The following is not exactly what I had envisioned for my second blog of 2018, which was meant to be my first. Most confusing.
When 2016 ended, I was profoundly happy. The end of a godawful shitty year, filled with the deaths of heroes and legends, culminating in the election (selection?) of one of the most vile, contemptuous, corrupt and totally incompetent fools to ever sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.
Not exactly a promising way to ring in 2017. Enough shit tossed about from day one, to make one long for those good old days of 2016.
Which brings me to January, 2018 (I’ve often found, glossing over miserable times can often be an excellent way to deal with them… by not dealing with them. As anyone who reads my blog knows, 2017 falls into that category.
On a positive note, my wife and I, accidentally stumbled upon a new medical practice we liked. The fact we found it by my contracting the flu was not exactly how I would have chosen to find a new practice, but, hey, what the hell. So, being long overdue for a physical, I set one up.
One week later, as my new primary care physician is giving me the overdue physical, she looked up at me and, pointing to my crotch says, “are you aware you have a hernia?” “Uh, no,” was my pathetically lame response, followed by a hopeful, “but it’s nothing I need to take care of right now, is it?” She looked at me with one of those, “Oh, you poor schmuck,” looks, and said, “I tell you what, let’s send you to a surgeon and see what they think.”
After getting a referral from my father-in-law, I made an appointment with a surgeon who specializes in hernias. On the appointed day, there I stood being examined by the surgeon, who’s now handling my lower extremities with doctorly detachment. After a few good feels — on his part — the surgeon looked up at me, and without missing a beat, says, “are you aware you have two hernias?”
So there I am, standing, pants down in front of this surgeon who’s performed thousands of hernia surgeries (his words). This is my second opinion, and he’s telling me I’ve got a spare hernia? But not a good spare, like “Hey! Great news! You may have lost a tire, but we just discovered you have a spare, so this won’t cost you shit.” Naturally, having already endured two surgeries in the past five years, I had to ask, “So, ummm — is this something I need to take care of like now, or do I have some time? So this doctor, the man who’ going to be slicing and dicing around my groin says, “No, there’s no rush. Not as long as you take care of it in the next three months or so.”
For anyone reading this who isn’t a member of my family, you’re probably wondering, WTF is he talking about, and what’s the big deal over a little surgical procedure. Well, here it is — I was born with a congenital heart defect that kept me in and out of hospitals, between the ages of one and a half, and four and a half, traumatizing me for life…at least, so far. Hospitals, needles — pretty much anything having to do with medical procedures freaks me out.
As it happens, my case was written up in medical journals for being the only case in recorded medical history — at least, through the 1950’s — to “spontaneously” recover from the condition I was born with. What that means in doctor talk is, they can’t explain it. It also made my father something of a psychic for not only telling my mother all along that I’d be fine, but, due to the history of the heart trouble on my medical record, the military would never be able to draft me. And that’s exactly what happened when I turned 18, which was also toward the end of the Vietnam War. 4F, baby!
Flash forward to February 12th — surgery day. I arrive at the surgical center around 7am. Within the next 45 minutes, I’m lying on a hospital bed, multiple needles in my arm. My surgeon comes in to say, hi, as does the anesthesiologist. Next thing I know, I’m being wheeled into the operating room, where they’re playing some godawful music. They asked me if I had a request, so, naturally, I chose The Beatles. Instead, the bastards knocked me out and started the surgery.
That was the last thing I remember, before coming to in the recovery room. The doctor had told my wife, Tanya, the surgery would take around 75 minutes. I’m told they actually finished and had me in recovery, in an hour. I wouldn’t know as I was whacked out on Demerol & (one) Oxycodone. What I do remember is the pain. There was lots of it.
At this point I was incredibly groggy, so no one thought anything about the fact my voice was more of a croak, as opposed to my usual dulcet tone. Unfortunately, as time went by, my voice got worse, not better. As the days wore on, there were times I could speak a little. The problem is, when I did, I either sounded like Mickey Mouse, or reverted to the croak.
There was also one other problem. I couldn’t eat, or drink, without gagging and choking. My first visit back to the surgeon, so he could check my progress, was interesting. While the hernia scars were doing well, my voice freaked him out. He told me he’d never seen this happen to anyone, and didn’t understand what happened to me. My primary care doctor referred me to an ENT (ear, nose, throat) specialist, so I set up an appointment for February 27th, two weeks after the surgery.
On the appointed day, I went to the ENT, hoping he could find a solution to my problem. After numbing my nose, he stuck a long thin tube with a camera on the end, up my right nostril, and back down my throat. After taking a good look, he told me my left vocal chord was paralyzed. He also explained how, without trying, when he put the little ball that emits the gas which knocked me out for surgery, the anesthesiologist inadvertently dislodged something, which probably hit my vocal cord, creating the paralysis. He also told me, in all the years he’d been in practice, I was only the second case of this he’d seen.
Oh, great! I felt so special. I was the one in a million.
He also told me, in the one case he’d seen, the vocal chord healed itself. It took around six weeks, but he figured the same would probably happen for me. So we set another appointment six weeks later.
Every morning I woke up, hoping this would be the day my voice came back. And every day, I opened my mouth to try and speak. And every day, either nothing comes out at all, or it’s back to Mickey and/or the croak.
I primarily make my living as an actor, so this was getting a little nerve wracking. Day by day, as my voice stayed the same — non-existent — I grew more and more despondent. I had these pictures in my head of never getting my voice back, never being able to act again. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling. To be perfectly honest, it was freaking me out.
In the middle of all this, the anti-gun march on Washington, led by the Parkland students, was scheduled to take place. People came from all over the country to voice their anger about our government’s refusal to do anything to stop the epidemic of mass shootings. I was determined to be one of them. Stephanie Miller, who hosts my favorite progressive radio show (comedy and tragedy, all in one neat little package), was coming in from L.A. to support the kids, and march with the “Steph-Heads,” of which I was one.
I was determined to meet, march with, and have my first opportunity to chat with Stephanie, the woman whose show, has helped me maintain some degree of sanity, through the reigns of Georgie Bush, through the Obama presidency, and now, with “He Who Must Not Be Named, haunting the oval office. Tanya was worried I wasn’t up to it, and determined to impress that upon me. I promised her that if I felt any pain whatsoever, I would stop, and come home. So, I went. But when my one opportunity to talk to Steph arrived, all I could do was type a message on my phone, thanking her.
At this point, I was beyond the six-week mark, with no improvement to my voice. So back to the ENT, who once more runs the camera tube up my nose, and back down my throat. As expected, the doctor told me there was no change (duh), and we’d reached the “what’s next” mode.
The doctor told me what he’d like to do is a minor surgical procedure, in which he inserts a gel into my throat, which will allow my vocal chords to meet, thus allowing me to talk semi-normally. The downside of this is, the gel only lasts three to six months. But the hope is, during that time, the gel will help my vocal chord actually heal, giving me my voice back. Oh, joy.
Wanting to cover all bases, I asked him, “well, just for argument sake, what happens if this doesn’t work.” His reply: “Well, if that’s the case, we have to start talking about more invasive surgery. But let’s wait and see how we do with this surgery.” He gave me the name and number for his “surgical scheduler,” and told me to call and set up a date for the surgery. As I have no voice, and the more I try to speak, the worse it gets, Tanya made the call — calls, actually. Depending on your point of view, that’s where it got really funny, or really ironic.
Tanya places the first call, only to find out, the scheduler is out, and will remain so for at least a couple of weeks, because she has no voice!
Not to be deterred, and as tenacious as she is brilliant and beautiful, Tanya got hold of the doctor’s assistant, trying to impress upon her the need to get a surgical date as quickly as possible. I have now been without a voice for more than two months. What started out as something we thought would be short-term and, at times, kind of funny, has now gotten far more serious. The doctor’s assistant told Tanya the doctor had a date available within two weeks. Only thing is, before officially putting me on the surgical schedule, she had to get the okay from Georgetown University Hospital, where the “procedure” will be taking place, that they had an available operating room.
Every day last week, Tanya called. No news yet was the response. So here I sit, telling the story the only way available to me at the moment. How long before the surgery? How long until I get some semblance of my voice back? And what happens if this surgery doesn’t work? These are the questions running through my mind, every single day. It’s been enough to make me nostalgic for the fun of 2017…almost. So there you have it.
To quote the words of Stephanie Miller, “happy 2018, everybody!”