After a week of what my doctor and I thought was a bronchial infection, on a Good Friday evening while ABC was playing “The Sound of Music” – the movie my mother had raised me on – I had a heart attack. Damn you Nazis!
11 days later, my heart was barely pumping and I was lying in a hospital bed with a butterfly trap on my wrist tubed to IV drips. I had written and handed my father a list of people to call if I didn’t make it. The cardiologists had decided to give me a quadruple bypass.
On the evening of April 17, 2007, a pretty young woman plopped herself on the edge of my bed in the hospital munching a cookie, and said, “Hey buddy, it’s your lucky day, you’re gonna get shaved by the hot new nurse tonight – high five!” Later she did shave the front of me, everything from my neck down. I lay naked, even puffier than usual because of the saline the hospital had been dripping into me for days to make it easier to do my surgery, while she dragged sometimes an electric shaver, sometimes a safety razor, over my skin. She matter-of-factly regaled me with little stories; her parents having been rock tour roadies – seeing photos of Jon Bon Jovi and saying “hey it’s Uncle Johnny”, getting a phone call from Ozzy Osbourne on her 1oth birthday.
As she shaved me she told me that men with big dicks were the worst lovers – “They don’t think they have to do anything, that you should just appreciate it”. She also explained why women pick bad boys over nice guys – “When you’re with a bad boy, no matter what happens you know you’ll never go hungry. Cuz when things get desperate he’ll do what he has to, he’ll steal.”
My skin parched from shaving, the nurses popped off the needled lines in the trap on my wrist, covered it with tape, and I took my first shower in a week – had to be thorough with special disinfectant soap. As I stood under the water and soaped my my body, sore from being all but bedridden, bruised from the daily shots in my belly, Genesis’s “Afterglow” kept going through my head – my brain is annoyingly sentimental like that.
But I was making peace. The surgeon had told me chances of not leaving the operating table alive was, I think I remember, 1 in 45. But still, that 1 sounded like 23.
The next morning, the hospital asked my parents to clear everything out of my room and take it to their car. My glasses were taken – they’d be at the nurses station in post-op ICU.
Under the gown loosely draped over me as they wheeled me through the halls and elevators down to Anesthesia, I was naked. Just naked. And dry and itchy from being shaved.
A couple nights before I had had a dream that Jake Gyllenhaal was to wheel me to surgery, through a hospital designed by M.C. Escher on valium. While in the hospital core and with Jake stepping away to press elevator buttons and wait, I got impatient and took matters into my own hands to get to Surgery myself – apparently the trolley had wheelchair style wheels that I pushed with my hands – but I ended up clumsily maneuvering to the top of the open staircase that ran down the core by the elevators, the trolley began tipping, at the last moment Jake finally saw me and caught it. But I may not have been trying to get to Surgery…
In Anesthesia – bustling at 7:00 in the morning, several patients being prepped for surgery – thee anesthesiologists worked over me. One was a lovely Eastern European women, beautiful even in scrubs and hair cap without makeup. She was actually a doctor going through some training and not happy about it. “Do you hear how he treats me?” she asked me petulantly as my main anesthesiologist was getting impatient with her. He plugged an IV into the trap on my wrist and told me, “We’re giving you some truth serum, okay?”
And my mind flashed to an episode of “Wings” where the characters were having fun with one of the characters hypnotizing volunteers, and Roy Biggins, the chubby grumpy money-hungry moustachioed ‘bad guy’, gave in and allowed himself to be hypnotized – he was told to admit a secret; but he really hadn’t gone under, was just pretending he was to play a joke on the others.
Now, I have always had a fear of being anesthetized. I’m hypervigilant. But at that moment, about to have my chest sawed open and my heart disconnected and veins taken out of me from other places and sown around it, when I was naked and shaved and even my glasses stripped from me, when I had accepted that I might have given up everything – at literally the most crucial moment of my life – in response to a joke I was getting truth serum, I replied in mock monotone with what Roy Biggins had said –
“The gold is buried in the backyard under the oak tree”
And that was was last thing I remember, until I woke up slowly 16 hours later. I only found out months later I had died on the operating table. Flatlined. Sometimes I get this sickly feeling and wonder if everything that’s happened since hasn’t been just an occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge… I hope not.