So a few months ago, I decided to write down some of my thoughts and experiences with death. I was dealing with a breakup at the time and I wanted a new writing venture that would not only take up a lot of my time, but also make me totally desirable to ladies. If I’ve learned anything from the popularity of the great Morrissey, it’s that ladies love sad boys. Ladies, and Latino thuggish types.
Anyway, the original idea was to compile all of these stories about my brushes with both my own death and the numerous deaths of my friends into a book. However, once I got into the actual writing of these pieces I discovered something: I was not ready for this level of sad. I’ve been sad before, but not to the level that I was literally trying to think of my friend’s deaths so I could write about them. With that said, who knows where I might be in a few years. Everyone deals with death and writing a book about grieving that isn’t a manual on how to bum everyone out definitely has a place in the world. But not right now, and not one that was written by me. That’s got Cable Guy written all over it.
But alas, I feel the need to share at least something I wrote for the project. This is a story about the time I got hit by a boat when I was 4. If you read the whole thing, I’ll give you some passes to see me at the Joke Joint in St.Paul this weekend.
So my fascination and intense fear of death began when I was four years old. It is the first memory that I have and I still remember it clearly till this day. Sometimes it will sneak up on me during a time of sadness or depression. Other times, I will remember in order to put the rest of my life into perspective. In the summer of 1995, mere days before my family was supposed to get cable TV for the upcoming College football season, I got hit by a boat propeller.
Don’t worry, I survived. The only thing that I remember from that day was my leg. I don’t remember seeing or hearing the boat or the spinning blades of the propeller. I literally don’t remember anything else from that day. I don’t remember the seemingly interminable 45 minute drive up to my godfather’s house. I don’t remember swimming in the shallow part of the lake with all of my friends. I don’t remember the three hot dogs that I wolfed down less than a half hour before that fateful moment. Come to think of it, that’s probably why it happened.
No. All I remember is being carried out of Portage Lake by my Vietnam Veteran dad like he was scooping me out of a rice patty in D’Nang, and then looking down at my leg. It looked like someone took an ice cream scooper to my leg and served up half of my four year old knee and all that was left was a hodge podge of mangled muscle, tendon, tissue and bone. Yea, you read that right, I had very muscular legs as a 4 year old.
When you have half of your leg sliced open by a 90 horsepower boat motor, you oddly don’t feel any pain. According to science and the fact that I am not dead from the agony of having my leg halved, you produce enough adrenaline to keep yourself alive. You basically get stoked enough to keep yourself alive, if I may be so bold to use a skateboard term. You feel the same sensation when you take extremely hard drugs or do a shot of 90% Irish moonshine with your cousins in order to prove to them that the American side of their family isn’t a complete and total letdown.
Even though, you feel what is essentially the same rush as butt chugging an eight ball, you are hyper aware that something has gone very, very wrong. Everyone around you is yelling and screaming and running toward you. Based on previous conditioning and the very basic knowledge that when yelling is happening, it’s not good at all. Therefore, you feel like you have to yell something yourself, just so you can let everyone else know that you’re not a crazy person and can in fact feel pain. It’s odd that even in that time of unimaginable distress, my basic human instinct was still be part of a group. And how did I become part of that group? Simply by yelling “THIS HURTS A LOT”. Way to get to the point, four year old me.
My second earliest memory is waking up. It was three days later. The first thing I asked was if I could go back in the lake to play. I had been placed in a medically induced coma, which is not as sexy as it sounds. If getting hit by a boat is the worst thing you can imagine to happening to a four year old boy, waking up with a catheter has to be a very close and grisly second. I had recently discovered the apparent undying hilariousness of genitals and now my prized comedic possession had a giant tube jammed into it. No one jammed a giant tube into one of Jeff Dunham’s puppets. And my penis wasn’t even slightly racist. Honestly, I would have rather woken up in a pile of urine. That’s the kind of thing my delicate comedy palate would have greatly appreciated, as pee pee is the plucky younger brother of weiners. The Kramer to its Seinfeld, if it were. But again, not even slightly racist.
Also, a burning question to all nurses: is there really a need to us that much tape in order to reinforce said catheter. I know it’s pretty gruesome and it’s definitely not a thing you want flailing around, but it just seems inhumane to wrap that thing up like the blade of a hockey stick. That is the actual definition of adding insult to injury.
“Hey, we already have this plastic contraption in his dickhole, anything else we need?”
“Did you wrap that fucker up with half a roll of masking tape?”
“Of course, I can’t believe I forgot that part. I totally went to college for the better part of decade to put tape on dongs. How stupid of me. When is lunch?”.
I’m paraphrasing, of course.
A lot of celebrities and athletes get a lot of great and positive publicity for visiting children’s hospitals, which is very much well deserved. It’s great that it happens and there should be 12 stories about it in the media for every one story about someone going into rehab or wacking a paparazzi with an umbrella. The only bad thing about it is that it doesn’t happen at all times at every hospital every day. Unfortunately, those celebrities and athletes have to work or whatever. However, I’m sure if they were able to, they would brighten every single day that they could.
At a hospital, most days aren’t bright. Most are just grey. I spent all of July, 1995 in the children’s wing of the University of Michigan hospital, but it might as well have been the dead of the frigid, unforgiving Upper Midwestern winter. It stands to be mention that was the hottest summer in Michigan since the early 70’s. But I don’t remember it like that. I remember everything being a deadening grey. Grey walls, grey walls, grey sheets, grey food, grey windows. It’s like my four year old life was wearing 45 year old divorced lady sweatpants. But instead of “juicy” being printed on the ass, it just said “bummer”.
On a normal day, I would spend most of my time praying that I got a turn on the Super Nintendo. They would wheel it in on a big cart like when you’re teacher would show you a movie. Imagine that same amount of excitement except instead of being in school, you’re in a hospital bed with a tube in your dick.
I wasn’t even good at the games, I just wanted to play because we didn’t have it at home. Those are the only colors I actually remember from that time. Mario’s red cap, Donkey Kong’s orange ape body, Peach’s pink dress. So much color and brightness that you didn’t even notice that the console was the same shade of grey as everything else.
The vast majority of the time that a patient spends in the hospital is devoted to waiting. Your parents and loved ones wait for you to wake up. Then you wait for the doctors to come see you. Then you wait for breakfast. Then you wait for the nurse. Then you wait for your mom to stop watching the garbage Today Show so you can change back to Nickelodeon. Then you wait for lunch. Then you wait for the all important Nintendo. Then you wait for the doctor to come back. Then you wait for the nurse again. Then you wait and hope and pray for some visitors because that means that the outside world has not forgotten that you, for the time being, exist in nothing but a grey void. Then you wait for dinner. Then you wait to fall asleep, just so you can wake up and do it again.
The real thing you’re waiting for is to get healthy and get out of there. So in essence, you’re waiting just to wait. It’s a lot like being in prison. But instead of steel bars, a terrible cot and the impending fear of horrific violence, your prison is your own stupid body. But that’s the kind of thing that happens when you don’t wait 30 minutes to go in the water after eating.
As I mentioned before, my father is a Vietnam Veteran and served this nation (The USA) valiantly in its Army for 26 years. He is the son of a hardworking Irish immigrant who worked upon the railway for 50 years. Additionally, he is a cancer survivor and worked as a loyal public servant of the great state of Michigan for nearly three decades, which is the coolest possible way to say 29 years. In my mind, he is the definition of toughness for the baby boomer generation and provided me with a template for perseverance and toughness.
With that said, I have never seen a human being more terrified than I saw my dad for that month and a half that I was laid up in the hospital. He rarely left my bedside and would watch every inane, asinine second of midday children’s television with me, which for a man of 55 probably made cancer seem like a cakewalk. That feat alone eclipses any military service or bouts with disease that he himself had to go through. If there was anyone who helped me keep my own thoughts of uselessness and loneliness at bay, it was my dad. The amount of love and care that he showed over those ostensibly endless weeks is what a man should be. That and of course a set of testicles.
My mom, somehow, ran point on everything. To say she was a rock for me would be the understatement of the century. She was THE Rock. I mean like pre-film career Rock. When he was going an hour with Triple H for the belt. She was always the one to talk to the doctors to try to get a straight answer when something isn’t happening. She’s the one who is going to make your absence okay with school or work or whomever it needs to be okay with. If there were ever a situation where the President got really sick, y’know with polio or if they got shot in a theater or something, and they needed someone to take care of his affairs (or her, I don’t know what year or what country you’re reading this in) they’d pick Mary Ellen O’Keefe. I’ve never seen anyone, to this day, stand by their partner or their child with the grace and strength that my mom did. Without her, I’d most likely be in a varitable garbage heap right now. And my dad would most definitely be dead. You read that right; there’s absolutely no way that he would have survived that ordeal, or any of his own following medical trials and tribulations (spoiler alert) without knowing that my mom could hold our family down the way that she did.
Obviously, after a few more surgeries, which included the implanting of a metal rod in my leg, I was allowed to leave the hospital. That was supposed to be a great day. But when you’re four years old and in a cast that prevents you from getting out of a wheel chair, there aren’t really any great days. It’s like being moved from the prison like hospital to the less prison like hospital that white celebrities and Wall Street bankers get to go to. All you want to do is run and play instead of having to set next your teachers and smell your cast. In my mind, teachers will always smell like old casts to me. I will touch more on that in another piece about why I didn’t get good enough grades to not grow up to be a comedian.
Whilst I was still in my cast, my dad had what he thought was a brilliant idea. He was understandably worried about the lasting psycological affects that an injury like this would bring to me. In his mind, a trauma like this and its subsequent injury would lead to a lifetime fear… of boats. He imaged that I thought of the lake as a humongous, menacing, fang clad dragon and the boat as his fiery breath that would bring me to my flaming and absolute death. Yes, he was that worried about me being scared of boats.
Therefore, about two weeks after I was sprung from the joint, my dad, along with my godfather who was unfortunately piloting the boat at the time of the accident, went out to the middle of the lake and just sat. They rolled me over to see the propeller that had so recently helped spill three pints of my blood turn on and off to prove that it was in fact not a monster. To this day, I can still remember the ebb and flow of the lake. It was the most motion that I felt in months. I’ll never forget looking at the sunset over the mangled foot of my cast. That image will always give me a sense of peace. It was the first time in my life that my father truly related to me. He wanted me to know that everything that happened was okay. That he and my mother were okay and that I was going to be okay. I feel like that’s one of the most important things that a parent can teach their child, that something can’t beat them. And on that day in early September, that’s exactly what my dad did; for boats.
Unfortunately there was a much bigger fear that was born out of that hell hole of an experience. That is the fear of death. Not just my death, but the death of everyone around me. I hate to admit it, that’s the kind of fear that Super Mario, Celebrity hospital visits or even the great Mary Ellen O’Keefe can’t help.
After I got the cast off, a gigantic scar formed on my leg, which is still there today. It stretches from about the middle of my thigh to the top of my calf on the inside of my left leg. I try not to show it off too much as it is upsetting to look at for people who have never seen it before. Also, my ass looks better in jeans. Regardless, I’m proud of my scar. I consider it more of a battle wound than a scar. This was my first bout with the grim sythe of death and I would live on to tell the tale with a permanent visual aid. Years later, a doctor noticed my scar and predictably mentioned it during a routine checkup. I told him that I wanted to keep the scar and that I thought it looked cool. He replied that chicks dig scars, which is a horrifically inappropriate thing to say to a then seven year old child. Fortunately, he was somewhat right. It is a hell of a conversation starter, which is the terrifying boat propeller of any inter-gender interaction. And I also have an air tight piece of advice when they ask how it happened: Always wait 30 minutes to go in the water after eating.