Sweet Baby Rain

April 28, 2002|

Sweet Baby Rain

When it rains in New York City, it’s just ugly. There’s just something depressing about seeing the beautiful skyline draped in a curtain of gray. It’s just dreary. And the rain. Rain is never any fun in New York City. Walking in the rain is always so dreadful. So it was on Thursday, for most people. Heck, for all people, except for me. It was the sweetest rain I have ever tasted. That may have been because of the acid in the rain, but I think it had more to do with my first experience with the outside world in 27 days. I didn’t have an umbrella or rain jacket. I simply walked the five blocks back home getting completely soaked. It was the best. I would have stayed outside the entire day drinking in the rain drops and breathing in the intoxicating air but I know I would have gotten yelled at by the 1,478 mothers in the reading audience. “You’ll catch a cold!” Instead I went to the grocery store, picked up some baby carrots, ranch dressing and lobster bisque and went home to cook lunch. The freedom to have ranch dressing and lobster bisque, I would never take it for granted again.

“The Eagle has Landed”

(Warning: This is a little gross. It’s funny though…) According to the hospital’s computer, I technically still had C-Diff, a bacteria of the G.I. tract. The almighty computer was completely wrong. I had gotten over C-Diff back in February when I was released the first time. In order to clear my good name, I had to provide a stool sample for the laboratory. I approached such very unenthusiastically. Nurse Lauren, though, was emphatic that she needed it. So I devised a code. I wasn’t going to announce to the whole nursing staff over the intercom that I had a stool sample ready for them. Instead I would report in with “the eagle has landed.” Confusion would reign with the staff, but Lauren would understand the code and get the business over with.

Somehow, I guess nurses talk a lot, other nurses heard about my little code and thought it amusing. The climax of such occurred on my last morning in the hospital. A few of the nurses had attended a nursing conference down in Washington DC the previous weekend. I was told a surprise awaited me from the conference. Slightly still asleep, I woke up Wednesday morning to a 12-inch stuffed animal eagle on my desk. As I looked it over, I saw it was wearing a tiny bandana around its neck with the words “Senokot. Works Gentle Over Night.” I chuckled. Sekokot is Sloan Kettering’s laxative of choice. As a promotion, Senokot was giving away the stuffed eagle and the nurses immediately thought of the code. I guess I didn’t pioneer the code after all.


I am sorry I was such a terrible communicator over the past few weeks. My e-mail box is full of unanswered messages. My voicemail account the same. I have been quite a slacker when it has come to doing updates. I apologize. I was pretty miserable in those 27 days. The first go round I had a ball. It was, to an extent, fun. There was a novelty to it all. I knew I couldn’t leave so I made the best of the situation. This past time just sucked, to be perfectly honest. I felt healthy. I wasn’t tethered to any IV pole. At any point, I knew I could leave and no one would know the difference. But I couldn’t. I was trapped, simply put. Consequently I wasn’t very happy or joyful. The novelty of it all had worn off. I was tired of seeing everyone in yellow gowns and masks, not being able to see a live smile. The 4AM wake-up calls to take my temperature were taking their toll. The blandness of the food was making me bland. And the uncertainty of my release date loomed like a dreary cloud over my head. There wasn’t much hope in the situation. There wasn’t much hope in me, honestly.

So for four days I have been trying to come up with something good to write in response to that. Something philosophical. Something inspirational. Something hopeful. Nothing. I’m drawing blanks. Nothing would piece itself together here. That’s OK though. Sometimes there are periods of life where it’s just plain…blah. The lesson, the growth, the nugget is found much later upon retrospect. For now, though, I will relish my time out of the hospital enjoying the warmth of the sun, the coolness of the wind and the sweet taste of the rain. All of which I shall never again take for granted. And don’t forget the baby carrots and ranch.


Condiments, Madras, Songwriting and 12th Floor Matchmaking

April 11, 2002|

Condiments, Madras, Songwriting and 12th Floor Matchmaking

Week number two here in 1228. Slowly, I am starting to feel more like myself again. That whole flu thing (coupled with that transplant thing) really knocked me on my keister. I have had the flu since January according to tests and only this week do I feel like I have shaken it.

So anyway this floor hasn’t been nearly as fun as the Peds floor, but there have been some moments. In previous weeks, I have had horrific nausea causing me to just not eat. I dropped 15 in a three weeks. (NOTE:I don’t recommend that form of dieting. It is no fun.) This past week I have started to really eat again and let me tell you, I have greatly missed the joy of the condiment. Mustard (esp. spicy brown ballpark), mayonnaise and ketchup- the thrill is back! I don’t abuse’em, like my brother Frank would as a little kid. Frank would eat everything with ketchup, vegetables included. Ever see peas floating in a sea of ketchup? Not a pretty sight. Rather, I utilize the condiments sparsely but with just enough flare to make a party for my mouth. At least that’s what my taste buds are telling me.

Yesterday morning my main nurse chic Lauren bolted in and exclaimed, “Madrasboy!’ “Huh?” I retorted. “You are making Madras! Cranberry juice and orange juice! Can you make me a Seabreeze next babe?’ Lauren is a fireball. Ah, I realized. For breakfast, I always order cranberry juice and orange juice and mix them together. It’s a delightful concoction in the morning. Anyway, add vodka to the mixture and you have a Madras. (NOTE: That would probably be even more delightful during certain mornings I have had.) Regardless, it all hit me, dating back to my days as a part-time bartender/waiter at Bent Creek Country Club in Lancaster, PA. Seabreezes (Cranberry juice, Grapefruit juice and Vodka), Baybreezes (Cranberry juice, Pineapple juice and Vodka) and Cape Cods (Cranberry juice and Vodka)- your standard Vodka combinations. Now when I order my breakfast I keep my juice-Vodka combinations in mind. Hmm…what’s a prune juice and Vodka?

Lauren also celebrated her birthday yesterday. In order for me to get a working TV/VCR and exercise bike for my room, I had to in exchange write a birthday song for her. I guess word got around the hospital after my Dr. Boolad song went public that I write songs when I am bored in captivity. So I wrote her a song. Unfortunately as my friends all pointed out, all of my songs sound the same. What can I do? I only know three chords and one strum pattern. Who do they think I am here, Van Morrison?

“There’s a girl down the hall with a Penn blanket on her bed? Didn’t you go to Penn, Madrasboy?’ My ears perked up. Another person on my floor, the Lymphoma-Leukemia floor, from Penn. I sent Lauren back to get details. Another girl, on my floor, getting chemotherapy, went to Penn, graduated my year, in SDT…what?!? “Why don’t you go visit her?’ Lauren exclaimed with gleam in her eye. I was getting set-up on the Lymphoma-Leukemia floor of Memorial Sloan Kettering! Is that allowed? Is that right? Is that ethical? Lauren was loving it. It was a total chic moment. Women love this kind of stuff- playing the matchmaker. Who cares WHERE, let’s make a match!

I had my lines ready (“Uh…nice hospital gown…so, uh, do you come here often?’) Lauren returns. “The docs say you can’t go. You are supposed to be in isolation with the flu, she has 0 counts. They said call her on the phone.’ Now that wouldn’t be a little awkward, would it? (“Uh, yeah, uh is Jessica* there? Yeah, this is Art, um, I’m the guy from Penn down the hall. Room 1228? Do you know it? Uh…so do you like non-alcoholic Madras? I make a mean one…’) I balked. As I write this, actually, my night nurse, Laura just heard the Jessica* story and is totally stoked. She’s got my website business card and my extension written on the back. As soon as Jessica* wakes up to receive her 11:30pm medications..boy, do I need Madras right about now.

Wild at Heart

As you probably can infer, I must have been really sick the past few weeks. I’ll also add that I was in a terrible mood. No one should be told on a Friday night they have to immediately enter the hospital for an indefinite period of time. That just plain sucks. It took me a few days to accept. I really feel sorry and must apologize to my parents for reacting so badly. They were probably questioning their reasoning for staying in New York City with me. To them I owe much gratitude.

What did help me get over the hump into acceptanceland was a book thata friend gave me. Essentially, “Wild at Heart” (www.sacredromance.com) is about “discovering the secret of a man’s soul.’ The author, John Eldredge, hypothesizes that every man has a desire in his heart to have three things: a battle to fight, an adventure to live and a beauty to rescue. For women, he believes that they yearn to be fought for, want an adventure to share in (but not be the adventure) and want to have their beauty unveiled. Much of the problem with our American culture, he further writes, centers around the emasculation of today’s male, who is taught to be nice and sweet, but not daring and adventuresome.

I think his points are correct. Eagerly I feasted on how that applied to others and myself. One thing that was noticeably absent was something that I had read and posted on earlier.

“And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you are fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to know.”

– Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; JRR Tolkien, page 378

It’s encouraging and strengthening to look back on adventures and battles, but hardly ever is it at the time.

I know I will look back at this period of life fondly, but right now, with all of its uncertainty, cruelty and difficulty, it’s not especially fun or pleasant to be a part of.

The other extension that hit me was that when you are in a battle and/or adventure most of the time you are severely weakened. Typically, from the adventure and/or battle, you are wounded, hurt and tired. But, it is in that weakness that strength is born. In concurrence, I have been reading the accounts of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Ghandi, John Donne, Feodor Dostoevsky and others in Phillip Yancey’s book “Soul Survivor.’ All of those great figures, their ideas, their stands, their impact were born when they were at their weakest point. Jail, torture, disease, they experienced hardships that made them stronger for future adventures and battles. How I long to be at full strength to tackle the world! But oh how I need to be strengthened first in order to do so. As much as I think being isolated in a hospital room is a waste of my precious time, it is only the foundational support that will allow me to do and build much more later in life.

“Life is a gift. Life is happiness, every minute can be an eternity of happiness. Love every leaf, every ray of light, love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing. Loving all, you will perceive the mystery of God in all,’ Dostoevsky wrote after his imprisonment. I hope to write the same after mine.

Day 50

I don’t know how much longer I will be in here. At least for another week, probably more. The CMV isn’t responding to conventional treatment so the docs have brought in the big gun drugs. I feel very good though. My energy has returned somewhat, my nausea has been tempered and my rash is history. Now let’s work on this CMV thing…

Today is Day 50. Halfway to hot dogs and Ruth Chris steaks. I can imagine the taste now…mmm…

My e-mail program has not been working properly. I apologize for not responding to e-mails. It’s not me this time, it’s the computer’s fault : ) If I did not respond to an e-mail you sent lately, try again. I am in the process of getting it fixed as I write. Thanks for understanding.

Battles, Adventures, Romance and Grace to all.

*names have been changed in order to protect the innocent

Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

April 6, 2002|

Cytomegalovirus (CMV); any of a group of highly host-specific herpes viruses infecting humans, monkeys, or rodents, producing unique large cells with inclusion bodies. Opportunistic infection with cytomegalovirus is extremely common in immunocompromised individuals causing clinical illnesses such as chorioretinitis, pneumonitis, esophagitis, colitis, adrenalitis, and hepatitis; the most common of these is chorioretinitis. Cytomegalovirus also causes cytomegalic inclusion disease, although a majority of infections are very mild, and it has been associated with a syndrome resembling infectious mononucleosis. (Miller-Keane Medical Dictionary, 2000)

Back in the Pen

While reading at Starbucks, I got the call. I knew there was a good chance it would come it was just a matter of when. “Art we need you to come in ASAP. You’ve got CMV and we need to treat it.” So my mom and I packed a few of my things and then promptly waited five hours in an isolation room in the Emergency Room at Sloan Kettering. So much for ASAP. By midnight I finally got into my 12th floor isolation room. I was back in the Pen.

Seventy percent of the population carries CMV. You just never feel its effects because your immune system is strong enough to keep it under control. As for me, right now, my immune system is in a weakened state, so the chance of CMV presenting itself was great. From what I have gathered from my sources, almost all transplant patients come back in the hospital for another stay. Typically CMV is why.

So I spent most of last week trying my best to make time pass quickly. I have never napped and slept so much in my life. By Friday I couldn’t watch another episode of “The Simpsons” or “Seinfeld.” (I can’t believe I just wrote that!) Twice a day for two months in and out of the hospital. I had seen them all. I could line for line quote most of the episodes. My parents are quite freaked out by such displays of memorization.

Making it more difficult, though, has been the room I currently reside in. It is similar to a prison. Freshly painted and redone, it is as bland as a salt-free saltine. The new TV and VCR aren’t hooked up yet. The old two-inch TV gets half a channel. I brought my slow-footed and low powered laptop instead of my desktop computer, thinking I would be out of here in a week. In the words of Homer Simpson, “D’oh!” No DVDs, slow Internet connection, no MP3s, it was a LONG week. The scary thing is that it can only get longer. I could be in here, with all of those enmities, for a month, if the CMV virus can’t be subdued with normal medication.

I apologize for not telling or writing about this sooner, but I really thought I would have been out a long time ago. This wasn’t supposed to be a big deal I thought. It still isn’t a big deal- well, it kind of is- but it is quite manageable. It’s just hard to feel genuinely good, to have your legs about you, to finally be eating food without yakking, and to be unattached to an IV pole while still stuck in an isolation room in the hospital. UGH! Character, Art, such moments as these develop character.

Finally, today, I was able to snag a TV and VCR. The movie nights that I planned for my earlier stay may come to fruition. Just today I watched “Braveheart” and “Chariots of Fire.”  No movie, other than “The Matrix,” gets a man more fired up to kick butt than “Braveheart.” Hopefully it will inspire my cells to kick butt and kill off the CMV. Let’s pray that happens.