Bite the Tube - Part 3

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“Hey Joe, where you goin' with that gun of yours / Hey Joe, I said where you goin' with that gun in your hand / oh I'm goin' down to shoot my old lady…”

Jimi Hendrix’s dangerously dark lyrics built to a crescendo the closer my manual wheelchair was pushed to the entrance of the rehab gym. This was DAY ONE. This was the beginning of my journey. This song blaring from the ceiling speakers was starting off the soundtrack to it. I couldn’t believe it.

Between a broken neck, a broken leg and a broken heart, I did not want to push on. I wanted to retreat. Yet again, I had no choice.

Upon entering that massive room, it was abundantly clear that some terribly awful things had happened to too many people and that this was a place of WORK. 

Not any kind of work. Work that I had never seen before. My eyes scanned the room several times over and I studied the faces of my fellow warriors: some ferociously fought back tears, some wearily wiped away sweat, some audibly agonized therapies, some were clearly clueless. 

Convinced I would be strangled by able-bodied hands or suffocated with a pillow in my sleep, I did not, in fact - I refused - to stay alone for a solid half a year. Not really a stranger to drama, but also not one to manufacture something out of nothing, I had only chalked up a lot of the paranoia, fear and anxiety to past traumatic experiences and the tri-state area’s 6 o’clock evening news. Until now. 

The next six months I would spend practicing to breathe better, speak clear, and just move about anything I damn well could. That required respiratory, occupational and physical therapy five to six days a week. The people I worked out with, were a motley crew of some of the most banged up and broken souls I have ever met. And for the majority of the length of our time or “sentences”, for the majority of this strange brew of folk, we did not speak to each other. And yet somehow what was unspoken was understood.

The ostensible truth and weight of our combined experience could not be ignored - not even by a cockroach in the courtyard.

I want to mention that a couple of friends were generous with their feedback after reading the last two blog entries I published by gently reminding me of two points. One, I could not leave the audience “hanging” as I ended the last post by writing there would be a part three. And two, that there were things I touched upon but didn’t expand upon as much as they wanted me to. I do find myself wanting to share and explain more week-to-week but also I realize that there are so many other topics I want to write about besides THE CAR CRASH. My life doesn’t revolve around what happened to me so why should this? Ultimately, the nitty-gritty of it all will be broken down once the book about my life is further into the developmental phase. Until then...

XX,

VO

 

Photo: Margaret Malandruccolo 

Hair, Makeup & Styling: Melanie Manson

Bite the Tube - Part Two

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The ceiling of the private plane was inches away from my face and I could feel a foam-like material stuffed up my nose. Cold rushes of air brushed by my face and a pervasive chemical like smell provided steady nausea. This was true claustrophobia. And where was I again? Oh, right, on an air ambulance flying from Dubai to Zurich to Newfoundland to Newark. End game? Dropping me off at what was to become my new home, two days before New Year’s Eve 2003. 

I had no idea what rehab would have in store for me. But having had friends and family search frantically for days before we left Dubai to find the best place in the world to “fix me”, I suppose it was a relief to many that at least one of the most renowned places in the world was in a country that at least I was a citizen of as well as in a state where both my family and I had friends and family of our own. However, no one could have prepared me for what I was about to experience.

Of course, the physical challenges I faced were innumerable and frankly, the most concerning, surprisingly they were not the most overwhelming aspect. While on the outside the belief was that I was going to one of the most prestigious places in the country, the truth was, on the inside it was comparable to what I had seen on television and in films: a combination of The Sopranos, The Shawshank Redemption and Law & Order: SVU. 

During my seven-month stint there, it was consistently about 75% male. The cast of characters was long and ever-changing and ranged from an 18-year-old boy whose gunshot wound from a rival gang rendered him a paraplegic to a well-known music icons’ grandfather whose stroke left him hemiplegic and mute. The cop who introduced himself as, “Francis O’Leary” but had an unmistakably symbolic Italian tattoo on his arm. (I’m not making this up: remember the shows and film I referenced above? Clearly, I could tell the case that got him injured was high profile and he was under cover.) A middle-aged gentleman who had been crushed by a speeding train while sitting in his car who suffered irreparable brain damage. Of course, there was the occasional young girl or older woman who would end up being my roommate but seemed to transition in and out of there faster than I. It made me feel even more alone, different and “obvious” (for lack of a better word) than I needed to feel. 

This time was supposed to be about a complete and total focus of my physical health, but a lot of it felt like survival of the fittest. And if you were going to stay up later than 5 PM or mix with the rest of the people stuck living in this alternative reality, it was necessary to develop a thicker skin. I guess it was truly a blessing that I had the Jersey side of my identity to call upon during that time. I loved when my personal care attendant Allison was working morning shifts and was able to come and put me together in my velour Rocawear outfits, complete with cornrows she crisscrossed effortlessly through my hair while exchanging pleasantries in her wonderful Guyanese accent. I had a pair of oversized headphones she’d place over my ears and the only one album I requested and cared to listen to: Tupac’s All Eyez On Me. From that, I was able to channel a lot of more of the inner strength required to get through the dark times that perhaps I’m not even ready to write about right here, right now.

Although I was doing very well summoning my inner thug and rocking different personas, every now and then a gleam of extreme naïveté would practically knock me out. I didn’t realize how difficult and scary it was to interact with some personalities especially the dominant aggressive males who were on some serious doses of painkillers. (But, then again, so was I! Every single day the pain was off the charts from the moment I opened my eyes my first thought would be about medicinal relief.)

And then of course there was The Anger. The majority of us who could express ourselves were feeling a plethora of emotions but anger was chief among them and clearly the one that was not only a danger to ourselves but also to anyone else in our immediate vicinity...

Stay tuned for part three…

XX,

VO

 

Photo: Margaret Malandruccolo

Hair, Makeup & Styling: Melanie Manson

 

Bite the Tube - Part One

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I woke up in the ICU wild-eyed and panic-stricken. My recollection of that exact moment is that I felt like a caged animal. Suddenly a shadowy figure – a woman -appeared, looking down and screaming in a thick Pakistani accent, “Don’t bite the tube! Don’t bite the tube!”

So, I bit the hell out of that damned tube.

And I continued to furiously chomp down on the foreign object until my vision became clearer. Next, I saw the physique of a man step forward; he aggressively ordered her away and proceeded to remove the tube from my throat.

Never had I felt so shaken! An inherent trust and realization that a battle had begun overwhelmed me, but I was ready to wage war! Little did I know that my enemy would ultimately be me: my entire being. And this completely unresponsive body would continue to work against me for quite some time...

That day was exactly 14 years ago, a few days after a car crash on December 18 that eviscerated my path and everything I thought I knew up until then. Every year, the date comes up and I vacillate between celebration of life and sitting in resolute morbidity. In recent years, using the practice of gratitude, it has gotten easier. But everyone who was with me that day in the desert, knows a great love was lost when he departed and the other two young men who were in the truck with us walked away from the wreckage mostly physically unscathed.

What more can be said? Oh, so much more…There are still questions and an air of mystery surrounding exactly what happened that day and a strange wonderment of how things lined up almost in preparation for what was about to occur. I sometimes think had I heeded the warning signs and trusted my intuition a bit more, things would have unfolded quite differently. But I’m hip to the fact that the, “what if‘s” lead to a horribly dark place.

Ten days later, an air ambulance arrived from Switzerland and took me from Dubai - my home, my work, my family friends, pets and the life I had - and brought me to the US for rehabilitation treatment. (Stabilization surgery was performed by a renowned surgeon at the hospital in Dubai upon the two broken vertebrae in my neck, using bone from my hip, wires, screws and a metal plate.)

The writing of this, is still somewhat troublesome, but ultimately I know that whatever I’m left with, whatever I’m feeling afterward, will be cathartic. I have to borrow a line from one of my favorite films, The Last Unicorn, where the main character laments, “I can never regret. I can feel sorrow, but it’s not the same thing.“

Stay tuned for part two...

XX,

 

VO

 

Photo: A radiologist in New Jersey (ha!)