This piece is several years old, and was an EMN column, as well as appearing in my book ‘Working Knights.’  But I found it and felt it needed to see the sunlight again.


The big possums walk the night!

I have back pain and Im out of Lortab!

I have back pain and I'm out of Lortab!

Weekends always seem to be the same in our emergency department.  The EMS radio chatters the same codes over and over.  Signal 13, signal 45, code 6.  (Laceration, intoxicated, altercation).  I typically walk in on Friday and Saturday nights to see a parking lot full of young people smoking and laughing while friends are seen as patients.  I guess if you hang out in the hospital parking lot, you’re bound to see something interesting eventually.

One recent shift I was bemoaning the fact that so many bad things happen at night.  I was talking about this to my good friend, Capt. Neal Brown of the SC Highway Patrol.  He summed up the problem.  “You see Ed, the big opossums walk at night,” he said succinctly.  Andy Griffith couldn’t have said it better.

As such, I would like to briefly call on my interesting, but generally unused, zoology degree to explain why it’s wise to avoid the big opossums at night.  You see, opossums are among the oldest and most successful of all mammals in the world.  They have successfully reproduced and lived in almost every environment on earth.  They are mostly nocturnal.  They will eat virtually anything.  Except for their strange propensity to walk out in front of moving vehicles, they seem to have amazing survival instincts.  But they can be mean.  Ask anyone who’s ever accidentally encountered one in the dark, seen it’s gleaming eyes and sharp teeth in the flashlight, then heard it hiss in anger.  Little wonder that some mornings the dog is limping on a bloody leg and the cat, atop the woodpile, looks stunned from the opossums well meaning, but misguided, amorous intentions.

So how does one apply this to human behavior?  There are some big opossums out there, my friends.  I hope to instill this understanding in my boys as they grow into adventurous manhood, as well as in any reader who tries to learn by reflection instead of experience.  The big opossums like to fight.  They’ll fight anyone, anytime, for something as slight as an annoyed look.  They don’t have the same sharp teeth, (although they do bite), but rest assured they have no compunction about slashing, stabbing, beating or shooting anyone who gets in their way.  They have a gleam in their eye that is usually brighter when intoxicated.  They are resilient.  They’ll roll their car over a mountain, break  numerous extremities and walk out of the hospital against medical advice.  They seem to undergo almost weekly violent injuries and go back to the same watering hole for more of the same.  I have said, and still maintain, there are some people you just can’t kill.  Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom could have devoted months to this species.  “Watch as Jim attempts to come between the giant two legged opossum and his potential mate!  Notice as Jim tries to avoid the broken beer bottle!”

They are a truly fascinating species.  To their credit, I haven’t found many that I couldn’t get along with and I see a lot of them.  All I try to do is show them respect, maintain a reasonable distance and make it evident that I am not a threat.  (Of course, other standard rules apply, like don’t move suddenly, don’t surprise them and don’t leave food, money or prescription drugs lying around).

The big opossums are a part of the social milieu of America that will never go away.  Although potentially dangerous, many of them are hard working individuals who just let go a little on weekends.  Any other time they’re as nice as pie.  They often do the jobs no one else wants, but that we all recognize as necessary.  As such, I suppose they deserve a little fun.  I just wish it didn’t always involve drinking and fighting.

The bottom line is this.  The world is dangerous enough, we all know that.  So it makes sense to avoid those situations and groups which increase our personal risk.  My mom and dad used to say that there wasn’t anything worthwhile going on after midnight.  Now I see how right they were.  Because after midnight, the big opossums walk the earth.  And they are a species to reckon with.

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