It’s been a couple of weeks and I think I have washed out the adrenaline and “I’m not worthiness” from my show at The Triple Door.
Apparently I should make a note here that it was a huge success.
I didn’t really know what to expect. It was Emerald City Comic Con weekend of course and my voice was already wrecked because of panels and whatnot. But I had a good crowd, and an amazing cast of showmates. I simply cannot thank Marian Call, Molly Lewis, Seth Boyer, and Joel Watson enough for making the night simply magical both for the audience and for me as a performer.
I think I’ve mined fully the extent of “coma humor”, and in sifting through the audio of the show I can’t wait to cut this together into a concert CD for you.
But what this post really is about is for those of you who might have missed the show, I thought I would put in the second part of the reading I did. True, you don’t have Seth Boyer’s guitar music to accompany as you read, but I bet you can find some.
Just Let Me Finish This Level, Part 2
Michael was my room mate once I got moved out of the ICU. He was a very nice man, African American, about 15 years older than me. We commiserated over our stay, compared food menu items, and in general he was a nice enough person to have to share close quarters with for several weeks. The interesting thing about Michael was, he was missing half his skull.
He’d fallen off the roof of a house and suffered a pretty severe brain injury. To reduce swelling that might cause a stroke, they removed a large part of his skull and froze it to be reinserted later while the brain healed. In the mean time Michael had to wear a helmet and try not to fall down. Ever. At all.
What I want to know is who was the first person to come up with this treatment?
“Dr. He’s fallen off a roof and hit his head on concrete.”
“What do you think we should do?”
“well, he’s non-responsive and looks like he’s totally done for.”
“huh. Anything we could do to save him?”
“Fuck if I know”
“meh screw it. Let’s remove his skull and freeze it for later and see if that helps.”
Which leads me to the second part of what bothers me here.
Somewhere, in a hospital fridge, was Michael’s skull. It terrified me because I imagined it just wrapped in tinfoil inside a Tupperware container with a sticker that said “Michael’s Skull do not take” like when you have to put your lunch in the office fridge.
Later on they gave me the pass key to the kitchen so that I could get my own juice and stuff and I was convinced I would see it behind the ice cream. “Michaels skull 04/15” like you label the leftover baked ziti.
My physical situation was interesting to say the least.
I was still weak, connected to two different IV stands, and had an enormous tube installed in my lung to drain any excess fluid. Even if I wanted to get out of bed it would require another person and a five minute procedure to unhook me. I remember laying there thinking to myself, ok. This isn’t good at all. I can’t get comfortable to sleep. But I hopefully won’t be here long. All things being equal, I’ve felt worse. Michael was in it for the long haul, he had two more months to go in the hospital. After one day, I wanted out. Immediately.
Everything about a hospital is designed for a set of singular purposes: to either beep at you, stick you, or remain ominously silent until it’s out of whatever thing it’s giving you then suddenly go off like the self destruct klaxon on the Nostromo in Alien.
I did discover an interesting fact. If you are ever wondering where the United States stores its strategic reserve of lemon jello, it is evenly distributed throughout all of the hospitals of the Country. When the Russians come to take the country in a Red Dawn type scenario fear not, we can survive on pectin based citrus snacks for decades. I’m more than a bit mystified that Prunes and jello are staple items of every hospital in the country. It’s as if the Jello consortium and Big Prune cornered the early food contracts in a late 1800’s style trust.
If all this sounds disjointed, it’s because I want you to understand that it was. In every way. Everything about a hospital is a surreal experience. It’s cold. People are always moving about. Shades or curtains are pulled but nothing really blocks out the light. You don’t want to be there, you can’t leave until either you will yourself to achieve certain goals by following all the rules, or your body heals to allow you to.
After I woke up I was moved to the resting ICU portion, where other patients where. My first few nights were spent still in the haze of the drugs. I was fed intravenously and yes, I had the full meal deal catheter experience which, in this context, despite what the Internet would have you believe, is not a euphemism. There was a device that in another dimension could be designed for pleasure inserted in one place in my body, and another device in a place that was truly never meant to be an entry point for anything EVER. That’s right, I’m talking about the peehole.
The hardest part of the initial adjustment of being in the hospital post coma was not the weakness or the drugged out feeling or insomnia or knowing I nearly died. The worst part was that I was on laxatives and diuretics and my body was constantly automatically flushing out without any control on my part. Imagine the mental anti-training of peeing and shitting your pants constantly, all day, all through uncomfortable and sometimes painful devices.
Oh by the way everyone done eating right? Ok? We’re ok? Ok.
After a day they decided Scotty down in my engineering bay had restored full sphincter power. By the way, imagine that in “William Shatner in the heat of battle” voice. “Scotty do we have sphincter power?”
So yay the catheters are going to come out! But the thing about hospitals is, they tell you that this thing you hate is going away and you get all happy but then there’s a question of process.
“Turn to your side and cough when I say,” said the nurse.
If anyone ever says this to you, pain is about to ensue. This isn’t the standard hernia check. I’m lying on my side with my gown up so she can fully access the catheters to remove them. The first one wasn’t a big deal. The second one however. Well. Imagine, if you have one, the head of your penis making this noise: POP. (wait for audience reaction)
OH YOU HAVE NO IDEA.
THAT IS NOT A NOISE THAT SHOULD EVER COME FROM THERE.
And her tactic for this was “turn on your side and cough when I say.” This is bullshit. This is the greatest lie told since “we’re pregnant”. This is a falsehood so insidious as to beggar belief. I coughed, she pulled, something went POP and I to this day hesitate now before I cough.
The cough does nothing. The cough is simply to make you feel like you are part of the process. I have news for all you catheter technicians out there. WE ARE ALREADY PART OF THE PROCESS. KNOCK US THE FUCK OUT THEN REMOVE THE CATHETER.
It hurt so bad I almost asked for the removed catheter apparatus so I could name it, file it on my tax returns as a dependent and watch it grow into a productive member of society.
The next few days were a whirlwind of emotions. I wanted a slice of amazing pizza and a coke and my iPad. When I say I wanted these things I mean to say I wanted them more than I have ever wanted anything in my entire life. I was told I could not be on the Internet. The time I spent in the hospital was the longest time I have spent off the Internet since it was called The Internet. I had to wait to eat solid food. I could not sleep. I was stuck for blood draws every 8 hours. I had a pic line to my heart and the tube in my side and two IV’s which made lying comfortably impossible. Doctors were apologetic but firm. Nurses were apologetic but firm. My family was apologetic but firm. Life was apologetic but firm. My anger was apologetic but firm.
This wasn’t fair. I had given up alcohol. I was eating healthy. I had gone through a painful divorce, moved to another country, gotten laid off. But things had turned around. I thought I had reached a level of civility with my ex. I loved my new job working with amazing people. Then I died? I just walked into a hotel and now this? And no one knows exactly how it happened. I might need a liver transplant? I will spend weeks here? This was a whimpering end. This isn’t how I go out, this wasn’t the plan. Fuck this. Fuck jello. Fuck prunes. Double fuck cathethers. Fuck everything. Fuck it all I don’t want to be here if it’s going to be like this. I just don’t.
Ok happy thoughts.
You know one good thing about the hospital? Peeing in bed. OH MY GOD GUYS. Now to be clear I have a penis. This is a more “external” urine elimination system than the alternative and I say god bless it. They give you this container like an angled thermos, and you just, pee in bed. In that. If there was one thing I would like to have brought home from that experience it’s the waking up in the middle of sleeping needing to pee, wrapped up in my warm blankets, and just reaching over and grabbing my little pee buddy container and ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Through all of my initial anger and rejection at the state I found myself in, I should mention the doctors and staff, were wonderful. With the exception of Doom Von He’s Already Dead the neurologist.
Now, the whole point of being in the hospital for this extended amount of time was to figure out not what happened to me, but why and how I bounced back. Brain death is not something we have a lot of insight into. For all the ER drama in Hollywood of a character going limp and a heart monitor flatlining, where the doctor solemnly looks at a clock to mark the time then covers the person with a sheet, that person is still there.
Barring massive physical trauma to someone, we don’t so much die like an off switch as we do slowly fade out over a couple of minutes as the brain cells are starved of oxygen. And we spent three weeks stabilizing me, measuring improvement, and trying to see how it could be prevented in the future.
It was decided I should have a procedure done known as a TIPS in which a small shunt would be installed in my liver to prevent future fluid buildup. It’s a minor invasive procedure and takes about an hour. After all the fear of not dying and the emotional ride of the hospital, I actually found I wasn’t near as scared of this because it was billed to me as an essential step in getting out.
I was prepped and taken down to the operating room waiting area. I was told I would be under conscious sedation so bring some music to distract me. Being off the Internet I was not fully versed in the overall mechanics of the procedure but the surgeon came in to talk to me about it.
“Now,” he said, “I’m required by law to tell you that there’s roughly a one in 100 chance you could die on the table. We’re going in through your jugular vein and patients who expire usually bleed out or were already too sick for the procedure to work.”
He must have noticed that my hands clenched on the gurney’s metal arm rests were now actually bending the metal because he then said, “But don’t worry. You look good and your vitals are great. The one in a 100 thing is actually true of just about any time we have to go inside the body. But I do a lot of these and it’s not a big deal.”
At least, I think he said that, I didn’t really pay attention because I was trying to figure out how to use my lung tube as a kind of garrote to choke him out then make a run for it.
But then I was off and they wheeled me into the operating room. This is by far the coolest room I have even been in. All pure white with a little stainless steel and glass. It looked like the pod bay of the Discovery. I was floored by just how cool it was. They pulled me into the center of the room and began hooking sensor leads all over my body while I did my best to remain calm. Being a nerd I asked lots of questions about the anesthetic and the head technician asked what music I would be listening to.
“Beatles, Abbey Road,” I replied.
“Oh that ought to play nice with the colors and things you’re going to see.” He said.
WHAT? I was gonna be trippin’? Shit man I would have brought some Floyd or phillip glass up in this shit if I had known that.
The doctor dropped by again and checked the surgery site on my neck, feeling around for my vein. “Oh wow. You have a great jugular. We’ll have this done in no time.” So, ladies. I’m just sayin. Great jugular.
They finished connecting the leads, when suddenly a huge paper-thin 80 inch TV descended from the ceiling on an articulating arm. They positioned it right over my body, turned it on, and suddenly all my vitals and information started star trekking across the screen. I watched it in wonder for a second then declared, loudly, “THIS ROOM. IS BITCHIN”
After the surgery it was mostly a matter of rebuilding body strength and making sure the procedure took. Each day I had to do a couple of figure eight rotations around the hospital wing. As I became stronger I started to feel a little more confident, a little more capable.
To take these walks with my chest tube I had to decouple from all the IV’s and carry a fluid container around like a briefcase. I looked like a bad borg cosplay.
One morning I turned a corner just as a hospital visitor turned the opposite one and for a moment we were walking side by side. I didn’t notice her at first as I was just in the zone doing my walking thing but she was an older woman and significantly overweight. Unintentionally I began to pull ahead of her. Oh no, she not was having any of that. She was not going to have some gimpy sick patient outrace her, a mere visitor to this place.
I noticed she upped her speed, so I upped mine. Soon it was a full on race. This was going to be my proof to myself that I was better. That I could win! In my mind we raced neck and neck down the hall, Chariot’s of Fire playing in the background. In reality it looked a lot like two people doing this.
But I won. And just two days later got the clearance to go home.
There’s so much more I could tell you. I had to spend time with psychologists going over my mental capacity to do a transplant. The fact my salt allotment for each day was treated like a credit card balance and I treated it like a broke college student treats a credit card. My first day back on the Internet which I was limited to bawling my eyes out ten minutes at a time from the love and support.
I stand before you, so much more to say, but now extra special because I’m .001% metal now thanks to my shunt. The twist in my M. Night story is that I made it, with no brain damage, through something that no one thought I would. My super power is suddenly and without reason fall into a coma at will. Useful during torture or to escape certain situations:
“Do you know how fast you were going sir?”
I view what happened to me with humor but humble. I’m getting that chance to finish the level before bed.
I have no idea what the future will bring, and the debt I owe to those of you who enjoy my work or supported me during this is immeasurable. There but for the grace of Morgan Freeman playing God in a movie went I, and emerged changed and not.
Was there any wisdom gained from it? We’ll see in a little bit.