Friday, February 6, 2009
I awoke from my morphine dreams to the sounds of the hospital. I looked down at my legs and casts thinking, "Man, I sure fucked myself up this time." The dull throbbing pain was still hammering away as I tried to figure out my life.
There was so much damage at this point, that I wondered if I wasn't just totally nuts. The past nine or ten years hadn't gone too good, I thought, as I tried moving my feet inside the casts.
No such luck. They were frozen there like two chunks of ice. I stared down at them for a long time, wondering how long I'd be like this. After a while I drifted away, back into the softness of the morphine.
* * *
When I was a kid, back in 1957, in Tucson, AZ, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, combing my hair into various styles trying to get it just right, so I looked like a rock-n-roll star. With a cigarette dangling from my lips, I was suddenly startled by the sound of knocking on the door.
"What are you doing in there Bobby?" came my mother's voice, "You've been in there for 30 minutes. You better not be smoking in there," she warned. I knocked off the burning tip of the cigarette into the toilet and flushed it. "I'm not smoking," I lied, "I'm just going to the bathroom."
"Well hurry up, for God's sake. Let somebody else have a turn." I wildly waved a towel at the open window trying to make the smoke go out, saying, "OK, Ok, I'm coming." I reluctantly opened the door and exited the bathroom, hoping my mother wasn't going to run a smell test for smoke.
I headed for my bedroom and the record player, choosing a Presley tune called "Baby Let's Play House." As the music filled my room I was swept up in the driving rhythm and started moving like Elvis, I hoped, losing myself in my dreams.
* * *
After a day or so, my mother, one of my brothers, and Carol Paulus, came to the hospital. I wasn't all that glad to see them because of the circumstances, but it stayed pretty low key. I attempted to explain the various points of damage to my body as they stared at my legs and the casts.
"God it looks so bad," said my mother, "I didn't know it was this bad." "Yeah, I guess I really screwed myself up," I said, but I was lucky on two counts.
Number one, the roof had a little give to it, so I wasn't permanently crippled or killed, and two, I was operated on by a visiting orthopedic surgeon who happened to be at USC, and chose to take on my case for future publication in a medical journal. They seemed pleased with this information. We visited a little more, until I drifted off again.
* * *
Like I said, back in 57, I hoped I moved like Elvis, because my brother Bill and I were going to perform at Cal Rubin's Furniture City on Speedway Blvd. in Tucson that evening. We'd been doing that each week for a while now, ever since we'd won a talent search they'd sponsored.
We were The Macdonald Brothers then, and tried to look and act like The Everly Brothers. We had matching black Harmony guitars and shirts, and we knew some good songs, Be Bop A LuLa, by Gene Vincent, being one of my favorites.
Along with well known songs by everybody else, we'd stick in one of our own too, just to see how it went over. Back then, for a couple of hours a week, we were real rock-n-roll performers.
* * *
If it weren't for the morphine they were giving me in the hospital every few hours, I would have gone into withdrawl from all the other drugs and booze I'd been using. The constant dose of the pain killer, though, saved me from that particular ordeal.
The fact that I'd managed to survive two comas, and a bone crushing fall, in a matter of months, was somewhat of a miracle in and of itself, and would have caused most people to celebrate it as such. But inside my head was not like the inside of somebody else's head. This was my mind, and it was broken.
There was no deep realization that I'd been spared for something better, or that my guardian angel had saved my life three times in a row. In my mind, this was just some more of the same weird shit that always happened to me.
If anything, I viewed my circumstances as par for the course, and had no plans to change a thing. I vowed to myself in that hospital, that I'd keep going, and with a vengeance.
I was taken to L.A. County Hospital by two girls from the building, and the big guy who had carried me out of my room. After they got me to emergency, and said their goodbyes, I was placed on a steel gurney and rolled into a crowded corridor, where I stayed for over five hours without any treatment whatsoever.
There I squirmed in pain, hour after hour, periodically breaking down in tears. At times, I could overhear the nurses talking to each other, saying, "He's just a drug addict trying to get pills, there's nothing wrong with him, he's just fakin' it."
I tried repeatedly to catch someone passing by who would help me, but without success. When I couldn't tolerate the pain any longer, I broke down and sobbed openly, begging for help. Finally an orthopedic surgeon was summoned after five hours.
As he began examining my feet and ankle, he became incensed over what he saw. He angrily demanded an explanation from the staff as to why no one had understood the seriousness of the problem. "Doesn't anyone here have eyes?" he demanded. "Did anyone even bother to examine this patient?"
The doctor ordered the same nurses, who had done nothing, to now prepare me for immediate surgery. "Get him ready now!" he yelled. This was a welcome relief to me in the state I was in by then.
As well as the swelling and discoloration of my feet and ankle, the doctor was extremely worried that infection had set in. Also of concern was possible blood vessel injury and nerve damage.
I had been there for hours and nothing had been done, but now I was the center of attention as the doctor continued yelling orders at the now remarkably attentive staff.
As the full scale rush to get me into surgery ramped up, I began feeling the effects of the various medications being fed into my body intravenously. I remember now the sense of relief I felt at the time, as I slowly drifted into unconsciousness on that gurney.
When I woke, hours later, the pain in both my feet and left ankle were singularly the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. As soon as I was able, I pleaded for something to ease the pain, but was told I had to wait until the effects of the anesthesia wore off.
Not too much later, an orthopedic surgeon came by to talk to me about the surgery and damage. He told me my ankle had been crushed, and all the bones in both feet were broken to some degree.
As a result of the massive impact on my body, I also had fractures to my lower vertebrae. He explained that the damage to my ankle was known as a paratrooper break, named for ankle fractures sustained by paratroopers during the second world war. Simply put, my ankle joint had disappeared.
He was still concerned about infection, such as sepsis, and gas gangrene being a problem, as well as nerve, ligament, and muscle damage. I had a cast that ran from the bottom of my left foot all the way up to my left hip, and a cast that ran from the bottom of my right foot all the way up to my right knee.
I would remain in those casts for six months or more, and in bed for nearly that long. As I listened to him going through the litany of destruction to my body, I stopped him saying, "Can't you get them to give me something for this pain, Doc, I can hardly stand it." He paused there and looked at me saying,"You know you've got other problems as well, my friend, that's how this happened in the first place."
"I wasn't trying to kill myself man, really, I thought I could make it," I said. "It was just a lot higher than it looked after being up so high before." "I didn't mean to imply that you were trying to kill yourself," he answered, "but I think the fact that you were up there at all is a pretty clear sign that something is wrong."
"Yeah," I replied. "just about everything in my life is wrong at this point. Just about every single thing I can think of." "What exactly does that mean?" he asked. "Well, I been in the music business for a lot of years, ya know and...," "Yes I heard you were a musician," he said.
"Yeah, well I never got paid for the stuff I did and it makes me crazy, and then I get loaded and...," He gently interrupted me saying, "I think I get the picture, Bobby. You get worked up over what's happened to you and it gets out of control at some point, like yesterday." "Yeah! Exactly! Just like yesterday, it got outta control. It just got completely outta control....."
"Well look," he said. "I'll make sure the nurse gives you something for the pain as soon as we can safely do that. You try to think up some better ways of showing the world you're dissatisfied with it, will you?"
"Yeah, OK Doc, I'll think up safer ways to be pissed off." "There you go," he said smiling, and turned and walked off through the ward. Later, a nurse came by with a shot of morphine, and I soon drifted off to another place....