Wayne Michael Reich

Writing ∙ Photography ∙ Art

You Only Live Twice. PT.2 (My Dinner with Elvis)

“You only live twice: once when you’re born, and once when you look death in the face.”
– Ian Fleming, You Only Live Twice.

Hello Blogiteers!

Welcome back to the Snarklands.When last together, I had just started to expound upon my near-death experience back in June of 2009, after engaging in a one-sided battle of wits with the human equivalent of a house plant, an internet twit who went by the name of “Uniquesparrow”. Despite all my best attempts, it never did rise above a minor annoyance, leading me to speculate that if this is the level of adversary that’s available in the PAS these days, I might just have to outsource to Pakistan* to acquire the type of antagonist I’ve grown accustomed to.*

[ can see it now: Hello, my name is Akbar, how may I serve your needs for bitch-slapping today?“”]

Say what you will about former Artbitch scratching post Amy Silverman, PHX New Times’ Mangling Editor and her innate talent for being a triple platinum-plated bitch, but at least she had claws and knew how to use them. Granted, not to any real effect, but at any rate, that shriveled black lump of coal she carries around in her chest and wittily calls a heart was in the right place. There’s an old saying that you judge your success by your enemies, and if we were to get brutally honest, I think it’s fairly obvious that I need to upgrade right quick and get my hands on some better enemies.

A Sherlock to my Moriarity, as it were. Skywalker to my Vader. Batman to my Joker. Skinny jeans to Kim Kardashian. Reality to the Tea Party. Sobriety to Lyndsey Lohan… you get the idea. When the finest someone can throw back at me is the threat of an imaginary lawyer, that’s when I know it’s definitely time to look for a better class of detractor. But as I stated in my last blogvella, there’s been a disturbing development when it comes to my efforts to remain a curmudgeon’s curmudgeon, and that is this- everybody lately has just been so damn nice where I happen to be concerned, and quite frankly… it’s kind of freaking me out a bit.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say there’s some sort of loose conspiracy in regards to making me feel good and/or important. As to what their end game is, I have no idea, but I am sure of one thing- when I’m the one person that some are seemingly turning to for advice on both their career and the PAS, there just has to be an Angel in proximity consecutively blowing a horn while breaking open a sacred seal.

[See: “Revelation”. “End of the World.” “Forthcoming Apocalypse.”]

After years of being marginalized, it’s still feels a little odd to have people ask me for advice, whether it happens to be personal or theoretical. I don’t consider myself smarter than the next guy/gal, nor do I think I truly have a lock on what’s really cooking behind closed doors either. To quote Groundhog Day’s Phil Connors; “Maybe God has just been around a long time and knows everything” an apt analogy as to where my point of view is concerned. After two decades of carving out my niche, I have picked up a nugget or two of sometimes useful information, which occasionally does come in handy.

This small aside: a while back, I was asked by a fellow Creative out to coffee so they could “pick my brain” about their next career move, and as to how they might/should go about it. Naturally, since this was an opportunity to talk at length about my favorite subject hat being me and all the wondrous things pertaining to such, I took them up on it. Plus, to a lesser degree, there was also the fact that someone else was going to be picking up my soda tab, and as an artist, I can never pass up the possibility of free food or drinks.

Actually, come to think of it, I believe that might actually be an actionable clause of my artist union membership. Anywho… after about two hours of thorough and intelligent questioning, I asked why of all the people they knew, they decided that my brain was the one to mine for info. Their response?                 

Dude- you’ve been around forever…  you’re like an artsy dinosaur “

In their defense, they did follow up that with: “I mean that as a compliment.” Ouch. If that is indeed a compliment, I’m sure I don’t want to be around for an insult, as it probably involves the application of both fire and rabidly feral weasels to my favorite body parts.

Some small, yet important, advice: if you want to get on my good side (yes… I do have one) I’d suggest that you never imply that I’m ancient, reptilian, and possess a physiology dependent on environmental heat sources, which permits me to operate at a very economical metabolic rate, while subtly inferring that I may possibly have tiny arms like a T-Rex.

Just saying.

Granted, I may have taken his words a little too hard, due not to what was actually said with good intent, but as to what was stated to me a few days later when I had lunch with a fellow colleague who had started his career at about the same time as I. After hearing my complaint, he merely nodded and said: Well, when you look at it… you kind of are standing right next to me in the tar pit.” Excuse me…Tar pit? Tar pit?!?!?!?

Sure, I may be getting somewhat long in the tooth, but I’m still one of the cool kids, right? You know, the ones standing on the grass, with their Walkmans, and the spiced clove cigarettes, rocking the acid-washed jeans and the British flag t-shirt? Oh, holy ****… I am a dinosaur. A sad point driven home when he followed up with:Ok. You’re not technically IN the tar pit, but at the very least… you ARE standing on my head.”

Great. Now I’m depressed. And I’m all out of Ding Dongs, so I can’t even eat away my emotional pain like I normally would. I seriously need a vacation, and I need it right quick. However. I have a job to do, as I just can’t leave you stranded in the middle of a story, and when it comes down to the brass tacks, seeing it through to the end just happens to be one of my better character flaws. Lately I find myself on the brink of a conundrum, and it’s been a bitch hacking through the jungle with only a metaphorical spork to aid me. The problem is this- recently my health has taken a few knocks due to my Diabetes, and if one were to be honest, I’d have to admit I’m nowhere near fully recovered from my near-death incident in 2009.

By all outward appearances, I look fine, but even though I’ve bounced back from Death’s door, the battle isn’t over yet- not by a long shot. When I finally checked out of the hospital’s ICU, I strode out (gratefully) with my life, but I also left carrying multiple diabetic related issues as well, the two biggest being neuropathy and some serious short/long term memory loss. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to give you the textbook definition of what memory loss is, but when it comes to neuropathy, it’s likely there’s more than a few of you wondering just what in the hell that is, so here goes, straight from the dictionary:

“A disorder of the peripheral Nervous system, It may be genetic or acquired, progress quickly or slowly, involve motor, sensory, and/or autonomic nerves, and affect only certain nerves or all of them. It can cause pain or loss of sensation, weakness, paralysis, loss of reflexes, muscle atrophy, or, in autonomic neuropathies, disturbances of blood pressure, heart rate, or bladder and bowel control; impotence; and inability to focus the eyes.

Some types damage the neuron itself, others the myelin sheath that insulates it. Examples include carpal tunnel syndrome, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, poliomyelitis, and shingles.

Causes include diseases (e.g., diabetes mellitus, [my issue] leprosy, [not me, as I have all my body parts] syphilis, [what killed Al Capone] injury, [possible.. I did play a lot of twiddly-winks back in the day] toxins, [do Ding Dongs count?] and vitamin deficiency. [see: diet of, Ding, Dongs.]

There… doesn’t that sound like fun? Not too shockingly, it really isn’t, as the effects of said condition affects my life in a number of ways. On a good day, it feels like I have a bad sunburn, and on the worst- it feels like I’m being fed feet first into a wood chipper. I also suffer random stabbing attacks in my legs, chest, and sometimes in an area that personally, I feel should be off limits to pain in general as clearly stated under the rules of the Geneva Convention.

A Forbidden Zone, as it were. Strictly Forbidden. Verboten on all levels. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars. Recently, the decreased sensitivity in my feet [another side effect] led to a rather worrying incident- I woke up in the middle of the night to grab a drink, experienced an intense onset of vertigo (aka: a “head rush”) and wound up almost passing out.
[Which BTW, has happened almost a half a dozen times in the last two months. Why? Not a clue.]

This led to my dropping the glass container directly on my left foot, a fact that I didn’t notice until almost 14 hours later when I observed that one of my toes was the color of Prince- black, purple, and just a touch of golden yellow.

Sadly, the toe still lacks Funk.

What’s truly upsetting is the fact that I didn’t [then and now] feel it at all, which as you can imagine, could become quite problematic in the long run. If I inure myself unknowingly and said wound goes untreated or septic, then not only do I run the risk of illness, but I could also be facing the very real risk of amputation in the not too far future. Personally, I don’t know about you, but I’d like to keep all of my parts- for all I know, there could be a trade-in policy regarding your body when you die, and I’d hate to have to tell God he’s not getting back a pristine model because my foot got taken out by a pitcher of lemon-flavored Crystal Light.

The end result of all of these maladies is that for the last few years, I’ve been relatively dormant as an Artist, and have turned most of my personal energies towards the dual role of being a highly vocal arts activist and writer- not because I don’t still feel like painting, but because I now suffer from some severe physical challenges in regards to producing work. Besides random hand spasms, which usually manifest as uncontrolled tremors, I sometimes also undergo severe pain in my right hand which directly affects how well I can control a brush and/or pen. Considering how vital focused control is to creating an original work, you can see why this is a huge problem where producing new ones are concerned.

Fortunately, I do have an artsy backup with my archive of original photography in regards to my painted and illustrative work, but I still have a troubling issue- my eyes. My Diabetes can alter my corneas to the point [depending on my blood sugar] where every now and then my vision is akin to looking through a vibrating set of lightly tinted sunglasses, while riding a roller coaster, on a boat that’s sailing the English Channel… holding a seasick cat.  And when you’re handling a medium sized camera, the hand tremors certainly don’t help in keeping your focus steady, either.

So given all that, it’s no wonder why I turned to writing to burn off some of that backed-up creative energy.
But as usual, I am getting ahead of myself. I really need to stop doing that, methinks. So, let’s start where it all began- late June, 2009.
And like most things that go South in my life, it all started with my mouth.

Despite my best efforts to keep my teeth healthy and in line, I had one that decided to cross the tracks and join the oral version of the Hell’s Angels. Speaking as a diabetic, tooth health is a big deal- it’s just one of the many paths that this disease can use to take you out, and as I stated in the first installment of this tale, I plan on living long enough to be a burden to others, much more so now than then.

But there were a few problems I had to contend with before I could take the appropriate action. At the time, I had no health insurance, and even though the dentists fee was small, money at that point in my life was fairly tight. Fortunately for me, my GF Ashley wound up buying one of my framed photographic works and insisted on paying full price for it, which allowed me the opportunity to both get my tooth fixed and keep my valuable man card points all at the same time.
[One day, I’m going to make clones of that girl and sell them online- yes, she rocks that much.]

The truly sordid thing about searching for a dentist? If you have insurance, most will get you in that day or the next, but if you don’t…. well, maybe they can see you in a few weeks. If they have an opening, that is.

Obviously, I needed to have it pulled, so I cashed Ashley’s check, and after ten or so calls, found a dental clinic using the Yellow Pages [For our younger readers, it’s like Google, but in book form] and made an appointment to have the offender yanked out of my mouth hopefully faster than Sheriff Joke can get in front of a camera crew. Ashley had been visiting relatives in Salt Lake City while this process was going on, and when I went to pick her up at the airport, it was fairly apparent that I was really sick- I was listless, in great pain, and physically exhausted. [The rest of my tale is cobbled together from the unaffected remembrances of my GF Ashley, translated into Artbitch snark by yours truly.]

On June 26th, I go in for the dental appointment, feeling sick as a dog, and with a face chock-full of swelling and infection, I meet the clinic’s resident Dentist, chat briefly about my medical history, and have some X-rays taken. After those were done, I leave with two prescriptions, one for pain pills and the other for antibiotics to crush my occupying infection, and make an appointment to have my tooth (which has gone black) to be extracted on Monday the 29th.

So that night, all is relatively well- granted, my mouth still hurt and I was feeling slightly nauseous, but I wrote that off due to the fact that I had taken a large amount of aspirin for the pain, and as someone who doesn’t generally take painkillers of any kind, I unwisely assumed this feeling was normal. The next day, Ashley goes and picks up my prescriptions for me, and after taking the first dose, I started having flu-like symptoms, which led to my throwing up said antibiotic a few hours later. Once again, I just assumed that was a normal reaction, which in retrospect, was a big mistake. Turns out that I was deathly allergic to the antibiotic proscribed, a rather important detail which was clearly listed in my medical history, but more on this later.

Ashley and I were supposed to attend a party that night, but I demurred due to my being under the weather and the continuing feeling of being physically exhausted. When she returns later that night, I’m still suffering the flu-like symptoms, pain, and in an even more concerning development- I am starting to show signs of not remembering whether or not I had been adhering to my insulin routine. Over the weekend, my symptoms get even worse- I’m throwing up almost everything I eat or drink, and I’m so disoriented that I have to arrange for someone to drive me to the dentist the following Monday.

Stupidly, I’m still of the opinion that I’ll be right as rain once I get my tooth pulled.

So, Monday finally arrives, and I am picked up by my former artist rep, who later describes my countenance to Ashley as  “that of a homeless person”, due to my uncharacteristic rough-looking appearance. Never let it be said I don’t know how to dress to impress- thank God I clean up nicely when it really counts. The extraction goes quickly and smoothly, and despite the fact that I’m having issues with my medication. my dentist offers no additional information or recommendations towards the betterment of my symptoms. In fact, the extraction took longer than the consult.

But here’s where the fun really starts- within several hours of the procedure, my symptoms become more severe, and I find myself experiencing what one could tactfully describe as apocalyptic delusions- think visions of Hell on steroids, and you’d be in the right neighborhood. That’s one of the downsides of being a Creative- when we hallucinate, it’s a full throttle, balls to the wall, over the top, completely gonzo, THX Sound, chock a block Michael Bay experience.

Initially, Ashley suggested I call my Mom for help, as she lives less than 15 minutes away from me, so after I had a really good laugh about the idea of my Mother doing something that required an act of selflessness, I emphatically put my foot down and said that no, we weren’t going to be doing that anytime soon. I’ll flesh out this particular razor-ball later on, but for right now, let’s get back on point. Now, for some unbeknownst reason, my visions of seeing Satan riding a pale horse while strumming Stairway to Heaven on a lute freaked Ashley out to the point where she called in my best friend Cale Richardson to ask for his assistance in getting me to the closest hospital, which in this case- turned out to be the John C. Lincoln located at Third Street and Dunlap Avenue.

[Cale by the way, is literally the last American Boy Scout- loyal, dependable, and one of the best people I know by far. He’s also 6’2′, good-looking and single, so if anybody’s out there looking for a good Christian boy with an impeccable work ethic who loves his Mom, (and dogs) let me know, and I’ll arrange a really entertaining lunch.]

Despite my strenuous objections about going to the hospital based on the fact that I had no insurance, Ashley and Cale managed to get me down stairs and into Ashley’s car, a trip I in all honesty, have no recollection of. In fact, there are 13 days missing in total from my memory- the last thing that I can clearly recall is sitting on my balcony two nights before watching the sunset. Poetic, but in the end, pointless.

Arriving around nine a.m., I am quickly admitted and in swift procession receive initial treatment for severe dehydration by having saline administered via an IV line. Testing my blood sugar, the ER staff learns to their horror / amazement that my index is at 1482- despite that, I am fully conscious, if not fully cognizant.

Apparently, it seems that in this day and age, having a fairly lucid conversation with Elvis in regards to Southern cooking while laying on a hospital gurney makes you “out of it” from a medical point of view. That’s the problem with doctors… no imagination. Until it comes to the bill, that is- then it’s like you’re stuck in an elevator with the animators from Fantasia. Seriously… if telling me “good morning” is considered (and billed) as a medical consult, then my response of “f**k you” should count as a one night stand.

Now to give you some perspective of the overall seriousness of the situation I was facing, a blood sugar reading of over 500 can affect mental processes, and once your numbers hit where I was, well… it’s best to probably not make any long term plans for the weekend. What can I say? I like to set the curve for the rest of the class. Essentially, I was suffering from severe (and life-threatening) ketoacidosis, which is defined as:

“Ketoacidosis is the accumulation of substances called keytones and ketone bodies in the blood. Acidosis is increased acidity of the blood. Symptoms of ketoacidosis include slow, deep breathing with a fruity odor to the breath; confusion; frequent urination (polyuria); poor appetite; and the eventual loss of consciousness.”

From an outsider’s POV, it would seem that with those symptoms, I’d share much in common with a slightly addled, undernourished, narcoleptic apple with poor bladder control, but I digress. I know what you’re thinking…  I’m in the hospital, a crack team of dedicated professionals is working on me, and at this point, it’s clear sailing ahead. That’s why I like you people- you’re all eternal optimists. I did happen to mention that I was pretty delusional at this point, didn’t I?

Good. Because that little nugget of knowledge is going to come in really handy right about now.

Despite Ashley’s assurances that I led a life of clean living and even with my established medical history, the doctor in charge of the unit (a pint-sized twit named Dr. Idriss) was adamant that I had to be a heavy drinker or drug user due to my symptoms. Now, I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but when it came to the “diabetes” classes offered at whatever online med school he graduated from, I can only assume that he was too tired from his shift at the Wonka Candy Factory* to pay attention, as he seemed relatively ignorant as to what the widely documented effects of an insanely high blood sugar can do to one’s psyche.*

[The Wonka Candy Factory staff is comprised solely of Oompa-Loompas, a race of vertically-challenged people, in case you missed the joke. Not that I have anything against Oompa-Loompas, mind you- their noble culture based on morality tales delivered in the form of catchy songs is truly inspirational, and their traditional native dress which incorporates Joker green hair, orange body-paint, and snazzy striped socks is truly a visual smorgasbord for one’s eyes.If you ever have a chance to share a Snozzberry with one of these  fine and I might add, dignified people, I’d advise that you take it- you’ll have stories for days.]

Shortly after being admitted into the ICU, I started slipping deeper into a delirious state, leading to my being severely sedated and restrained against my will, [an action I agree with in retrospect] as I was becoming combative due to my ongoing suffering from further apocalyptic delusions. And on top of it all, one has to remember that I was still fighting the original infection that had landed me here in the first place.

When I eventually regained consciousness, my nurse informed me that my blood was so septic that if we had delayed my visit to the hospital another 24 hours, I most likely would have died- a condition that might help my art sales, but would definitely limit my future plans of becoming the ballet dancer I always knew I could be. I remained sedated for the better part of the next three days, during which time a staff psychologist informed Ashley that they wanted to do a psychological evaluation regarding my mental state, to which Ashley asked her how that was going to happen, as I was still delirious and so heavily medicated that I was unable to speak. 

Finally seeing the obvious problem, she asks Ashley if I drank or did drugs and was answered with an emphatic “no” yet again. Ashley explained why I don’t drink [the combination of my diabetes and past relationship with an alcoholic fiancée has made me exceedingly adverse] and went on to further state that I don’t take any drugs, as I don’t like and/or approve of the *majority of them.

*[For the record, I don’t consider weed an actual drug, as I see it more along the lines of a conduit to help keep local musicians employed via the pizza delivery industry. Speaking of which, I actually have a joke that relates to both pizza and hospitals, so here goes:: “A man wakes up and finds himself in a hospital room, one with only himself in it. He has no recollection of how he got there. While pondering it, his bedside phone rings, and he answers it.

A doctor on the other end identifies himself, and tells the man: “I have really bad news. You’re very sick. After your collapse yesterday, we ordered several tests, and got the results back this morning. I’m afraid you have Avian flu, Ebola, and you’re positive for HIV and hepatitis.”

Stunned, the man asks “Well, what’s next!? What are you going to do?” The doc replies: “Well, for starters, we’re putting you on a strict diet of only pizza.” 

The patient asks: “Will that really help me, doctor?”

“No”, the doc responds. “But it’s all we can fit under the door.” ]

Wahahaha!!! Um… I’m sorry. Let’s get back on track. Giving her my business card, Ashley suggests she go to my (then) web site and look at the media interview that was originally on the front introduction page, as a means to observe my normal demeanor. Ashley is later informed by my daytime nurse Eric that she did so, and after that, she is not asked again about my behavior by anyone. So the message here is this: give good interviews, as it might just improve the perception of how others see you.

Despite her glowing assessment, the ICU staff under the direction of my Smurfesque doctor still have me under heavy sedation and are inflicting endless MRI’s and spinal tap procedures upon my person, which leads Ashley to break down and call my mother, who to her limited credit, informs the hospital that she objects to them keeping me sedated and states that if it comes from Ashley, the staff is to follow what she says as Gospel from my family. As you can imagine, Ashley immediately orders them to lift my heavily medicated veil, and that is when I start slowly coming back from the land of hellfire and gauze. Several hours later, I come to, my first recollection of hearing the beeping of an EKG machine next to my bed.

Obviously from my still groggy point of view, things had gone awry- a theory made fact when I looked down and saw that I had IV lines in both arms, and a catheter in a place where no length of tubing should ever be. In the future, let it be widely known that given a choice for what method to use for voiding my bladder, I’m perfectly fine with a bedpan.

Just saying.

At about 8:30 that morning, my daytime nurse on duty calls Ashley to inform her that I was awake and talking.  After asking whether I was the “f**k you” Wayne seen in the ICU or the normal “lets talk about me” Wayne, she and I have a brief conversation, of which I have a somewhat limited recall.

Remember my mom? Well, when Ashley calls and tells her I’m conscious and that she needs to come to the hospital, my dear sweet mother states that she would like to come and visit, but her car has two bald front tires and then goes on to say that one of her very good friends had died the night before, so could Ashley come and pick her up? Here’s why this particular moment has become such an issue with me- she can get to her job halfway across Phoenix, but she cant take a cab or bum a ride to a hospital less than 25 minutes away to visit her son in the ICU who came within 24 hours of dying?

As one of my friends who has a gaggle of kids told me later: “If one of my kids was trapped in a bank vault, I would chew my way through the door to save them.” Apparently, my mom never got that memo. But it only gets better. That “friend” my mother claimed had died? After I get out of the ICU, I ask my mother about them, and within the span of a few hours of our conversation, her close friends name changes… twice. And as for those so-called bald tires, she claims not to know what I’m talking about.

In other words, it was business as usual. Or as I like to call it- Friday with Mom.

So, for those of my really close friends who’ve always wondered why I never mention my mother, there you go. Ashley did pick her up, but after visiting less than then ten minutes, [another void in my memory] she asks to be dropped back off at her house. In her limited defense, people have told me that at the time she seemed concerned, but after she leaves, I don’t hear from her for almost three weeks. But I’ll talk about that later, near the end of my tale. So the next day arrives and I’m feeling slightly better- granted, I’m still weak as a newborn kitten, almost 30 pounds lighter, and thanks to the massive amount of antibiotics they had to pump into me, everything I eat tastes like wet cardboard.

But I was alive, on the mend, and that’s what counts. Not to mention I also hit the couch potato jackpot by having the best free entertainment known to Man in my private room- CNN and the History Channel. At the time of my unwilling stay, it was also the week that Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson unfortunately died, and the station that now prominently and sadly features alien abductions as fact was showing an all day marathon of the history of the Mafia in America.

Seriously… how lucky can a guy get?

But that’s for the next installment, I think. And when we come back…

I finally get to wax poetically about vanilla pudding, elucidate on why I would kick your ass in Trivial Pursuit regarding anything mob related, and set the possibly lowest speed for the 50 yard dash ever recorded, all while humming the entire Michael Jackson catalog.

Well… the three songs I know anyway.

“The meaning of life is that it stops.”- Franz Kafka