It was my favorite. A quarter bought you a chance to win an amazing stuffed animal. I was 9 years old. It was an amazing stuffed animal. Later on in life, I’d come to realize that they were cheaply made, hazardous to small children, probably contained lead, and cost 5 cents to manufacture. Either way, it was a rush to win that crappy stuffed animal, and I will own a claw machine game someday!
“I don’t gamble, because winning a hundred dollars doesn’t give me great pleasure. But losing a hundred dollars, pisses me off”.Alex Trebek
So does dropping that stuffed animal and losing a quarter.
Back to being 9 years old. Camp Fire Girls annual campout. I think it was in the Mendocino area, at a KOA campground. Inside the campground’s little store were some vending machines, nicknack souvenirs, a Pac-Man arcade game, and a glorious stuffed animal claw game. I can’t quite explain to you… the draw that I have to this game. It’s like a slot machine for gamblers, an x-box for a teenaged boy, a chocolate fountain for a keto-dieter. There’s a glowing aura around it. Lights, music, the thrill of winning.
But this particular claw game had a ‘flaw’… well, it was a flaw for whomever owned it, stocked it, and wanted to make a profit from it. You see, the claw mechanism can be tightened or loosened. If you’ve ever played one, and thought you’d be able to snag that perfectly positioned toy, only for the claw ‘fingers’ to barely graze across the fur while you’re screaming “you didn’t even TRY”! Save your quarters. But this one. This one’s flaw was that it was calibrated too tight. Every quarter won us about 3-4 stuffed animals on each play. You couldn’t lose, and it was hilarious. So much so, that my friend and I cleaned-out the machine daily (greedy, but we were the the only kids at the campground that week). Jackpot.
I had been a 9-1-1 Dispatcher for about 17 years, and what a blessing that job was (to me, and whomever I was able to help). Imagine the rush of helping coordinate a pursuit, invoke empathy with a suicidal caller, have sergeants value your advice, and to be able to console a rape victim through a phone line. As a lump swells in my throat, and my computer screen becomes slightly blurred, I can proudly continue typing and say that God had me there for a reason. But the long shifts, daily adrenaline ‘squirts’, good stress & bad, ‘closed doors’, and several other sad factors, ended my career too soon.
For years I dismissed the smaller warning signs. Everything from minor medical symptoms, to going partially blind in my right eye because of a temporary condition that only affects Type A personalities experiencing high stress situations. So many times I felt like that unravelling stuffed-animal inside a claw game; being pulled at by a loosened claw, coaxing me to protect my mental and physical health. I ignored it. I was saving lives, needing a paycheck, and would be extremely embarrassed by my perceived weakness. I was darn good at my occupation. I loved using my brain in a way that most of the general population can’t, and had grand plans to uplift and protect my co-workers through some rough, understaffed times. During an extremely stressful shift, it was common for me to make a humorous request of my co-workers, that they make sure my future headstone says “She made us laugh”. We needed humor. We needed prayer. I knew mentally and physically that I wasn’t doing well.
The claw was tightened.
On 9-11-18 it happened. I don’t remember too much of it, just that I had zero control during my meltdown on duty. I don’t remember driving home. The borderline catatonic state that followed for several days was equally intriguing, and even while having horrible confusion while experiencing it, I was able to thank God for creating us in such an amazing way that our bodies become protectively numb. This wasn’t a vehicle accident, or slip & fall. It wasn’t a compound fracture that everyone could visibly see and understand. Chest pains, shaking, tears. Try making it through all of the following Workman’s Compensation phone calls, doctor’s appointment phone calls & visits, along with the few coworkers who reached out to check on me. How do you explain it, and defend yourself, while only able to speak with one-syllable words and short sentences? I was a blubbering fool.
I argued with the first doctor’s timeline. Because I’m an expert in everything, I felt that a few weeks was enough to help me decompress enough to crawl back through the claw game prize door, and settle back in to things. Nope. The next doctor warned of relapse. I don’t have a virus! Relapse? And finally, to complete my Workman’s Comp, a County and state-chosen doctor ran a comprehensive evaluation and determined that I couldn’t return. Couldn’t return.
“In law enforcement, it’s difficult to end your career… especially when it’s TOO SOON”.a wise (sworn) man
The mourning continued. It was like a death. My identity changed. I could be angry and keep trying to force my way back into the machine, or I could thank God for tightening the claw. When I run into department staff, half of them only recently realized that I was gone, and the other half think I’m still there. To keep the conversations short (and to prevent me from crying), I usually just give them the claw game analogy. With my hand in a claw mechanism position and movement, I explain how God plucked me out of a situation that He didn’t want me in anymore, and moved me for my protection. And while I’d love to ‘drive home’ the level of stress that this occupation can create, any more explanation than that usually makes my mascara run, and hands shake.
It’s not a compound fracture. You can’t see it. It’s still difficult in so many ways. Difficult to reach out to fellow coworkers. Difficult to respond to texts. Difficult to relive it, to explain it, or to defend myself. Consider it rude, but it hurts ripping the bandage off just to tell my story. I still mourn it. Other parts are easy. Somehow it was easy to love my enemies and show grace. Easy to say “I still love you” while hurting. It was easy to forgive several factors that lead me to that day. It was easy to accept this that is who I am, and this is the level of tolerance for what I can handle. It’s (now) easy to let go and trust that God’s got me.
I also want a pinball machine!