3 years ago, when I was recovering from aortic arch reconstruction surgery at Cedars-Sinai, I went through what doctors call a “pretty rough time.”
I had what is known as an oxygen emergency, where my lungs weren’t satting at a high enough number. In English, this means I couldn’t breathe.
So they took the tube they had yanked out of my throat during the operation and crammed it back down there.
You really shouldn’t be awake for that kind of thing, so they were nice enough to knock me out.
When you’re going through something like that, your body is subjected to traumas you normally don’t experience. Also, you’re on very powerful drugs; the kind that can make you sleep for days at a time and not wake up even when a bone saw cuts your chest open. This tends to mess with your brain in a big way.
So I went on a “fantastical trip” through a “wonderland of my worst nightmares come to life”. I don’t remember what I dreamed about, but even now, every few weeks or so, I’ll get sick to my stomach and one of those visions will come back to me for a few minutes and then it’s gone. It’s like a really powerful deja vu feeling. In those moments, I can’t discern if these events actually happened or not.
What I do remember is that when I finally woke up, I was very disoriented. I wasn’t really sure where I was or how I got there. I knew I was in a hospital but was unclear as to why.
Apparently, at some point I pieced together that I was sharing a room with the actor who played Isaac on The Love Boat.
The thing is, I am not very familiar with the cast of that show, so the guy I imagined was in the room with me was Bernie Kopell, who actually played “Doc”, not “Isaac”, who was, of course, the bartender, played by Ted Lange.
So anyway, Isaac was sharing my room (in reality, I had my own room and wasn’t sharing it with anyone), and it turns out that he had become, like many actors past their prime in Los Angeles, an acting teacher.
Now, I guess Isaac had left instructions with his assistant that when he was on his deathbed, he was to bring the members of the class down to the hospital and they were to observe his death as an acting exercise.
So in my tiny single room, which I somehow saw as a large double room, there was a bed with an unconscious, dying actor from the 70’s in it who had about ten or twelve acting students under a large sheet, huddled around the bed, writing notes about the process of dying by candlelight.
Sometimes, I would talk to these students, but they would never respond. I assumed that was because they had been instructed not to. So I would try and reason with them and tell them things like, “I know you’re not supposed to bother me, but it’s OK, I was just wondering if you could get the nurse?”
Keep in mind, I also hallucinated that I was capable of talking to these invisible people, because I was completely unable to use my voice at this time, my vocal chords having been severely fucked up (the technical term) by a not-so-careful nurse jamming a hose through them, bending them in the process.
Eventually, Isaac was gone. I guess he didn’t make it. The students had their final lesson.
For whatever reason, this memory has stayed with me. As a defense mechanism, you forget a lot of the awful things you have to go through, but not all of them. Most of what happened during those weeks are, thankfully, lost to me. What remains is little sketches in time. Feelings, words, flashes of faces.
I’m not sure why I remember Isaac so vividly. Perhaps he was trying to teach me something about acting?
Maybe what he was saying was that you need to hold on to these moments, to fill in the canvas of your own life with the dark, as well as the light. Or something idiotic like that. That’s always the kind of dumb shit they try to feed you in those things.
But if I had to say what the real lesson from all of this is; it’s that you should never get sick because the hospital is an awful, miserable place that you should avoid at all costs. Am I advocating that you treat your own gunshot wounds instead of calling an ambulance? Yes.
And trust me, that hernia isn’t that bad. I saw a Macgyver where he wrapped a sheet around his stomach or something and it was fine.
Heart attacks come and go. Just walk it off. It will pass.
Also, you should be lucky you weren’t born with a genetic disease like mine that causes you to have these things every ten years or so.
[Ed. note: In light of the James Frey-like accusations leveled at this blog, as of late, I will point out that this story is a 100% true account of my experiences in the intensive care unit of Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, CA, during late May of 2005.]