callousness to pain and agony.

      1. Well, true…a perfectly peaceful disposition was your default state. My, how my imperfections must have taxed your infinite patience…

  2. Matt, you need to find a can of your own”biting bullets”! By the way, your concessions stand was high class with lox and hummus available to eat !!! Lol…..

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