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/