Guerrilla History & Urban Exploration

One Week in a Hospital - Hazards of exploring underground rivers & sewers

Wading through an underground river last week, which still has the irregular, rocky bottom of a natural streambed, I slipped. As I went down I caught myself with my right hand. I wasn't wearing a glove, and as my hand plunged into the water in search of a hold I felt a shock. Yanking it out I felt something tear. Something-- metal, glass, or stone-- had pierced deep into my palm near the heel of my hand. The pain was incredible and I later learned it was because it had pierced the Carpel Tunnel, that bundle of nerves through the wrist, and had damaged the Ulnar nerve which controls the last two fingers.
The pain died down after a while but I still wanted to make sure it was OK. At the emergency room at the NYU Hospital Center, they took x-rays and said nothing was broken, but that even after cleaning there was some foreign material still embedded inside. "We'll suture it up loosely," said the resident, who I was pleased with at the time but who I now realize was a dangerous idiot. "Any dirt will be able to work its way out. It will be swollen and hurt tonight, but it should start getting better by tomorrow."

That was Monday. By Tuesday morning it was red and swollen and painful. By the time I got back to the hospital it was red and swollen to the elbow. By the time they officially checked me into the emergency room three hours later, it was red to the shoulder and I found that if I squeezed my grotesquely swollen wrist, pus would flow out of the wound on my palm.
"Stop that!" the ER nurse told me, but I felt like it was better out than in.
The pain was truly incredible, and it kept getting rapidly worse. By the time they got the hand surgeon down there, nasty streaks of infection were beginning to become visible on my chest as well.

They rushed me to surgery and cut open my hand and wrist to clean out the infection from its source. I was in-patient at the hospital for a week, on intense IV antibiotics. The surgeons removed the "foreign material" that had been in there, and upon culturing it found that the infection was three things:
Staph bacteria (occurs all over the place)
Enterobacter (bacteria often found in human feces)
Aeromonas Hydrophila (a hardy waterborne bacteria often found in leeches)

"It's exactly what we would have expected to find, knowing you were where you were when you got it," said one of the Infecious Diseases doctors, with a tone that I think showed both disapproval and a little awe. They don't often get walking laboratories of pathogens like this, I imagine.

Sadly I have no pictures of the early stages; I was too busy moaning from the pain, screaming for morphine, and praying for my arm to fall off and release me from the agony. But the picture at the top of this post shows it just after I got out of the hospital, after seven days of antibiotics and healing.

Conflux 2008 Project & Tour: Underground Streams

I led a couple walking tours at Conflux 2008 as part of my project "Looking for...", a quest to find out about New York City's lost waterways. See my website on the project here: http://watercourses.typepad.com/

Information on the Conflux event: http://confluxfestival.org/conflux2008/looking-for/

Before New York was developed, there were literally hundreds of streams running through the area now in the five boroughs, dozens large enough to be named and to function as important sources of freshwater. There were also springs that welled up from the ground, feeding streams or marshy areas. As the city grew, wells were dug to tap the water as well.

Most of these were covered over and forgotten; some of them still remain, merely hidden. Many more are referenced now by street names and symbols like street layouts and neighborhood names; most of the time these symbols, however, remain uninterpreted. I’d like to interpret them.

I will lead one or more walking tours (i’m thinking two, on two different days) and will point out some of these symbolic references to the pre-urban topography. I will also have packets of materials for different regions of NYC (things like copies from “Streams and Wells of Manhattan and the Bronx” and sections of the Viele Water map). These I will give to interested participants… and anyone who finds any clue, however recondite or obvious, to some ancient watercourse, will then email it in to a blog where it will post immediately. I hope by the end of the four days that we’ll both amass an informational archive, and be able to read oft-unread urban symbols of the past.

Gallery Show - Stage of Exploration: The World of Steve Duncan

Stage of Exploration: The World of Steve Duncan
Reception October 3rd, 2008
Curated by Pierrette Kulpa
Wine provided by Kalin Cellars
Gallery space provided by Dan Regard and the Dupont Circle Art Galleries First Friday program

Click here to see images from this show