Deaf and taxis.

13 Mar

Several years ago, I was diagnosed with a cholesteatoma, a skin cyst in my right middle ear that required surgery. The name of the procedure could knock a buzzard off a shit-wagon: a canal-wall-down radical tympanomastoidectomy. Essentially, they slice open the skull and drill through the bone behind the ear, then scoop out everything between the eardrum and the cochlea, leaving empty air where essential anatomy used to dwell, those pin-sized bones and bits that turn sound waves into lullabies and wind chimes and the screech of oncoming traffic. The deficit takes some getting used to, especially when crossing a street in Midtown Manhattan.

“It’s no big deal,” my surgeon assured me. “I perform at least one a week.”

I arrived at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary the very same day President Clinton was having his octuple bypass on the other side of the island at Columbia Presbyterian. My surgery was ambulatory; his life was at stake. I would grin and bear this day for sake of God and Country. Counting backwards from one hundred, I drifted off in prayer for my former Commander-in-Chief.

Clinton got off easy. He was in and out in under two hours. I didn’t hit the recovery room for another four. Once awake and screaming in agony, I half expected to find his gift of roses on the tray near my bed right next to the vomit bowl, having had this reciproca episodio simpatico. My pain was unprecedented. Italian. The nurses insisted they couldn’t give me any more morphine. I insisted there weren’t enough poppies on the planet.

I was told the cyst had wrapped itself around my facial nerve and produced a “fistula” that threatened my semi-circular canals, so my one-hour surgery had turned to six. As grateful as I was that my conscientious otolaryngologist had not left me drooling or droopy-faced like that dear deadpan palsied woman who sews quilts and dreadful vests and tea cozies on public television, I would rather have not had the pleasure of spilling my aching empty guts all over the hospital room where I had to be unexpectedly admitted after the day’s turn of bloody awful events.

They really should segregate the patients at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. Unable to sleep all night, I flipped on the television. Now nearly deaf, I guess I had the volume up rather high. So high, in fact, I couldn’t hear the increasingly desperate pleas from the blind man in the next bed who couldn’t see the screen. It took an intact orderly to intervene.

My friend Rita took me home in a cab the next day, my head wrapped more elaborately than the driver’s, on a ride that I thought would never end. On my back in the back of the cab, the world had turned into a silent sinister roller-coaster. We stopped every three blocks for me to visit a gutter.

After a week, the pain had not relented, so I called the surgeon and begged for another round of happy pills. She prescribed Tylenol-3, the baby aspirin of addicts, and called it in to the pharmacy at 11AM. I phoned the pharmacist at 1:20PM to see if it was ready. He said to come over at 2PM. Wobbly from vertigo and looking like the guy with the fife in search of his two friends with the drums, I walked seven blocks and arrived at 3PM to learn it hadn’t yet been filled. It takes my pharmacist four hours to put twenty tablets in a bottle.

Pills in hand, and popping two, I plodded back home, ate half a sandwich I had picked up along the way, and lay back down on my spinning bed. Not half an hour later, my chest began to explode, I couldn’t catch my breath, I was sweating profusely, and incredibly, was even more nauseous than lately. “I shouldn’t have walked!” I kept berating myself. Or the frustration at the pharmacy induced a myocardial infarction. So I dialed 911.

I didn’t clock my rescuers, but I had ample time to tidy up my entire apartment in anticipation of their arrival. I even cleaned the toilet. No “Forty-something Erstwhile Actor Found Dead Amid His Filthy Squalor” headlines for me.

The sirens of the cavalry finally broke through my deadened ear and the EMTs entered my apartment and hooked me up to whatever they hook hypochondriacs up to, all the machinery with which I recall Randolph Mantooth being conversant on EMERGENCY. However, the adhesive EKG pads would not stick to my sweaty skin. One of the responders asked, “Have you been exercising?” Not wanting to admit my twirl around the bathroom and besides, I was sweating before I ever Pledged the credenza, I simply pointed to the bloody crusty turban on my head and said, “What do you think?”

So up on to the gurney and off to Roosevelt Hospital with me where I was placed in Room Seven in the far corner of the lost reaches of the ER. It was a semi-private room. In the other bed to my right was a man lying on his back and awfully quiet, too. With a sheet over his head. My heart made the monitor sing with fear, and I immediately faced the opposite wall, shutting my eyes against the inevitable and hoping at the very least my day might turn out less definitively.

I was very well attended to I must say, unlike my roommate who warranted less triage, but I had to wait two hours for the blood-work to come back. My late roommate and I passed away the time ignoring one another. Had my vertigo been less acute, I may have sneaked a peek under the sheet, but the thought of losing my spatial relations and falling all over myself and on top a corpse put the kibosh on my curiosity.

After a number of doctors assured me I had days more to live, I was finally given the go-ahead for discharge. The nurse came in with the necessary papers and feeling alive again, I signed away and summoned the courage to ask her, “Will he be ‘discharged’ soon, too?”

She looked around aimlessly and confused and shot back, “Who he?”

I pointed to the morbid sight to my right and told her he’d been there since I arrived. Before that, I couldn’t attest. She looked at her chart without a care in the world and muttered, “Well, he ain’t in my paperwork,” and meandered off as if it were time to fetch her burrito out of the microwave. Fifteen minutes later, a security guard came in and nudged the corpse.

Imagine, just imagine, our shared shock, our abject horror, as the stone rolled back and Lazarus let out a moan and a grating gasping snore.

You better believe I took my damn time dressing and wrapping up my head and wrapping up my stay at Cold Comfort Inn. No way was I leaving this set without some backstory: Turns out the man simply wandered in off the street, found a bed in a secluded corner, drew the drape, and settled in for a lovely long nap. Had I not had a bit of mild heartburn on an otherwise quiet afternoon in one of the world’s major metropolitan hospitals, he might have lasted the night.

Just recently, I learned that I need to find decent affordable health care. Especially as my ear never quite returned to normal, it is essential. The costs are so ridiculous that I wonder if I may lose my apartment. However, it is ironic to think that if I must choose a health plan over my rent, I can always catch a quick catnap over at Roosevelt.

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