I’ve lived to write about my visit to the Sunken Place. And my awakening ….

Monday, July 31

That morning, I had such a taste for Oro Blanco grapefruit! I imagined grabbing 5 huge, sweet globes while strolling the Altadena Farmer’s Market. But the market wasn’t open. Next stop: Whole Foods, where I’d last bought a few.

That evening, I walked the produce aisle. No Oro Blanco grapefruit, but I bought two ruby red joints hoping to soothe my craving. I put them in the refrigerator and imagined a morning scented by citrus.

I woke up at 4 am. I could barely breathe. Beyond shortness of breath, it felt like I was drowning. This was day two of accelerating symptoms I’d been tracking on walks I took during my Nicholson Residency and then on a visit to my daughter’s home in Atlanta. I chalked up my exhaustion to the heat – the humidity of the ATL and then the dry summertime of SoCAL.

But in the quiet of the Altadena night, I couldn’t avoid the ominous echo – and rising panic – of my straining heartbeat.

I dialed 911, which dispatched a four-man team from the fire house a few blocks north of my crib. They quickly discerned I needed to be taken to the emergency room. Enroute, ironically, the more oxygen I was given the more claustrophobic I got. I heard myself moan. I fainted.

From my medical file at Huntington Hospital:

“PERICARDIOCENTESIS (07/31/2023 10:17 AM PDT) Emergent pericardiocentesis performed by the subxiphoid approach with fluoro and ultrasound guidance. 650 mL of serous fluid was removed from the pericardial cavity. The pericardial drain was left in place. Once no drainage from the drain, will remove.”

Tuesday, August 1

Drifting on no memory. Stillness. Floating in breathlessness. Nothing. All Directions. No Directions. Sensationless.

From my medical file at Huntington Hospital:

[08/01/2023 7:21 AM PDT] EXAM DESCRIPTION: XRAY CHEST 1 VIEW FRONTAL PORTABLE; CLINICAL HISTORY: Intubated respiratory failure; FINDINGS AND IMPRESSION: Small-moderate-sized bilateral pleural effusions with underlying infiltrate/atelectasis. Difficult to compare with the prior examination given the different positioning. Heart and pulmonary vascularity within normal limits. Interval insertion of a right IJ catheter whose tip is in the mid SVC. No postprocedural pneumothorax. Stable endotracheal tube and nasogastric tube.”

Wednesday, August 2

“He’s waking up.”

After three days of silence, my awareness drifted toward her voice. I could neither see her nor discern where I was, but I felt a moment of wonder that I existed again. Almost instantaneously, wonder blurred into a strange paranoia that revealed itself as a lattice of wrought iron in front of my eyes. The air felt heavy. I felt lost. I felt trapped.

I don’t know how long I drifted in a hazy state – did I faint again that day, that hour? – before I recognized my daughter and my son, who had flown in from the east coast. They saw me sedated laying in the ICU. I held their hands. I cried myself into consciousness. And truly began two weeks of recuperation at Huntington Hospital.

For the next two weeks, I was immersed in the low-key cacophony of a hospital during the first long-term hospital stay of my life. Beeps and PA announcements. Visits from rotating crews of nurses at all hours of a day. Unscheduled exams by doctors updating me on lab reports, guiding me through speech therapy, struggling to explain why my kidneys failed. Weathering even that particular night when I tripped out completely and flung profanities at anybody who crossed my path, including my kids.

Grooved Pavement Ahead

3-day GoGo of passion  cell division  carnivale
implode into the tumbao of his ecstatic life

on day one
gleaming Black hands cupped sunrise
trembled through the parting hours
hovered   descended  drawn to combustion between man & woman
electrified by downstroke from all directions
gliding magic perfuming their look of love 
igniting their seamlessness
Black hands cupping lovers
feeding them gravity of dancers orbiting invisible meaning

on the second day
9 blindfolded Monarch butterflies
fluttered against midnight
wing-to-wing in a sliver of sight through closed eyes
dropped & draped the cooing between mother & father
enfolded by sleep stitched from the velvet of satisfaction
butterflies alighted lovers’ head-to-toe
wings droning with a choir’s amen to life
annealing from the forge of relentless recombination

three days in
a riot of becoming in the vows of loved ones
circles fused   hands raised  guarantees to humbly protect this stirring  
who will guide us through chaos & into Grooved Pavement Ahead

We give you permission   We show who you need to be   We your people

It’s too early to know if I can expect to write poems as a resuscitated man, if not a resurrected man.

Time will tell.

For now, the truest poetry, the poetry I’m most grateful for? 

It’s the care I received from the cohort of nurses from the ICU to my last room before discharge. They answered my questions, crushed medication into apple sauce when my throat was too weak from intubation to swallow large tablets, and they washed me from the ‘rooter to the tooter!’ Two night nurses, who happened to be brothers, even stayed calm during two nights when I was hallucinating about an explosion. All they did was go about their jobs as if they were front-line medics wearing halos!

The names of these great health care servants have faded, but I haven’t forgotten their personalized professionalism.  

Count me among the music makers who will forever sing their praises!  

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “….  But I have come to discern that this unbidden, flu-ridden, rite of passage was a genuine Round the Way Initiation. I had a 20-something revelation that I could face what scared me, what scarred me, what stymied me, but only if I invested in my own genius and established my own elemental endowment. I sensed I had discovered a sensual and regenerative operating system for the rest of my life, to deal with my drama, to activate my potential, to consolidate my triumphs. My insights have distilled over the years into my own mantras. Accountability is the midwife of credibility. Refuse the siren song of blame. Withstand the sting of conviction. Measure your own value and distinction. Recognize that creativity is my ally in the worst seasons. Apply creativity in the worst seasons. Start at the age epiphany strikes. Trust that familiar tools, currencies, and modes often come embedded (encoded?) with motivation, abundance, and exhilaration. Don’t let the snap, crackle, pop of new grooves throw you off beat. Communication is the currency of collaboration. Never be afraid to wear your Griot Clothes. Then repeat, peep game, adopt lessons, evaluate. Repeat, peep game, adopt lessons, evaluate. Repeat, peep game, adopt lessons, evaluate. Until, like compound interest on a spiritual exercise regimen, life affirming patterns can become lifetime practical habits .…” https://blackmanofhappiness.com/shop/

17 thoughts on “911”

  1. Wow. I am pretty speechless. Things happen. Yet, you shared. I applaud and do hope they know what it was that sent you into a tailspin. One Love, big bruh.

  2. Peter,
    what a brave, beautiful, and frightening encounter with your body…and the medical teams with whom we find ourselves learning a new language! I am all-in cheering on your continued recovery and celebration of life. I am grateful for you and what you are giving to the community of hearts and souls near and far!

    Wild best,

  3. I love how you pondered…” if I can expect to write poems as a resuscitated man, if not a resurrected man”, and then proceed to write the most profoundly poetic description of your caretakers. You were in good hands, carried by angels and…YOU♥️ARE♥️BACK🙌🏾🙌🏾

  4. Terrifying, and should strike home with Everyone–except with those people convinced that it’s impossible THEIR lives could turn around within hours, or a moment, or those people who think good health and strength come with a guarantee from the metaphysical Powers-that-Be. Every time we open our eyes in the a.m. we should be happy we did. And if we can climb out of bed without a hangover, or something much worse — even better.

    Often, people complain to me about “modern medicine.” I usually say I much prefer it to pre-Modern medicine. It saved my life once, probably twice, whereas leeches and herbal remedies would not have done the job.

    I first read this quickly and thought you’d picked up the desperate heart ailment from a grapefruit! I was about to swear off grapefruit forever. Then I reread the beginning and saw that you’d been Looking Everywhere for a grapefruit but could not find any, or none that we’re ready-to-go. Now I’m resolved never to let my refrigerator run out of grapefruit. OR — if I get a sudden craving for grapefruit, I’m going to take my pulse.

    I’m glad you survived this harrowing experience, Peter. I believe you’ll return to your poetry with new inspiration and much to say.

  5. I love Oro Blancos! I love the detailed way you write. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself. 🙏🏾🙌🏾
    Sending my love😍

  6. So glad to hear from you, Peter – I had heard from Lisa that you had a medical crisis, but that was all I knew. I’m happy to see that you are recuperating- what a scary experience. Look forward to hearing that you are thriving – and back to doing the things that you love! Juana

  7. Golden State to Sunshine State Swaddled in a panoptic State of Grace into infinity
    Breathe, you have arrived, rest as you heal

  8. Wow! Thank you for sharing. Your poetic rendering of your experience was masterful and sobering. May the best of health and recovery be yours. Hope to see and hear you soon.

  9. The most delicious Oro Blanco grapefruit was given to me by Gloria. I can still how it tasted. So good. I’m glad that you’re writing and healing.

  10. I am so happy because the King still reigns Supreme! I said to myself that he will need time to get settled, to gently readjust and get his grounding and here you are tellin it all! 🤣
    Giving thanks for your resilience and your open testimony! Amen! A’se! Adupe! You are resurrected and shouldn’t we all have the chance to be renewed! We send light and love to you for daily improved health and wholeness! A’se O!

  11. Peter, you’ve always (since I’ve known you) been a gift to this world. You were almost lost, and were found again, thankfully for our community, for poetry, for the world as far as we can absorb it. May you be fully healed much sooner than anyone expects, and may your poetry soon soar higher and more beautifully than ever.
    With gratitude,
    Thelma Reyna

  12. Little brother, you just scared the crap out of me. But you did it with such clarity of style and elevation of language and images until I am profoundly impressed by the rhythm of your near death experience. I’m glad you’re still here a little brother, I’m glad you’re healing and I will be praying for your improved health daily. Obviously it’s time for all of us to get together again. None of us are getting any younger. Love you much.

  13. Peter:
    Peace, love, and power –held and passed along and moving closer to standing strong…again…mo’ better throughout this moment’s stormy, offspring angels all up inside the scene weather. When nothing else would do, lots of particular love and light lifted you. Keep coming…hour by hour, one day at a time. Keep going. See you. Looking forward to seeing more of your clear, compassionate, cussing, caressing, tough and tender, “relentless recombination” virtuosity light and spirit. Love you, Bro.


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