February 2, 2012 —
First order of business today is to set the record straight.
Paraphrasing Mark Twain, let it be known that the rumors of my death have been mildly exaggerated. I have, however, recently experienced an N.D.E. (near death experience).
When I awoke on December 30, my head filled with plans for New Years Eve, I felt peculiar. A cold sweat came over me and I felt some discomfort in my gut. After some effort, I managed to get a coat on, Dharma’s leash off its hook and made my way outside for her morning constitutional, wondering what could be wrong with me, momentarily chalking it up to the abundance of holiday parties I had attended during the previous days.
While on our short walk, the discomfort turned to actual pain and I began to feel this was no (IMHO) ordinary stomach upset. I hobbled back to the house. By the time I got inside, the pain had become unbearable and I collapsed on the floor, panic rising just before I passed out cold. When I came to, I was in full-blown agony and knew I needed help. I spent the next two hours attempting to get to the phone, flailing about helplessly, screaming and crying, unable to reach the receiver, while slipping in and out of consciousness, quite sure that I was dying.
The sound of the phone ringing stirred determination and luckily, I was close enough to it by then that I was able to knock the receiver to the floor and scream “help me” into the mouthpiece before once again slipping away. When I came to, I was in an ambulance, on its way to the Catskill Regional Medical Center, and my personal nightmare was underway in earnest. Emergency room gave way to a battery of tests, while the team of doctors and nurses tried their best to (unsuccessfully) ease my suffering as they began to unravel what was occurring inside of me.
I was given Dilaudid, which is “a very potent centrally-acting analgesic drug of the opioid class. It is a derivative of morphine, to be specific and therefore, a semi-synthetic drug. It is, in medical terms, an opioid analgesic and in legal terms, a narcotic and considered the strongest of the antitussive drugs” (www.wikipedia.org .)
In layman’s terms, Dilaudid is “synthetic heroin.” It seemed to have no impact on the pain, but did succeed in putting my head in another world.
As the test results began to come in and a surgical team put together, day gave way to night. It was 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve by the time I was informed that emergency, trans-abdominal surgery was imminent. I was whisked off to the OR, writhing, wailing and frightened. Thankfully, a close friend had been called and he miraculously appeared by my side, holding my hand and reassuring me that I would pull through, come hell or high water.
Fifteen minutes before the ball dropped in Times Square, I was wheeled into the recovery room, literally out of my mind, flitting in and out of reality. I’m told that I was wondering aloud how I was going to get my column written and (believe it or not) fretting about work, much to the amazement of my nurses. As the hours passed, images floated in and out of my psyche, all somehow related to my associates at The River Reporter. I imagined publisher Laurie Stuart leading a congregation in prayer, while strumming a Celtic harp (fanciful, no?) while images of Sandy Long photographing the procedure danced in my head.
I “saw” Tom Kane in the background as I began to feel disillusioned about faith, mingled with some confusion regarding my ability to remain resolute that, with simple trust, all would be well. Poet-in-residence Mary Greene popped into my addled brain as I constructed an ill-conceived spoken word ode to my intestines: “As the twisted, coiled, poisoned guts silently revolt inside of me, like Medusa’s head, I scream, praying for a death that will not come.” (You see Mary? This is why I leave the poetry to you and Sandy.)
More came and went. Zac Stuart-Pontier consulting with Lori Malone on the best way to edit the X-ray images into a montage. Clem Fullerton explaining to editor Fritz Mayer how I had been “gutted just like a fish.” Associate editor Anne Willard diligently checking in via phone. The endless parade of faces and names connected to TRR floated around my dream-state, and here I am, four weeks later, jotting these thoughts down on a wireless device, unable to sit properly at my desk, yet determined (finally!) that the show must go on.
I’m told it will be a slow recovery (still in pain), 90 days before I can drive again, and a year before back to normal, but I know now that I will prevail, (it’s called intestinal fortitude) with the help of the outpouring of love and support that has washed over me since the nightmare ensued. Not much left in the guts department. Hopefully, glory will prevail.