Death doesn’t become me
I spent the next day as I had the previous one, crying and drawing blood as I tore at my feet with a key. Every so often I dozed and awoke, my delusional mind hoping for a miracle. Around nine that evening, Uli called.
“I’m in so much pain,” I cried. “I’m so scared!”
“Schatz, Schatz, Ich komme bald.” (Dear, I’m coming soon.)
“Hurry, please come. I can’t stand it anymore!”
Uli heard the panic in my voice. I should have gone with her, shouldn’t have let her fly to Miami by herself, he thought. “Call an ambulance! Go to the hospital right away,” Uli said. “I’ll call the lobby for you. You must go to the hospital immediately.”
“But Gloria F’s coming. She’s already on the plane. She called and said she’s on her way. I’ll wait for her.”
“Don’t wait! Just go. I’ll call an ambulance.”
“It’s okay, I can catch a taxi in front of the hotel. I’m going.”
Jackson Memorial hospital is in a seedy part of downtown Miami. Crowds of people, mostly Cuban and Haitian, loitered outside the emergency entrance. They smoked and shouted in a cacophony of Cuban Spanish and Patois. I immediately perked up at the sound of foreign languages, but I was too weak to listen to everybody’s conversation the way I usually did. Not this time. Not now.
The emergency room was packed with people slouched in chairs. I’m not waiting. I can’t wait. I walked towards the information desk where a heavy-set African-American lady sat behind a tall counter.
“Where’s hospital admissions please? I’m Dr. Tzakis’ patient,” I said, barely holding it together. My feet didn’t itch anymore. Instead they were on fire.
“What did you say your name was?”
A quick glance at the computer screen. The clerk immediately went into action. She looked around and said, “George, come over here with that wheelchair.” She looked back at me. “Someone’ll be right with you,” she said, calmly and emotionless, like someone who’s seen it all.
Within minutes a suited woman wheeled me through a door at the far end of the emergency room. A déjà vu moment. I was checking into Jackson Memorial the same way I had checked myself into Presby almost fifteen years ago. Back then, I was achy and bloated, my ankles were on fire, pretty much the same as now. The suited woman asked me the usual pre-hospitalization questions while handling papers. Tears poured down my cheeks. Someone handed me a tissue, and then discretely placed an entire box in my lap as I sobbed, hiccupped and blew my nose through the Q and A session. The process took longer than expected. The woman often had to repeat herself. I couldn’t always hear her. I felt like I was in a tunnel, far away from her although she sat right across from me. My mind was distracted, sinking into black holes and then re-emerging to hand her my insurance card, or spell out my address. Once formalities were finished, I waited a few minutes, or perhaps it was an hour, I wasn’t sure, for a volunteer to wheel me to a room.
I want to pause for a moment, and talk about luck. Carl Gustav Jung called it ‘synchronicity’ or ‘acausal connection of two or more psycho-physic phenomena.’ He believed that there are no coincidences, no serendipitous moments in life. Relying heavily on his psychoanalyses, Jung concluded that synchronicity begins in the dream state and materializes through the connection in the mind with the outside world. Certain people might find this sacrilegious, but a part of Jung’s theory has been watered down, or perhaps a better word is bastardized, in the book, The Secret. If you think it, it can happen.
On the other end of the spectrum, luck is seen as divine intervention. We say “good luck” when taking leave of someone, as if luck were something that falls from the heavens. Or perhaps it’s a moment in time when the stars, moon, earth, and universe are aligned with your consciousness to conjure up the phenomena called luck. However you perceive it, we know luck or synchronicity to be intangible, unpredictable and only appreciated in hindsight.
I was in a fog, my mind fading and blacking out. In this scariest moment, luck was about to materialize. The volunteer and I left the emergency room and approached the large overhang, shadowing the hospital’s main entrance. Suddenly, I became lucid, as if the tears, dazed state, and blackouts had never existed. Two men standing against a column carrying on a conversation zoomed into focus. One of them held my attention.
“Andreas!” I called. “What are you doing here?!”
“Gloria! I should be asking you that! When did you arrive?”
“I’m so sick, Andreas! I’m in so much pain I can’t take it any more…the day before yesterday…I just checked into the hospital.” I was sobbing, and took advantage of the box of tissues still on my lap.
“That’s okay,” he said to the volunteer, “I’ll take it from here.”
It was eleven o’clock at night on a Sunday. What were the odds of running into my doctor right at that moment? Less plausible is that I would experience a moment of lucidity just then. He didn’t know I was in Miami, or that I was checking myself into the hospital. Had he known I was in town, I’m certain he wouldn’t have expected to see me on a Sunday night in front of Jackson Memorial. On my way to the emergency room, I had daydreamed about Dr. Tzakis. I had hoped I would run into him, that he miraculously would cross my path. This Jungian ‘synchronicity’ born from my mind and my environment had come to fruition, and it meant more than I could even fathom at the time.
Time was of the essence. I can’t say for sure, but if I had waited until the next day for my doctor to see me, if matters had been delayed just by a couple more hours, there’s a very good chance that I wouldn’t have survived. Dr. Tzakis immediately started the ball rolling. There’s no doubt in my mind, I was lucky.
Dr. Tzakis grabbed the handles of the wheelchair and took control of the situation. A waterfall of meaningless words poured out of my mouth while I cried. Dr. Tzakis listened to my senseless gibberish on the way to the room. He knew what this behavior meant. My system was on the verge of shutting down permanently.
Once I was settled in bed, my mind began to completely fade. I was still coherent at times, but the moments of lucidity were few and far between. No medication could fix my condition; it was the precursor to death. At some point, Gloria F. stood by my bed and rubbed my temples. I suffered from a migraine headache. Most of the time, I was out of it. She spent the night in the room with me. Early the next morning, she left to freshen up at the Doubletree.
Back in Los Angeles, Uli rushed to tie up loose ends with the producers of his next project before catching the red-eye to Miami. He arrived a day later after a grueling trip, and headed straight for Jackson Memorial. He was holding my hand when I regained consciousness.
“They have a liver for her,” Uli whispered.
“How soon are they going to operate?” Gloria F. whispered back.
“Stop whispering. I want to know what you’re talking about,” I called out, the feisty side of me emerging from my confusions. “Uli you better not go with a younger woman. It better be someone older.”
“Schatz, open your eyes,” Uli commanded gently as he stood by the bed and stroked my face.
“Don’t ask …I can’t.”
At that moment, as I uttered those words, Uli became frightened. This seemingly harmless remark took him aback. For the first time since we were married, he finally realized how close to death I really was. A few weeks earlier I had spent hours in the gym. In what state was I, if I didn’t have the strength to perform the simplest of tasks, and open my eyes?
Later that day, Dr. Tzakis stood at the entrance of my room.
I gestured for him to approach.
“I don’t need to get any closer to see how sick you are,” he said.
The last time we had met, I was strong and looked relatively healthy. At that time, I wasn’t convinced I even needed a transplant. He knew better than anyone that I could die before making it to the operating room. In fact, I was going to die if a liver didn’t become available in the next few hours. The irony was, the liver and the papers were in another building of the Jackson Memorial complex. The fax machine on the other end was broken, and took six hours to repair. You would think someone could’ve simply walked over and collected the authorization forms and the organ. However, protocol can’t be breached when it comes to organ donation. Finally, the fax arrived. At five in the evening, Dr. Tzakis ordered the nurses to prep me immediately. I was placed on a gurney. Uli and Gloria F. walked along side. We took the elevator down to the operating room.
“Don’t cry,” I said to Uli “I’m going to do this.” I turned to Dr. Tzakis, “Andreas, could you give me a tummy-tuck while you’re at it?”
Little did I know that those would be my last words for the next two months.