I had offered to take the bus, but No. 1 Friend and roommate wouldn’t hear of it. We arrived in Santa Monica, where UCLA Health has built an orthopedics hospital a block north of where I had my first surgery, at 18, and two blocks east of the cinema to which I’d taken the unfortunate Gail Hickey on my first date, in darkness, as they’d wanted me to report 150 minutes early. I got signed in at Admissions and went up to the 3rd Floor, where I think I managed to conceal my great nervousness while Waiting to Be Called. My turn came, and No. 1 Friend left me alone with my quiet terror.
A Guatemalan nurse’s aide had me exchange my stylish apparel for one of those dignity-defying hospital gowns. An anesthesiologist came, and I advised him that there was nothing in March I needed to remember, and urged him not to be stingy with the Versed, the memory-obliterating sedative that had worked so well for me in the past. He seemed amused. I wasn’t kidding.
Using ultrasound to ascertain where to stick the needle, he and an assistant gave me an injection in my neck that would put the nerves in my shoulder on a 24-hour vacation. Dr. Petrigliano, the actual surgeon, dropped by, and I secured his permission to call him Frank, which pleased me, as many doctors are self-infatuated dickheads who want to be perceived as Great Healers, and I wouldn’t want one of them slicing me open. I was heartened to learn he’d reviewed my cat-scan or whatever it’s called the night before.
The next thing I knew, I woke up feeling someone squeezing my calves, one after the other, quite emphatically. I learned later they were special cuffs designed to prevent blood clots in the legs. I’d anticipated being euphoric on waking and realizing that the worst was over, but I’m a tough audience. By and by, I was wheeled into my own room, given oxycontin, and supplied with a magic button with which I could award myself small jolts of supplementary dilaudid at 8-second intervals. Macho as I am, I used it sparingly.
The night after the surgery, I requested a sleeping pill, and then a second sleeping pill when the first didn’t work. Combined, they didn’t make me sleep, but I did hallucinate like mad. I felt sure the nurses, at their station just outside my door, were plotting something sinister, and felt I had to get away. I managed to get out of bed, yanked myself free of my intravenous gizmo, making it shriek in alarm, and barricade myself in my bathroom, where I was able to pee because my catheter had been yanked out hours before. I suspect it was the most exciting thing that happened on the third floor that night.
A Dr. Cox came in to tell me something or other. At 11:00 in the morning, he had very dark five o’clock shadow. I was able to resist the impulse to ask why he wasn't taking advantage of lumbersexual chic, whereby trendy urban men in London and Brooklyn and, I suppose, Echo Park, are growing beards of the sort fashionable in our great forests.
Home for nearly 96 hours now, I remain weak and given to hallucinations and strange fever dreams, and am profoundly undelighted by the prospect of this ugly black sling remaining part of my life for the next five weeks. Last night I dreamed I was in England, walking around in a park holding a plastic cricket bat of whose provenance I was unsure, looking after a severely autistic or retarded (behold my inflammatory language!) young man who’d become my charge through a series of strange events I am unable to recount. A small drunk man lying on the grass with a truncheon and awful English teeth observed the plastic cricket bat and said, “Have a go if you think you’re hard [bad, or tough, in American usage] enough, mate.” When I asked why he was being hostile to one he’d never met, he grabbed his crotch and masturbated to ejaculation to express his disdain for my disinclination to engage him on the field of battle.
And this after I’d summoned the courage to let Frank slice me open!