Sunday, February 22, 2009

More (Alleged) Comedy

[Here is a comedy routine I did last night at a benefit 'no-talent' show. The Grant County porn consists of the names of various features of the area.]

Can you hear me over there? (pause)

Can you hear me in back? (pause)

Can you hear me in Lordsburg? (pause)

Cooooool!

OK, keep in mind that I’m more of a comedy writer than I am a stand-up comedian, so I’m going to read you some of the stuff I’ve come up with recently.

Here’s an example of my writing— some Grant County porn I’ve been working on:

“As he ripped off her blouse and ran his Hanover her Bear Mountains, he shoved his Hurley Stack into her Big Ditch all the way to his Little Walnuts. She cried, ‘Never mind about my Twin Sisters, give me all of your big Pinos, Altos!’ while Tyrone drove into Arenas Valley again and again. She screamed, ‘No! No! Not the Burros!’” (pause)

“Meanwhile, the Kneeling Nun—“

I went to the doctor’s office the other day for a checkup, and he asked me the usual series of questions. I especially like the one they always ask: “Do you ever have black, tarry stools?” I was ready for him this time— I said: “Yeah, I get ‘em— but only when I eat black tar.”

(pause) “It’s sort of an ass-fault, yah know?” (pause)

Yesterday I was in the middle of the street, with my pants down around my ankles, reading the Daily Press, when this cop comes up to me and yells, “Hey, you can’t do that here!” I said to him: “Oh, and you expect this pothole to patch itself?”

Oh, and speaking of crap: my wife went to the Crunchy Co-op the other day and bought some genuine imitation Oreo cookies, mint-flavored. I took a look at the package and found in big letters: “70% Organic.” I gotta tell you, I was not reassured by reading that. It seems to me that it asks more questions than it answers… such as what’s in the other 30%? Post-consumer waste? Animal by-products? Deep-fried chicken lips? Spent nuclear fuel rods? Used hypodermic needles? Recycled Wal-Mart bags? What?

Let’s face it: even the most conscientious consumer is going to want to eat some crap sometimes— and even if they won’t, their kids will. So what’s a mother to do? She looks at the bag, sees that it’s 70% Organic and she goes, “What the hell— could be worse,” and puts it in the cart.

Obviously, the manufacturers are trying to put a good face on things. It reminds me of the movie “State & Main”; they had some interesting made-up stuff buried in the closing credits, including this gem: “Only 2 Animals Were Harmed in the Making of This Film.”

70% Organic— that’s like being 70% virgin. “We did it in the car, and I didn’t take my clothes off, and he only put the tip in, and he promised to pull out in time, so…”

…and the next thing you know, Sarah Palin’s daughter is on Fox News with her little bundle of joy.

Talk about food and sex: my wife brought home two chocolate bars the other day. One was called “Orange Sunset” and the other was “Toffee Interlude.” Am I the only one who thinks that these are being marketed as sex surrogates? It all started with Hershey’s Kisses, but where will it all end? “Blueberry Blowjob”? “Gangbang Ganache”? “Debbie Does Dovebars”? Little bags of S&M’s?

“This show is brought to you tonight by Sledge Hammer— Apply Directly to the Forehead!”

I love how they advertise Head On as a “homeopathic” remedy. “Homeopathic” — that’s Latin for “doesn’t do shit.”

I was watching TV the other day and saw a commercial for Acura automobiles that said something like: “Your in-dash navigation system suggests that you bypass the next turn-off.” My navigation system, if I had one, would say: “See? See? I told you not to turn there, but would you listen to me? No, you never listen to anybody, Mr. Bigshot!”

It’s a good thing I don’t have any kids, ‘cause I’m not much of a role model. The other day at about 6:00 AM, my cat woke me up; she was meowing because she was hungry. (pause)

I gave her a coupon for Sonic and the keys to the car. (pause)

She asked me, “You want anything?” I said, “No I’m good.”

My wife and I have decided: when I die, my grave will have a stack of dirty dishes on it, and the headstone will read “I Was Going to Get to That.”

Recently I went to Las Cruces to see the cardiologist for a stress test. Frankly, I don’t know why I bother— I keep telling him that I don’t get stressed so much as I induce stress in others. So I’m sitting in the office, and I look up and there’s this sign that reads: “Are you from out of town? And will you be going through Border Patrol?” And I realize that my answer to both is yes. I asked a technician about it and here’s what he told me: during the stress test, they shoot you up with radioisotopes, and it takes a while before they’re flushed out of your system… and until they *are* flushed out, you can set off radiation detectors at the Border Patrol checkpoint— not to mention that you can use your testicles as a nightlight. The doctor’s office gave me a little card to show the Border Patrol that explains why Geiger counters are freaking out all around me and who to call to check on my story. I was disappointed though, ‘cause they didn’t stop me at the checkpoint; I even told my wife as we were pulling up to reach in the back seat and get me a towel to wrap around my head, but…

Thank you! You’ve been an audience!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

As Funny as a Heart Attack - Part 2 of 2

Part 2 of 2: Fun’s Fun, Until Somebody Gets Hurt

[Author’s Note: This was originally written eight years ago. I am still alive and in reasonably good health. ]

Monday morning January 22 dawned rather early for me. I was being transferred by ambulance from one hospital to another, a bigger facility with more people and technology to handle cardiac problems; I was scheduled for a coronary catheterization at something like 7:30 AM, so I was awakened at about 5:30 AM or so.

I tried not to think too much about what was going to be done to me. In fact, I had had a mild disagreement with one of my doctors on this issue; he felt that I should have taken more of an interest. I pointed to my upper thigh and said, “You’re going in here,” then pointed to the center of my chest and said, “ . . . and you’re going up here. Other than that, I’m not really excited about the details of how you’ll be threading the catheter, using it to squirt dye in various arteries and so forth. To me it’s like a monster movie: the monster is right around the corner from the girl, he’s going to jump on her any second, and the anticipation is far worse to me than anything the monster is going to do. So don’t expect me to ask a whole lot of questions.”

Actually, it was a piece of cake. Other than the needle with the anesthetic, there was no pain, no sensation of any kind. They found that one branch of a lesser artery that supplies the back of the heart was partly blocked; rather than using more aggressive treatment (Plan B—more on that later), they were hoping that I would respond to drugs to open things up. The good news was that everything else appeared to be in good shape. The problem appeared to be more a matter of someone peeing in my gene pool than anything I personally may have done to myself—not that this hasn’t given even total strangers the opportunity to tell me that all this was a warning that I should go on a low-fun diet, run several miles a day, and think Good Thoughts. Thanks anyway, but the heart attack was easier to handle.

Once they wheeled me into the recovery area, I began to find out some of the differences between the first hospital and the second one: I got to hang around for several hours until they found an open bed for me on the cardiac floor. I was reminded of the old adage that a hospital is no place in which to get well, because this one was bursting at the seams with all manner of sick and injured folk. While I was waiting, I was not allowed to sit up or move my right leg. I don’t know about you guys, but I find it very difficult to lie flat on my back and keep the aforementioned limb immobile while at the same time trying to take a whiz into a plastic jug with only a flimsy translucent curtain separating me from all the people scurrying hither and yon. Even My Mincturation Mantra (“There are no bashful bladders, only bashful people”) didn’t help at all. Finally I was able to let fly after dropping the left side rail of the bed and moving my left leg as far as I could from my right one; don’t ask me why, but it worked.

At the first hospital I was in a private room in the Critical Care Unit, with eight beds covered by as many as five nurses to a shift. At the second hospital I was in a two-person room, and the entire floor of sixty or seventy cardiac patients was being served by roughly eight nurses to a shift. The difference is equivalent to that between a sit-down restaurant and a fast-food joint: the quality may be good at both, but one of them deals primarily with volume. Important Tip #6: What this means is that you must actively participate in your care. Make sure you’re getting the drugs you’re supposed to, make sure that when they take your vital signs they actually compare them to previous readings, etc. For example: I was taking medication daily to lower my blood pressure, but my early-morning BP readings were running high. I pointed this out and indicated that the dosage was either too small or running out too soon; my doctor agreed, the dosage was raised and the BP dropped to a lower level.

The biggest difference between the first hospital and the second was that I now had a roomie. In this case it was a nice old guy in his late sixties who had been a patient for about two weeks. One problem was that he was profoundly hard of hearing, and he often had one or both of his hearing aids turned off or removed entirely. Even if I had wanted to strike up a conversation, it would have been pretty fruitless for us both. It was especially rough on him because he would press the button to call for assistance and never be sure when (or if) someone was responding to him on the speaker. As a result, he ended up wetting his bed twice that night because he couldn’t get the help he needed in time; I tried to help, but I didn’t wake up in time to do anything.

The next day, Tuesday January 23, started out bad and got worse. My roommate was being given a sponge bath when he slumped in his chair and became unresponsive. It turned out that he had had a mild stroke and was moved elsewhere in the hospital to remedy this condition. Luckily, he improved and was returned to the room later in the day. That night, a little before midnight and only a few minutes after the nurse had checked on him, he started having breathing problems. I think that he may have been asleep briefly, awakened in a confused state, then had a panic attack. All I know for sure is that he said he was having trouble breathing and wanted to sit up in his chair. I called for the nurse just seconds before one arrived because his heart monitor had signaled that something was wrong.

He went downhill from there. It never actually reached the point when someone broadcasted a ‘code blue’ or whatever, but the guy pretty much went into respiratory arrest. Over the next hour about a dozen people were at his bedside, intubating him and trying to stabilize him, only to find that he was stroking out again just as he had earlier in the day.

Here comes the part I’m not proud of. While all these people were working on him, there was a certain amount of banter going on mixed with the instructions and exchange of info. Imagine some of the scenes in the operating room on “M*A*S*H” and you might get an idea about what it was like. Keep in mind that these people weren’t making fun of the guy, they weren’t being cruel to him; I sincerely believe that they were all good people trying to cope with the tension by trying to make light of a bad situation—and, stuck there on the other side of the curtain from a desperately ill man and the people who were striving to keep him alive, my sense of humor came out to play.

A nurse peeked around the curtain and, concerned about my state of mind amid the chaos nearby, asked me if I was OK. I replied, “This has got to be the noisiest goddamned hotel room I have ever been in! I want you all to know that I’m having a thallium scan done early tomorrow morning, and I’d better not see any of you there. Geez, and to think that I turned down a sleeping pill before bedtime tonight!” I had quite a monologue going for a while.

It was finally around 2:00 AM before they found my roommate a bed down in Intensive Care. Meanwhile I started to feel that my conduct, while understandable, was inexcusable. My nurse and a couple of the techs sat with me for a while and helped me realize that it was a traumatic time for all of us, participants and bystanders alike. My actions of that night still bother me, but nobody got hurt. I think John Lennon had the right idea: whatever gets you through the night . . .

But my night wasn’t over yet. The room was a disaster, so a cleaning crew was called in to tidy up. Then, at nearly 5:00 AM, they wheeled in my new roommate—a loud, garrulous old fart in his eighties. He was talking up a storm with the nurse, the guy who pushed his gurney and anyone within earshot. The nurse tried to gently shut him up, but he seemed to be oblivious to the fact that there was someone on the other side of the curtain who had had a bad night and was trying to sleep. Finally when he was all tucked in and the nurse asked him if he needed anything else, I piped up from the other side of the curtain, “Yes—a little silence and subtlety would do just fine right about now.”

The next morning he tried to apologize to me. He said that he had been moved from his previous room because he had a problem with his roommate, who apparently was a howler—someone who carried on a loud three-way conversation with two imaginary friends in the middle of the night. I coldly told him that it just goes to show you how the term “problem” was a relative one, and that his opportunity to inflict himself on me was related to the “problem” that my previous roommate had had, i.e.: nearly checking out permanently. I avoided contact with this selfish bastard for the rest of my stay. I suppose I should have been more compassionate, because he was seriously ill and definitely hadn’t learned about Important Tip #5: he fidgeted almost constantly, and called the nurse on any pretext. What he needed was attention, and I wasn’t going to play.

The thallium scan brought both good news and bad. The bad news first: the drugs I had been given were not opening up the clogged artery. The good news was that the scan showed that there was less damage and more viable tissue than originally thought, making me a good candidate for Plan B.

Plan B consisted of waiting until the next day and doing the coronary catheterization all over again (through the same thigh), with some important additions: a balloon angioplasty to clear the crud out of the affected artery, and the insertion of two stents, little stainless steel mesh sleeves, to support the weak sections of the artery. All this was predicated on finding me an open slot on the schedule.

Meanwhile, I spent that day as I had most of the others: reading, sleeping, and walking laps around the cardiac floor (which had all the rooms on the outside of the hallway with offices, storerooms and nurses stations in the central core). On one of these laps I saw four young doctors-to-be, or interns, or residents or whatever they call them these days. All I know is that none of them looked old enough to remember the Bicentennial and they were the only people I ever saw wearing white lab coats (the doctors wore either surgical scrubs or three-piece suits). They were examining a patient’s chart with intense concentration and serious demeanor all around. I approached these four fresh-faced young healers of tomorrow and said, “As long as you are available at the moment, I have an important medical question I hope you can help me with.” They looked up at me eagerly. I pointed to the hem of my hospital gown and said, “Do you think this is a good look for me, or should I consider something a little above the knee?” Yep, my artery was clogged, but the joke slipped through anyway.

And it came to pass that Plan B was enacted in Thursday, January 25 and went off without a hitch. I left the hospital Friday afternoon with instructions not to lift anything over five pounds, admonitions to take it easy, and prescriptions galore. Do you remember the scene in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” when Michael Rennie addresses the robot Gort: “Gort, klaatu barada nikto”? I think if they ever remake the movie the line should be changed to something I can relate to, like “Gort, Norvasc Zocor Plavix Toprol—and Zantac twice a day to prevent stomach upset.”

I’m now home, alive, well, catching up on my correspondence, and have a nifty before-and-after picture of my artery to show off. Maybe I’ll post it on my website—it beats pictures of cute little kittens any day. I’m scheduled to meet with my cardiologist soon (on Valentine’s day, oddly enough), and I’m putting together a list of questions to ask him; so far, I’ve got three:

1. When can I have sex with my wife?

2. When can I have sex with your wife?

3. If they weigh less than five pounds, when can I have sex with small furry animals?

Have I forgotten anything important?

Monday, February 9, 2009

As Funny as a Heart Attack - Part 1 of 2

Part 1 of 2: Pay Attention—You’re Next!

[Author’s Note: This was originally written eight years ago. I am still alive and in reasonably good health. ]

It all started sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, when both my wife and I managed to catch a cold/flu bug that was making the rounds: we were by turns coughing, wheezing, sneezing, feverish, chilled, and raspy in the throat—the usual. As I write this a month later, I still get an occasional ‘hitch’ when I speak that causes me to break out in a dry cough.

Two weeks into this misery I began to notice something strange: whenever I exerted myself a little, I would feel a dull ache running from each elbow to the wrist. (I had felt this before when exercising heavily, and it always went away as soon as I stopped, so I didn’t think much of it.) I told my wife that I would contact my doctor if the problem didn’t clear up by the end of the week; I never got the chance.

On the morning of Friday, January 19, I noticed that the pain in my arms had returned, and the only thing I had done was to sit at my desk and talk to some people. Worse yet, I now felt a pain in the center of my chest—something new and alarming.

I waited a few minutes for the pain to go away, but it hung right in there. I haven’t talked to too many people who have shared this experience, but I believe that I am not unique in what I was thinking at the time: am I
really having a heart attack? How do I know? I’ve never had one before. Other than being born, I had never been hospitalized before. Is it time to call for help? Is this a result of my age (47), weight (230 lbs. on a six-foot frame with a noticeable gut), lifestyle (sedentary, but I had been working out twice a week for nearly a year), eating habits (red meat, plenty of fried foods, lots of candy, not enough veggies, too much food in general—which is how I got the gut), personality (not quite Type A; I don’t get stressed so much as induce stress in others)—in short, am I to blame? What if it turns out that I need surgery, or a transplant? What if it’s a false alarm? More importantly, what if I treat it as a false alarm and guess wrong? This whole situation of calling someone for help was embarrassing—but I decided that my wife would be really pissed at me if I died of embarrassment. Important Tip #1: Don’t worry about feeling like a dork—make the call!

I quietly shut down my notebook, arranged my desk and asked my co-worker in the adjoining cube to call for an ambulance. She handled it pretty well, except that she had to be reminded that it’s 911, not 411. Maybe she doesn’t like me after all.

The paramedics arrived pretty soon after the call; the pain kept on unabated. One of the questions they asked me was “On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is the pain?” I rated it a 5; if you want an idea of what a 5 is to me, a leg cramp that wakes you in the middle of the night and makes you thrash around in bed and grit your teeth while trying to find a way to make it stop rates about an 8.5 in My Big Book o’ Pain.

One of the first things the paramedics did was hook me up to an EKG machine. They immediately saw some irregularities—it’s not a false alarm, yay! For once in my life I wasn’t in denial and did the right thing! I felt almost smug as they wheeled me into the ambulance. On the way to the hospital, I even asked if we could stop at McDonalds for some drive-thru—Happy Meals for everyone, I’m buying.

My elation was extremely short-lived. I was taken to a nearby hospital, and the real fun began. The doctors first tried to stop the pain with nitroglycerin, a common practice with chest pains; no luck. Next they went to the other extreme: they shot me up with morphine. Important Tip #2: if there is something unusual about you, let everybody know and remind them often. In my case it so happens that the vast majority of painkillers and depressants simply don’t work on me—living through the Sixties gave me plenty of opportunity to find that out. Even if the doctors and nurses are arrogant and don’t believe you, at least you will have warned them.

After three doses, they gave up on the morphine, too. A couple of hours passed, and though the pain wasn’t getting any worse, the fact that it was dragging on with no end in sight was beginning to get to me.

Somewhere in the middle of all this my wife arrived, much to my relief. Important Tip #3: even in the best of hospitals, you want someone there with you who knows you—preferably someone who also knows enough about medicine to ask the right questions and understand the answers. My wife is both my guardian angel and, when necessary, the avenging variety. Long may she wave! Finally, the doctors found something that eased my symptoms and the pain began to gradually recede.

My treatment was complicated by the fact that they weren’t entirely sure whether I was actually experiencing a heart attack. Some of my symptoms seemed consistent with pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac that surrounds the heart—something that could have resulted from the aforementioned cold/flu/virus/demonic possession that had been lingering on for so long. A blood test eventually settled that issue; it showed enzymes that appear when part of the heart is damaged—heart attack: yes, pericarditis: no. Note that it was the third blood test that finally told the tale; I guess the plan was to keep on drawing blood until the results showed something useful or I died of anemia—whichever came first.

The rest of that day and much of the next is somewhat blurry. Part of that blurriness was due to the headache I had from the IV nitroglycerin meant to reduce my blood pressure. I kept after my nurses to reduce the dosage, but they just kept giving me Tylenol to reduce the headacheand remember what I said about my immunity to analgesics? Finally one of my doctors removed the IV and gave me nitroglycerin paste on a bandage at my ankle in order to alleviate the headacheat which point my nurse claimed that the Tylenol must now be working since the headache went away. Now I have nothing against Tylenol or the company that makes it; it helps thousands of people each day, I’m sure. But how it fosters such a near-religious belief in its restorative powers even in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary is beyond my understanding.

I recall that three chest x-rays were taken at various times. The portable machine that they use for this rolls up to your bed and looks like a small Zamboni, which might explain why the plates are as cold as ice. The frigid plates were a minor annoyance; there were other, more serious inconveniences. At one point I was hooked up to four different IVs, with lines running out of the backs of both hands. I also had close to a dozen wires stuck on various portions of my anatomy to provide readouts on heart activity, pulse rate, etc., a blood pressure cuff that automatically inflated at fifteen-minute intervals, a clothespin-like gadget clamped to one finger to measure the oxygen in my blood, and one of those two-pronged thingies that go in your nostrils and connect you to a tank of oxygen so the clothespin gadget is happy. And then they have the nerve to ask you if you’re resting comfortably; whatever you do, don’t say yesthey’ll just come back and ask for another blood sample.

Sleeping was a problem. Each of the IVs was hooked to a pump that measured the flow and started beeping when it was nearly emptyand with four of them running, I could expect to be awakened by one of them every hour or so. There wasn’t much slack on the wires that hooked me to the heart monitor, so one or another was always popping off and causing the monitor to beep. I already mentioned the blood pressure cuff; thankfully, they lengthened the interval after a while. There were all kinds of human interruptions, too: people coming in to give me pills, take blood, bring me meals (most of the time I felt too queasy to eat much), take the chest x-rays, sign papers, and much, much more.

Hospital food isn’t all that bad. It’s like airline food minus any attempt at pretension—what you see is what you get. I especially enjoyed the generic-brand ‘crispy rice’ cereal; it went crack, tinkle and flop because all the good sounds were already taken.

Important Tip #4: you will be surprised at how quickly you can adjust, and the things that you will adjust to. Don’t like needles? After a while you don’t even notice. The thought of tubes being hooked up to your bloodstream makes you squeamish? Relax to the inevitable. Have any body modesty? Forget about it—nurses have seen it all and doctors don’t care.

Aside from time spent sleeping and dealing with all the various comings and goings of doctors, nurses and technicians, most of what I did wasnothing. I had a TV, books, magazines, a newspaper, and I could have asked for my notebook so I could play FreeCell all night, but mostly I just lay there. It felt a lot like when I used to fly to Europe, Asia and Australia for my work: your freedom of movement and personal space are restricted, you eat when you’re hungry, watch the movies if you want to, read when you’re in the mood, sleep when you feel like it, get up once in a while to pee, and somehow the time passes. Important Tip #5: you have to find a way to do your time. If cranking down your perceptions and minimizing your active participation in the world at large (like I did) works for you, go with it. If reading everything in sight or watching talk shows and soap operas or having lots of visitors or knitting a sweater or praying to your choice of deity is what makes the time pass for you, great. But you have to find something, because if you don’t your perceptions will turn inward—and you’ll end up calling the nurse every ten minutes to complain that your eyelids feel loose and your elbows are flaking or the mole on the side of your nose seems to be getting larger or something like that, and the time STILL won’t pass for you.

Coping with time isn’t the only survival skill I learned during my hospital stay. I found that my sense of humor was blessedly unimpaired by the gravity of my situation. I held onto my ability to wisecrack like a toddler clutches a security blanket. Whenever someone asked me if there was anything I needed, my answer was always the same: “A frozen margaritano salt.” (After all, I should restrict my intake of sodium.) Though it cheered me up and made people laugh, this ability to make a joke about nearly anything eventually became a two-edged sword; you’ll read about it later in Part 2.