Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Hospital Marlboro Medium

Easter Morning 1993.

The night before I'd been out to see a play or a movie. I have no memory of what I did that evening. I know that I had a beer and a burger at around 10 PM. I went home around midnight because I didn't feel all that well.

I was living in Providence in a three-bedroom apartment that cost $450 a month. I had two roommates. Yes. My rent was $150 a month. To this date I have never lived in a larger apartment.

I was acting for Looking Glass Theater, performing shows in elementary schools all over Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I think I was making about $325 a week which meant that I had plenty of money to spare. I had a silver diesel Rabbit that got unbelievable gas mileage and I was in love with a married woman.

I eventually quit Looking Glass and moved to New York, started dating the now-divorced woman, stopped dating her when I went to New York, resumed dating her after I'd gotten there, married her in 1996, had Cashel with her in 1997, and divorced her in late 2001, having moved out in late 2000.

But in 1993? Around Easter? I was a mess. This was before the advent of internet or cell phones so we wrote tortured letters to each other. We met occasionally but did not have a full-blown affair. I knew I wanted more than that. I was also smoking cigarettes, smoking pot on a regular basis, and probably drinking to excess more than was good for me.

Anyhow, back to Easter eve. I felt profoundly disassociated from my own life so the fact that I would cut a Saturday night short and go home was not unusual. I sat and watched television for a bit, thinking that I might try to catch SNL. One of my roommates was already asleep.

I became sick to my stomach. I had diarrhea. Then I settled back in on the couch thinking that the worst was behind me. I got sick again. And again. I tried to go to bed. At some point I began to think that maybe I'd had more beer than I remembered...had I gotten wasted and forgotten? I was pretty sure I hadn't but things were getting hazy.

I spent the next five hours shuffling between my bedroom and the bathroom.

At around six Easter morning, my poor roommate who slept right next to the bathroom stepped out of his bedroom and suggested that we might want to take a drive next door.

We lived right next to Roger Williams Hospital, tucked on the top curve of a horse-shoe shaped drive which hugged a middle school. I remember being vaguely shocked by the suggestion that something might be wrong. I mean, I'd just been puking for almost six hours, what was the big deal? But some dim corner of my brain that was still functioning assented and Tom helped me into his car and drove me the 100 yards to the emergency room.

He assured me that he would call my parents who were probably just waking up. A family church visit and jaunt up to Massachusetts to visit relatives was planned.

Once at the emergency room I was put through a battery of tests. By this point my abdomen was red, swollen and hot to the touch. I was pretty certain that my appendix was about to leave my body. So were the doctors. But they can't give you anything to mask the pain until they've put you through your paces. Which took about four hours.

Every so often a doctor would come into the room, poke me in the belly, note the volume of my scream, and say, "Yeah, it's probably your appendix" and then leave. Agony began to gather inside of me.

My parents arrived. It seemed as if it had been days since I'd gotten there but I was still surprised at how quickly they'd traveled the length of Rhode Island.

By this time I'd been awake for almost thirty-six hours and I'd been vomiting for almost ten. It was almost 11AM when they finally could officially pronounce what we all already knew. I had acute appendicitis and was about to have my first ever surgery. They shot me with something and within minutes I could barely feel any existential angst, let alone physical pain.

I don't remember any of the surgery. I don't remember being wheeled to the operating room. I don't remember being put under. I know they must have done the old 'count back from 100' thing but it is NOT in my brain.

When I came to the pain in my gut was worse and I actually asked a nurse if they'd performed the operation yet. She assured me that they had and that the pain I was feeling was just because, you know, I had a huge wound. I was skeptical and asked again. My folks were there and they sat with me in my room. I think they might have gone up to Massachusetts but I'm not sure.

Anyway, I was in the hospital for a few days.

I don't remember how but I got word to Maria that I'd been hospitalized. We'd been in regular enough contact that I didn't want her to think I was blowing her off.

She came on a lunch break and sat with me. I was still quite drugged up but they were forcing me to walk regularly. We took my IV and wandered slowly down the hall. We didn't talk about much. Any in depth analysis of our situation was not feasible for me in my condition and we simply enjoyed each others company.

She had brought a pack of Marlboro Mediums with her and we sat (in the hospital mind you and if that doesn't show how much things have changed I don't know what will) and smoked quietly and studiously didn't talk about our future.

It took me longer than expected to recover and I wound up missing about 8 weeks of work, almost the rest of the school year. By the following Easter Maria and I would be living together and headed for a breakup of our own, the penultimate.

I'm pretty sure they don't let you smoke in hospitals anymore.

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