Monday, December 05, 2005

Diary of a Mad HouseJosh

There's this little noise your I.V. machine makes when the bag is empty or the timer reaches zero and they don't want you to have any more morphine. It sounds like a truck backing up, and that's dead on because when the pain meds are gone, the truck arrives soon after and more often than not parallel parks on top of your stomach.

I hear that beep-beep in my sleep, coming from loud over my shoulder or the room next door where the Russian woman is yelling at the nurse for her methadone. She yells mostly in Russian, but the nurse is Russian, too, and after she yells back at the woman the beeping goes on for another five or forty minutes as the nurse bids for Christmas presents on e-bay and the patient next door passes out from the pain.

I have no idea if, when they ask for a stool sample, they want to know immediately when I've got one, or whether it can wait until they bring my cream of wheat and icey sprite. I'm guessing it can wait, because the few times I ring the bell to tell them I've got one I don't see anybody for an hour. After a day of this I wait until they come into the room and then tell them, forcing them to acknowledge the sample. A little person in a hazmat suit shows up presently and something happens but I look away.

It takes me a day to learn how the television works and two days to realize I can control the bed. I'm rooting hard for food poisoning over stomach virus--it sounds edgier and there's little chance my son will catch it from me. Tests come back inconclusive and I can only wonder whether things would be different if the samples were collected on time. I make a mental note to ask the doctor but am so struck by his similarity to Jack Kemp that I forget.

I return home one day earlier than my body thinks is appropriate, but when the doctor told me I was ready to be discharged "unless I'm afraid" I understood it to be a challenge to my manhood and signed the papers. My wife helps me up the stairs to my bed and I do not come down for five days. I AM afraid--I sincerely believe that without an IV drip I will get dehydrated, and there's a pain in my side that gets worse the more I think about it. My wife suggests that perhaps I'd like to return to the hospital, but the prospect of all the paperwork and the beeping and the rubber mattress and the History Channel on a loop is too much to bear.

People I work with send me get-well baskets, but because I can't eat anything I miss out on all the Mrs. Beasley's cookies and chocolate and liquor. I get blankets and dvds and picture books and tea, which make me feel like a small French child who's just had her appendix out.

The beep-beeping is still there, in my head, but I think it's my career sounding an alarm, warning me that it's been neglected too long, that the bag is almost empty and the pain is soon to begin. Sitting at the computer makes me queasy--it's the little words or the radiation or a sudden understanding that I've been very unplugged from this drip and if I don't start giving I won't start getting.

I watch Bruce Springsteen's "Making of Born to Run" documentary. The engineer from the album describes a 24 year old Springsteen standing in front of a microphone working on a guitar solo. Every time he finishes a take he turns to the engineer and simply says "Again." He does this for twelve hours straight. The recording of the song "Born to Run" takes six months. The drummer and the keyboardist quit and don't record the rest of the album. Thirty years later they asked the drummer how he felt when he heard the song today. He said "I feel like running out into the middle of traffic." He sort of laughs afterwards, says he was happy to be a part of the album, but you know the day he quit the E Street Band plays over and over in his head like a fever dream.

I want to believe I'm Springsteen but worry I'm the drummer.

Why do we do what we do? I don't ask the question anymore. I've long since forgotten the answer, or maybe the answer's changed and I don't want to know. But most screenwriters are racing dogs and writing the Great American Movie is that little robotic rabbit just ahead of us on the turn.

I loved to race, once. When I was young.