Thursday, October 20, 2011

Before It's Too Late

So I've had this blog for a while and obviously I don't post nearly enough. Every time I do, I think to myself, "I need to do this more". I almost feel if I am not writing something on it, I'm not experiencing much in life. If life can't inspire me to write something then what kind of a life is it?
Well I suppose something has inspired me, although, inspiration isn't always exciting and happy. Sometimes life sucks. Actually, I don't believe that. I hate those shirts that say, "Life is crap", I hate when people say "FML". I won’t argue that life is easy or life is perfect but ultimately life just is. And sadly, all life….ends. -Hence this post.
Several months ago a friend of mine emailed me that a former co-worker of ours that had been diagnosed with Cancer (I capitalize the word because for many of us, Cancer is personal.) There wasn't much info in the email but it indicated our former colleague "Patrick" (not his real name) had a tough ride ahead and was relocating to New England for better treatment. I worked with Patrick a lot over the years. We weren't that close but certainly had known each other well. He was a really nice guy, good to work with and happily married with 2 kids. I was totally shocked to hear the news and definitely felt horrible. I said to myself "I need to call him." Earlier this year I lost a friend to a suicide. It was someone I hadn’t talked to in about 8-12 months. We had busy lives so we often went months without being in touch. For several months, I often thought, “I need to catch up with Greg” (also not his real name). -But I didn’t. Then it was too late. I had no idea he had suffered from mental illness. I felt horrible for not staying in touch. I couldn’t procrastinate reaching out to a friend again.
It seems that everyone has encountered Cancer somehow in his or her life. Perhaps personally or from a family member or friend. Unlike life, Cancer sucks. Cancer is the opposite of life. I f**king hate Cancer, -with good reason.
I've always had a difficult time explaining to people about neighbors I had growing up. We were very close with the family next door. But people don't really grasp how close. When I say close, I really mean close. They were like family. I considered them second parents. Their daughters were and still are like older sisters. I love my real parents but Stan and Terri next door were a complement to them. I suppose it’s like the way some might feel about their grandparents. Except my neighbors were younger than my parents.
The point of the relationship is this. Stan ended up with Cancer fairly young. Stan was a big guy, handy and could fix anything. He seemed to be able to do anything. Within 6 months I watched my hero, Stan, be completely destroyed by Cancer. He went from a strong able man to a frail old victim in months. I would have never thought I would have to help Stan walk. I would have never thought I would have to order him to take vitamins, because he was always the boss. I would have never thought I would have to physically pick Stan up in order to get him into a car to go to chemo. I would have never thought I’d see Stan look to me for help. I would have never thought anything could beat Stan. I also would have never ever thought I would see Stan weep like a child. But it all happened because of Cancer. I f**king hate Cancer. When Stan battled it, I really considered it my fight too. I’ll always feel that I lost that fight. I hate losing. I expect I'll have another match with Cancer again someday, somehow. It’s a horrible disease that affects so many, so often.
When you go through a Cancer battle, you tend to remember it, It kind of sticks with you. Until recently thinking of Stan was one of few things I could think of in life that could muster a tear to my eye. (More recently, being a fairly new father I find there are other things that can make me a little funny in the eyes, mostly related to my 14-month old son who is awesome! But those are good tears) Because of Stan's battle I really wanted to call Patrick to let him know there were people out there he made an impression on and were thinking about him.
Typically, my life was "busy". The idea of calling Patrick in a few days became weeks then months. Finally, one night at about 3am, when I normally wake up with crazy stuff racing in my head, it hit me that I need to stop wasting time and contact Patrick. The next day, I tried the numbers my friend had given in the email. There were two, one was disconnected, the other was a direct line to a hospital room but the automated response said the person was no longer there. I started to panic. Was I too late? How could I procrastinate about this? Do I not remember how difficult it is for a family to go through? A simple phone call from a distant co-worker could really brighten a day. I reached the hospital operator who connected me somewhere else. Then I was connected somewhere else again and again. Eventually, I was talking to the "records" department. It didn't sound good. It made me feel like it was too late. I got nowhere.
Over the next few days I continued to look up phone numbers and area centers where "Patrick" might be saying but no result. Then I remembered some of the conversations he and I had about his wife and family. It turned out Patrick had a really interesting life. He & his wife owned several properties and even a coffee shop in Canada. I was able to find that shop on Facebook, then his wife's name (she still used her maiden name) and eventually a Google search got me an email address. I emailed his wife, "Cathy", (again, a fake name) fearing the worst and waited.
Days later there was a note in my inbox. To make a long story short, Patrick was still fighting along. Cathy thanked me for the email and was so appreciative for all the people that were reaching out. Patrick was in tough shape but she was going to pass along the email and she hoped to get him back online in a few weeks. Sure enough weeks later, I received an email from Patrick. It was light and conversational, just like his nature always was. He acknowledged it was a tough fight and he was honest about his future. Patrick mentioned just what I expected; the email meant a lot to him. I suppose there is a little self-interest in this whole ordeal because I needed to feel the satisfaction of knowing I was able to get to Patrick. It was an important step for me to remember a small gesture can make a difference. It was some sort of closure. And while that small gesture may end up taking a little bit of work, It is worth it. His response did something for me.
As of this posting, Patrick is receiving hospice care and not expected to make it through the end of the week. Throughout this week I have often paused and wondered, “has he gone yet?” By trade Patrick was a writer. Friend, it's only fitting that you inspired me to write something on a blog that I don't nearly write on enough. It’s the least I could do. So I write this:
Don’t ever hesitate to reach out to a friend. You never know when it will be too late.
Thank you Patrick and rest peacefully my friend. Rest peacefully.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How I Lost My Finger To Pro Wrestling

"Can I take a bump?" I asked. I had never even been in a wrestling ring before. I wanted to feel what it was like to hit the mat. There was an immediate accepting look in my friend Jaime's eye. Jaime is also known as the Jersey Devil in wrestling circles. I think I gained some credibility by using the term "bump", it was wrestling lingo for a fall or hard landing. But I gained more credibility by taking that bump from via an immediate high leap in the air, quick flip, and hard crash right to the mat flat on my back. It's what I expected, the ring had a little give but the impact could still be felt. After I took my “bump”, Jamie was impressed and we were ready to move on to our task at hand- Teaching me how to get "jackhammered". Essentially a move that would have me lifted upside down with my body straight up in the air, my toes probably capping just under the 12 ft mark and a hard crash to the mat.
I was in my former high school's gym just before the doors opened for a charity professional wrestling match benefitting a deceased classmate’s scholarship fund. Marty Boryczewski was working in the Twin Towers on 9/11 and was a victim of the attacks. This event was a benefit for Friends of Marty. The Jersey Devil, Jamie Pitaro, is also a former classmate of mine. We had gotten reacquainted in recent years especially after I learned Jamie worked semi-pro as a wrestler. He had some runs in the WWE and other organizations and now wrestled through his own promotion, D2Wrestling. I'm not that much of a wrestling groupie but I definitely consider it a guilty pleasure. Something I always liked as a kid and kept a little quiet from most of my friends. However the event was my chance. I always joked with Jamie about coming in the ring at one of his events and getting slammed or even something more intense like the jackhammer. So the benefit was perfect. It was in my high school, my hometown, Denville NJ, and it was for charity. We even had an "angle" worked out. (Angle is wrestling term for storyline).

Before the Event
I'm a Councilman in Denville so Jamie thought I should come into the ring as a "heel" (wrestling talk for bad guy) and demand the event be shut down because they didn't have the proper paperwork, etc. Naturally the Jersey Devil is a "face" (good guy). It was a great angle although we revised it slightly. I wasn't ready to actually play myself in the ring, especially as a heel. That certainly wouldn't help the re-election campaign someday. So a slight revision had me playing the part of a state official that was shutting the event down. It was still brilliant.
But let's get back to rehearsing before the event. I was ready for the jackhammer. Pretty simple, Jaime grabs my neck and I jump up and push off from his knee. Sticking my legs straight up as high as I can is the true art of the maneuver. This enables Jaime to hold me up there flawlessly forever. After that hold, we come crashing down. We gave it a shot. Slam! down to the mat I go. Not too bad but I didn't extend my legs enough. We try a few times just the jump and without Jaime actually slamming me and then we do another with the slam down. The second one was a little harder fall but apparently looked great. After I landed, I did recognize, "wow, if you do this a lot, it could start to hurt or I could even see how you could get a concussion” but I only needed to take one more. The doors were going to open in 30 minutes. Jaime sent me on my way and I hurried home to get into my NJ Sport Commission costume- Basically a blazer, tie and jeans.

As soon as the event began, I rushed the ring from a chair in the audience and interrupted, as planned. I worked the mic a little and got the crowd hating me like any good heel would. I insulted the ring announcer, the audience and anyone else who got in my view then I demand to see who's in charge!
CUE Jersey Devil's theme song.
Of course, I acted surprised with the famous surprise look that all wrestlers do. Jaime came out and we banter on the mic like any good wrestling angle. I acted slightly frightened with the "I don't want any trouble" act that wrestlers also do. "I just don't want anybody to get hurt", I exclaim to the Jersey Devil. (That was the cue) The Jersey Devil paused and looked to the crowd who were cheering, "slam him”! He then looked at me then gave me low kick to my stomach, I dropped my fake state papers and up I went for the jackhammer. It was gorgeous. I held my legs perfectly straight and he had me held up there for what seemed like an hour. And the Jersey Devil brought me down harder than ever. I hit the mat hard. I knew when we landed it looked great. I did the standard "ouch my back" move and I slowly lumbered to the side of the ring where my friends were supposed to escort my injured body out. As I rolled over I felt a little scrape near my hand, saw a little blood and thought I must have scraped my finger. These were my next thoughts:
"Uh Oh"
"That's worse than a scrape"
"My wife's going to kill me"
"Wow that's really bad"
"Expletive, I hope Jaime doesn't add more improv moves to this routine"
"Ok, don't let anyone see it"
"Wendy's (wife) going to kill me"
The top of my right pinky finger was twisted and hanging off. While I was telling myself it was just the skin of my pink, I saw the broken bone sticking out on the portion that wasn't hanging off. I knew deep inside, it was bad. It must have come between my body, Jaime and the mat. However, this was professional wrestling! The term "kayfabe" echoed in my head. That means, “stay in character”. It was actually all I could do. There was no first aid at the event, the audience was filled with little kids and I couldn’t alarm anyone. All I could do was mask the injury and stumble out of the ring. As soon as I did, I immediately whispered to my friend, John, who was still in awe of how well I took the jackhammer, "Ok, I really (expletive)-ed up my finger, we have to go the hospital” And away we went, still masking the real injury while I faked an injury to my back. That made it easy to hold my hand behind me as we exited the gym.
(VIDEO FOOTAGE OF EVENT - you can see me notice the injury as I leave the ring, then whisper to my friend that we have to go to the hospital)

Luckily the hospital is only 2 minutes from my old high school. As soon as I enter the ER, the purple-haired check-in girl is impressed. Some of the other nurses are impressed too. "How'd you do that?” -a question that I'd have to get used to. I wanted to make up some really cool story like I was attacked by a shark, or I saved children from a collapsing church, but I then realized --the real story already rocked pretty hard!!! At this point, I still believed they could just re-attach the finger and stitch me up. After I saw the ER doctor, I start to worry just a little. He basically said, he couldn't do anything with it and was calling a hand surgeon, which could take anywhere from 2-4 hours. So I sat and waited with a bleeding hand and the tip of my pinky hanging off. We must have just landed right on the tip of my finger when we came down on the mat, and it just snapped right off.
The nurses were continuously interested in how this happened and my friend John then showed them video. As proud as I was of such an impressive accident, I had to interrupt at one point. "Can I get some pain medication?" I had made it a good hour before receiving any pain meds but now I was ready. You know the pain medication is good stuff when they have to give you another medicine just to combat the side effects of the original pain medication. Two and 1/2 hours later, the Hand Specialist arrived. I just figured we'd line up the Operating Room and go into major surgery to re-attach the tip of my finger. But nope, instead I was shocked to hear. "You've essentially self-amputated part of your finger, they best we can do is finish the job" said Dr. Fox, the Hand Specialist. Then I thought this:
-Shit, Wendy is going away on business this week and I have to take care of the baby
-OMG, I'm going to be like that creepy guy who taught woodshop and was missing appendages. Everyone hated shaking his hand.
Minutes later, I got a couple of painful needles in my hand and Dr. Fox started cutting and sawing away right there in the ER. I texted and took pictures using my left hand as I watched. I even texted my wife Wendy left-handedly writing, "I don't want to hear it, I've learned my lesson", acknowledging to her that she was right about me getting hurt. (Although, I still think I took the move brilliantly and it was truly a freak accident that could've happened playing football). She was at home during the event and I had called her from the ER just saying I cut my hand. She obviously came to the hospital right away and eventually figured out it was more than a cut. At one point the nurses asked her “are you ok” in reference to hearing the news of losing part of my finger. Her classic tough love response was “It’s not my finger”. I got a huge bandage on my hand and home I went minus 1/3 my pinky. I didn't even get to keep the pinky tip. It was just left in a pile of gauze and bloody rubber gloves. It would have made a great locket insert.

Bandaged at the ER

(Arriving at the ER and being bandaged up)

FInger Hanging Off Shot 1, Finger Hanging Off Shot 2)
The next day I woke up, swollen and uncomfortable but managed to avoid the Vicodin I was prescribed. Wendy was completely cordial to me realizing that I needed a little sympathy. She was still not happy or comfortable with leaving me with a 9 month old later in the week while she travelled on business. I thought for sure she wasn’t going to come back and I’d never find another woman. Who’d want to hold my hand with a little stumpy pinky? Two days later that resistance to painkillers broke and I couldn't pop those things fast enough. (Although, after my recovery was complete, I still netted in the positive with a couple of extra Vicodin for a rainy day. )I was still a little worried about getting the rest of the finger infected so I didn't say too much to many people until I could find out everything else was safe. I didn't even tell my parents until over a week later. I kind of figured, my Dad would scold me for being reckless and my Mom would just worry. (Instead when I did finally tell my parents - my Dad seemed to find the story interesting and my Mom was horrified and seemed more concerned that she had a son who was deformed. I actually don't think she ever even asked if I was ok but might have instead asked if a plastic surgeon could put some skin on it to make it look normal. Great priorities. My brothers were shocked and one brother definitely seems to be a little jealous. I’m the youngest and was always the baby, the least tough. But my toughness level was raised 10x when I took a jackhammer, lost a finger and stayed in character –in case I haven’t mentioned that enough. Take that big brother James !)
It turns out, after about 2 weeks, it’s in pretty good shape. One co-worker described my finger as looking like a freshly circumcised penis. (Click here to see shot 2 weeks later) So I think it will take some getting used to. I certainly don’t have nice hands anymore but should get 10% discount off on manicures. Originally the doctor mentioned 4 weeks of physical therapy, but screw that, -that just sounded like a challenge. After 2 weeks I don’t expect to need anything. I’m moving that stumpy little appendage like nobody’s business. I did lose part of a finger but there are people who lose full limbs everyday fighting for our country and other noble causes. Life goes on and I’ll have another great story to tell at dive bars from now on. However, I think I probably will put my short-lived professional wrestling career on the shelf, right next to the spot where I could have put the top of my pinky if I only asked to keep it.