Monday, June 15, 2009

Book 45: The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

My appendix gave up on Easter Sunday, 1993. I had been out in Providence the night before. Had a beer. Got home and spent the evening puking my guts up and having terrible diarrhea. I remember thinking that my tolerance had really waned. I was sick enough that I wasn't thinking clearly already.

At around 5 in the morning, my room mate at the time, a guy named Tom who I barely remember, came into the bathroom and suggested that I go to the hospital. Which, lucky for me, was right next door.

They admitted me and then proceeded to run every possible test that they could run. They couldn't give me pain medication because they don't want to numb something that might give a clue as to what is going on. Every so often a doctor or a nurse would come in and press on my belly just to see how loud I would yell.

Finally at around 10 they shot me up with something once they'd determined that my appendix was trying to exit my body. I had been up for almost 30 hours by that point. I remember that the drug took effect so quickly that all pain almost instantly vanished. But I was so tired that it also dropped me right off to sleep. I know from there I was prepped for an operation but I have no memory of it. I know they then anesthetized me further in order to begin cutting me open but I have no memory of that either. I don't remember the cliche 'Count back from 100' moment. I never saw the doctor who saved me.

I woke up. I was in such pain that I thought there must have been some mistake, that they'd left my appendix in by accident. I actually asked a nurse if they could check to make sure. She assured me that, no, they had taken the appendix out, what I was feeling was the aftermath of the operation itself. I'd somehow thought of it like a big shot, that once they took it out, all the pain would be gone! I neglected to consider the fact that I'd have a gaping wound to deal with too. When I think of how stupidly I faced this stuff I wonder I made it this far.

This was pre-cell-phone so I don't know how I did it but I got word to Maria what had happened, where I was. She was still married at the time and we'd not been in contact for some time. She came and visited me and walked me up and down the hall in my little hospital robe hooked up to an IV and she brought me a Marlboro Medium to smoke. In the hospital. Imagine that.

Somewhere in here my Dad gave me 'The Magic Mountain' by Thomas Mann. I always thought there was some specific reasoning behind this, that he'd pored over the book and found the moral to be something that might be useful for me as I faced this recovery period.

Many years later I found out that this was not the case at all.

I started to read it. I moved home for a time. I took a leave of absence from my gig with Looking Glass Theater, as lugging equipment and doing two shows a day in elementary schools was out of the question. I tried to go back to work and almost passed out during a show. I kept reading.

I didn't finish the book, as great as it was. Maria moved out of her husband's house, we started dating, I resumed my acting job and began playing shows out with my band, the book was connected to my appendix and that was no longer a focal point.

By the following summer Maria and I had broken up and I was bent on moving to New York City.

I started reading the book again once I got down there, squatting in a dorm room at Columbia's Teacher's College. My friend had moved in with her boyfriend and left her dorm room empty. I was grieving the time I'd spent in Providence and working in the Columbia bookstore. I almost broke my ankle running for a subway. I was so new to the city that I didn't understand that another one would be along in 5 minutes so I ran pell-mell down a flight of stairs, tripping on the last one and coming up horribly lame.

When I look back on my life I feel as if I've been hanging on by the slightest thread.

This was 1994.

1996 Marriage. 1997 Child. 2000 Divorce. New love. 2001 9/11. 2001-2003 Cross country. 2003 Move to LA. Career free-fall.

Throughout that time I started to read 'The Magic Mountain' many many times. I never got past say page 250.

Last summer I determined that I would finish it. My father was very sick and I wanted to know the ending to this book that meant so much to him that he gave it to me as I convalesced.

Then in one of our nightly 5PM conversations, I brought it up, asked him why he'd given it to me.

Turns out he'd never even read it!

We laughed about that.

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