I enjoyed an unexpected vacation during the month of August—or I should say I enjoyed those aspects of it that were enjoyable. This brief sabbatical caught me quite unawares, since I had already started to lay out the September issue of this paper. While I worked, however, my leg wept—a resurgence of the lymphatic edema that had not troubled me for almost two decades. I kept the area clean and bandaged, and when I perceived signs of infection I made an appointment with my physician. The day of my appointment it appeared to be getting better, and so I canceled the appointment.
Four days later, I noticed my troubled leg had blown up like the Graf Zeppelin, and my shoes were tight. I went to bed with chills and then fever, and woke early on the morning of August 11th with my heart racing. I went to the emergency room of the better of the two hospitals named after saints, and sat for five hours waiting to be seen. I was treated eventually, with blood drawn and ECGs and x-rays and ultrasound scans performed. I suspected a blood clot, which may have been part of the problem though no one in the ER was particularly concerned about it. My leggy issue was diagnosed as severe cellulitis.
Of more consuming interest to the hospital staff was my honest revelation about my intake of alcohol. I confessed that it was my practice to quaff fine (cheap) German pilsener each night before bed while conversing with my wife and listening to classical music—though lately we have also been catching up on the recorded archives of certain quality television programs. This for some reason provoked some alarm. The doctors expected me to flip out into full-blown DTs, perhaps with unnaturally-colored animals parading around my bed and the Devil calling me by name. This, for the duration of my alcohol-free stay, did not happen. Nor did I crave that which was not proffered.
The truth is, I was at peace with the world. I had no computer, no telephone, no radio (for the first day or two of my stay), and I did not turn on the television. I may have attempted a crossword puzzle. Mostly, during the day, I slept. When food was brought to me, I consumed it with inordinate delight. The meals I ate while in the hospital were among the best I have partaken of in some time.
I even ordered the meatloaf, expecting the worst. Back in the bad old days, I referred to hospital meatloaf as “dog loaf.” In the 1970s, they apparently used the same recipe provided to prisoners in solitary confinement. But the 2023 hospital meatloaf was almost exquisite. I raved about the food to every person on staff who would listen.
My pleasure was enhanced by having The Future of Traditional Jazz taken forcibly out of my hands, if only for a few days. It astonishes me how easily I resigned myself to having no control over my paper and its myriad responsibilities. I did not even want to listen to jazz. When my wife brought me my radio, I veered between the droning uplift of NPR and the Classical station.
The latter gave me some relief owing to an irritating roommate (the one untoward aspect of my stay) who could not sleep without the lights and the television on. I plugged in my oversized headphones to counteract the relentless hours of TV audio, which would culminate in sports betting infomercials at 4 am. I was even beginning to appreciate Shostakovitch as a counter-irritant to glad tidings of the Draft Kings Online Casino.
Sleeping with the cans on is not sustainable, however. I would eventually take them off, drenched with sweat. I entertained myself with schemes to hold a pillow over my neighbor’s face, should I summon the strength and agility that were not mine to be had. On the day of my discharge, I discovered that he was the father of an old friend of mine, who had shown up to visit him as I was about to leave. The friend ran a coffee house here in Utica in 1996, and I read my poems and sang my songs there. In memory of those happy times, I parted with my roommate on cordial (though not effusive) terms.
Having returned home on August 15th, I rested for another day or two with my leg elevated until launching back into my September paper. Miraculously, I have managed to plow through the accumulated copy and lay it out before my printer’s deadline. I crammed in all the stories that would fit in 40 pages—some contributors will no doubt be disappointed not to see their articles herein, but I’ve prevailed in my convalescence. I still can’t put my shoes on, but I have laid out a paper that looks no worse than usual. I have pulled off amazing feats of fact-checking even as I hobble around the house. I have further resolved to speak plainly about whatever is eating me. I have peered into the abyss and it told me not to be such a wuss. What is cancellation by self-righteous pipsqueaks compared to an eternity of necessary things left unsaid?
I have always known that life is absurd and we need levity more than we need faith. Occasionally my body slaps me in the face to remind me of that truth. I don’t want motivational quotes or oratory—nor do I desire unsolicited medical or dietary advice. It’s all hooey. A joke resonates further through the universe than a prayer. It doesn’t matter how we feel and we’d better get over it.
And once we get over it, we may begin to enjoy ourselves.