Thoughts on Independence Day: I have very little at the moment. Independence, I mean. I have plenty of thoughts, Bub. I’m back in the hospital with an infected ankle incision, and I am dependent on nurses for almost everything — or confederates outside, almost none of whom will bring me tobacco. That is, if I smoked. Which I don’t. And Nixon didn’t have a list. I am dependent on crutches again and thought I’d seen an end to that a month ago. I’m thinking quite a bit about independence, probably because the lack of it shows up so well by contrast.
Among my thoughts on Independence Day, the holiday, are that ideally it would evolve away from beer-soaked trailer-park patriotism and become more a celebration of autonomy, resourcefulness, and distinction, rather than conformity. (We can keep the fireworks. In fact, we should make them more accessible.) Take myself, an example of resource and autonomy. When told in the emergency room I would have to be on IV antibiotics for five days at Mercy and surgery would be likely, I knew that the doc’s estimation of my anesthetic needs would be inadequate. I talked them into letting me return home for a couple of hours to “get my affairs in order should I lose the leg.” To which Dr. H. (a Manchurian, unless I miss my guess) responded, “Right. From knee down! Worst-case scenario!” He seemed eager. I went back to my digs for my long-abandoned prescription of Dilaudid tablets and some underwear.
A month earlier I had approached this stuff with caution after first taking two of them with dinner on a Friday night, only to wake up drooling in front of Saturday-morning cartoons. I knew nothing about Dilaudid except an anecdote involving Lenny Bruce getting busted for the stuff in a hotel room. The cops had a warrant, saw a scattering of the pills on a night table, and asked Bruce what it was. He told them, “Aspirin.” When they opened the night-table drawer and saw the syringe, one of them asked, “What’s this for then, Lenny?” To which the comedian answered, “I hate the taste of the stuff.”
And so, secreted in a crush-proof box with a dwindling supply of cigarettes — which I had to smoke five floors down, across half a block of hospital, in a kind of loading dock/toxic waste/smoking area, to and from which I propelled myself via crutches — I was somewhat prepared for post-surgery and the changing and re-packing of the wound.
After the nurse administered two 15 mg morphine pills and departed, I swallowed 16 mg of the Dilaudid for a total dosage 46 mg of controlled substance narcotics that should thoroughly sedate a mature wildebeest.
I endured the post-surgery with the help of even more synthetic opiates via IV for a total of God-knows-what dosage. And 12 hours later, when the dressing had to be changed and re-packed, I repeated the Dilaudid-morphine collaboration. This enabled me to endure the ministrations of Nurse Dietrich with minimal girlish weeping. Tears were covered as well by my choice of television viewing during the procedure. It was a Disney-type sci-fi kid’s movie called Zathura: a Space Adventure, and it was very well done, I thought. When one of the kid players in the movie uses his shooting-star wish to bring back the wished-away brother of the marooned astronaut, I cried unashamedly, mostly from the physical pain, of course, but it was still a moving scene.
Twelve hours later: shift change for nurses and time to change my dressing once again. Loren has relieved Dietrich, and when she enters with scissors, gauze, and sodium chloride, asking what I’m watching on TV, I tell her Father Goose, the old Cary Grant war comedy. “I love this movie,” she tells me. “It’s so funny.”
It has been 45 minutes since the pain-med cocktail, and my roommate’s transformation is complete. He has turned into a human rat. His gray mustache and sunken cheeks, his bed-head gray hair, his eyeballs buried in raccoon-like rings shifting a good 45 degrees out of long prison habit to take in any signs of guards approaching, and his constant scurrying around the hospital room, sniffing, chewing, smacking, nibbling corn flakes, beans, tortillas, popsicles, enormous amounts of food (belching and farting), all the while keeping up a running, mumbled conversation with himself punctuated with the phrases, schizzleferhizzle and that’s what I’m talking about and yippee kiyay hiyoh! in perfect imitation of human speech. All of these things conspire to form one of the most outstanding and vivid life-sized hallucinations I have ever managed.
Meanwhile, Cary Grant and Leslie Caron are getting tipsy on scotch on some island in the South Pacific; and in the throes of the poppy’s influence husbanded by modern medicine, I ask Loren, “You got any whiskey around here?” I’m sure I laughed, just to underline my terrific sense of humor, but she didn’t, saying only, “I’ll be with you in a minute.” She came to my bedside a few minutes later, leaned over and whispered, “Do you really feel the need for alcohol?” My face must have looked much the way it did when I woke up in front of Pinky and the Brain on television that distant Saturday morning: slack-jawed and moronic. “Ahh, no. No. Why would…? It was a joke…the movie…”
It turns out, the hospital actually gives alcohol to alcoholic patients who, I suppose, might go into a seizure otherwise. I would have to get a look at my chart; someone had probably written Hopeless drunk. Watch him. He will suck the isopropyl out of swab pads.
I have little room to be indignant. After all, I’ve smuggled in enough drugs to drop a less-robust man. That it hasn’t is an indication of a tolerance nurtured by the very personnel I am dependent upon now. So among my thoughts on Independence Day are those of dependence, you see. And like our forefathers, I, too, long for its opposite. Meanwhile, if my roommate calls me Johnny again around an open mouthful of food, I will dose his Cheetos.