May 28, 2005

Turkey Part I

After surviving this trip to Boston, the next few years are a complete blur in my mind. I know what occurred but I am also unsure which caused which event.

In the early 90’s I begin having cold and hot chills. It was a bizarre symptom and I didn’t know where to go for help. Fortunately my mother graduated top of her class in television diagnosis and pre-med. That is to say, she usually knows the disease du jour before the doctors on television do.

Se suggested I see an endocrinologist and it so happened that a high school classmate’s father was just such a doctor. Dr. Kolodny knew in moments what was bothering me. It seem that the radiation used to treat me twenty years earlier had nicked the pituitary gland was causing ‘pituitary burn’. He began to investigate my problems and took blood samples and other tests to be sure. He started me on medicine and also on injections of testosterone. Finally someone was overseeing my obvious problems. One of the things he found was an abnormal cell count.

This led to further studies, and visits to oncologists and cardiologists and all sorts of fun tests. It was finally confirmed that my spleen was hugely swollen and had to be removed. Surgery was scheduled and out came the spleen. While they were ‘under the hood’ a liver biopsy was also performed. It seemed that problems with the liver were the cause of the problems in the spleen. They found I had cirrhosis.

My first problem was healing after surgery. I was being drained and otherwise cared for, but I was leaking fluid from my belly. It was so bad that in the hospital I would wake, my bed soaked with this liquid. I had the nurses changing my linens constantly and it was disgusting.

However, I am a fervent believer in self-advocacy. When the nurse said, sit up and cough, I was at it constantly. When they told me I could get up and walk, I walked all over the hospital floor. I was ready to leave the hospital and although there was still this leak, they let me go home. I went back to my place and prepared to convalesce. It was very nice. Many people called, sent cards or found ways to show their concern. When one day a letter came from the school, I was touched that someone in the administration had taken the time to write. However, rather than ‘Get Well’ wishes, the letter simply said that they’d no longer need my services for the coming year.

I was devastated. Rather than supporting me through this ordeal, they’d simply decided I was too great a risk to employ. Along with this news was the truth that I simply could not care for myself. They put me back into the hospital where I continued to leak from my abdomen. However, eventually I healed, was back at home and looking for work.

This is where things get very blurry. However there were several events that occurred. My sister met a man, and after due time, they decided to get married. She was so happy and it was lovely to see. A wedding was planned and my parents went all out. A yacht was hired. It was normally docked in Manhattan and the idea was to have the ceremony in the main salon, and then to have the boat circle New York City as the party ensued.
The yacht was big, gorgeous and offered space for everyone and everything. That morning, as my sister prepped, we all got into our finery and a limousine took us into the city. We were less than a mile from the ship when my mother casually asked my sister, “you have the veil, right?”

My sister’s reply was her face exploding into tears. In their haste to get done at home, they’d both assumed that the other had the veil. My sister’s wedding dress was picked out and one of the features was this veil. Suddenly the whole thing rested on a garment back on Long Island. My father however, told the limo driver to drop us all off at the boat, and took the limo into lower Manhattan where there were wedding shops and garment houses. Somehow, miraculously he returned a short time later with a veil. It wasn’t HER veil, it wasn’t even a duplicate of hers, but it was close and it was very special because of my father’s efforts to get a veil for his daughter.

I must tell you about my sister’s groom. He was slightly younger than she, and was from Turkey. He spoke English well, but not perfectly, which led to many occasions where he and we had no idea what the other was saying. For the wedding, his parents, sister and his nephew flew in. They were in town for over a week and as the bride’s family we took it upon ourselves to entertain them. Some days they went to see sites, other times we met for dinner and had a big family feast. At the end of each evening, like many Europeans, they departed with a small kiss on each of our cheeks. It was funny to watch these two families exchange kisses. Like football teams “high fiving” each other, we would go one at a time, “kiss kiss” and then move to the next. It was a bit awkward, but after a few days, it became the expected end of the day.

However, things changed. While we went through this tradition, when I got to John’s sister, instead of a peck on her cheeks, we were kissing with a lot more meaning, and not just on the cheeks. I was flattered and could not deny my attraction to this lady. Gulay was just a bit younger than I, and was gorgeous. However, she spoke virtually no English and I spoke no Turkish. The best we had was whatever her brother could translate and the phrases in a Berlitz travel book.

If I’d wanted to ask whether she accepted Traveler’s Checks, I was in luck, however anything deeper than that, and the book failed me. We did our best however and for the week or so she was around, we did a lot of smiling. The day that the family went back to Turkey was terrible. I had no idea what had begun, but was anxious to continue it. At the airport she told me she’d come back and with that…they left the curb and disappeared into the terminal. This was 1990 and what a way to begin the decade.

Posted by bbrother at 11:42 PM | Comments (1)

May 27, 2005


I don’t want to leave you with the impression that my life is one tragedy after another. However, thinking it over, my life has been very close to that. There was a period though, when I was very happy.

I had finally hit the big time. That is to say that I was earning enough money to move into my own place and was happily teaching and being a bachelor. I was a .9 teacher, working in Great Neck. A .9 teacher means that they employ you up to the point where you’d be offered benefits and other perks. Since I was a .9, my life was limited and the administration could abuse me any way they wanted.

At first I was a substitute teacher. I lived local and worked a lot and soon had a number of teachers who would ask for me to substitute for them. I worked quite a lot and became well known at one of the 2 local high schools.

I was soon offered my first real position, that of a writing teacher. I worked in a lab setting and helped students to overcome their problems with writing essays. I lived around the corner and would often arrive early and stay late at school. I worked on various committees and clubs and was well liked by the principal. I thought that with her pulling for me, I’d soon be a full-time teacher. However, she got sick, left the district and a new administration was hired. I had spent that entire time kissing butt, and had nothing to show for it except a number of letters writing by the former principal that went into my permanent file.

I began my 3 year in the district and was again a .9 teacher. This time I managed to get a few classes of my own. I taught juniors, and since this was the class no one wanted, I was left with the students whose futures were either going to be in daddy’s company or the local supermarket. Either way, this was not a scholarly class.

In addition to this one class, I also spent the morning at the other high school in town. This was also my old high school and many of my colleagues were my old teachers. It was very odd relearning to refer to this men and women by first name. I’m sure that they too found my presence to be odd. However, it was a great year. I became close with two staffs and I also became a valuable part of things.

One of the ways that I was used was to be a much needed male chaperone on the Junior Class trip to Boston. It was supposed to be a fun, but educational trip. The other male teacher going was very new to teaching. You could tell because he wore a suit and tie every day. The students were not only going to see traditional sites like The Old North Church, but would have a tour of Harvard and some of the noteworthy buildings down town.

However, the school assumed that these students would participate in the learning process. Instead, they went on this trip to have fun. At Harvard, for example, instead of listening to the hired tour guide, many of them had fun pretending to be Rocky as they ran up the stairs outside of the old buildings. We took them to Boston Harbor, to the Aquarium, but instead of examining the exhibits, they ran around the building and we found them outside, smoking.

Eventually we decided to give them some time in the Quincy market. We knew they could shop and eat, and off they went. Since the class was now scattered around the market, the teachers were given liberty as well. I made a bee-line to Dirgin Park, an old restaurant in the market.

Dirgin Park is not a typical restaurant. Not matter when you go, there is a line. Rather than seating you and treating you graciously, you are simply given the next seat in a series of long tables with bench seating.

Everyone sits this way and you talk with whoever ends up with you. The food at Dirgin Park can not be beat. It is not only incredibly fresh and delicious, but you get mounds of it. They serve huge platefuls of roast beef, potatoes, rolls, seafood and it’s amazingly good. You simply make an agreement with yourself to ignore the calories and just enjoy the food. I had a wonderful time, thanked my co-diners and the surly staff and made my way back to civilization.

Every night at the hotel the teachers would take turns at night in the hall. We were very aware that the students would try to take advantage, and having staff in the hall would at least keep them in their rooms.

It being Friday, we knew that they were going to try something. We were set to leave the next day and they’d behaved too well. I was in the hall until 2am and then finally got to go to bed, and my roommate, this very green teacher, would take over until 5am.

In the morning, I was dressed and ready for the new day, when there came some bad news. It seemed that many of the students had been drinking the night before. We questioned the teacher who was in the hall from 2am and he said he’d allowed them to get together into one room, but that he’d had no idea they were drinking. We questioned him further and the only thing he’d found odd was that many of the students carried bottles of Scope mouthwash into this party; BROWN mouthwash.

It turns out that they’d poured out the bright green Scope, and had replaced it with Jack Daniels. Not only did they drink at this party, but later, back in their own rooms, many had torn the rooms apart. The mattresses were tossed here or there, the bathrooms were a mess of toilet paper and overstuffed drains. Many of the students were terribly hung over.

We left Boston, and this hotel with the promise that the school was no longer welcome there.

Posted by bbrother at 08:35 AM | Comments (1)

May 24, 2005

The Prom

Senior year in high school was a good one for me. Although I’d asked another girl to the prom, she turned me down. I hadn’t asked Karen (the girl from Carmen) simply because she was Mormon and I didn’t expect her to want to go. However, she did and with that explained, I got my tux and a pocket full of cash and was ready for the evening.

The Prom itself, like so many others was at a large, overcrowded dining room where the dance floor was coated in people and the food was coated in sauce. I ate a few bites, and then we tried to dance. However even with a slow steady beat, it was impossible to do anything buy sachet.

That night we’d predetermined to go to a Comedy Club in New York City (Catch a Rising Star, if you must know) and although I drove, we didn’t expect to drink, just to laugh. The night was great. With half a dozen obvious prom-couples in the house, the comics were able to dust off their old prom material and zing it to us, repeatedly.

The club had a cover charge and a 3 drink minimum. I was drinking ginger ale, but that didn’t count. At some point in the evening, a waitress came by our large table and handed me the bill. I had several hundred dollars in my pocket, but was apoplectic over the price. Like Ralph Kramden, I thought, “humina humina humina”. It took me a few minutes to realize that this was divided among 12 people and suddenly my price was ok. I dropped the bill along with our fee, tax and tip onto the table for the next person to experience. Eventually it was paid.

Traditionally, our class would then spend the next day at the beach. We called it Senior Beach Day and for those who over-drank celebrating the prom, it was a good way to sober up. However, at 2-3am we had two choices, the first was to go straight to the beach, romantically watch the sunrise and then spend the rest of the day on the beach. The other possibility was to grab a few hours of sleep and then start out early in the morning. We agreed that a few minutes of beautiful sunrise was clearly going to make us basket-cases and so I dropped her off, to return at 7am.

It was sunny and warm that day, and with so many classmates all sun-worshiping we had a great day.

However, this is not where this chapter was meant to go. Let me show you:

Despite my doctors’ attempts to cut me off from normal human interaction, I have always actively sought companionship. Like a bad habit, I have adapted a new truth about my life. In the 1970’s with my brain tumor and subsequent hospitalization, behind me, I tried to be a teenager during a very strange time.

My memories are colored, tainted by a metabolism that was forever altered. When I left ‘Babies Hospital’ I was more affected than I thought. I was 12 years old and come that fall was 13. The truth is that because my pituitary was affected by the radiation treatments, I never fully became a man. While chronologically things took place all around me, I never fully understood my place in the social order of 1970’s high school.
You see, the reason I drove down this path was to show you what kind of person I became and to explain that my metabolism was as much a part of my adolescence as was my missing libido.

It’s not that I spent days and nights at home alone. However, Dr. Gold, my pediatric neurologist dropped the ball. Instead of checking up on all parts of my recovery, he let me believe I was normal, without accounting for my endocrine problems.

I not only had a much skewed view of myself, but as time went on, and dieting couldn’t control my continued weight gain, I became “Big I” in High School. I was over 6 feet tall, but also 200-250 pounds. My problems wouldn’t be discovered for 20 years and by then I was told that not only could they do nothing about the lost time, but that the statute of limitations applied.

It sucks. Who would I have been what might I have done? These will never be answered, however one thing is clear, my choices after college were as suspect as everything else I did or did not do.

Posted by bbrother at 03:55 AM | Comments (1)

May 23, 2005

High School and Happy Days

Despite my doctors’ attempts to cut me off from normal human interaction. I have always actively sought companionship. Like a bad habit, I have adapted a new truth about my life. In the 1970’s with my brain tumor and subsequent hospitalization, behind me, I tried to be a teenager during a very strange time.

My memories are colored, tainted by a metabolism that was forever altered. When I left ‘Babies Hospital’ I was more affected than I thought. I was 12 years old and come that fall was 13. The truth is that because my pituitary was effected by the radiation treatments, I never fully became a man. While chronologically things took place all around me, I never fully understood my place in the social order of 1970’s high school.

I would see people coupling up, dating and playing those games. However I was always on the outside looking in. In my own mind I adopted a new thought. It became a mantra, similar to that of Brooklyn Dodger fans throughout the 40’s and 50’s, “Wait ‘til next year.” However, even the Dodgers moved and grew. I didn’t know what was missing and so, to continue the baseball analogy, was often at the plate, without a bat.

This is not to say that I wasn’t popular or well liked, but I always allowed my camera and photography to be the reason I was at a party, not my charm.

In 1979, I was a Senior at South High School. I readied myself for college by visiting and applying to schools, by going through the teenage milestones, but never was in control of my life.

The school’s music department used to put on an Opera and later a Broadway musical. Although I wasn’t a musician, nor a student of theater, I found that group of people were the ones who provided not only intellectual stimulus, but a formula for being ‘normal’. It wasn’t until my last year in High School when I actually joined them on stage.

For many years, ‘Theater South’ existed both as a series of classes and as a number of preformances. Theater South also had a student lounge within the school. Much like the fraternity house seen in “National Lampoon’s Animal House”, the lounge was much more than a meeting room. We played there, announced shows, parties and other celebrations. Couples met and broke up in the lounge, it was a refuge from the overwhelming sense of We played there, announced shows, parties and other celebrations. Couples met and broke up in the lounge, it was a refuge from the overwhelming sense of personal worth based on money, that existed all over the high school.

We flirted with disaster many times, but still retained the lounge until 1979. However, after the theater faculty disappeared, so too did the lounge. There was one event that may have colored the decision making process.

One of the students noticed a clock on the wall which, like the clocks in the rest of the building, was wired into the office clock and announced the end of periods and kept time as a constant thing throughout the building. He decided to see what was behind the mechanism, and removed the clock from the wall. There he exposed several wires and found through trial and error that by connecting the right pair, he could affect the entire building. One day the clocks ran fast, another day the bells sounded at odd times, leaving teachers in total disarray. We never knew what else to expect because while standing on a couch, he would ‘play’ with his new toy, no matter the outcome.

After the days of sporatic bell sounding, the internal hit squad of the custodial staff when on the look for an explanation. We arrived back at school after a vacation to find the clock rehung, and cemented to the wall. There would be no more playing with time.

Another time in the lounge my friend Nathalie came running in, she was all afraid because she often attracted the oddest suitors. First it had been John. This guy was freakishly small and would carry around a huge back of books. He was picked on and ridiculed and yet there seemed to be no end to his abhorant behavior. One day be began following and watching Nathalie. He went as far as signing up for a drama class in order to pursue her. However, eventually his feelings unmet, he went on to torture someone else.

Currently though, was Gabe. This guy was not only a moron, but one with an arrest record. It seems he stole a pocketbook from someone in the community. However the police soon came to her aid, catching Gabe, several blocks away, still carrying the purse. He was now in Nathalie’s fan club and would often come by the lounge and would sit in another room, gazing through the window into the lounge.

At first we locked the door and covered the window with old papers. However, he had her everytime the periods changed. Eventually he was visited by a bunch of us who told him, in finely picked words, to ‘buzz off’.

Since I carried a camera everyday, I caught many of these events on film. It soon became a part of life, in the lounge, that no matter what occurred, I would enshrine it on Kodak.

At the close of the school year in 1979, we left for the summer, happy knowing that our lounge would be there in the fall. We had cared for this room, painted and furnished it and expected to forever grow there. However, come September, the school district had repainted the room to a flat matte beige and began referring to it as the Math lab. We took refuge in a tiny room adjoining the band room. This closet seemed to act in much the same way for us, except the band teacher resented our holding his piano, music and other stored items, as hostages.

It was there, however, I finally heard a rendition of the song Helen Keller. A few of the guys had written it in 3-4 part harmonies and would sing it’s lyrics, such as:

Helen Keller, she was deaf, she was dumb,
Helen Keller, couldn’t walk, couldn’t run,
Helen Keller, bumping into furniture isn’t run….
She was blind, deaf and dumb….
We also heard rendition of various Monty Python skits. While most of us had no idea what they were saying, these badly copied English accents were part of the goings on.

Then came Carmen. I joined the chorus, mostly because they needed bass voices and so learned several times a week, tunes from a translation of Bizet’s Carmen. The music teacher, who now also doubled as theater teacher, would present a Grand Opera each year. The music teacher joined her by teaching the score and an art teacher, Frank Rogers, would invent sets and build these huge two floor designs.

Frank was a wonder. He had many talents and loved to share with his classes. However, having been hired last, his name always came up at the end of the year as a budget cut. We, his fans, would gather hundreds of signatures on petitions and seemingly saved his from the axe.

For Carmen, the musical director brought in a friend of hers to help direct the production. This short, balding, man had no idea what was in store for him. Eventually he turned to a theater trick, if for no other reason than to silence us. During a particular dance scene, one or two of the girls would be on tables, seductively wooing the ‘Greek’ soldiers. Those of us in that scene were told to freeze for the two or three minutes. One person was frozen in time, drinking from a wooden cup. Another serving drinks, others in mid-fight. I was sitting atop this set, with no guidance. I had been flirting with one of the girls who, when the dance was over, had a big solo. So he looked up at me and told me lie across the set. Then he looked at her, standing there, waiting for her cue.

For a moment he looked pleadingly at us, and said, ‘can you hold a kiss for the 2-3 minutes?’ he asked. While at first, she was quite reluctant, she also knew that this was acting and part of the game. So for rehearsal after rehearsal there we were, kissing. By the time the opera had been performed over several nights, we were going steady and would eventually go to the prom together.

Posted by bbrother at 05:11 AM | Comments (3)

May 19, 2005

A New Ordeal

A New Ordeal

I haven’t posted in several days, and although you may think I was just lazy, it wasn’t the case.

I woke up early Tuesday morning with a severe pain in my back. As you no-doubt understand, I don’t ignore these signals as they have often been the beginning of something far worse. So at 5am, my mother and I took the trip to Yale / New Haven Hospital to visit the ER.

They ran tests, took samples and generally gave me the once over. After a day of xrays and blood tests, the doctor concluded that nothing was wrong with me. I still had the pain, but was told to treat the pain as it’s cause was unknown.

The Friday before all of this I had been ‘tapped’. That is to say that liquid builds up inside of me, and after a while has to be drained. Something like a maple tree being tapped for sap. My doctor had removed over 7 liters of fluid and at 2.1 pounds per liter, I was anxious to weigh in at Weight Watchers. It always freaked people out to see that kind of loss in such a short period of time.

So after leaving the ER, I went to be weighed in, and I can report that I am now at 120 pounds lost! However, I still had the pain. I spent the rest of the day in bed, squirming and trying to find a comfortable position.

One of the medicines I take is called Lactulose. This stuff is thick gooey, evil stuff. I mix it with something sweet and hold my breath as I chug it down. Yeccccch. It is used to ‘clean me out’ and works very well at that. However, it occurred to me that maybe this stuff was the answer.

I took an extra dose, and waited for the Roto-Rooter effect to begin. Apparantly that was the problem. So a little thorough plumbing was all I needed. Go figure.


Posted by bbrother at 07:10 AM | Comments (1)

Just My Luck II

As you have no doubt concluded, my attitude towards life is optimistic. I wake up each morning and am pleased with another day of living. The latest stories in this blog are testament to this resiliency. I love to laugh, even when I’m the joke. Here is a story of a time when there was nothing to do but laugh.

My friend David owns Expressway Music. If you need a DJ, a karaoke host, a live band, or other event entertainment, give him a call, and drop my name. [] The reason I mention him is because I worked with him for a while. We did all sorts of events and parties and it was a hoot. One day he had a showcase scheduled. This was an event where different acts would demonstrate their craft and, this time, it was in front of dozens of library event planners.

The stage where everyone performed was small, and had very little off stage room for preparation. While dancers didn’t need much room, bands and other entertainment companies needed to set up. We lugged the electronics up to the stage in order to be ready. I was carrying a large box filled with cables and other electronics. I got to the stairs at the edge of the stage and started up.

Since I was carrying this box in front of me, I couldn’t see when the steps ended, and guessed wrong. I tripped on the last step and went flying forward. I held on tight to the box and landed on the edge of the stage, on top of the box.

That would have been enough to cement this as another ‘Just my luck’ story. However, because I was on the box, and the box was at the edge of the stage, balance became an issue. I teetered there for what seemed like hours, and began to slip off the stage. I recall having the mental picture of Wile E. Coyote being caught off the edge of a cliff. Like that cartoon, I too tried to climb back onto the stage, using sheer will, or maybe it was ‘the force.’ However, gravity won, and I went crashing from the stage to the floor below, some 4-5 feet.

As I landed, on my back, on the floor, I once again experienced the Wile-Effect. After about 2 seconds, probably even less, the box, that was once underneath me, fell from the stage and landed on top of me. So there I lay, stunned and embarrassed and someone in the crowd yelled out, “What do you do for an encore?” People chuckled and I started singing… I often think that’s why so many libraries were interested, they thought the gymnastics was part of the act.

Posted by bbrother at 07:09 AM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2005

Life's Lessons

Up ‘til now you’ve heard about the world kicking my butt. However, my life isn’t always about obstacles that I have to endure. I also do my share of tripping, all on my own. So before I continue, I thought I’d let you in on some of the things that keep my family laughing (at me).

Long ago, on a Long Island far far away…..

There used to be a huge flea market every Sunday in Huntington. It wasn’t your typical flea market made up of either people’s trash or store overstock, this was vintage flea market. With people who emptied out their attics and basements. There were real finds to be purchased and people actually haggled over prices. I was young, and wasn’t looking for the Tiffany lamp for $1 or some other goodie, I wanted two things…baseball cards, and hats.

The first misadventure took place one day because my dad and I decided to walk slowly down the aisles. We examined the tables of ‘bric a brac’ and eventually found two men bargaining over the price of something. There at the table was a box of baseball cards. These weren’t last years cards that someone had outgrown, these were cards of people like Lou Gehrig. From the prices being offered, it was clear that the customer wanted the entire box and was going to pay a few dollars a card. Even then I knew this was a treasure. Had I simply walked a little faster that Sunday, I would have been able to buy cards and would probably have sold them at a time when they were worth $50-$100 a piece. But No. I took my time that day, and will forever live with the memory.

Now, that’s not a funny story. I can tell because even through the internet, I know you’re not laughing. However, here’s part two.

I loved hats. I had a ‘coon skin cap from Disneyworld, a top hat (go read my hospital story to hear about that) and even a fire-chief’s dress hat. So I was always on the look out for something cool. One Sunday at that flea market I came upon a table with piles of what I thought were berets. The man only wanted a dollar, and so I grabbed one of these white berets and put it on my head. It was great, I proudly walked around the rest of the market with my new hat on my head. I wore it on a slight angle, like I’d seen berets worn, and I felt very cool.

My family got back together (we did the ‘synchronize watches’ routine everytime we went there) and I got these strange looks from my folks. Finally my dad took the hat from my head and examined it. “You know this is a hat cover…right?” he asked me. “Not a beret?” I replied. Well it seems as I proudly displayed my new beret throughout the flea market, what I was wearing was a military hat cover. It’s the white cloth cover which stretches over a hat for formal occasions.

See, NOW you’re laughing, but wait, it gets better.

One Washington’s Birthday weekend my family went to the Catskill Mountains to one of the resort hotels. Among the many things to do there was ski. However, my father was the only one of us who had ever been on skis. So my sister, mother and I decided it was high time we learned, and signed up for first a group, then a private lesson.

The first thing however, was renting and wearing the equipment. That was an ordeal itself. Since we had no idea how the stuff worked, or how it was supposed to fit, we crammed our feet into boots and once outside, got them into skis. Fine… now we had to get from the Lodge to the area where they held lessons. If you’ve ever seen a child learning to walk, you’ll understand the dexterity and grace we all showed.

However, we were finally in line with a bunch of others and a teacher said, “lesson one, before you can learn to ski, you have to learn how to get up from a fall” and she told us all to fall back into the snow. Everyone plopped into the snow. Now she said…. Something about feet and arms and Stand Up. Suuuuuuure, stand up? Between crossed skis, and lack of body strength, that ‘get up’ thing was next to impossible. However, after pushing and gasping and clawing, we all made it. However, the next steps were based on mastering that first one, as no matter what we did, we fell. It was obvious that we needed that private lesson, and once the first torture session was over, we were joined by a teacher to take us through this nonsense.

The teacher showed us a few things, like setting your knees together in order to slow down when skiing. It seemed to me that learning to move on skis was insane, but she insisted we try. We were led to a rope tow. I only know it was called that because of the sign that said, “rope tow” in front of this machine. In turn we shimmied up to the tow, grabbed on and road up the side of this tiny hill. On one side of the tow was the machine, and the ditch in which it lay. “Don’t go there” we were told. On the other side was the hill and lots of skiiers. So we did our best to stay in line.

At the top of the hill she showed me the position for skiing. She went down with me for the first few feet and then my body decided it knew better, and suddenly I was racing down the hill. Somehow, I managed to stay on my feet. However, I had to go back up, this time on my own. “This is fun?” I wondered.

My sister went next, she at least had the intelligence to stay with the teacher and to remain in that tucked, knees together position. Next was my mother’s turn. I was up top watching when she suddenly fell. Since we’d all learned about falling, and getting up, I assumed that the ‘getting up’ phase was about to begin. However, the ski-instructor took my mom’s skis and crossed them behind her. This could not be good.

It turned out that my mom was hurt. Rather than face the ordeal of trying to ski to her. (We hadn’t learned how to STOP) So I unclicked myself from the skis, and let them take the next ride on their own. I marched myself down the hill making large holes behind me. My mom had broken her arm. As they prepared her for the trip to the local hospital, my dad brought my sister and I together, explained the problem and handed us each a little ‘keep yourself entertained’ money.

With my mom going to the ER, there was something I was aching to do. A dream I’d had for many years. I wanted to ride a snowmobile and it just so happened that the hotel had just the thing. So I took my loot and headed straight for the snow mobile area.

A large oval had been dug from the snow. It looked wonderfully inviting. A sign indicated the price to rent a snow mobile, for about ten dollars I could finally make a dream come true. I figured I’d ride all afternoon because for that money, I was entitled to about 97 laps. The man took my money and showed me the big machine. “This is the gas, this is the brake”, he started, “if you want to slow down, don’t use the brake, just take your hand off the gas, ok?” I nodded, and away I went.

What I hadn’t realized is that the oval wasn’t a flat, easy surface, but it was full of bumps and valleys which took a lot out of me. The first time around the course was great, I was having a blast. The next time around, still great, although I was having a harder time holding on, particularly at the mother-of-all-bumps around the far corner. The third time around, I was tired. I had been going full speed, hanging on to the handle bars and was feeling it in all parts of my body. So as I started lap number four, I eased my hand off the gas to let the snow mobile slow down. However, it didn’t slow.

I heard in my head the man gruffly saying, “If you want to slow down, don’t use the brake, just take your hand off the gas” and was scared to use the brake. However, I was around the first turn and mother-of-all-bumps was looming ahead. I hit the accelerator with my gloved hand trying to make it slow, and continued to hold on. The snow mobile would not slow down. One little thud, and now, there was the big one, right in front of me.

I hit the big bump hard, and found myself staring straight down into a pile of snow. I could hear the snow mobile as it continued, no hands on the gas or steering, into the woods until, “thud”, I heard it collide with a tree. A moment later the snow mobile man drove up on another snow mobile and put me on the back. We drove to the entrance where he yelled, “Why didn’t you hit the brake!?!?” I was startled, and replied, “bbbbbut you said……”

Fortunately a shuttle bus came by and I quickly got on. From the bus I saw 3 guys running into the woods after my snow mobile. I also noted that when it collided with the tree, the tree won.

When I got back to the hotel, I was hot, stinky and angry. I went to the manager and complained about the guy, my money, the machine which drove itself into a tree and the fact that HIS snow had injured my mom. He listened, smiled and assured me that something would be done. Yeah right.

Posted by bbrother at 09:09 AM | Comments (2)

May 14, 2005

Freshman Year II

This is not to say that I too wasn’t becoming a drinker. I didn’t however drink, chug and otherwise abuse myself, but one of the girls next door, Pam, was a former bartender. When we went out to a bar, she did the ordering. However, the taste of alcohol is so vile, that no matter how she disguised it, I never enjoyed drinking the battery acid. So I would drink screwdrivers and seabreezes, drinks designed to be sweet and desceptively alcoholic. Fortunately, before going to our rooms to pass out, we learned to drink a large cup of water, along with a aspirin, so that in the morning, whatever lethal effects the alcohol might have, there was no hangover.

One Saturday night one of the guys down the hall had a party. Basically there was loud music, lots of alcohol and far too many people in this small room. However, it was the thing to do. We were all standing around, laughing, chatting, drinking and otherwise being teenagers. Suddenly in walked Frankenstein. Every head turned as he made his way into the room. He just stood there, listening to the conversations and the laughter.

Someone offered him a drink, and he accepted it. Eventually placing the untouched drink down on a table. Later someone offered him a cigarette and again he took it. He held the lit cigarette unsure what to do. Eventually he leaned over and put it out into the rug.

That Sunday, after the place had been cleaned and deloused, they noticed the burn in the rug and were outraged. However, how do you get recourse from someone with bolts in his neck?

The University in its attempt to sweep the roommate situation as far under the rug as possible, did nothing. However, with phone calls from home and constant complaining from me, they soon scheduled some kind of meeting. My roomies father drove up from Staten Island, a five hour drive, and was ‘talked to’ by the dorm director. He stayed long enough for the meeting, and to drop off another case of 7up by our room. He then travelled the 5 hours home.

The following day I was told to go see a University social worker. He spent an hour trying to convince me that it was in my best interest to move out of the room and to leave the problem behind. I countered with the fact that HE (my roommate) was the outcast and that I had friends on the hall. Although he couldn’t say it, I know this social worker saw my point of view. With little else they could do, it was finally announced that my roommate was leaving the room.

It seems that another pariah existed on the second floor. Rather than move me to live with yet another basket case, they put the two of them together. Apparently he too liked 7up and handheld electronic games, or maybe he just liked boys from Staten Island. In any case, I was now in a single!

The Thanksgiving recess was coming and the University didn’t seem to mind my living in a large open room, alone. I certainly wasn’t complaining. Things on the hall went back to normal, and I could once again receive visitors, without handing out blindfolds. It wasn’t until we came back at the end of November that I had to find a new roommate. At the far end of the hall (the dorm was in the shape of a large L) was a huge lounge. Living in that lounge were six guys, all of whom were in ‘extended housing’ which was University language for, “ooops, we don’t have room for you.” I went down to this room and announced, “I have ½ a room for anyone who wants it. You guys fight it out, and the winner come down to 719.”

I’m not sure what ensued but eventually, Dave showed up. He was Asian, and a very hard worker. He not only had school to deal with, but he had to work on campus to help pay for his tuition. He ‘hawked’ hot dogs at various games, and worked in the ‘Snack-Shack’ downstairs, and well, I didn’t see the guy that often. It was perfect.

The rest of the year went smoothly. We’d party together, eat together, go see movies and generally were very close. Syracuse is known for its Basketball team, and with the brand new Carrier Dome now opened, it was to be the team’s first year in this giant stadium. We drew lots and it was decided that two of us would wait on line outside the Dome, waiting for tickets. Then later, at 2-3am, 2 guys would show up and wait until the box office opened at 8am and buy tickets for us all.

As luck would have it, I drew the short straw and that night, went over to the dorm wearing as much flannel as possible. I had on three or four layers of clothing, however it was below freezing and sitting there in line with all of the other short-straw-drawers, we were freezing. We had the good idea to bring bottles with us, and the booze did help us to feel warmer. However, like a Jack London story, we slowly feel asleep in the midst of this cold. We were awakened hours later by the relief crew who took up vigil. We were cold, stiff and yet overjoyed at the prospect of a hot shower.

That season we sat several rows up behind the team. It was wonderful, and something I’ll never do again. However that is college, and you’re supposed to act like an idiot.

Posted by bbrother at 12:14 AM | Comments (1)

May 12, 2005

Freshman Year Part I

Freshman Year

Leaving home and starting college is a huge step for a teenager. After the exhaustive tests, visits and applications, I decided to go to Syracuse University. Fortunately, they decided to let me.

During the summer I prepared for the move by making the necessary purchases. Lots of warm clothing, a shower kit, and all many of the items the school suggested I have. In the mail came a letter from the school which told me I would be living in Dellplain Hall, room 719. Not only that, but they also told me I would be rooming with Bill Wiegand from Staten Island.

In Dellplain hall, there were three types of rooms. Singles, which were primarily given to upper classman, Split Doubles and Open Doubles. An Open Double was simply a room, large enough for 2 beds, 2 desks and two people. A split double was a similar room, but it had a wall unit consisting of a closet, desk and dresser which separated the roommates. They shared the doorway, but had a lot more privacy. I was told that my room was an open double, typical freshman housing.

I called information and was able to track down a phone number for my roommate and all excitedly, called him. He was called to the phone, and in a voice that worried me, said hello. It worried me because it was completely stoic, there was no excitement over the prospect of talking to me, nor could I discern any personality. However, I pressed on and introduced myself. He was silent. I told him that I was planning to bring a television, stereo and would be renting a refrigerator. I asked if he would bring a fan (it was going to be hot for several weeks) and anything else that would complement my things. He agreed, I think, and we said goodbye. I put a lot of stock in first impressions, and mine led me to believe that he was going to be wearing a hockey mask or carrying a chain saw.

My family packed up my clothing and necessary creature comforts and we drove to Syracuse at the beginning of September, 1980. Although I was a day early, they let me move in. I set up all of my stuff, did some decorating and then we went to a local mall and purchased a small rug, garbage pail, and other useful items to complete the room. My dad suggested we go to Sears, and once there he found the personal refrigerators. Rather than renting a tiny refrigerator, I purchased a larger one.

The next day I spent helping others to move in. I wired stereos and fixed closet doors that had fallen off their tracks. Essentially, since I was already moved in, I was able to socialize. My roommate showed up, he was big and tall, and looked like a cross between Frankenstein and a nerd. He had a low voice which only made him seem slower and dimmer. Among his possessions was a stereo, two cases of 7up and a small rented refrigerator. He also had 5-10 handheld electronic games which were tossed onto his bed, like japanese teddy bears. I tried to be friendly, but he simply didn’t respond. Maybe a grunt or two, but no give and take.

It was great getting to know these people and that night, after a goodbye meal, I said goodbye to my family and officially started my freshman year.

Very quickly, many of us on the hall became friends. You left your door open and people would stroll in and out of each other’s rooms. The dorm was co-ed; the rooms alternated male-female-male-female.

Within a few days, we’d all suffered the anguish of registering for classes. Everyone had a number which indicated when you could go into the gym and fight for the classes you wanted. There was a master schedule and each subject had a couple of tables where you went to sign up. However, to be fair to those with the highest numbers, they would close courses, only to reopen them later. If you’d worked out a schedule that fit in all of the courses you needed, but then one was closed, it had a domino effect on the rest. I ended up on the floor of the gym, desperately searching the catalog for alternates. If I move English from Monday/Wednesday to Tuesday/Thusday then I can take History on Monday, but then I won’t be able to eat lunch, unless I can move Spanish from Monday morning to Friday afternoon….and on and on.

After that ordeal, there was yet another hurdle. You had to go to the bookstore, and get the class texts. The bookstore had tiny aisles, lined with the books that had been ordered. However, you didn’t just get THE book, you had to buy whatever the Professor had assigned. So some classes had 10 or more books to purchase. With arms overloaded with books, you then waited on line for a half hour or more. The cashiers seemed to get some perverted joy watching the total go up on the cash register. For five classes, you were spending over $100 on books, and then you also needed note books and pens and other utensils.

Life started to become a nice routine. You went to class and you studied. That was the biggest part of your day. Since many of us on the hall were friendly, at dinner time people would knock on your door and we’d all go as a group. In 1980, the legal drinking age was 18, we all seemed to take good advantage of that. Within 2 blocks of the school was a small town with everything from Pizza to Posters, Books to Booze. Not only that, but the food places would deliver to the dorms. So on weekends, we partied. Sometimes we’d go and see campus sponsored movies, other times we’d all gather in a room and drink and listen to music and behave like the teenagers we were.

This, so far, sounds like a typical college experience, and it was. However, there was one little thing that rained on my parade. I was in my room reading one afternoon. Frankenstein was over on his bed. I became aware of the sound of springs squeaking. I turned to see what he was doing, and saw him, lying there face down, and he would lift himself up from the bed, and then drop down onto the mattress. He repeated it over and over, and his pace sped up. I turned away, unsure of what he was doing. Eventually I left the room and went to chat with our neighbors.

A few days later he was at it again, now feverishly bouncing up and down onto the bed. It suddenly occurred to me what he was doing. I couldn’t believe it, so I went down a few doors to a friend’s room and asked him to come and see. He was quite sure of what was going on, and told me so. There was my roommate, masturbating on the mattress, with the door wide open. Over the next few weeks everyone on the hall got to see this behavior. The girls were completely revolted, the guys would give me one of those punches on the shoulder to say, ‘I’m glad it’s your roommie, and not mine’

When he wasn’t attending to himself, he would just appear at the edge of conversations. He never spoke, but was obviously listening to what was being said. For days afterward he would repeat the lines that made people laugh. I don’t mean jokes, I mean something said in the course of a conversation. For example. There was a guy on the hall whose name was Benny Valle. When he was first asked his name, and said that, someone remarked, “not your address, what’s your name?” 25 years later, it’s not funny, nor was it funny 3 days later. However, my roommate would be standing waiting for the elevator, or sitting at his desk and would mumble, “not your address, what’s your name?” Over and over he repeated this line, as if it held some magical power. It got so odd that we would simply go to someone’s room and close the door.

As I mentioned, I often went next door for solace. We became good friends and sometimes, when the rest of the floor was boozing and listening to loud music on a Saturday night, we would light candles, turn off the lights and slowly sip wine while listening to mellow music. It’s not to say that we didn’t get plastered, but it was a sophisticated drunk; no throwing up. However, my roommate soon discovered where I was hiding and would knock, no not knock, thud on the door. At first, being kind people, one of the girls would answer the door. “Mind if I join you?” he asked. How could you say no, we weren’t sure if he was a serial killer, a relative of Frankenstein’s monster or just a simpleton. In any case, he’d come in, and we would continue the discussion. He stood there, watching and listening. It was very odd. Eventually he would leave and we’d laugh. After a month or more of this “Mind if I join you” routine, I’d had enough. I was there to escape him, not to have him come and stare. So the next time he asked, I said yes, we mind, and closed the door. Eventually he got the idea, and stopped coming by.

If that was Saturday night, Sunday morning showed the results. I was always an early riser and on my way to the shower in the morning I would have to step over 4-5 bodies, and through the sticky residue on the floor from beer that had been spilled, and then dried. The bathroom was even worse as guys who had tried to make it to the bowl, had missed. There they slept, arms around the toilet. It was disgusting, but became typical for Sunday mornings. Between the access to bottles of vodka, scotch and whatever, down at the liquor store, and the seemingly endless supply of beer at frat parties, getting drunk was easy. Recovering from it, was not.

Posted by bbrother at 06:37 AM | Comments (2)

May 11, 2005

The Finale, for now

My hospital ordeal was a tough one, and making light of it here is like psycho-therapy. I want to complete this tale and add in a few other events of that summer that truly capture the scope of this nonsense.

While I spent the summer tucked into my ‘bachelor pad’, the rest of the world seemed to continue without me. My parents, were wrecks, and although they were there for me every day, my sister was put on autopilot. That is to say, that she spent the summer being cared for by friends, family and at least once, she was left in the lobby waiting room.

She went through a different sort of ordeal, but considering the neighborhood, I’m not sure that it was any less life threatening. So, as part of this self-imposed 12 step plan, I must apologize to her for that summer, and for many years after because I was over-protected.

However, the weather outside was either near 100 degrees and humid or rainy for most of that summer. I didn’t know. My wonderfully cool room gave me little hint of the world on the outside. I mentioned that Tom Seaver was a big part of my recovery. So too was a gift from a friend named Dara. All throughout the past year, I had a mad crush on her. She was gorgeous, she was brilliant and she was inpenetrable. Try as I might, and remember this is a naïve 12 year old trying to find the answer to the riddle of the sphinx, she was aloof and coy.

While I didn’t resort to punching her arm or any of the typical young male traits, I did lust over a picture of her hanging in a classroom. Her science teacher had some project where everyone’s picture was hung on a bulletin board. I have no idea what the project was, but I really really wanted that photo.

One day an envelope arrived at the hospital. Inside was a small note, and that photograph. I had a frame with a picture of my family sitting along side my bed. It was soon replaced with that photo. It was an amazing gift from her.

Another visitor that made a big difference was a man who was dating my aunt. He was a singer, and although had not made it big, was still a star in my book. He came to the hospital and in that room with the out of tune piano, gave an impromptu concert of my favorite tunes. Can you imagine a hospital floor with some guy pounding an out of tune piano and singing?? Neither could the nurses. Alan, if you are out there somewhere, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

The walls on my room were very quickly filling with cards. Among them was a card that was a complete mystery. I opened the evelope and the name was unknown to me. When I asked my parents, they too had no idea. Was this the first case of spam? I wrote thank yous to all who send cards, but to this person, I said something like ‘thank you, and who are you???’. It wasn’t until much later that we found that this was the sister of someone we knew.

Many of my friends went away during the summer. They were at summer camps in New England and so had no idea what was going on. Two of them, send postcards from camp, and asked, ‘How is your summer?’ I had a good laugh at this and decided to write back in similar fashion. “I’m having a good summer, had a brain tumor, followed by brain surgery, see you in the fall...” Or something like that. I spent the rest of the summer picturing them reading this note from me, and doing a spit-take.

Speaking of spit, I neglected to tell you a very important part of this story. As the detail are only now oozing back into my memory, pretend that this is one of those flashback sequences they use so often on television… this blog is getting fuzzy and hazy and suddenly……..

Back in the ICU, when I first woke up, I told you that they quizzed me to make sure that my brain was still “on-line”. However, I must tell you that after all of that, and before they left me to go back to sleep, I did manage to ask one question. The nurses were concerned for me after that. You see I simply asked, “was it a boy or a girl?”

….less hazy, more distinct, the fuzziness clears and to continue:

As I spent the summer in the hospital. I was treated daily to a dose of radiation. Back then, the attitude was aim the x-ray in the vicinity of the problem and stand back. Very similar to using a back-hoe to plant daisies. At first they measured my head, and with a magic marker, made my forehead into a target. With all of the lines and arrows, I resembled a football play. A bald, football play at that. I was treated to 8 weeks (as an IN and OUT patient) of radio-therapy. As I’ve said before, while they considered this high-tech medicine in 1975, by today’s standards, it was a blood letting.

Finally the day came when I was going home. For the first time in a month I was wearing ‘real’ clothing, and from early that morning, paced and anxiously awaited the doctor to sign the release forms. He didn’t arrive until late that afternoon. However, the news he brought was wonderful. The tumor was benign and the radiation was going to incinerate it. Like a warden, he handed me a new suit, and $30 for bus fare. Okay, he actually signed me out of jail, the hospital. What a relief for me, but there were restaurants and other businesses in the neighborhood who lost big money now that my parents weren’t coming by to eat and pick up goodies for me.

It was August, I was out of the hospital and finally back in my own bed. However, due to the medicines I was on, in particular high doses of steroids, I had gained a huge amount of weight. The doctors failed to check for peripheral damage from the x-rays and it wasn’t until 20 years later that a doctor discovered that my metabolism was practically at a stand-still. That weight I had gained doubled, tripled and more, and dieting did nothing to reduce it. I want to personally thank Dr. Gold, my neurologist for fumbling the ball on the 1 yard line.

The next month was not only a return to school, but my bar-mitzvah as well. My hair, which had started to grow back earlier in the summer, had begun to fall out soon after the radiation treatments began. So here I was, puffy and heavy, a hair-cut that even punk rockers wouldn’t wear and a new school year to face. Try as I might to find that silver-lining, all of my clouds were quite gray for a while.

However, I did manage to get through of of that nonsense. I was quite sure that I was now safe because, after all, this kind of health tragedy doesn’t occur over and over. Little did I know. However, that’s fodder for another blog.

Thanks for reading this gastric discharge from my past. We have nice parting gifts and a copy of the home game for you.

Posted by bbrother at 06:50 AM | Comments (3)

May 10, 2005

Back to Babies

It’s the summer of 1975 and I am locked away in my room on the 11th floor of Columbia Presbyterian’s Babies Hospital. Well, not exactly locked, but when they leave you in pajamas, and in that neighborhood; I wasn’t going anywhere. Besides a barrage of doctors, interns and nurses, my days were filled with visitors. My parents dropped everything and commuted each day from Long Island. My grandparents also made frequent trips in. As each day passed, and the news of my ‘ordeal’ spread, I started receiving cards and gifts. It was lovely, not only was I very touched by the outpouring, but I was having Christmas in July.

My single was a twelve year olds equivalent of a swinging bachelor’s pad. My folks either brought or bought everything to keep me entertained. I had a tv (no, television wasn’t automatically in every hospital room) a portable record player (yes, for the last time, honest to goodness vinyl albums) a small tape recorder and LOTS of food. On the walls of the room was the growing collection of get well cards as well as a poster of the group Chicago (it came with the album….scroll back if you missed that).

I had daily appointments for various testing and each time someone would appear to wheel me down. I decided that I needed to travel in style, and was soon given a long sleeve black t-shirt made to resemble a tuxedo. I also had my grandfather’s top hat. It was one that you could collapse, and then snap open. So now when I travelled around the hospital I was cool. In actuality they didn’t know what to make of me, and often thought I was supposed to go to P.I. At first I didn’t know what it meant, but just chuckled and corrected the orderly. However, I later asked, and it turns out that P.I. stands for Psychiatric Institute.

One day one of the interns was given what should have been an easy task. He had to take blood. I wasn’t scared of giving blood; they used ‘butterly’ needles which hurt less and weren’t as scary as a long needle. However this moron, I can’t tell you his name, Dr. Krantz, got the needle into me, and I was looking down, when I suddenly saw dark red oozing onto my pajama bottoms; he’s forgotten to put a tube on the OTHER end of the needle. I had my own blood pouring out of a vein, all over me. It was a nightmare. Little did I know then that it would take me over 20 years to recover from it.

Since this was a pediatric hospital, patients ranged from infants to my age and a few even older. For most of that summer, I was the not only the eldest, but the one where the nurses went to grab a piece of candy. With so many little kids around, it was often noisy, even from my suite. When a patient was being ‘observed’ they would stick the kid in a covered bed (thus foiling any escape attempts) . One night a kid, maybe 5 or 6 was in the ‘hallway bunkhouse’ and at 3am decided to start singing. “ABCDEFG…..” at the top of his lungs. At first I tried to ignore it, however it was soon clear that he had no intention of letting up. So I got up and went into the hall to deal with it myself. Here was this young kid, locked in his bed-cage, and here was I a nearly 6 foot older guy. I thought that alone was my advantage. However, when I told him to be quiet, it just strengthened his resolve.

We all know that little kids often need to be approached with tact and guile. So I thought, and decided to use reverse psychology. So I said in my sweetest 3am voice, “ok, now it’s time for big boys to go to sleep…ooooookay?” It worked similar to using an oil soaked rag to put out a fire. So I thought again, and came up with an approach that I knew would work. Again I put on my sweetest voice and said clearly and plainly, “if you do not stop singing, I am going to kill you” and with that I pivotted and walked back into my room. And there was silence. I’m not sure, but I’ve always wondered if that kid’s name was Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Kasinsky….

One day a boy, about my age moved into a room down the hall. I was looking forward to having a friend who didn’t watch Sesame Street or eat strained peas. There was a common room where we were able to go and play a few broken toys, play the out of tune piano or use the record player (yes, for goodness sake, records… big round flat, black things that made music) I had a pile of 45’s in my room and I offered to let this new guy hang on to them and listen to them on this phonograph. He seemed pleased, and the next day there was a commotion in that play room. It seems that after I’d left, instead of playing the records, this kid thought it would be fun to ‘frisbee’ them out the window. Here we were, 11 stories above the street, and imagine the fun of being sliced in half by a spinning vinyl disk. Not only did he toss out all of my records, but a glass ashtray and a few other heavier items. He very quickly disappeared from Babies 11. I imagine kids who toss items out onto unsuspecting bystanders are either put into rooms on the first floor, or are invited to run for mayor.

To end this chapter on a high note, a large envelope arrived one day and when I pulled out the contents, I discovered an 8x10 photo of my hero, Tom Seaver. [if you don’t know, he is a hall of fame pitcher who played for the Mets. When my grandfather got tickets for us at Shea, he did so on days when Seaver was expected to pitch) Written on the picture were the following words, “Get well soon to a real fighter” and of course, his autograph. That went up on the wall and was certainly as potent as any pill in making me heal.

Posted by bbrother at 08:39 AM | Comments (2)

May 09, 2005

A funny thing happened...

Being twelve, or being really dense (not sure which applied then, becoming quite aware of my limitations now) I know that they didn’t just pull out a gown and gloves. However, not too much later I was in a room in what was referred to as ‘Babies Hospital’. Again, strings were pulled and somehow I ended up in a single, with it’s own sink and air conditioner. Recall that this was 1975, and while many hospitals today are up to code and built like honeycombs, Babies Hospital was old, and looked it. The hallways were dark, there wasn’t the constant barrage of intercom calls and they still had that crank that lifted your bed into the ceiling so that a lightning bolt would strike and bring you back to life. Oh wait, that’s Frankenstein…where was I?

After what I’m sure were exhaustive tests and visits from all kinds of doctors, I was scheduled for surgery. One of the hurdles was that they couldn’t just go in and remove the tumor. It resided on the optic nerve and would have left me blind had they treated it that way. However, a hospital, with all that shiny, new equipment wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to use it.

A gurney was sent to bring me from Babies to the Operating Room. The hospital was interconnected with a series of tunnels so that travelling from one to the other required mules, tents and canteens. Since I didn’t feel sick, nor did I fully understand the gravity of the situation, I recall walking along with the gurney, at least part of the way there.

I was first taken to a large room where a guy began to cut and then shave off my hair. I recall that they then rushed me off to be prepared for surgery. However, I was able to see my bald reflection in a paper towel dispenser. I looked quite strange, particularly with the words Georgia Pacific written backwards across my forehead.

I was in my rolling bed, in a hallway outside of anaesthia waiting my turn to count backwards from 100. A man stepped up to me, introduced himself and said he’d had a call and did I know so-and-so. It was my neighbor, who just happened to be an anasthesiologist who called to make sure I was doing well. It was a lovely thing for her to do and the tech seemed quite impressed.

Although I’d seen the routine in movies and television shows, I was surprised to find that they actually did tell you to count backwards. I recall my final words before I was out cold, “I’m not gonna fall asleep from……”; and out I went.

I woke up. I was still in my bed, only I had obviously arrived at another destination. Since I didn’t recall any brilliant white light, or men with wings and harps, I knew I was still in the hospital. A team of nurses surrounded me, one took blood pressure and other readings, while another began the quiz. Where are you? Who are you? What happened to you? I replied to each one, the heads nodding along. However, when they asked me for the date, I replied, “July 8, 1975”. This shocked the questioner. He said, ‘No it’s July 7th.” We went back and forth again, and then he thought to check his watch; the second hand wasn’t moving.

I was told to sleep, and who was I to argue. When I awoke later, I was in a corner of a brightly lit room. I would be there until I was healed enough to move to my own room. I quickly became aware of the voices around me. Kids were crying, kids were yelling for the nurse, and all this over the blare of several televisions tuned to different channels. I had tubes in all parts of me, my head was bandaged. I probably looked quite extraordinary. My stay in Pediatric ICU is quite a blur. However, there were some high and low points.

I was blessed with being in the corner that happened to have a little record player. (yes, actual vinyl records) I had a small collection of albums at home, but I recall my parents offering to purchase what ever I wanted. I was a big fan of the group Chicago, and had many of there albums, but there was one that I simply could not afford. It was a live set at Carnegie Hall, 4 or 5 albums and yet one of the most amazing live recordings I’ve heard. They brought it and I remember being able to stack the albums on the ‘record changer’ and listen for what seemed like hours.

I was quite uncomfortable, but the nurses were able to remove tube after tube and it wasn’t long before I was no longer draining. I soon insisted that they let me use a bathroom. The catheter (squeemish yet?) had done it’s job, so had a bed pan, but I wanted to a) be vertical and b) do those jobs for myself. With one hand on the rolling IV stand, I was able to hobble over and well nuff said.

Soon after they decided I could have ‘real’ food, that is to say, I was not limited to broth. However, some sadistic dietician ordered my first meal. It was a hotdog and french fries. I greedily ate it, but at the same time, I knew that after going that long without food, that I should have been eating something a bit easier to digest.

Finally the day came for my great escape. I rolled back out of the hospital and to the long dark halls of Babies Hospital. There I spent three weeks waiting for someone to bring a cake with a file in it.

Posted by bbrother at 02:56 PM | Comments (2)

May 08, 2005

Medicine and Me

If you read my last posting, then you know that I am quite familiar with the medical system. It’s not 102 years of medical school, nor do I read old medical journals. I live the role. Lucky, Lucky me, I have been afflicted by some of the neatest, deadliest and most inconvenient problems available.

Somewhat like a flat tire on the entrance ramp of life, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was 12. An ‘Astrocytoma’ (I just love throwing around those five syllable words.) was growing on my right optic nerve. At 12, I didn’t know I had an optic nerve. However, I spent an entire summer dealing with it.

During 7th grade, I was half a person. I went to school but had headaches all the time. I would come home from school and go to sleep. It wasn’t until June, while swimming in the local pool, that I developed double vision. The odd part was that if I covered one eye, my vision was fine, but the two eyes were simply not coordinating.

I saw an ophthalmologist, then he sent me to a neurologist and he in turn passed the buck and booked me into North Shore University Hospital and Delicatessen. I can tell you now that their turkey sandwich is much better than their medical advice.

I spent the next week being poked, prodded and generally abused, and at the end, these jokers had only discovered how to bill the insurance company. One of the test they treated me to was a brain scan. This was long before the CAT or the MRI and essentially they had me lie on a board, and a scanner passed back and forth above me. They positioned me lying sideways, leaving my nose to bear all of my body weight. For almost an hour I endured the rumbling of this stupid machine as it radioactively lit up my brain. When the test was done, I was quite anxious to return to my cell, but the tech came in to inform me that they had made a small, insignificant, unimportant mistake. They’d forgotten to put film in the camera. So, my nose resembling a prune, they had me resume the position for another hour of fun.

Another time they had decided that I needed a spinal tap. I was not very happy at the notion, but they told me to expect a gurney to come and take me to the spinal tap arena. I think they also used this room to insert tooth picks into olives. However, at the last moment, they cancelled the test. Seems someone realized that if they released the pressure in my spinal column, that I could possibly develop a clot and die on the table. There was a strict hospital rule against murder, and so they passed on the whole idea.

One of my favorite memories was a nurse coming to my room to close and lock the door. I later learned that someone had inconveniently died, and rather than frighten us with reality, they would lock us in our rooms until the body could be removed. I realize that this was a devastating thing to happen (what would the hospital administration think?), but for me I suspect that the reason I am claustrophobic today comes from that.

After a week, they knew nothing; fortunately someone in the family knew someone with pull and got me booked into Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. This was a real hospital and didn’t have to rely on pastrami to make money.
It was a Friday, I was due to enter the hospital on Monday, but my grandfather had tickets to the Mets game that weekend. Rather than miss the game, I was given an eye patch. That way, as long as one eye was covered, I would be able to enjoy the game.

My grandfather worked for a company that owned box seats at Shea Stadium. They were wonderful seats, just beyond third base. I sat there, thrilled to see my beloved Mets. (yes, at 12, the Mets were still more important than girls) However, in the box next to us I noticed a small boy staring at me, and in particular, my eye patch. It bothered me to be the object of his staring and the longer it went on, the more I felt I needed to do something. I imagined him wondering what could possibly be under the eye patch. He must have thought it was some disgusting sight to be that enthralled with staring at me. So, when he turned to talk to his dad, I quickly reached up and switched the eye patch to my other eye. Then I waited for him to turn back.

I was watching the game, but I saw him jump in his seat. I think he’ll be getting out of the mental hospital any year now.

Columbia Presbyterian is way up in New York City. It is actually in the South Bronx, rather than Manhattan. It is very close to the George Washington Bridge and is set in one of those neighborhoods. However, it’s an amazing hospital. In one hour, after an EMI scan (the grandfather of the CAT scan) they knew that I had a tumor, where it was and how they would deal with it. Fortunately for me, this hospital had operating rooms and scalpels, not deli-counters and meat slicers.

…more to come, dear reader, hang in there. Oh and by the way, Happy Mothers’ Day to all of the mothers out there…and you know who you are.

Posted by bbrother at 06:36 AM | Comments (1)

May 07, 2005

Modern Medicine, cough cough

Back before the Internet era, before Cable TV and even before Eight Track tapes; there was a time when man was little more than an ape. If Gilligan is any example, then even eating Coconuts is a trait we kept well into the 1960’s.

During this time, when a caveman felt sick, he ignored it. Darwin called this ‘survival of the fittest’, I call this, “morons dragging a gangrenous leg and seeing the world thru one eye.” However, I digress.

Later, when mankind felt all grown-up, somewhat like a thirteen year old wondering why he can’t drive the car, a group of learned men called themselves Barbers. These barbers not only provided a close shave, but when needed, a blood letting or a leech or two to treat common maladies. Society frowned on people who had trolls living in their bellies, and so agreed that several hours of bleeding would be a small price to pay in order to restore health. Okay, so some people died… after all, it’s not like anyone expected to live more than thirty years anyway.

Today, of course, we ARE all grown-up. We know, for example that it’s not a troll in our belly. Science has come up with ways to diagnose, treat and eliminate diseases and ‘system breakdowns’. While many treatments require that we forgo our daily lives and egos…and check into a hospital, we are getting better and better at discovering that a tiny pill can solve problems. It’s this last point that has me baffled.

If you watch television, read magazines or pay attention to billboards etc, you are now familiar with advertising designed to motivate us to take pills. While we outlaw marijuana and other “BAD” drugs, we’ve become a society of pill poppers. It’s very much like that movie, “Westworld”; a not so futuristic world, where nothing can go wrong. Suuuuuuuuuure. So Vioxx was just a little ooopsy. I’m waiting for the day that all of the Viagra takers wake up one morning, a little beside themselves. Yes, these advertisements rush through a list of common side-effects. So treat your arthritis, but you may end up suffering migraines, liver failure, blood disorders and bad breath. Ah, but no problem, you can take another pill which will treat blood disorders, however it tends to cause memory loss, loss of consciousness and inner ear infections. No doubt, that when you treat all the side effects, you are far worse off than you were at the beginning.

I’ve no doubt that a few hundred years into the future, scientists will look back and view our methods in the same light as we see medieval medicine. Thank heaven I won’t be there to see it.

Posted by bbrother at 12:00 PM | Comments (5)