Best known for the Off-Broadway musicals, "The Last Session," "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" and "New World Waking," a song cycle for peace and justice.

Monday, August 06, 2012

My Night in a New York City ER.

[This is a long post with a video at the end.]

This past Friday, in a major New York City ER with a kidney stone.

We arrived about 6. The pain came on all of a sudden. We had been meeting with Bob Bartley, the director of Character Man, Jim's new show.

A nurse, who resembles Nurse Jackie, whom we had met before was at the intake desk. Said it was a very busy night, but escorted us right in.

"Your pain level is worse than that girl's toenail."

A guy jumps up and runs over to Jim and says he is a huge fan! He asks for pictures to be taken. We assume it’s a theater fan who saw Zero Hour. But no...

He and his grandmother, back in Winslow Arizona, had seen him on “Millionaire.” Jim asked him his name and he replied, “Rhett Butler.”

We follow the yellow line through two sets of doors, past multiple desks in a very big room. The cubicle/rooms for incoming patients surrounded the room. The doctors and nurses and staff were on islands in the middle.

They took us to the same booth where Jim’s toe was previously looked at. On the gurney next to us was the body of a black man, his head and face covered. He was lying on his side, cradling a small pink tub filled with a clear green/black fluid that had obviously come up from his stomach. Floating in it was black islands of matter. It made me nauseous, so I turned away.

A dead guy next to us? We kept looking and peering to see if there was any movement.

Jim took a chair at the foot of the bed very patiently. He had the NY Times crossword puzzle in his hand. I had my own book, “Thunderstruck,” a true story from London, early 1900s, partially about a maker of potions who knew nothing about medicine but was a practicing medical expert, doling out elixirs, and some famous murder and Marconi and the invention of the radio.

I was doing everything I could to not think about how much pain I was in.

A woman came in immediately, pushing a tray with a computer on top. She got all of our relevant info, insurance, etc.

Then, we waited.

The doctor arrived. A very attractive young woman in blues. She asked me what was going on and I told her I knew all the symptoms. I’d had kidney stones four times before. We don’t have to do any imaging and I’m in a lot of pain.

I was also angry because we were going to debut a new musical piece I’ve been laboring over, Kyrie Tremulare. It’s the most complex piece of pure composing -- as opposed to songwriting -- I’ve ever done. And since Mark is out of town, and I wanted Stephen singing tenor, I decided to conduct the piece myself.

I had already spent the afternoon making 20 copies (4 pages, front and back). I had also been, here in the early morning hours, been standing up, headphones on, conducting it.

I know I’m a total spastic while conducting. I’ve never really done it except for a brief summer in Dallas when I was 19, from which I ran, screaming back to the safe arms of my band, waiting for me back in Jacksonville. I had no capacity to work in the adult world at that time. I probably still don’t.

But I had, on the spot, conducted a rehearsal the week before. And I was forgetting simple things, like giving pitches, how to run parts, etc. It all felt so overwhelming, which is why I started practicing in the dark. (It was pretty fun).

So, to be lying here in agony, knowing I’d have to cancel Sunday, I couldn’t bear it. No! I HAVE to be there!

The doctor agreed we didn’t need imaging, but they needed some pee. Of course, I had none. I had been furiously peeing, and drinking water, from the moment I felt the first bolt of pain hit me in my back and run down to my testicle. In fact, at first, I thought I had just sat on one.

I gave her my printed out list of the many medications I’m on, plus the names and phone numbers of my doctors. She loved me for that. Loved me.

“A nurse will be in soon. We’ll hydrate you and relieve some of that pain.”

We waited about 15 minutes when another woman came in. She was also a doctor, looked at my charts, agreed with the previous doctor. She was cute. Younger. Said the nurse would be right in, but that they’re suddenly really busy tonight. I said I understood.

My task was to get some pee into the flask. Jim went and got me a bottle of water. So, I drank. And I read. Marconi was just this kid, living with his mom in Italy when he got the idea about transmitting waves through the air. He was now in London and all of London scientific society was against him. How dare this kid come from some backwater in Italy -- a foreigner! -- trump the greatest work of the Royal Society. He didn’t even know the basics of electricity!

I peed. I peed more. Little trickles. But I was guzzling (not too fast) and going. Eventually, a couple of inches in the cup.

But where’s the nurse? We have the curtain open and are watching it all. The staff seems very efficient. They’re walking this way. That way. Sometimes they look at me. Something they don’t.

Jim asks me what state did Springsteen name one of his albums. I said Nebraska.

We notice the dead guy. The sickening tray of viscous green/black.

I’m reading. I’m drinking. I’m peeing, little bits, every few minutes.

Out of the corner of my eye, something jerks. It's the dead guy. He's alive.

Jim gets up and leaves for a moment. I pick up the puzzle. I immediately see the pun solution to one of the big riddles: The Shod Of Iran.

For three hours we do this.

But somewhere in the midst of all that, during one of my peeing sessions, I suddenly felt less pain. Had this been like the first stone I ever experienced, I would have killed myself waiting three hours. I remember dividing each second into micro-thousands watching the nurse slowly approach with the pain medication that time.

But, am I feeling a bit better? I hurt, but the intensity is gone.

Dead guy moves more. He's rather attractive. An attendant comes in and tells him he's being moved to a room. He doesn't seem to comprehend very much.

We wait.

Three hours. I tell Jim let’s get out of here. We’ve been abandoned.

He says no. You can’t do that.

So, I notice that both doctors are down the hall, attending to someone who is obviously in dire need. I get up and walk over, steadying myself on a desk. The person behind the desk sees me, but doesn’t stop me.

I watch the two doctors rushing to save a woman. They have monitors hooked up to her and are looking at some image I find indecipherable. They’re quietly and quickly doing everything they can. I just want out. But I don’t want to interrupt. Occasionally, each one looks at me. But they don’t stop what they’re doing. I think, Okay, message sent.

I go back to the bed and wait, watching the fluttering curtains as they dash in and out.

The orderlies roll the dead guy out, who, by now, has been on his feet and then back down again.

Finally, I see doctor one, rushing my way. Not to me, but in my direction. I raise my hand and just give a tiny signal, hoping she has two seconds. She disappears. Then suddenly appears.

She gives no sense that she’s annoyed with me.

I tell her, “Look. I just want to go home. The I.V. nurse hasn’t arrived. It’s been three hours. If you would just prescribe me some pain pills, I’ll be out of your hair. Cased closed.

She said, “I need to run your urine. I’ll get the nurse to do it right now. If there’s blood, showing evidence of the stone, then yes.”

I think it took 15 minutes, max. A nurse came in and opened up a foil package. Big white pill. “Just open your mouth.” She shoved it in. I was so happy.

“I also have an injection for pain. Where’s the I.V.?” she asked.

I replied, “It never came.”

She said, apologetically, “I thought Christine had done that.”

I was too happy to be going home to raise any objection to the fact that we had been deposited there are forgotten. I’m sure they would have noticed me if I had started screaming. Which I didn’t. I made it through the night.

I was never so happy to be home, in my life.

I went to bed, crossing my fingers, hoping the stone had truly gone away.

Next day, I was sore and weak. But fine. I would get to conduct my song!

We even went to lunch with the Isers, friends of ours from Los Angeles, involved in theater there. We mourned the death of a dear friend, Joan Stein. Jim said she was one of the producers of The Last Session. Or had something to do with the production.

It’s a huge loss for the L.A. theater scene.

I was getting tired. So, we came back home and I laid down on the couch and just slept. Slept all day long. I could tell that my body had suffered a great deal of trauma, enduring all that pain for so long. The last time I had a stone, it lasted, I think, two weeks. Ever since then, I’m the most hydrated person on the planet, and that’s probably what saved me.

I’ve left Marconi, meanwhile, on the bluffs in America, winds knocking down the poles he erected to send a signal across the ocean, a feat the British scientists said was an impossibility. They were wrong.

The doctor with the potions, his wife has left him, though he's better off for it.

And I’ve written my first serious composition. I’m not Beethoven, by any stretch of the imagination. But, I think, for a first effort, it’s not bad.

The piece is in Latin. Translated, it’s someone begging for mercy.

I was certainly begging for a little mercy on Friday night. And how wonderful that it was granted.

And Jim met Rhett Butler.


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