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Monday, December 19, 2011

Early Blog #5

I have a few more early blogs to bring over after this. This is me writing two years ago:

MONDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2009 7:18 AM, EDT

It is Monday, only three days out of the hospital, and I have already done something stupid. I'm still a patient recovering, and I should be staying horizontal as much as I can, doing nothing but resting, especially for the next two weeks. MJ is helping with everything.

I woke up at 6:15am and decided to go downstairs while MJ slept. I scratched Noah's ears, one of those simple pleasures I love in the morning, and he followed me around as I tried to do a normal morning routine. He got his pills, but I could not find his rubber Kong toy which I put peanut butter in for him to play with every morning. Sometimes it rolls under a chair on the porch, so I did a lot of standing up and leaning over, looking for it.

It made me dizzy.

I found it in the living room eventually. I smeared peanut butter in there and gave it to him. I tidied up a few things in the kitchen and noticed an overhead lightbulb needed changing (one on the ceiling only I can reach). I retrieved a new bulb from the pantry, stretched up, changed it and took the spent bulb and the cardboard box out to the garage. I threw away the bulb, put the box in the recycling bin, then started to walk inside.

The world turned upside down.

I don't know how I saved myself, but in a split second my head made a beeline for the concrete. I somehow regained control and carefully made my way back to the couch where I am now lying, feeling extremely dizzy. My spinal fluid is probably still leaking, wounds still healing, and my brain is still trying to figure out what to do with the extra space in my head now that the tumor is gone. MJ came downstairs soon after, made me tea, and I am once again committed to being a patient patient for the rest of the day.

It is strange how much of the little things I cannot resist getting involved in around the house—changing lightbulbs, etc.—when I see they need to be done. The major decisions of rehabilitation (like taking time off from work or not driving) are easy. But the tiny things are hard.

Last night, MJ and I had a quiet evening where she grilled some perfect steaks (usually my job), and they came out better than if I had cooked them myself. Also, MJ made the fire in the living room which is always my job.

I wanted to do this while she cooked, but lifting logs and stoking the fire are strenuous things I simply cannot do for now. I watched as she tilted one log straight up and added another. I knew this was the wrong way to do it, that the fire would die. I didn't say anything, thinking she would find out the hard way and learn. It was the way I learned to make fires: by trial and error on my own.

A few minutes later, to my amazement, the fire caught on again. It was not the kind of fire I ever made, but the vertical log began to burn with this sinuous flame that rose up from somewhere beneath it and swirled around the log sensuously before the flame disappeared on top. It didn't ever die. It kept burning and burning in this odd arrangement and it looked so alluring. I couldn't take my eyes off this simple, beautiful thing she had made using only her instincts.

I do spend a lot of time micromanaging and analyzing things, I suppose, and when I was in the hospital it is a wake-up call to have the tables turned on you. Maybe this happened the second day after the surgery, but a female doctor popped her friendly head inside my room and asked if a group of med students who wanted to study my case could come in.

"Sure," I said, groggily.

In a few seconds, the room was filled with a half-dozen young people in white coats, each wheeling in portable lecterns supporting their laptop computers. They surrounded me in a semi-circle around my hospital bed.

The doctor rattled off a number of things very quickly: "Male, 41 years old, 6'3", 230 pounds, history of hypertension, cough-variant asthma, allergic to caviar, dogs, cats, dust mites, trees, no known drug allergies, transsphenoidal approach for removal of pituitary tumor, pathology not back." The students tapped away on their keyboards.

It all seemed so deeply personal, how quickly this information was landing with strangers. I imagined her continuing in the same breath: "Childhood in foreign countries, caught playing with himself at thirteen, never gotten over it, adolescence of sheltered suburban paranoia and guilt coupled with a curious and intelligent disposition led him to break away from everything expected of him, pursued a career in music and embraced relationships with progressively destructive women until it all blew up in his face ten years ago."

I imagined the students tapping away some more, totally serious and intellectual. No one asked me anything. A few looked up from their computers to get a mental image, but mostly they stood and typed.

"Thank you," the doctor said. She waved and the students wheeled their portable lecterns out of the room efficiently.

Yesterday afternoon I looked in the mirror and noticed I will have a battle scar to show for last week. The bottom of my right nostril has a notch. A few days ago the surgeon removed the packing from my nostrils and sinus cavities. Dried blood was everywhere inside my nose. I am not allowed to blow my nose or clean it because things are still healing, but the outermost scab has fallen off. Sure enough, there it is in the mirror: a wedge of flesh missing from my face. A notch.

About 25 years ago, the time when my father first knew he was succeeding in business for real, he built a new home for our family by a lake. My mother's dream of planting and gardening went into full swing and they built a gazebo out in the yard so they could sit in the evenings amidst her creations, talking about things. His most notable animal friends out there were the two chipmunks Notch and Ragtail, nicknamed for their respective appearances. Ragtail had a tail almost devoid of fur, and Notch, his favorite, had a chunk of his ear missing. I always wondered what had happened when Notch lost the tip of his ear. My father would bring some peanuts in his pocket on the evenings they sat out there.

"Notch! Notch! I have your peanut!" he would say.

I was gone at Juilliard by this time, but when I was home for school breaks I could see this firsthand. A chipmunk would appear in the distance and see my father holding up a peanut between his thumb and forefinger. He would tap the peanut with another finger. The sound of the rattling nut cutting through the still air would prick Notch's ears to full attention. Notch would run quickly across the yard, crossing half the distance in no time. My father then placed the peanut inside his shirt pocket. Notch would slow down, climb up onto the gazebo, up the back of his chair, over my father's shoulder, go into his shirt pocket, emerge a moment later with the peanut in his mouth, then scurry back to his nest. This repeated a few more times every night until the peanuts ran out.

Ragtail sometimes got in on the action, but Ragtail was always more reserved, watching over things as they unfolded. I sensed my mother took a liking to Ragtail's caution while my father enjoyed Notch's initiative and ingenuity. For all I suspect now, Notch and Ragtail were a couple.

As I study the new notch outside my right nostril, I know I might be asked about it in the years to come. I don't have other visible scars, and since I never excelled in sports or got into bar fights I've never had to deal with a battle scar. I suppose it's the sort of thing other men do—telling stories of how they got this one or that one—and on some level I always wished I could join in with that, telling an inaccurate, elaborated story about a fistfight, an attack by a wild animal or a cheap swipe from an opponent's hockey stick.

But if I am asked about my notch, I can say I got it when they took a golf-ball-sized tumor out of my head. That will surely shut anyone up.

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