Today’s story intertwines through a hot air balloon ride fiasco, white-knuckle skydiving, watching 84 hours of television in a week and the road back to launching three point shots. As the saying goes, you can’t make this stuff up!
It all began on with my 40th birthday gift from the lovely Kathy, a hot air balloon ride.
There’s a little backstory to this particular gift. About a year earlier, I had purchased two skydiving passes for Kathy’s birthday, but as the appointed day approached, my throat began constricting as I envisioned hurtling myself out of an airplane. While I’m not afraid of air travel, I do not like heights as a rule. So I did what any other self-respecting acrophobic would do, I finagled out of the sky diving commitment by invoking the good old worst case scenario. I asked Kathy, what would the kids do if we both bit it in a horrible skydiving fiasco?
Kathy muttered something mostly unintelligible, but I thought I heard something like…. simpering wimp. Kathy wasn’t chickening out and along with our oldest daughter Shannon they took the plunge safely and successfully.
But Kathy declared there was no way I was wiggling or waggling out of the hot air balloon ride.
On a humid early evening, we lifted off somewhere near Fenton. I’m guessing it was a pretty cool ride, but I couldn’t really tell because my eyes were closed as I riffed through every prayer I ever knew…. Now I lay me down to sleep….Bless me Father for I have sinned…Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry for all my sins both venial and mortal…rub-a-dub thanks for the grub, yea God!
My eyes were closed for two reasons: First the height thing. Second, along with Kathy and me were two other passengers who were giants. I’m not kidding; they were a monumental man and woman. We were Lilliputians compared to these folks. Because of the size and weight difference the basket was tilted crazily toward the Brobdingnagian’s*. Added to the mix was our balloon driver, or balloon master, or hot air wizard, or whatever the heck you call the guy who was in charge of this mismatched voyage of the damned. His name was Archie and he was an identical twin of the bass player in the rock band ZZ Top. I was pretty sure that he had as much helium in him as the balloon did.
So we sailed the skies for our 30-minute ride, I looked down once to see a gravel pit and then it was over. We landed nicely enough and I let out a sigh of relief…. just a tad too soon. Because of the size difference between our offensive line companions and us, our basket hemmed, hawed, seesawed and then all 13 feet, 600 pounds of mountain people fell on top of me. The good news was they missed Kathy, but I was crunched, and my right shoulder immediately turned to mush. After the giant and giantess rolled off me they jointly picked me up like I was appetizer and started talking in Low German or some guttural dialect… Wo geiht? Ya est heidegger, schopenhauer, kant or hanna arendt? Or, something like that, but I think it was an apology.
I answered: Vundaag is de worm in! (Which is Low German for: Something is very wrong with this day!)
So it came to pass that at age 40, I found myself in physical therapy for the first time. The diagnosis was a bruised shoulder and tendinitis. The pain should go away. But it didn’t and every few years I would go in for more PT and build up the muscles around the shoulder so I could continue playing basketball and other sports. Except I couldn’t play much golf because the injury had the odd impact of hurting so much that once I reached the 8th hole I had to take the beer ice and make an icy shoulder pack.
Five years ago, now in my mid-50’s, my oldest friend, Jerry McEntee, introduced me to Dr. Gary Gilyard at DMC Sports Medicine. He ordered an MRI (a test which taught me that I had severe claustrophobia, yet another story) and the results were a badly torn rotator cuff and labrum. I should have had the surgery right then, but did I mention I’m a tomophobiac too? Yep, fear of surgery. I’m a veritable cornucopia of phobias!
I put off the surgery for 5 more years, which gave me a good excuse for being a crummy golfer and didn’t prevent me from launching plenty of three pointers. But basketball finally got the better of me. In one of our pick-up games at Shrine Grade School, I forgot that I’m an eyelash away from Social Security and tried to save a game-winning basket by fouling Adam Ruhle on his way to a lay-up. Adam is around 25 years old, about 6′5″ and pretty much in the prime of life. He never knew what hit him. Really, he actually never knew that I hit him with my best Rick Mahorn hatchet job. Meanwhile, my arm was dangling so low I could untie my shoelaces without bending over.
I had no choice now and under the knife I went. Six weeks ago, I showed up at the DMC Surgery Center in Madison Heights and honestly, after the IV drip started, I couldn’t remember a thing past my last recollection of singing the Ballad of Davy Crockett to a maintenance man in pre-op. When I finally woke up it was later that night and I found myself in our recliner chair that had been repositioned in my bedroom. I had night sweats from a nightmare that I was in a straightjacket. I was sort of, with my right shoulder and arm in a sling-like restrictor.
I tried to sit up on my own, but it was a no-go. I couldn’t dis-incline the recliner, so I started rocking the chair, thinking I could launch myself out of it. Did I mention I’ve never taken any painkillers before?
It seemed like a good idea, but Kathy woke up out of the Sleep of the Dead with a jolt.
“What in the name of God is going on?! Why is your chair in the middle of the room? And why are you humming What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?”
I was told later that I was an ideal patient. Again, I have little recollection of the first days of recovery. I was feeling no pain because I had some kind of pain block in a pouch that reminded me of one of those circa 1970 bota bags. I also was taking some kind of pill that shortly after I took it would cause me to suddenly break into song. Kathy said I sang the entire soundtrack from Jesus Christ Superstar, Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne and a Jethro Tull medley.
Kathy told me that she really was enjoying my particularly agreeable, puppy dog behavior.
She said, “I’m going to miss this recovery time we had together. One morning, you came up behind me tapped me on the shoulder and with tears in your eyes, you said, ‘I love you, Kathy. You’re the one for me.”
“But Kathy, I do that all the time, right?”
“Yeah, but this time it was like you were on truth serum!”
The recovery time for my surgery is about 3 months and Dr. Gilyard highly recommended the use of “The Chair.”
“The Chair” was just that…a chair, but with a motorized arm rest that moved up and down, very, very, slooooowly. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? That’s what I thought until Doc Gilyard told me I needed to spend 12 hours a day, every day, for a month, in the chair.
I’m reasonably certain that in my entire life I have not sat still in a chair for more than two hours and 50 minutes in my life. That record was set watching Scarface which was our Christmas Day tradition movie, a decision I still have nightmares about. So, spending half of my day in a chair for the prescribed month would pretty much describe my version of Purgatory.
But sit I did, mostly in front of the TV. I did not realize that there are actually over 400 channel choices of good, bad, ugly and really ugly television. I believe that I may have visited them all, although I also believe my mind was kidnapped by the Muppets somewhere around 146th hour of my video tour-a-rama.
This is what I did learn about round the clock TV:
-There truly is a show for everyone. Christian shows: check. Satanist series: check. Agnostic thong wearers cooking show: check. You name it, TV has it.
-I also learned that many women do not, repeat, do not wear the proper bra size.
-I learned that very late at night you could learn: Who wouldn’t want to be bigger?!!
-I learned that ESPN and TMZ are really the same show.
-I watched both seasons, all 27 hours of House of Cards, a Netflix series you can watch at one time if you had the inclination. I still feel smarmy from that really well done series.
I watched Sister Wendy’s Odyssey where a retired nun does a marvelously quirky job of explaining art. She reminded me of a cross between Sister Jean Romunda and Sister Bernadette Therese, two of my favorite St. Mary’s of Royal Oak nuns.
I finally hit my breaking point when I watched an entire Hillary Duff movie…. and it brought tears to my eyes! That convinced me that I wasn’t going to be able to complete my full sentence of The Chair. I applied for a weekend pass to the physical therapy equivalent of Limbo and while there, I was able to obtain a plenary indulgence, which allowed me exchange 6 hours a day in The Chair for 6 hours of good thoughts and deeds.
It’s six weeks later now and my shoulder rehab is moving along nicely, mostly due to the highly competent physical therapists Stephanie, Ann-Marie and Dawn at DMC’s therapy unit in Birmingham. Thank you, ladies!
The lovely Registered Nurse Kathy is also once again my heroine, being extraordinarily patient with her patient. She said it
wasn’t that bad and sometime during the early recovery I took her shopping for several hours, another record for me, and that the bills should be arriving soon.
And to finish the story, several years ago I was shamed into finally sky diving with my youngest daughter Moira. I believe ou
r pilot was the hot air balloon maestro’s twin ZZ Top brother and the skydiving experts name was Hippy Dippy Dave.
But like I said, that’s another story!
* I had to look this up, but Brobdingnag is another island in Jonathan Swifts Gulliver’s Travels, inhabited by the giants Brobdingnagians.