Long story short, here I am, 69 years young and (knock-wood!) far from ending my dance on Funhouse Earth. From Day One I found the joint an absolute wonderland filled with infinite possibilities and shining people, and still do (and yes, people shine, every single one of them, you’ll just have to trust me on this). I was just that kind of kid, curious as hell and constantly amazed by the crazy shit I found (or better yet, found out). I figured out early on this was the place for me.
Of course it took a while before realizing this shiny world of ours is lined with treacherous booby traps every step of the way, and that probably began dawning on me while getting my first set of stitches. Only eventually do you find out that most of them are created by (and seriously, WTF here?) people who love you.
For that we must give thanks to an incredibly complex set of neuroses, myths and fears that have been honed, expanded and codified over the millennia, ever since we arrogant quadrupeds had enough time on our opposable-thumbed hands to think about anything other than our loins and our lunch.
Those family-inflicted calamities are bad enough, and have ruined more lives than there are tears to cry for them, so imagine how very fucked are the random disasters, those placed in your path by nature, or dumb luck, or circumstances you’ll never know a thing about.
No need for me to get graphic here, just think of some of the horrific shit that has happened in your own lives, and how outrageous, shocking, damaging and painful it was, plus a few more adjectives you learned the hard way. You get the picture.
Ya see, nobody tells you these things when you’re coming up (god fucking forbid you should have had any warning, even a hint of some of the disastrous shit headed your way like a goddamned laser. I’m just fucking sayin’ here, ya know?). Or maybe they do try to tell you and you’re in one of our periodic bubbles of bliss and we shrug it off, saying “nah, that shit won’t happen to me,” or “I got that covered.”
Well, guess what? The people who don’t have bad shit happen to them are dead already, and no, you don’t got that covered.
Those we love die at the worst possible times, bones break, cars crash, horrible diagnoses happen, people fall out of love, and even entire neighborhoods full of us can disappear in a flash when Mother Nature gets a a hair up her ass. In between all this shit is when we’re supposed to have our fun, barring some wacky crippling condition you never heard of, or one you have heard of. Don’t matter either way, you’re fucked.
Me? I’ve been lucky compared to some, and unluckier than some others I suppose. I’ve been screwed over royally (who hasn’t been?), gotten injured, lost people, gained people, broke hearts, had my own heart broken plenty, had some adventures, some wasted years, experienced growth and incalculable loss. I had sons and grandsons (my 2 current bosses), bunches of great and amazing friends, an unbroken chain of gifted artists in my life, excellent siblings, a magical Mom and a some outstanding and beautiful women who have my eternal gratitude for their kindness in sharing themselves with me.
I’ve been brave when I needed to be brave, mostly, and always regretted the times when I wasn’t, with most of life thankfully falling somewhere in the middle of such exhausting extremes, when you just sort of have to be consistent to make a go of most things. I’m not going to tell you my particulars except for the one thing I will describe here because, what the hell, why give away all my stories at one go?
Technically this is not really a story yet since it is so fresh, what with the events I will describe having just happened, erasing the luxury of perspective that the passage of time gives a story. Hell, it’s still happening and I have no idea how it will turn out other than to say I will move mountains for a happy ending.
On second thought, I don’t think perspective is going to give me any mellow Zen insights concerning this insanity, only a stronger resolve to fight like hell.
Just the fact that I am writing this is proof positive I am recovering, and I count the beginning of my recovery to yesterday, when I finished a line of lyrics without even thinking, finishing the last line a verse of a very promising song I had started just before this whole crazy business began.
You see, it is impossible to create when you are in dire physical pain, you simply cannot focus on anything else.
Now, dire emotional pain is another animal altogether, a prodigious gold mine of a muse that has produced half the works of art we all treasure, in any genre. Can you imagine Edgar Allen Poe as a happy go lucky soccer dad from Boise? Or Vincent Van Gogh as content merchant of tulips in Amsterdam? Or Samuel L. Jackson raised by soft spoken Grammar nazis?
You get the picture; Dullsville, flat soda, stale crusts of white bread, beige, tapioca, Ohio, etc. Well, that’s what you get when the pain is physical, blank white sheets of paper, empty canvasses and silent musical instruments. Which is plenty fucking irritating enough when the pain is not your own fault, but it mocks you when your misery is partly your own damned fault.
Without further rumination (fat chance!), here’s how I came to my recent dire situation: I contracted Cervical Stenosis. Not overnight of course, since, as I believe I mentioned earlier, I am 69 and did not coddle myself, and, like many people who get to survive their wild younger years, eventually developed Osteoarthritis.
This is the “getting old” type of Arthritis that’s mostly responsible for the various sounds you start making when employing chairs after a certain age (pretty sure some noises are genetic, passing generation to generation), and is more achy than painful, and pretty manageable. For me at least. Just about everyone gets it sooner or later if you last awhile
This is not to be confused with Rheumatoid Arthritis that strikes the young, and these poor souls get thoroughly fucked over most of their lives by their RA. I know a couple of such people and I am familiar with how much of a painful struggle life becomes for them, so I did my exercises and my physical therapy when I needed it and kept my stenosis and arthritis at bay.
I also contracted Osteoporosis somewhere along the line, a bone density deficiency, but that’s very treatable and painless and not even a factor in this chronicle. My only other defect was high cholesterol, also under control via medication. All in all, I was not much different than ever, still slender, still moving well and basically in decent shape.
So there I was, absolutely nailing being a grandpa, enjoying the love of my mercurial Louise more than ever after our 30 exciting years married, still able to sing my ass off and sling my guitar across stages and studios, and enjoying one of the most prolific periods of creativity of my life, writing more songs than I know what to do with (anyone out there got a band in need of original tunes? I have a serious catalogue here, mucho variety.) and on top of all that writing down some of the family chronicles for my curious grandson John.
You know those Summers where everything is going so good you’re waiting for the hammer to drop? Well, I was cruising so high I forgot about the hammer, and all those damned boobytraps. You’re never too old to do dumb shit even when you’re old enough to know better.
Starts with a little car crash on July 11. Right in my neighborhood, just blocks from the house. Stopped at the corner of E. 56 & Ave N waiting for the light to turn green, which it does, so I go. So does the guy in the oncoming lane, only he turns left, right into my driver-side door, polite as can be, eyeball to eyeball across the hood of his car which was now imbedded in my door.
Now that was a jolt. Who expected the guy to turn left like I wasn’t even there? I pulled out of the middle of the intersection and double parked on the corner right near the old American Legion Hall, now a brand new Haitian church. I got out of the car, surprised that the door even opened since it was smashed pretty good. I took personal inventory and felt alright, but knew from experience this could be a false reading due to the adrenaline rush I could still hear ringing in my ears after the crash.
Now to see if the other guy’s hurt, and I noticed he got out of his car nimbly enough, even if he’s stopped right in the middle of the intersection, and for some reason starts picking up dislodged car parts lying on the ground and setting them down in a neat pile a few feet away, looking a bit bewildered. He’s doing this odd bit of urban beautification even though the traffic resumed flowing all around him as soon as the light changed, honking their horns, either in frustration at having had to slow down, or disappointment that there was no mangled wreckage, flames or bloodshed to justify this inconvenience to their appointed rounds.
Brooklyn people can be a jaded lot, expecting either drama to unfold, or it falls beneath their notice. They saw a very minor accident with both drivers seemingly none the worse for wear, so they resumed their usual mindset of being in a hurry to get to no place in particular. With no carnage to rubberneck, traffic resumed on both sides of the guy, so I’m thinking he’s in shock or stoned or some shit, so I motion to him to pull across the street by the bus stop in front of a smoke shop and a glass and mirror place, then held up my wallet, the universal sign for “let’s exchange information.”
Guy finally snaps out of it, nods to me and makes the appropriate hand gestures that he understood me (hands are one of the official languages in Brooklyn), then, suddenly ignoring his neat little pile of parts of my car, slowly climbs back into his vehicle, which I’m guessing was a 12 or so year-old SUV similar to mine and the hundreds you see on every street, I figured I’d find out soon enough as I reached for my phone to take pictures of his car, license and insurance documents, the usual rigmarole for minor accidents in New York City these days.
Police do not even respond to car accidents anymore unless someone is injured. That’s the new policy, and a good one, no longer tying up both the citizens’ and the cops’ time on routine paperwork. Instead, the drivers are expected to share their information and each file an accident report to the DMV in Albany, a form you can easily download from the nystate.gov website. This saves many hours of your day compared to the previous method, since cop cars are sometimes off doing serious cop stuff and unavailable for refereeing every fender bender that happens in a giant city. Outside of our major highways, most NYC car accidents are minor.
I’m really aggravated at the other driver by now, naturally, but determined to keep my cool and let the insurance adjusters work out the details. My car door would need replacing but it still opened and so did the power window, so I could drive it away. His car seemed fine too, and indeed was in fine running order when he hit the gas and fled the scene before I could cross the street.
Now I’m flabbergasted, which I had never been before, so that was interesting. Let me assure you, being flabbergasted is a combination of fury, inertia, confusion and being at a sudden loss for words, which had definitely never happened to me before. Who runs from an accident in this day of security cameras and cell phones? I can’t process dumb like that.
Next thing I know, a guy is tapping me on the shoulder, handing me the guy’s license plate number written down on a piece of the cardboard wrapping of the new windows he and a crew were installing in the new church/Legion Hall. Turns out he wrote one number or letter wrong, and the only car in the country with that combo on its tag was in the Texas driveway of an an elderly couple, to whom my Geico rep had spoken via Zoom call.
Okay, let’s go to the videotape then! 3 of the 4 corners were occupied by commercial properties with prominent security cameras, but only the smoke shop had a camera focused on the intersection, and they were gracious enough to text me the entire video of the accident. I must have watched it 20 times by now, but unfortunately the license plate number never did get any clearer, it was too blurry to make out.
Now I’m thinking hey, a huge company like Geico must have the resources and technology to track down runaway drivers, especially with a partial plate and a crystal clear video, without a problem, no? Well… no, no they do not, perhaps hesitant to cut into their cute TV ad budget.
So I turn to the Police Department, figuring leaving the scene of an accident is still a felony and they will want to get people like this off the streets, blahblahblah etcetera etcetera.
Well, it’s not like on TV when Lenny Briscoe used to find his man using an old dry cleaning ticket and a matchbook from one of his favorite old gin joints before he dried out. The Detective Bureau of the 63 Precinct assured me I was on my own here, and intimated that I’m just looking to get out of paying my $1,000 deductible towards the repair on my car.
“Of fucking course I am, Detective! The little twerp crashed into me when I had the right of way, then fled the scene. I should pay a grand for that privilege?”
“No injuries were reported that day, so…”
“What if I’m injured now? I’m sore all over today, happens a lot with crashes, you must know that.”
“Then you have to sue the Uninsured Drivers Fund.”
“The what? If they had fucking funds, wouldn’t they would be insured drivers?”
“You pay for it. A feature of No-Fault Insurance is that a piece of every premium you pay goes into that fund. Don’t forget, sometimes uninsured drivers kill people, or maim them terribly. The Fund pays for their medical care and monetary settlement awards.”
“Well live and learn, I never heard of it.”
“Don’t say a cop never taught you something worthwhile. If you need medical care get a lawyer and sue Geico,”
“But they are my insurer, won’t I be suing myself?”
“Nope, as per your rights as a victim, you will be suing the Uninsured Fund. Strictly legit and the proper way funds get distributed under No Fault Insurance.”
So, that’s what I did, got a lawyer and sued Geico/Uninsured Fund, and naturally the lawyer knew just what to do. First he sent me to a Neurologist, Dr. Krishna, who ran all manner of expensive brain scans, offered me “pain killers” (code for addictive opioid pills, a battle I’m too old to fight), but at least he kept true to the “first, do no harm” part of the Hippocratic Oath and sent me tons of lidocaine patches (which have been my new best friends) and a curious plastic back brace no one ever measured me for, and that’s still in the box.
Then there was the Orthopedist the attorney sent me too, a big shot with a big office on Kings Highway, right next door to Maimonides Hospital, Dr. Victor Katz, a man of impeccable reputation I was assured. I had informed my lawyer and both physicians of my preexisting conditions, having learned long ago that the two people you don’t lie to in this life are your lawyer and your doctor.
Dr. Katz prescribed another round of physical therapy and many different scans of my spine, torso, brain and neck, performed in certain testing labs unfamiliar to me “because they are the only ones who perform this particular test,” which seemed hardly likely in New York City, the city with the largest medical infrastructure on Earth, but I shrugged it off, figuring certain doctors like the work of certain labs.
I know it sounds like I was looking for reasons to trust the guy, and I guess I was since I did not really care for the man. Instead of dressing like a doctor, he favored open collared shirts highlighting his curly chest hair, now mostly gray, and wearing the skinny jeans of a younger man with a waist for a smaller one than his.
He looked like he once rocked the look, and still acted the restless young stud, the kind of guy ever on the balls of his feet, looking past you towards the next destination, like he’s running late for cheating on his wife.
I tend to trust doctors, however, and never got screwed over by one before, so I cut the guy some slack for being a bit of a jerk. Besides, I truly welcomed the PT sessions with the gifted Doctor of Physical Therapy, Jeanne Seepaul of Evolve Physical Therapy in Mill Basin. She had helped me before and is familiar with my issues, and is just generally one of the cooler humans on the planet.
I was getting glimpses of the corrupt financial juggernaut that is the No-Fault Insurance industry, so I should have been leery when Katz told me he could end my spine pain altogether with an epidural shot to the base of my spine that not only did not ease my pain, but drove it into the stratosphere. I spent the next 2 weeks writhing in pain while Victor Katz ducked my calls.
Then he was suddenly available to me, apologizing that the epidural “did not take“ and promising me that I needed another shot now, this one in my upper spine to counter the effects of the bad epidural.
“Did not take? Are you fucking kidding me, Doc? It took me to fucking hell is where it took me, and you would not even talk to me! I was in too much pain even for PT!”
“Legally you have to wait 2 weeks between shots, so I set you up for tomorrow,” and in my pain and confusion, I made my second disastrous decision of the month and told him; “Doc, you better get this one exactly right because I can’t take much more of this shit.”
I’m figuring at this point what are the odds of Doctor Bigshot Kings Highway fucking up 2 delicate spinal procedures in a row on the same patient? Turns out in hindsight it was 100%.
I was brought into a large shiny room full of such unrecognizable apparatus that if was not staffed by humans I could have been convinced I was an abductee in a UFO, then placed on my knees staring at the floor, able to see nothing, but hearing Katz’s droning voice again and again saying “image…image… image” as some sort of machine was maneuvered, guiding the needle to that sweet spot in my upper spine that would end my torture.
Afterwards I was chauffeured by a car service to my home, where I woke up hours later to the worst pain I ever experienced, more pain that I thought a person could even feel (another misapprehension on my part.). It was like I had somehow survived being run over by a steamroller and had every rib crushed, set on fire, and then the jagged burning shards were rolling around scraping against one another.
The kind of pain that had you alternately sweating and hyperventilating while your heart pounds like a triphammer. Helluva way to get your cardio in, but that how things stood a few times a day.
Of course my wife’s freaking out, since she’s been ill with an internal disorder herself and did not need a moaning crazy eyed husband stalking the house. Things came to a head a week ago when I missed playing the NYC Marathon with the Tash Brothers Band. I don’t miss gigs, period, and this year’s Marathon was our 30th in a row and very special to all of us.
Of course Dr Katz was avoiding my calls, so by late afternoon I wound up in a hospital, who did next to nothing for me before sending me home 4 hours later, still in pain, but they were oh so nice and wished me well in a very sincere way.
Next day I found a pain management doctor who listened to my tale of woe and gave me another shot, this time one that actually worked.
Sort of, anyway.
It took the worst of my pain away, but replaced it with severe neck pain that forces me to lie down for 15 minutes with my head hanging over the end of the bed every so often to calm it down.
My next stop this past Friday was Louise’s Chiropractor, a very good man who does not want his name used, nor does he want any part of the Russian and Italian mob-dominated No-Fault ripoff industry.
That, however, is not my beef (let some young muckraker reform that massive ripoff machine), and for all I know this system is better than the one it replaced, I don’t really know.
My beef is with Doctor Victor Katz. Of course part of my paperwork was signing a release absolving him from liability should his treatments go horribly wrong (they sure fucking did), so I can’t sue the guy, nor do I want to.
I only want to warn other people about him and his happy shots that so he doesn’t harm anyone else. His website will soon have an honest rating from me.
I will recover from Victor Katz, but someone else might not. If I say nothing, then I’m like the rape victim who shields her rapist out of shame while he rapes again. I can’t sue him, I’m most likely barred from his office, so all I can do is call him out. Oh, did I mention his name is Victor Katz of Kings Highway? Stay away.
Bottom line, I remain a sappy guy always looking for silver linings, so I came away with one thing to be thankful for, knowing just how bad people’s physical pain can get. I had no true frame of reference before, and now I fucking do, whoopie. Not exactly the outcome I was hoping for, but the one I got.
Now the trick is to find the strength never to say “That’s not as bad as the time I…” when others mention their own severe pain. Unless of course the guy’s an asshole, then all bets are off.