Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Blog Resuscitation, Illness, and planning your day around "Friends."

A lot has happened since I last wrote in this blog four months ago. The main thing that happened was that I got sick. Very sick. Hospital sick. Surgery sick. Stay at home for two months and recuperate sick. This kind of sick is bad, though certainly not as bad as many sicks, this one was definitely no fun.

It started off like the flu, but was actually a bacterial infection, Strep, to be exact, resulting in a massive abscess in my liver. We still don't know where I picked up the infection. Usually it's from dental work. Often these kinds of abscesses can be taken care of with a drain and a boatload of IV antibiotics for a couple of months. Unless you have the disagreeable kind of giant, multi-located abscess that I had. When that's the case, you stay in the hospital for two weeks while they try to figure out what to do, then they cut you open like a freshly-snagged Walleye and lop off half your liver. My recommendation? Don't get that kind.

That's how I spent my April, May and June. There was a lot of lying around, followed by more lying around, easing very slowly into sitting around. There was also a lot of television that apparently needed to be watched. Oh, the television I watched. But here's the thing: when you're a writer, everyone thinks that you spend most of your waking hours, if not writing, then reading. Mostly stuff like Joyce, Beckett, Proust. You know, typical before-bedtime fare.

As ashamed as I am to admit this, I am not really one of those writers. Don't get me wrong, I'm an avid reader and have read at least some of the work of those three writers, but I'm not the kind of omnivorous reader with an eidetic memory that people so often expect of a novelist. Damn, I wish that I was, but I'm not. Not by a long shot.

So when people said, "You must have got a lot of reading done in the hospital," hoping to at least find something positive in a shitty situation, I had to let them down easy. "No," I said. "I was too busy watching Cash Cab, the E! True Hollywood story of Anna Nicole Smith, and reruns of M*A*S*H that I had already seen fifteen times." I couldn't help thinking that I had deflated their idea of how a writer should properly behave. Turns out most of them were relieved to hear that writers apparently do the same stupid shit as everyone else.

Let's face it, I was either in pain, doped to the gills on Morphine, Dilaudid or Vicodin, or just severely depressed and trying not to weep in front of the nurses. (Especially the male nurses, many of whom are surprisingly macho.) Not to mention the fact that in the hospital, someone is popping in every five minutes to ask about "BMs" (Oy, the incessant bodily function conversations grow tiresome) or to inflict some modern/medieval form of pain or humiliation upon your already wretched, punctured corpus.

When all this is happening, it's not really the time to finally pick up that copy of Swann's Way. Instead you turn on the boob tube, trying desperately to distract yourself from the fact that the guy in the bed next to you is there for Necrotizing Fasciitis, i.e., Flesh-Eating Bacteria. (And that dude was my favorite of all my roommates. Much preferable to The Farter and The Groaner.)

When I got home from the hospital four days after surgery, I didn't move much from the couch. It was just me and my girdle and my couch. (I was told that the girdle doesn't really do much but keep you from feeling as though your guts are going to fall out. Which you're pretty sure is going to happen when you sneeze.) In a few days, after all the narcotics started to wear off, I did regain my attention span and was able to pick up a book again. And I did read quite a bit, but damn it, there was still plenty of TV that needed watching. The fatigue, you know.

The morning shows were a big attraction for me: The Early Show, Today and Good Morning America, in particular. Perhaps since they're live broadcasts, those shows give the shut-in some sense of connection to everyday life. All those current events and all those witless, happy tourists waving their signs for their doomed online businesses behind Al Roker. (! That's a real one, btw.) Somehow, it's cheering. It helps you to believe that you're still a part of the whole mad parade, however pathetic much of it is. I also started watching Ellen religiously, and I developed a serious jones for the innumerable daily reruns of Friends. You know you're inhabiting some bizarre state of ultra-convalescence when you start to plan your whole day around the wacky hijinks of the gang at Central Perk.

The thing is, it made the time pass. And when you're trying to recover from being cut open, the only thing that will make you better is time. Time itself takes on a eerie liquidity. When your days are filled with nothing but lying around, regardless of whether you're reading or sleeping or watching dumb television shows, you quickly lose track of time as the weeks start to pool around you. Suddenly you realize that you've been riding that couch for four weeks, then six. But each day, you feel infinitesimally better. Then you start to feel noticeably better. Then you just feel better.

There you have the best thing about all this: I got better. Cutting me open worked. Except for this massive twelve inch sickle-shaped scar on my belly and abdomen, I'm pretty much normal again. I realize how glad I am to be walking around. I also feel okay about the fact that even when I was in the hospital, at my lowest point, having a big ol' pity party, I knew things could have been so much worse. It's hard not to know this when your doctors keep looking for cancer, but darn it all, just can't seem to find any. Which makes me a lucky guy with a big-ass scar.

Anyway, I have to go. Ellen's just about to dance.


  1. Maybe the scar be on the cover of your next book. ;)

  2. Mike, your writing style, even when talking about your liver's attempt to jump ship, is truly wonderful and vividly funny. Can't tell you how happy I am that you are back on the road to wellness!

  3. Hey Michael,

    Loved this post and am so glad you are better! God, what a nightmare. I have some understanding of this having had my appendix rupture last year resulting in septic shock, resulting in an eight inch scar and three fun filled weeks in the hospital. I read Tom Perotta's The Abstinence Teacher three times (only book I had and they took away my contacts during surgery and I couldn't see the tv except trying to get the nurses to find Celebrity Rehab) and have NO recollection of any of it. Your description of the painkillers, weepiness, and constant fun tests are way too accurate.