Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Dazed and confused

There is little in this world that I fear more than a running toilet.

When I hear a toilet running — in my house or in my office suite — I rush to find out just how long it’s been running, and to listen out to make sure it’s going to stop.

That’s because three years ago, a toilet in the bathroom connected to my then-office in my then-office building, which I had flushed on a Friday evening before running out to a meeting, ran continuously until my discovery noontime the next day, when I happened to stop in at the office and discovered that the entire two-story office building had been flooded by, yes, that one little overflowing toilet. Which led to a cascade of problems — extremely expensive remediation, relocation of our business, restoration of all our files from the cloud, buying new furniture and fixtures and hardware and supplies, and a daily, grinding, maddening, escalating set of screaming arguments over 10 freaking months with my insurance company, who will go nameless (but whose initials are “The Hartford”), and that resulted in my legitimately threatening to sue them unless they sent me $xxx,xxx immediately… which they did. Finally. Just before I flew down to Texas and plunged knitting needles into their eyes.

(Even with all that, and with their agreeing to the $xxx,xxx, I think my company is out another $xxx,xxx+.)

After that debacle, I took three weeks off. For the first time in… decades? Ever? Because it was either that, or kill someone. Slowly. With malice.

All because of one malfunctioning toilet.

So now I have plumbing PTSD. Justifiably so. Just so we understand.

So last week, when at 4 a.m. I heard the toilet in the bathroom at home adjacent to my bedroom running, I sprang out of bed to go check on it. I beat a path to that toilet like I’d been set on fire, throwing open the door to the bathroom and plucking off the tank lid and grabbing a hold of that fill valve and wrestling it into resting position like my existence depended on it. Despite my ministrations, making all the adjustments I now know so well thanks to my toilet-mania, every action was to no avail. I couldn’t get the toilet to stop running. Water kept coming up from the plumbing and shooting straight down a pipe back into the system. So I turned off the valve at the water supply, in order to cut off all incoming water flowing to the toilet… and it still wouldn’t stop. Water kept coming in, inexplicably, even with the water valve turned off.

This was straight out of a horror movie.

One written especially for me.

The toilet wasn’t overflowing, but water kept coming into the tank and then draining right back into the system. So I went back to bed… and tried to sleep… as I listened to the toilet run for four hours.

Edgar Allen Poe couldn’t have dreamt this up.

Believe me, at 8 a.m. on the dot I was on the phone, booking a plumber.

I present all this as preface to help you understand the magnitude of this plumbing issue. It wasn’t “just another plumbing problem.” Who could imagine how this could intensify? Me! In my water-logged brain, the situation conjured up another epic 10-month round of water torture, with my entire house being swamped with moisture and all my possessions ruined, and me back in a death match with some faceless and uncaring insurance company in a far-off land. Did I want a plumber? You bet.

Forty-five minutes later, Levon presented himself at my door. When I saw who the plumbing company had sent, I was relieved. We’ve gone through a succession of plumbers in recent years — truly, almost no one can live up to my expectations at this point, but if there is one exception, it might be Levon. He’s a seasoned, capable, even-tempered and fair plumber, the horse whisperer of plumbing and plumbing fixtures. Levon knows how to calm and settle toilets, sinks, dishwashers, washing machines and every other plumbing unit he’s come across.  His very presence gentles plumbing hardware and also skittish plumbing neurotics like me.

Unfortunately, his presence agitates something else:  my high-strung dog, who is three-quarters fox terrier, one-quarter neurotic chihuahua, and 100% a pain in the ass when any living thing comes within half a mile, all six pounds of her set on high alert. She has asserted themselves to such a degree that she owns the other dog living here (the poor fella), and to a lesser extent my son and me, the mailman, and every guest who doesn’t sufficiently kowtow to her and bestow edible gifts and continuous wary petting. Because of this dog, even the most ardent of door-knocking evangelical missionaries avoid my house. In Levon’s case, my dog was so riled up that he felt actually threatened. No, she has never bitten anyone, but I don’t blame Levon for worrying about it:  Whatever charms he uses to soothe major appliances were having zero effect on her. Clearly, they needed to be segregated. Somehow or other, after much cajoling, I was able to isolate her and her cowering canine companion downstairs, and then put in place the dog gate we have that restricts their access to other rooms. The two of them, the tetchy fox terrier and the somewhat dopey and embattled dachshund-beagle mix, were now safely ensconced away from Levon and any of the plumbing action going on two stories above. They could romp around the family room downstairs, and, because I’d left the back door open for them, also go into the enclosed back yard if they liked and terrorize the wildlife.

But I wanted to see what Levon was doing — how he was assessing the ceaseless privy, and how he was going to fix it — so that I could watch and learn. As I made my way upstairs, though, he was coming down:  He couldn’t get the water to shut off at the valve behind the toilet either, so he needed to go turn off the water main… which was outside, in the back yard. Which meant he’d be back in the land of the fierce dog. Tiny, but fierce.

Levon walked out the front door to circle around back, and I beat a path ahead of him to get to the back yard and the back door ahead of him. While he moved to shut off the main, I corralled the dogs back into the family room and firmly shut and locked that sliding back door behind them, securing them in the family room and away from the plumber. Through the glass, I saw Levon start to make his way back to the front of the house and to his truck, readying to re-engage the upstairs toilet. Again, I wanted to watch all his actions, so I ran past the dogs and through the family room to get up into the kitchen and the house and up the stairs but —


— I forgot about the gate I’d put there.

All I knew was that suddenly I was flying through the air and then I was landing Very Hard with a sickening SMACK on the impregnable Spanish tile of my kitchen, first on my right kneecap, then on my hand, then immediately on my forehead.

I lay there stunned for possibly an entire minute.

I was sure I’d broken my kneecap. It had to be broken. I’d hit it with such force. And then I remembered reading somewhere that if you actually break your kneecap, you’ll always have a limp.

Then I was sure that I’d broken at least one finger on my right hand, because I’d landed on it funny, in a bent way.

Then I was thinking about all the things I’ve done over the years without breaking any bone, including once falling 30 feet out of a tree fort, which led me to think back to some of the kids I knew when we moved from Devonshire to Galloway when I was 11 and then I was thinking about how lightly violence is taken in the movies, especially the superhero movies, while even this stupid at-home incident could have major repercussions ….

Then I realized I wasn’t sure I was thinking quite right, so maybe my forehead — my head in general — was the main issue.

Then I realized I was making groaning sounds.

Then I decided to just get up.

Just get up.

I tested my right leg. Put weight on it. Moved it a bit. Surprisingly, the kneecap didn’t seem to be broken. How was this possible? In my head, I recounted the incident. I figured out that my kneecap hadn’t hit first, that it had actually been the flesh above the knee that had hit right into one of the steps. So while the whole area panged with agony, I could still walk.

The finger, indeed the whole hand, seemed miraculously intact as well. 

Still felt woozy, though. 

Determined to beat Levon upstairs, I summoned up the willpower and hobbled quickly upstairs to the bathroom, reaching into my dopp kit to secure two Aleve pain tablets.  I knew I was going to hurt far worse later, and I still wanted to go to the gym that night if it were at all possible, knowing that once you get off that gym schedule it’s hard to get back on. I was able to grab my bedside water bottle and down the two Aleve before Levon arrived back from his truck with some parts in hand.

Masking any discomfort, I watched him work on the toilet. The cause had been not one problem, but several plotting together — yes, the fill valve, but also the water valve, and also the seals inside the tank that had worn away. He could fix it for now, but ultimately I’d need a new toilet.

I dully took all this in. The threat of recreating “Waterworld” in my house was gone, but now I was preoccupied with how I was feeling. I thanked Levon, paid him, and sent him on his way. Then I drove to my office.

I had a whole host of things to do there. People wanted my opinion about things, and there were things to write, and things to check off a list, and numbers to look at, and emails to deal with… but I couldn’t seem to make sense of any of them. My thoughts were a jumble, my perceptions merely glimpsed through fog. Even the most mundane or routine assignment seemed inexplicable. I couldn’t figure out anything.

I wondered if I needed to go to the hospital. Maybe that hit on the head was the real problem. I went into the office bathroom to take a look at myself in the mirror. I imagined seeing a giant brick-like welt at the center of my forehead, or a thick blue splotch where blood was forming under skin, but I didn’t see anything like that. Everything looked normal. 

I went back into my own office and sat down in my chair and looked again at everything I normally could do so effortlessly and just couldn’t ascertain what any of it was or how to do it.

Then I got the idea to lie down on the floor. 

Once on the floor behind my desk, I had the fleeting thought that maybe my brain was even then filling up with blood and I’d never wake up and people would find me there and notify my family and I was trying to remember how much the insurance payout would be….

And then I woke up, about an hour, hour-twenty, later. Still on the floor.

I struggled to my feet, still feeling off but somewhat better. So I went into the main office area and had a cup of coffee. After a while, that made me feel even better. I still couldn’t accomplish anything, and my entire consciousness felt submerged under water, but I was alive and functioning, somewhat.

Bit by bit I got closer to the surface of normal.

So after another hour or two of puttering around insensibly, I decided to go to the gym.

At the gym, 20 minutes of stretching started to reacquaint me with my body and my thoughts. So I moved on to the treadmill. At first I tried running, but after two sprints I could feel my right knee flaring up, and I thought, This is just plain stupid, so I reduced down to a brisk walk. At that pace, I got through all 45 minutes, then gladly moved on to weightlifting.

My workout finished, I actually felt normal. All the fuzziness had gone. I was myself again!

By the time I got in the door at home, I was eager to tell my son the story of my day:  how I’d had the plumber over, how the one dog was a menace, how my concern over that, matched with my eagerness to watch the plumber work, had led me to crash down hard onto our tile floor, how I’d run upstairs to take two Aleve —

And as I was relating this to him, recounting every step and visualizing every bit of it, my entire day came into focus in a new light.

Because now I could see what had happened.

How it was that, no, I hadn’t had a concussion, but still had all that fogginess.

How, when I ran upstairs to take two Aleve, I’d grabbed the blue bottle of Aleve out of my dopp kit.

Not the white bottle, which contains Aleve. The blue bottle… which contains Aleve PM.

I had spent the day trying to shrug off sleeping pills.

Let me tell you, those Aleve PM really work as advertised.

5 Responses to “Dazed and confused”

  1. Adrian Burns Says:

    Lee – a litany of horror for you but what a tale you make for your humble readers. A five star read!

  2. Dan Says:

    I see Divine Intervention at work here. The hand of God reaching down into the mire, trying to raise you to a level somewhere near the depths of degradation.

  3. Jim Markley Says:

    What a wonderful bedtime story! I’ll take my Alleve PM, tuck myself in, and know that my tomorrow couldn’t be worse than your today!

  4. Kelly Carruolo Says:

    I love how you tell a story. I have a boxed Christmas tree in my living room because I fear injury more than I fearclutter. How did I get to be this age. Injury is terrifying. I gotta get the door man to remove this try. Talk about dazed and confused. I love you, my friend….Great story

  5. Mike Folie Says:

    Comedy gold!

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