San Diego This past 90 days or so have been the worst of my life. Even 14 months of cancer treatment in '86 and '87 weren't worse. Since late August, I've been either hospitalized or drunk in between hospital stays for multiple maladies: cardiac, bronchitis, pancreatitis, other stuff. I was given a new pacemaker and defibrillator. A huge amount of this hell is my own fault for the lifestyle and consistently bad choices I have made since childhood. The truth pure and simple -- and I do try to keep to the truth in this column; and while I think I have been 90-some percent successful, with some glaring exceptions, I still wonder. Like Peter Lorre's line in The Maltese Falcon, "...but it is the truth." As if it was some completely irrelevant or at least inaccessible concept to a thoroughly corrupt soul.
Another characteristic of this column (as is often pointed out to me, as if I'm unaware) is the element of self-pity. Well, I gotta be me. It is a characteristic, or a character defect, whichever you prefer; you're probably right if you consider this a defect because it raises hell with me and those around me and is a great source of my drunkenness and demoralization. This column will be no different, so if you have no patience for that kind of crap, go on to the used-RV-sales listings or turn back 100 pages or so to something more interesting.
Some notes from the first seven-day stay at UCSD Medical Center: "It is now Saturday morning, 10 a.m. I have been here since Wednesday afternoon. On the one hand, I am fearful/anxious/dreading; on the other, I am bored for the first time in years. In this way, a hospital stay is much like flying: simultaneously tedious and terrifying. I will be operated on for a new bypass on Monday (my son's birthday). Minor surgery, they call it...as if any of it is minor. You are cut open, artificial shit (stainless steel) is implanted next to your heart (the seat of the finest and most bitter of things human), and it will be done by students, theoretically supervised by pro electrocardiologists. Any complications, say, a slip of the scalpel on any of the three wires connected to my most vital muscle , or the accidental detachment of any one of those wires they attempt to dock with subtle manipulations, and they will send me to hell -- a new, more refined hell. Though, I must say, they all seem to have fine, articulated, and nimble Asian fingers. They warned me to this effect that 'If your heart starts doing a bizarre kind of rumba and you start to go, don't worry, we'll bring you back with these paddles. Unless, of course, you don't want us to. We need your permission for such heroic measures.
"My response under anesthetic, as I recall, was something like, Fuck you. If it's time to go, it's time to go. Had I not been drugged, I doubt I would have been as fearless."
To be more concise, this is what followed in the next three months.
I would return to the hospital after the anesthetic wore off after having swilled most of a fifth of whiskey; an idiotic move, but one motivated by pain, pharmaceutical drugs, and my constant companion: the demonic compulsion to drink. This would, in turn, induce more chest pain, inflame pneumonia somehow, and play havoc with my pancreas (I don't even know what it is supposed to do). This went on for over three months.
At the end of this time, rendering myself pretty much unable to work, I paid no rent. At any moment now I shall be evicted.
Over Thanksgiving weekend I found myself flat broke and forced to sober up. A friend brought some frozen food over. After having quit smoking for two months, I found some old cigarettes and chain-smoked them through Sunday night. Sleepless, I found myself wallowing in and replaying every bad move I'd made in recent months. So many of them presented themselves, I considered suicide and realized that not only was I a coward in this area, I had no idea how to go about it. And not only that, I found I really did fear the more refined, above-mentioned hell I was told awaited suicides. Another aspect of that was the realization that suicides often doom their children to the same fate. My son has had enough trouble.
I suppose I should gladly exchange three months of hell for an eternity of it, but I still can't help but wonder why I brought this down on myself. I don't feel like I've been a bad person, though I've done enough so thoroughly wrong I maybe deserve a bad case of acne or, say, polyps.
I know guys who have had it worse: like the guy in the hospital bed next to me for a while -- gawd! What a cheery but terribly afflicted character; someone who made my troubles look like those of a sitcom character with tennis elbow. I don't know how people get through them. I've prayed, of course, and that worked to a large extent. Still, I have no idea where I'll be living a week or two from now, probably some institution or another, and I probably -- no, undoubtedly -- need it, though I do not want it.
On the other hand, almost everything I have ever wanted has led down a corridor so dark it not only eclipses light, but, like a black hole, lets none escape.