It is a statement of these parlous, Tofleresque times that, following my recent medical episode, I would forgo phone calls and reach back out to my many well-wishers through this web log in conjunction with the pop-tech of Twitter. (These days, I suspect, a woman no longer responds to a would-be paramour with “I’d rather be friends”—she rebuffs the invitation to cyber with the stranger incantation “I’d rather be FaceBook friends.” But enough e-Freud for one evening).
I have been through an ordeal that might not be fairly compared to Senator John McCain’s stay at the Hanoi Hilton, but it was miserable, I assure you—the worst physical pain I’ve dealt with, and that includes blowing out an ACL, tearing my meniscus, a chronic swollen lumbar-3, and that working over I saw my brother Dave administer to that arrogant fool who thought it wise to rob Clobbering Time, my Union, N.J., comics shop in 1990.
You go to the hospital with one thing, you come home with two. I felt a pain in my stomach on the eve of Wednesday, December 9, which promptly woke me. When I noticed that I was pissing blood, I grew concerned. A stone, said Chantzie. How do you know? I asked. It seems like a stone.
Soon the pain moved around to my right side. And then there was no right side—only pain. By 1:35 am I had checked into the Emergency Room at Saint Claire’s Hospital in Denville, N.J. They couldn’t get me a vomit bag fast enough.
“What’s wrong?” asked the triage receptionist?
“I’m dying,” I cried, dying. “And pissing blood.”
“It’s peeing blood,” she replied. (Pay heed, my friends, to the future voice of nationalized health care).
Despite Ms. Charmschool's semantics lessons, I was admitted shortly thereafter and shot full of meds via an IV in my left arm. This eventually made most of the pain and nausea subside. And then, three hours later, I was sent packing, with three prescriptions to fill and a hearty good luck. I was told I’d be better off passing the stone myself in the comfort of my home. Hard to argue with that.
I fell asleep that morning at around 4:45 am. By 6:45 that morning I was back in the ER. This time, a urologist saw me, though not until the next morning (Friday, December 11, my daughter’s 2nd birthday, for all that was worth). At this juncture, I was given a choice:
“We can go get the stone,” said the man, a nice man, a smart man, a doctor, “or I can give you meds and you can go home and try to pass it. You’re better off passing it yourself—it’s not invasive and there’s less chance of complication. Your stone is only 2-mm big—should pass easy. The CAT scan says it’s almost there now.”
I called my brother Dave and said, “Come get me.”
Dave had had one of these stones before. “How you holding up?” he asked as I climbed into his car.
“Worst pain I've ever had,” I said.
“But you haven’t blown it out your crank yet?”
I shook my head.
“Well,” he said, that Marine Corp. smile locked and loaded, “then you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
I was in my house hugging my children by 3:30 pm.
At 10:15 pm, I was back in the ER.
I’ll skip the other details for now. I’m just too exhausted to write anymore. It ends with the doctor doing an emergency procedure, fishing out a calcium stone with a “hook” on the end of the stone (see picture); the stone had nested in my kidney and wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, if ever. The puss around my kidney was alarming, too, said the urologist. “Good thing we got it when we did.” You're telling me.
In addition to the kidney infection that I'm now dealing with, I developed what’s known as hospital pneumonia. Was it from lying around for days or aspirating some of the anesthesia? No one can say for sure and, if they can, they’re not saying it to me.
Regardless: I am grateful.
I am grateful to be alive and back with my children once again. I’ve been home since early this evening. I think I missed the entire one-year anniversary of the confession of Bernie Madoff. I didn’t miss it at all. And I see you’ve all tallied up another half-dozen Tiger Woods’ mistresses. You go to the PGA Tournament with one thing and come home with 12 more.
I am grateful to be beyond the pain, if you don’t count that burning sensation I get every time I pee cherry juice (the likeness is exact!) This relative discomfort is a welcome gift compared with the death knell of an infected kidney.
I am grateful to those of you who reached out to me and offered small comfort, and sorry that I didn't return most calls or texts. Even now. My suffering was immense and my exhaustion is genuine.
Did I learn anything? You bet. I phoned my ex-wife of 12 years and begged for her forgiveness for anything I did pre- or post our divorce (“Cliff—We’ve been all through that! We’re friends now!” “I just need to hear it Staci,” I said with tear-filled eyes). And I called each big child to tell them I was proud of them and that no matter what happens (because you go to the hospital with one thing and come home—if you come home—with seventy-two). And I decided to maybe, just a little bit, let loose of some grudges in my anxiety closet that have grown beards and put in for pension plans. Life, as they say, is too short.
In all, it was the best Chanukah (with a “cha”) present I’ve ever received.
Speaking of Chanukah: Seeing the electric menorah in my room, which one kind soul was thoughtful enough to deliver, one nurse—noting my learned demeanor—asked me if there was a difference between orthodox and acidic Jews. “It depends upon the Jew’s ph balance,” I assured her.
Another woman, a Jew from Parsippany, asked if it was true that observant Jews don’t believe in Israel. “Yes, that it so,” I explained. “We believe that Israel is a hoax invented by the goyim to trap the Jews they didn’t get during the Holocaust—that it’s really a great hole in the map and if you attempt to go there, your vessel will fall off the face of the earth.” She looked at me aghast.
“So,” I added, “when does your flight leave?”