The sun did rise. The clock had its arms back and I was able to eat and drink. My head was still throbbing and there were still a lot of tubes connected to my body in strange and unwelcome areas. I had made it through the night and I picked up my cell phone to see a lot of messages – I couldn’t check my email because on Friday it freaked me out. In my inbox, in a moment of extreme surrealism I saw an email; **Emergency Tehillim Reading Needed**
Name: Ephraim ben Rachel
Condition: Please pray and recite Tehillim for Ephraim ben Rachel, who is having emergency heart surgery right now Please read Tehillim perek 20 plus a short Beracha for a speedy recovery of the individual named above.
That was me – I quickly archived it and shut off my phone.
“Don’t think, don’t think.” I looked away and saw my son Saul coming my way with his usual smile.
“Jessica just left she should be here any minute. How are you feeling?”
“Better now – last night was -.” I was interrupted and told that I needed to walk.
I stood up after unwrapping tubes, wires and other stuff from me and began to walk slowly. I was achy and I felt like Frankenstein. But mostly I was scared – what if my heart gave out? What if I fell down?
“Your doing great dad.” My son.
“Yes he is – lets keep going Mr. Zalta.” Keep going until where?
“Can we go back?” I asked, sounding as if I were a child wanting to go back home.
“Not yet, lets aim for another ten steps and then we can turn back.”
I was tired, I wanted to just get back in the bed and fall asleep…we kept walking and then turned back and I was given the yellow recliner to sit in. Its not comfortable, but I needed to sit up for a while so I wouldn’t develop pneumonia. That’s all I needed…
Jessica came in with her smile and some oatmeal.
“Daddy just walked.” Saulie said.
“That’s great! That’s the second time you walked and I missed it.”
“I saw him yesterday – he walked to the desk. Today he walked all the way to the other desk.”
“I saw him sleeping yesterday.” Jessica said with a smile.
“I will walk later on and you can see me. Right now I am exhausted.” I fell asleep.
I didn’t dream that morning but I did wake up with a helluva stomach ache. I was told it was from the Percoset so I decided not to take that anymore. I was then given Tylenol Codeine which they said is easier on the stomach.
The nurses and the Doctors were attentive to my every request, question or complaint. They were patient with me even though I am sure they wanted to just pull out the plug. Despite my requests of no visitors I was visited by family, a Rabbi and a couple of friends. I was in no mood for a visit or to speak to anyone about this or that. I couldn’t repeat what had happened to me again – I just didn’t want to relive it yet.
I asked that everyone leave because I needed to be alone. I guess you can call it karma or something – but something strange had happened to me. I was very sensitive to sounds and people speaking. Me, the radio with no “off” button had become sensitive to noise.
Now i felt what others around me had felt all those years of me singing, muttering to myself or just making random observations had felt. How I was never beat up, thrown out of windows or muzzled I will never know. For this I thank all of the people I have sat next to in offices all these years – and I apologize.
I walked around the floor that Sunday afternoon – of course Jessica missed it. The nurses were all smiling and clapping as I made my way around. It was kind of surreal, it was as if I had left my body and was just observing from the inside. My gown kept opening, revealing my beautiful derriere as I walked the floor, I stopped caring, just kept walking.
“No pictures please. Hey I saw you looking!” I said to a nurse – made them all laugh. That felt good to me – I still had my sense of humor – funny or not.
I slept Sunday night – was woken up here and there but I slept. When I was woken up at around 6 in the morning, they took the catheter out of my chest – I think she said it was a pacemaker. But I really am not sure – and I really don’t care. All I know is I had one less thing connected to me – so all was left were two more wires and I would be free.
Monday morning and they told me I would be leaving the ICU. I was happy but scared. I was now totally unplugged and unencumbered by all the wires.
They put me in this holding room right outside the ICU and suddenly I was alone. I wanted to lay down and sleep but I knew it was not the right thing to do. I stood up, got dizzy and sat down on that uncomfortable recliner just to at least sit up.
Its a strange feeling the gradual coming to your senses after such a traumatic event. I was lost still, my brain was in pieces and my heart was healing. But when I was told what the surgeon and his team had to actually do to my chest, my ribs and the organs -I didn’t want to hear it and I repressed the images quickly.
If you are squeamish, as I am, be warned – I am going to give a quick description of what was done to me…
(Courtesy of WebMD)
During traditional heart bypass surgery, a surgeon makes an incision (about 6 to 8 inches) down the center of your sternum (breastbone) to get direct access to your heart. You are connected to a heart-lung bypass machine (called “on-pump” surgery), which allows for circulation of blood throughout your body during surgery. The heart is stopped and the surgeon then performs the bypass procedure described above.
After surgery, the surgeon closes the breastbone with special sternal wires and the chest with special internal or traditional external stitches.
(When I first heard what was done it overwhelmed me – “They did that to me?” Once again I used the Dumb down method for survival.)
I can tell you that there is also a steel plate in my chest as well as a zipper scar on my chest. Like my father in law says, “You joined the zipper club.”
Well before I could join any club or even begin to fathom what I had been through I still had to go home.
They brought me on a gurney to my new digs at around noon or so. I would be sharing the room with some dude who was sleeping with his complete ass pointed my way. The nurse came in and I could tell I wasn’t in Kansas anymore when I asked for some ice water and she never came back. The desensitization of the nurses is understandable – they deal with a lot of death and sicknesses. I don’t expect them to be the nurses from old movies – where the patient falls deeply in love with the nurse and vice-versa.
But there does need to be some sort of balance between Catherine Barkley from “A Farewell to Arms” and Nurse Ratchid from “One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest.” The attitude of some of the nurses on the non-ICU floor were similar to that of a clerk in a Department of Motor Vehicles. Even though it is your turn in line, and you have the number to prove it, you are always treated as if you are interrupting or speaking out of turn. But thankfully the caring nurses out numbered the DMV clerks.
I was disconnected to the final (Ouch) wire and set free. I walked around the hall and forgot that my ass was once again revealing its full moon beauty. Thankfully my wife came in and put a second gown behind me creating a total eclipse of my tush.
I met, or rather I saw my roommate when I came back to my room. Apparently he was being forced to take his medication and was content to die. Kind of uplifting – not.
“Do you have any family?” Nurses and Doctors asked him time and again. No answer from him.
It was sad and I felt guilty when my room was full of visitors and I really couldn’t handle it. My stomach was not yet able to clear itself out and the pain was kind of intense. With people there, I explained to the Doctor, I couldn’t, well – OK I will say it – sorry if it sounds kind of crass or gross but I couldn’t – fart. But I needed to do that just to clear the Petroleum Gas that had taken up too much space in my stomach. It was painful. But what do I do when there are people visiting me and I need to let one rip?
I asked the Doctor.
Doctor: If you need to fart you fart.
Freddy: I can’t just fart in front of people
Doctor: You never farted in front of people.
Freddy: I have, of course, but no I am on center stage. If I fart they know its me and I can’t blame it on someone else.
Doctor: Your choice – pain or shame.
I couldn’t fart – that is until they gave me this dark brown pill (I wondered if they colored it brown on purpose) and the need to relieve began to supersede any need to feel shame or embarrassment.
There was a room full of visitors, one of them my cousin, a Rabbi. I began to fart and it sounded like the fourth of July. For maybe the second time in my life I was embarrassed by the fireworks. The first time was when I was rehearsing a scene with a girl, my friend, when a remnant firecracker from Independence Day went off. That was by mistake and we both laughed. This time I was actually working the boardwalk like the Grucci family.
The fireworks were winding down and so were the people who come to visit me. I was overwhelmed and needed silence. I told my wife to clear the room. It was around seven or so and I just needed to be alone.
As I lay there in stomach pain and soreness in my back I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. Just then the man next to me, who was out cold the whole time – woke up and began to scream for the nurse to come. The Doctors decided not to give him anymore pain medication and he was apparently in pain. After what seemed like eternity the Doctors gave him his painkillers as long as he agreed to eat something and take his medication. I couldn’t fall asleep now while the dude next to me slept like a baby – perhaps in some percoset induced sleep – as I sat there tired and in pain. I decided to go for a walk around the floor. As I walked I realized that I was able to walk further than I had just earlier that day. I was building up strength and getting stronger. It was then that I felt confident that I would be getting better, stronger.
But what of the new Freddy Zalta? What would I be doing differently besides eating better and getting off my ass more? Would the financial concerns go away in lieu of a new viewpoint on life that it was love and health that determines happiness? I don’t think I had ever been so sprained and twisted from life itself to believe otherwise. My financial concerns were and are real. God knows now as I was about to go home in 24 hours or so, how long until I would be able to work again? I couldn’t even imagine looking at a computer screen let alone being sentenced to cubicle confinement. I stopped walking and held on to the nurses station, took a deep breath, ouch, and then aimed for my bed. I needed to dumb myself down again and just get better. Stop thinking about anything and everything.
I got to my room and sat on the yellow recliner. The dude next to me had three visitors now, looked like his son and daughter and her boyfriend. They kept speaking about what to do with their father – why there were no Doctors or nurses taking care of him. I wanted to tell them what I had heard their father say just hours earlier when asked if there was anyone, family or friends they could contact on his behalf and all he said was, “I have nobody; just let me die.” I didn’t say anything but when they began to eat some food while surrounding the patient – I let one rip. I laughed to myself as all three of them quickly left the room. Ha!
I closed my eyes and I tried to sleep – I just wanted to go home to be with my family and to get better and to be alive again. I had one more night in this hospital and I needed to stop thinking – so I used the Dumb down method and slept.
(To be continued)