I am the least reliable narrator when it comes to the story of my brain exploding. This is because, from the time right before I suffered a freakish brain hemorrhage last year to the time I regained full consciousness roughly two weeks later, I remember nothing. My mind is an absolute blank. It’s like the fabled pause in the Nixon Tapes. I was not here. That time of my life may as well not exist. Oh, but it did.
I remember hosting the Deadspin Awards in New York the night of Dec. 5 and then heading over to a karaoke bar for a staff after-party, where I ate some pizza, drank a beer, sang one song (Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky,” which would soon prove either fitting or ironic, depending upon your perspective), and that’s it. After that comes a great void. I don’t remember inexplicably collapsing in a hallway, fracturing my skull because I had no way to brace myself for the impact. I don’t remember sitting up after that, my co-workers alarmed at the sight of blood trickling out of the back of my head. I don’t remember puking all over Barry Petchesky’s pants, vomit being one of many fun side effects of your brain exploding, as he held my head upright to keep me from choking on my own barf. I don’t remember Kiran Chitanvis quickly calling 911 to get me help. I don’t remember getting into an ambulance with Victor Jeffreys and riding to an uptown hospital, with Victor begging me for the passcode to my phone so that he could call my wife. He says I made an honest effort to help, but my circuits had already shorted out and I ended up giving him sequences of four digits that had NOTHING to do with the code. Flustered, he asked me for my wife’s phone number outright. Instead, I unwittingly gave him a series of 10 digits unrelated to the number he sought.
I don’t remember that. I don’t remember bosswoman Megan Greenwell trailing behind the ambulance in a cab with her husband and staying at the hospital ALL NIGHT to plead with them to give me a closer look (at first, the staff thought I was simply inebriated; my injury had left me incoherent enough to pass as loaded) because she suspected, rightly, that something was very wrong with me. I don’t remember doctors finally determining that I had suffered a subdural hematoma, or a severe brain bleed: A pool of blood had collected in my brain and was pressing against my brain stem. I was then rushed to another hospital for surgery, where doctors removed a piece of my skull, drained the rogue blood, implanted a small galaxy in my brain to make sure my opinions remain suitably vast, put the hunk of skull back in, and also drilled a hole in the TOP of my head to relieve the pressure. They also pried my eyes open and peeled the contact lenses off my eyeballs. They then put me into a medically-induced coma (SO METAL) so that my brain could rest and heal without Awake Drew barging in and fucking everything up.
I don’t remember any of that. I told you I wouldn’t be a very reliable narrator.
I also don’t remember aspirating in the ICU; I threw up while lying in bed and then breathed that vomit back in, sending me into respiratory failure. No Barry to save me that time. Later on, my father told me that doctors had to go into my lungs with microscopic tweezers to remove bits of solid regurgitate, which sounds appetizing.
Thankfully, I don’t remember that. The world had gone missing to me, and I to it. All I remember is waking up in a fog with a bunch of tubes sticking out of me and thinking it was the morning after the awards. I also remember thinking that I was in the hospital because I had somehow gotten into a fistfight and lost. Someone—I don’t remember who—informed me that this was not the case. Then they gave me a topline summary of my injury, along with the day’s date. I found myself first in disbelief, and then morbidly amused. I may have even chortled.
But now that I know more details about what happened, I am less amused and more extremely freaked out. I wasn’t awake for all the scary parts of my injury, but everyone I loved was. When I finally came to, I could see the fear and terror still in their eyes, even after the worst had passed. I could see it in the eyes of my poor mom and dad, who sat vigil at my bedside every day after surgery, praying for me to wake up. I could see it in the faces of my brother and sister, who did likewise. I could see it in the faces of my friends and of my co-workers, who quite literally saved my life and were then informed that I would likely be hospitalized for months before I could walk out into the light of day. Not a single month, as it turned out to be. Months.
And, of course, I could see it in the eyes of my wife, who was informed of my situation the night of my collapse when local authorities, the only people near us that Megan could reach at that hour, came to our house outside D.C. in the middle of the night, knocked on the door, and told her that they were there to alert “next of kin” that one Drew Magary was in critical condition 238 miles away. Now, if the cops showed up at your door and told you that, would you think your loved one was still alive? You would not. Would you think they had been stripped naked and murdered in a forest somewhere? You would.
Not only did my wife have to deal with my sudden and terrifying predicament by relocating the entire family to New York for a month, but she also had to assume all the parenting duties (my youngest son, naturally, came down with strep throat immediately) AND she had to serve as my de facto advocate while I was comatose: answering my phone, dealing with employers and doctors and insurers and workers comp boards on my behalf, handling fucking Christmas alone, and planning for all contingencies should I live or die.
I wasn’t awake for any of that. But she was, and she and my family are all that matter.
Thus, I find myself in a strange situation where people I love were traumatized and devastated by what happened to me, but I—the dude who actually suffered the injury—fell into a two-week time warp before waking up strapped to a gurney: emaciated, woozy, confused, and irritable. I’m left to reverse engineer my own trauma by talking to my loved ones, poring over dry-ass medical charts, and checking notes that my wife kept throughout the whole ordeal, notes that I can’t bear to read. For as long as I live on, I owe it to my family and friends and colleagues to fully appreciate the fact that I somehow didn’t die, and that they saved me. I feel shitty that they had to go through that. I feel bad that I let my brain explode. When I recounted my injury to a nurse practitioner at the MinuteClinic the other week, her jaw dropped. “You’re so lucky you’re alive, you have no idea.”
Once I woke up from my coma, hospital workers put me in a wheelchair and pushed me past a mirror, where I finally got a first look at myself post-surgery. I was gaunt, my face hanging off of my skull. Surgeons had mowed two ski slopes through my hair to make their incisions. I had also busted a blood vessel in my left eye, so there was a thin red line leading down from the edge of my iris to the bottom of my eyelid, and then dashing across it. I looked dead. I looked like Jason in X-Men 2, minus complete mind control over the universe. THAT I remember. That is what will stick with me, along with a few other things...
I was still loopy from the coma drugs when I regained full consciousness, and as a result I came back into the world somewhat … delusional. How delusional? First of all, I believed the entire hospital was on rails, and that it shuttled regularly between New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. At one point my dad came to visit me and I was like, “Oh wow you flew all the way to L.A. just to see me!” And he was like, “Drew, what are you talking about? We’re in New York.” And I was like “SURE OLD MAN NICE TRY. I DON’T THINK SO.”
I also believed, for some reason, that a celebrity chef (no idea who) was killed at the same bar the night I bashed my skull in. And that I was a person of interest in that chef’s death. Please know that no famous chef died that night, nor have I ever murdered anyone … at least not that you know of.
I believed that everyone else in the hospital believed that I was a Mexican special forces officer, and that they were all making a concerted effort to get me back on duty and preserve my cover. One time I had to shit into a bedpan, and I imagined nurses and techs taking my stool sample to a lab for extensive study, making sure it was still consistent with the indigenous peoples of Chiapas. Oh wow, it’s an exact match! This guy … this guy is GOOD.
At one point, they wheeled me on a gurney down to a lower level for a CT scan, and I found myself under the delusion that I was being taken into an audition for Suicide Squad 2. Not only that, I thought that the studio had made the executive decision to merge the DC cinematic universe with the Harry Potter cinematic universe, hence my character would be a new addition to the bad guy squad, but ALSO a Hogwarts train proctor. Larry King says Suicide Squad 2: Why So Sirius? will be the nonstop thrill ride of the summer!
To ward off further hallucinations, I ended up watching a LOT of TV at the hospital. I watched so much TV, I found myself craving the Applebee’s endless riblet platter. They’re like regular ribs, but children! There I was, a brainless scarecrow, lying in a hospital bed for weeks, bored out of my mind and craving thawed-out rib meat. I saw the stupid GMC lady plaster herself to the side of a pickup and shriek I LOVE IT so many times that she now haunts my dreams.
Speaking of dreams... the coma! You might be wondering about the coma, like whether I got to swim with dolphins while I was in it. The answer is no. I don’t remember having any dreams or visions while I was in a coma. No white light. No voice of god. No leaving my body and watching it struggle for dear life from above. I just had a quick, black, dreamless sleep and then somehow woke up eons later. Kind of a letdown. I want my money back. If my coma was a preview of what’s like to be be dead, I gotta say: the fabled Other Side seemed all right. After all, I wasn’t angry about being in a coma while I was in the coma. Maybe my lifelong fear of death has been all for nothing…
[thinks about death for a second]
Nope. Nope, still scary as shit. No thank you.
Also: If you suffer from dry skin during the winter like I do, a coma does not help matters. I woke up and my heels looked like fucking dinosaur eggs. I had to scrub them with a pumice stone every day after I woke up. My shoulder hurt from all that scrubbing. It ain’t right. On the plus side, I couldn’t bite my nails while I was under, and when I woke up they looked better than they had in YEARS.
I behaved erratically after I first came to. I blame the fentanyl. When I initially had visitors, I would ask them to break me out of the hospital and to smuggle in beer and seltzer(?) for me. Never mind that these requests contradicted one another, I made them all the same. Then my family budged in and instructed the visitors to NOT smuggle in beer, and my friends wisely acquiesced. My wife told me, point blank, that I was being a horse’s ass. Tough but fair. She also confiscated my phone and issued a correction after I tweeted out, while still loopy on coma drugs, an incoherent, blazingly inaccurate summary of what happened to me. Hence, more GMC ads to watch on the hospital teevee.
Once freed from my restraints, I yanked a bandage off my head and another off my hand. I tore out a breathing tube. I tried ripping my IV out before a nurse leapt at me and cried out NOOOOOOOOO. I also woke up with a catheter up my urethra and a plastic, snorkel-like sheath covering my dick to harvest any urine that could potentially escape (how?!) from the catheter. I tried, unsuccessfully, to yank this catheter out. Do NOT attempt such things. I have regrets.
The hospital, thankfully, kept me in line. I can’t complain about the doctors and staff there since they, you know, saved my life. That was right kind of them. Five stars! They were attentive to my needs, often to the extreme. Because I had suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), I got severely lightheaded and nauseous while standing, even after reclaiming my wits. Thus, I was considered a fall risk. That meant I was not medically cleared to walk, piss, or shower unattended. I was also forbidden from working, even though I started writing this post in my head right away. Brain surgery or not, writing has always helped me piece my mind together.
I am a 42-year-old father of three. My entire goal in life is to be left the fuck alone. I don’t wanna do anything. I don’t wanna go anywhere. And I sure as shit don’t wanna talk to anyone. All I wanna do is sit in my chair. The hospital rightly thwarted all of those aims throughout my stay. More than once, I had nurses stand behind me in the john while I was trying to piss, and the resulting stage fright got so bad that I just gave up on the mission entirely. Sometimes I pretended that I had to shit so that I could have privacy. Then I would sit to pee so that no one would watch over me. This only helped a little because the bathroom door could be unlocked from either side (why have a lock at all?), so I would sit on the toilet and then watch in horror as the deadbolt turned, like a poltergeist was haunting the shitter. Then the nurse would poke their head in and ask if I was okay and I would be like I’M STILL POOPING (a lie) LEAVE ME ALONE PLEASE and then the door would close again.
I could piss in my bed if I wanted to. Just like the Vikings! HEY NOW. This involved peeing into a plastic bottle that looked like a sports bottle circa 1991. I know that urinating in bed sounds luxurious (well, to me it does), but I assure you that your body needs to adjust to the idea. In my mind, I felt like I needed more explicit permission to do this beyond the permission I had already received. Also, anytime the coast was clear and I thought it was a good time to pee in the bottle, 50,000 people would immediately flood the room: doctors, nurses, my family, hobos, a full mariachi band … everyone rampaging through the place all while I’ve got my dick stuck in a bottle under the blanket. Again, this is not conducive to smooth urine flow.
Supervised showering was its own nightmare. I had to sit in a special chair to shower, with my genitals resting on top of my thighs, looking like a dead rose. Then the staff would blast me with frigid water and wipe me down with disposable wipes doused in shower gel. I can honestly say that I’d rather shower in prison than ever do this again. In fact, I avoided showering at all during my final week in the hospital. My wife was not pleased with the resulting fragrance emanating from my body. I regret nothing.
I also wasn’t allowed to sleep unsupervised. An attendant would stay in the room with us all night long, just sitting in the corner. I nearly asked one of them to kill me outright to ease the imagined tension. One time I got up to take a piss in the middle of the night and I was a step away from the bed when a caring attendant suddenly materialized an inch away from my face. I nearly jumped through the ceiling. The great softening of the American male continues unabated.
I otherwise slept well, except for numerous instances when staff would have to come in to check my vitals or give me appointed meds. They usually did this by switching on all the sour fluorescent lights, which caused me to groan out loud. Then they would say GOOD MORNING MISTER MAGARY! like they were there to deliver me news of Christ’s birth. I can’t blame them. They gotta be awake and alert for their work, but I of course was not prepared for them to be so awake and so alert at such an early hour.
Here was one such routine house call: every 12 hours, I got a shot of a drug called heparin, a blood thinner. Heparin looks like they took all your inner organs and made them into orange Tang, which is fun. Every time they gave me the shot, they asked if I wanted it in my arm or belly, and I was like, Oh please, stick it right in my belly button. That’s where all the pain magically disappears! Who the fuck voluntarily takes a two-inch needle to the stomach? I got my shot in the arm every time. Coincidentally, my triceps were covered in yellowed, stinging bruises for weeks after my release. Anyone care to arm wrestle?
Once out of intensive care, I was transferred to the physical rehab ward of the hospital. I was not alone in my room. I was in a double and had a succession of three roommates. The first and the third roommates were fine. The second roommate was suckling pig to Mephistopheles. He was a former NYPD detective from Staten Island who told every fucking person who showed up in the room that he was a former NYPD detective from Staten Island. He berated the hospital staff constantly. One night, they ushered him into the bathroom to have a bowel movement and I heard him scream at the nurse, “I don’t need anyone watchin’ me do dis, LEAST OF ALL YOU!” Imagine having Frank Rizzo from the Jerky Boys earnestly tell you that you’re not qualified to watch an elderly man take a dump.
I’m being honest when I tell you that I was the only patient in my ward who managed to poop in silence. Not this guy. This guy sounded like he was shitting out a live rat. It didn’t matter that it was the middle of the night and the rest of us were trying to sleep. This man still made an unholy racket. At one point I heard him tell the staff, “I’m not complainin’, I’m not complainin’… BUT I WILL FILE MY FORMAL COMPLAINT TOMORRUH!” The worst. I should have filed a formal complaint about his formal complaint. I was definitely nicer than that guy. I hope. I pray.
As part of my rehab, I spent hours every day going through occupational therapy, engaging in a series of painstaking drills that would help me rejoin civilization. I had to lift tiny weights, arrange cones on a shelf, do logic problems, and exercise on an evil arm cycle. I also had to re-learn how to get in and out of a shower and get on and off a toilet, which included me sitting up and down from a real toilet while keeping my pants on. I better burn those pants.
Learning to walk again was the biggest trip of all, because I am a walking evangelist and because I never used to give much thought to my walking mechanics as I was executing them. But now I had to re-learn how to coordinate 97 different motions at the same time in order to put one foot in front of the other, and holy shit, it revealed itself to be quite a process. You veteran walkers out there … don’t sleep on what your brain is doing for you. Turns out the brain organizes the whole enterprise! Who knew?!
They tested my progress frequently, and I fiercely attempted to WIN those tests, both to impress myself and to get an early discharge. I don’t remember this, but soon after coming out of my coma I was given a cognitive test in the ICU where they asked me to count down from 10. Then I had to close my eyes and touch my nose. Then they asked me to hold up two fingers and I hoisted up a double bird for everyone to see. My folks were very proud of me for that.
They also tested my mental awareness by asking me, on a daily basis, for my name, the exact day and date, and my location. They asked me who was President and I was like, “Ugh, Christ. Don’t make me think about that fucking guy.” They laughed. They damn well knew that I knew who the asshole President was. I passed the test.
I had to spend Christmas in the hospital, which shockingly wasn’t the worst thing in the world. I wasn’t dead, and I didn’t have to wrap anything. Not bad! It’s not like I do anything on Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is one of my favorite nights of the year, but all I do is on Christmas Day is avoid showering, and I already had that ritual down in the physical therapy ward.
To prepare my kids to see me all laid up the first time, my sister, who herself used to work as a hospital social worker, showed them photos of my room without me in any of the frames: the walls, the bed, the machines that go BING, etc. This was so that my surroundings wouldn’t be a surprise to them. It worked—the first time my kids saw me, they came into the room slightly confused as to what the fuck was going on, then quickly adjusted and hugged me—even though they told my wife after the fact that visiting me was “scary.”
On Christmas Day, the kids brought me handmade cards (my favorite, no lie) and decorated the wall with them. One of my best friends also printed out a color photo of my family and added it to the collage, and that’s what got me through the rest of my time there. That was my little Do It for Her wall. Whenever I got the itch to flee, I would stare at the wall and feel secure that I’d get back home eventually, so long as I was sensible and patient and NOT demanding beer as contraband. I cannot recommend personalizing your hospital room enough.
Anyway, that was my Christmas: kids storming into half a hospital room, making way too much fucking noise, and then tornadoing out of there. It was very nice.
I had other friends and well-wishers come visit during the holidays, because there’s no better way to pass the time when you’re recovering from brain surgery than lying still in a bed and ENTERTAINING. So true. More and more people are loving it. Everyone smuggled in food to save me from the hospital cuisine, and I am eternally grateful for their efforts. At one point, my occupational therapist laid down the law and told me I could no longer eat takeout food in bed. She said it wasn’t good for my vestibular function, and that I was sleeping with little bits of glass noodles on the fitted sheet. BUT LOOK!
Tell me that’s not a proper dietary regimen. Four out of five neurosurgeons recommend bingeing on Korean takeout to restore the frontal lobe to full health. I lost nearly 30 pounds while I was comatose, for shit’s sake. That was medically necessary beef bulgogi and I won’t hear otherwise.
One unpleasant side effect of having brain surgery is that everyone around you, visitors included, is frightened that your brain could explode again at any second. Fair enough, but as a result, no one ever listens to you. I must have told everyone I GOT THIS a billion times when I was hospitalized, and no one took my goddamn word for it. I even had this exchange with my wife…
WIFE: Do you want the windows open?
ME: Nah, I’m fine.
WIFE: Okay I’ll open the windows a little.
ME: I literally just said to not do that.
My parents dutifully visited every day. They would stay for hours, bringing food and walking me around the ward on occasion just to give me a change of scenery. I am certain that, clandestinely, they eventually came to relish visiting Unconscious Quiet Drew more than the pissy loudmouth who sprang back to life. I don’t blame them, even though I was profoundly grateful for the time I had with them, and for all the outstanding mom and dad takes they serenaded me with. Please note the following takes were delivered at separate times, and were formulated with NO context whatsoever:
MY MOM: So Lindsay Lohan is gonna be back on television … who’s gonna watch THAT?
MY DAD: There are NOT a lot of good Christmas movies, starting with that Chicken Little.
At certain points I got snippy with my folks, as kids tend to do. This was monstrous on my end, given that they were a hair’s width away from having to bury me. My dad kept bumping my bed and I told him not to. Then he was like, “You’re being too sensitive,” and I was like, “Hell yeah I’m being sensitive, I JUST HAD FUCKING BRAIN SURGERY.” He bumped my bed another 47 times after that, but I’m still gonna use that excuse anytime I want to weasel out of stuff or openly bitch about something. Who’s gonna defy my poor brain besides my dastardly, loving father? NOT YOU. My colleagues are already fed up with me declaring BRAIN SURGERY anytime I’ve been owned, which occurs on an hourly basis.
I noticed that the hospital staff used speakerphone all the time, even around me, like I was a fucking goldfish that was easily ignored. And they weren’t just on speakerphone with people, but with an automated directory, so I would hear doctors pass by my room going, “No, call TIFFANY” with increasing levels of volume and agitation. That was their right and I still owe them my life, but goddamn. One lady parked herself in my room to talk on speakerphone AND watch TV. I nearly threw her out the window. But I did not. I am nice. Well, apart from the double bird thing.
Another time, the loudest doctor on Earth came into the room to lecture my roommate, and then he paused in the middle of his dirge to conduct an unrelated conference call for half an hour, right there in the room. This happened in the middle of the night. Again, I played nice and said nothing. Inside, I was The Hulk.
I made sure to learn every staffer’s name and exchange pleasantries with anyone courteous enough to visit me or come administer care. I must have given the basics of my life to over a hundred people, to the point where I can honestly tell you that I am now sick to death of myself. I know I’m a big attention hog online but I mean, Christ. So I’m a father of three who lives in the suburbs and I drive a Kia. Oh, and I write crap online. WOW. So exciting. No wonder I woke up imagining that I was a feared member of the Federales.
Staff wore latex gloves at all times while tending to us. This is understandable, but my hands remained bare for my entire stay. Where were MY gloves, hmm? I’m the sick one! I just touched my dick! I dunno where that dick has been!
I can also tell you that it can be unpleasant to be the freakshow guy whose brain spontaneously detonated. You don’t want doctors looking at your CAT scans incredulously and being like, “Hoo boy! You really did a number on your noggin there!” That is not comforting. The fact that I suffered a hemorrhage is doubly irritating because “hemorrhage” is a word that I never ever spell right on the first pass. It’s an impossible word.
Like I said, I dropped a lot of weight while comatose. Please do not emulate this method of weight loss. When I got home, I was tired and cold all the fucking time. I was in bed by 8 p.m. every night, with the comforter stapled to my chin. It was pathetic. I double-fisted brownies all day long to get that weight back. One time I was eating ice cream after surgery and had to stop because the ice cream itself was making my whole body so fucking cold. If I had stayed that weight, I would have had to move to Arizona, or else spend every night sleeping inside a freshly opened bear carcass.
I told you that I collapsed in the summary up above, but I can’t tell you why, nor can any eyewitness (colleague Jorge Corona only noticed my collapse out of the corner of his eye), nor can any of the doctors who have treated me. They couldn’t even ascertain whether or not my hemorrhage caused my collapse or vice versa. Chicken or the egg, etc. I’ve never fainted before in my life, but it wasn’t like I was funneling straight Tiger’s Eye all night. I don’t know why it happened, and I likely never will.
I would tell you to wish me luck in my efforts to remain upright, but I think I’ve probably used up my fair ration of good fortune already. Everyone in my ward was twice my age because that area of the hospital was mainly reserved for stroke victims. In fact, I was virtually the only patient there who had NOT suffered one. One PT took me back to my room after a group exercise session and she told me, and I’m paraphrasing here, I can’t say this in front of the rest of the group, but you’re the only patient on this floor who’s gonna get his life back.
Those words brought me some comfort, but they also made me despair for everyone else in the ward. I know I’m insanely lucky to have survived all this. I looked it up: Your odds of surviving a subdural hematoma are roughly 50/50: Anton Chigurh flipping your quarter and demanding you call it. I may have won that toss, but I also know that my luck is an insult to the less fortunate, and I know that this run of outrageous luck is due to abruptly end at some point. If this happens again, maybe I don’t wake up at all, or maybe I wake up to a new and physically diminished existence, one from which I cannot so easily recover. Not everyone has had my good fortune. Actress Natasha Richardson died from a hemorrhage caused by a skiing injury. Bassist Chi Cheng of the Deftones suffered a brain bleed after a serious car accident (he was not wearing a seatbelt at the time). Cheng remained semi-comatose for four years before dying in 2013.
That’s why that nurse told me what she told me. It wasn’t necessarily to give me warm fuzzies. It was to motivate me to get back to the life I had so that I could make the best of it, because not everyone gets that chance. I cheated death, and now the Reaper has a chit for my head that he can cash in any time he likes. I now know firsthand that he doesn’t always telegraph his arrival. I was blindsided. When I was young, I thought nothing could kill me. I know I’m old now because I believe that everything can kill me, including just going to a work shindig. I have the receipts to prove it.
There may come a day when I can recover some of the memories I lost from this whole episode, but I’d prefer that day never come. I try not to think about what happened to me, but I do every day. Mine is a mind terminally preoccupied with itself. I also talk about what happened a lot because I never shut the fuck up about anything. But I’m trying, with mixed results, to not divide my life into separate epochs of Before Brain Injury and After Brain Injury. In my inbox, I still have grisly photos my family took of my injuries when I was in the hospital. I haven’t been able to bring myself to look at them, and I won’t. I also had to look away when a doctor was going through a digital rendering of my CT scan—a smooth animation of successive cross-sections of my skull—because it was like watching my face melt in real time.
I forgot everything, but I remember enough. I remember tuning into It’s A Wonderful Life on the hospital TV right around Christmas, because I had nothing better to do. Like most people, I only bothered with the final half-hour of the movie, when all the Twilight Zone shit sets in. My favorite part is when George Bailey races back to the bridge and buries his head in his fists and cries, “Please God… let me live again…”
That part gets me every time, and it got me good this Christmas. Like George, I get to live again. I better not fuck it up. Getting so close to my own mortality reminds me that it’s there, and that it’s waiting patiently for me. One day, hopefully a long time from now, it WILL get me, just as it will get all of you. Death remains undefeated.
But before Death gets his bony fingers around me for good—before doctors once again crack my head open and feast on the goo inside—I wish you all peace and joy. I also hope you are loved and that you love others, and that you have a crew to smuggle Kettle Chips and fresh bagels and bibimbap into the hospital as needed, because all that love and all those foodstuffs saved my life. I know it as certainly as I know my own CAT scan.
And take care of your brain. I spent all this time worried about my heart, taking my idiot brain for granted. Don’t you make the same mistake. I am now at a heightened risk for dementia, but perhaps you are not. Keep it that way if you can. Do crossword puzzles. Read a lot of books. Avoid playing professional football. Know the warning signs of TBI and stroke for you and your family. Watch out for your brain because your brain IS you. It’s your intellect, your memories, your personality … it’s all you got. Why, it’s a marvelous little engine, and no one gets to use yours except for you. I injured my brain and it felt like I injured every single part of my body. So love your brain and use it to love others.
I’m home now. When I walked through the door after more than a month away, my dog—who had no idea what happened to me and no idea if I would ever come back—was shaking with joy. I sat down and he immediately leapt into my lap, like he’d been waiting a lifetime to do it.
We had to install extra guard rails on the stairs so that I wouldn’t fall down. At first, I had to get around using a walker. The walker sucked ass. I hated it. We put little skis on the bottom of mine instead of tennis balls to keep it from scratching the floor, but I sure as hell didn’t feel like some Aspen stud while I was toodling around with it. My wife jokingly called the walker a stroller, and that’s the exact sensation it conjured. My kids were no longer babies, and yet here I was dragging a fucking stroller around again. The outpatient physical therapist talked about me graduating to a cane. I didn’t end up needing one because I can now walk on my own again, but I DID envision getting one and a pocketwatch to go with it, then taking my rightful place as an underground mafia kingpin.
For three months, I was not medically cleared to drive a car, travel alone, or even take ibuprofen for pain. I qualified for a handicapped parking placard, but I was too proud and too paranoid to routinely use it. I was also not supposed to cook at first, though I gleefully violated that directive. Off to Smokeboys Anonymous with me. My wife considered installing an old fogey chairlift to bring me up the staircase, but I nixed the idea. This isn’t a fucking Gremlins sequel. I can climb stairs just fine now, thank you.
Moving around can still make me lightheaded, so dropping things can prove troublesome for me, so of course now I accidentally drop shit all the fucking time. I dropped a pen the other week, put it back, and it rolled right back onto the ground afterward. Tell me that’s not clear proof of God being a complete prick to me. You cannot! My wife has asked me to not scream out FUCK whenever I drop something, but that has proven impossible. I mean really … FUCK!
I’m more irritable than I was pre-coma, but I can’t always tell if that’s because my brain is still swollen or because LIFE is more irritable at the moment. Real tossup there. I’m off the sauce (doctor’s rec), so that probably doesn’t help when it comes to relaxing. A lot of edge builds up when you can’t take the edge off. It could be similar to one of those old episodes of House where a lady takes an arrow through the dome, but the only damage she suffers is that she can’t stand opera anymore. But I do know that I’m different. Still me, but not quite. All the pieces of me aren’t all lined up exactly as they were, and I haven’t fully accepted this yet. I liked who I was before all this. I’m not sure about this new fella.
My right ear has gone deaf. In crowds, all the noise becomes a raucous blur and I get overwhelmed. Sometimes I snap my fingers by the dead ear to test it, in the false hope that it’ll magically heal itself. I have no echolocation, meaning I cannot tell where sound is coming from if I cannot see its source. This is fun when you have loud children and can’t find them to tell them to please pipe down.
I get tired easily. My skin is thinner. Bad news, be it personal or national, gnaws at me more than it used to. I deleted Twitter off my phone. No need for my wife to compel me to do so. I didn’t beat the Reaper just to look at recycled Jack Nicholson gifs or read about Matt Bevin claiming vaccines make you gay or have trolls in my mentions telling me they wish I hadn’t survived. I’ll probably fall off the tweetwagon and download the app again in two weeks, only to re-delete it and then re-download it 50 times over. There goes my reliability again.
The stitches have dissolved and my hair has mostly grown back. If you saw me now, you wouldn’t know that anything had happened to me. But I know. I can still trace a line along the scars running up the front and the back of my head. If I trace them simultaneously, my fingers almost meet at the top of my scalp. When I was in the hospital, the dissolvable stitches were still there. One night, I pulled one of them out and placed it on the bed beside my pillow. It was a coarse, wiry thing, like a whisker plucked from a small dog. For weeks, this mighty little stitch had performed the vital task of helping keep my scalp together. Now it was nothing more than biodegradable garbage.
Eventually I fell asleep, this time for one night only. When I woke up in the morning and checked next to my hospital pillow, that stitch had vanished entirely.