On a wheeled horse I ride. i.am.rollerman

I Died & Went to Heaven 3 Times and All I Got was this Stinkin’ Goatee

In spinal cord injury on October 15, 2010 at 1:18 am

Wait, what, is it my breath? Come back, wait...


December 2005, my first of three months at Helen Hayes Hospital (HHH), East Nyack, NY.  I am there to rehabilitate after a life altering climbing accident that has left me dead three times.

During those days leading up to Christmas Eve, I cannot get an odor out of my nose. My three ward mates “J”, Dave and a Mr X, all claim they smell nothing.   What do they know; none of them had bathed since I arrived three weeks prior.  (Truth in advertising, none of the four of us was physically able to bath.)

The smell is a constant as I’m wheeled into different treatment rooms.  Was someone left strapped into a standing frame too long and lost control of their bowels?  Is the staff wiping down the therapy mats properly?  Unlike a Jennifer Lopez movie, this stink stays with me longer than two hours.

Looking for any clue I ask a ward nurse to flip me and see if I have “…any black friends visiting…”  Dave, a barber from Harlem, shot six times during a robbery hears my request, bursts into laughter, pops two staples and then defecates himself.  (All we have is each other and our humor, yes true story)

During final rounds I ask my SCI Doctor if she smells it.  She says no,  but she tells me something that I’ve heard all too often throughout my life.  “…You’re the one that stinks.”  No, not like that stink on a monkey type stink, but much deeper.

Two things in short supply on my wing at HHH, self-respect and accessible mirrors.  True, there are mirrors, but none I can see into.  Having two “still fresh” titanium rods shoved up my backside, I am unable to pivot my head much past center.

Circle get's the square, I'll take Charles Nelson Reilly to block please.

The following day I am provided with a hand mirror.  Funny, I don’t remember leaving my face this way.  I have a series of scars on my forehead, reminiscent of the forehead artistry of late 60’s Charles Manson.  True, I am German, but neither from that era nor mindset.

My lip reminds me of Angelina Jolie’s, but “lip” is a singular, as in “Willis, don’t give me no lip” or “Willis, give that man the rest of his lip back.”

My top lip is puffy, my bottom lip is not, as in “not all there.”   It’s grooved in the middle, like the mark a garden hose leaves in grass.  The groove is later identified as being from a drainage tube.

I have also grown what appears to be a full dark black goatee.   I’ve attempted to grow goatees in the past, but never a keeper. I am a Kraut, but resemble black Irish and have thus always grown a cornucopia of different facial hair colors.  Now I resemble Clairol color “Che’ Guevara.”  (…Perhaps that explains why I’m having dinner with the Castro brothers.)

Che Guevara

The nurses on the floor admire my goatee.  “Yo Poppi, you so handsome” the Dominican staff would remark. The source of their pleasure, I sooner discover is the source of the stink.

“Honey, I don’t think they told you but you were left on the prone-ing table too long without being turned,” the Mrs. told me.

Back at Albany Med Center, I am in an induced five week coma, in an effort to stave off the ill effects ( see “death” in the medical dictionary) of a full blown case of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

I am strapped face down, buck naked into a device called a prone-ing table.  This allowed the doctors to rotate and turn my body to achieve the optimal treatments results, not unlike a chicken on a rotisserie grill.   Why not, I already had the titanium rods shoved up the backside.

My neck is strapped down while my face poked through a 10 CM hole in the bottom of the table (yes, it is appropriate to think of a baby attempting to escape the clutches of the birth canal.)

Can I get an Episiotomy over here at table two?

The problem was the circumference of my head well exceeded 10 CM.  My face may have poked through the hole, but my chin remained pressing against the table’s vinyl surface unmoved for three days.  My chin had suffocated and then died.

Ever watch one of those documentaries on unsuccessful Mount Everest climbs?  You typically see a video shot of a climber’s frostbitten toes, feet, fingers, hands and nose, the darkened purple skin getting its hue from a lack of oxygen.

I hadn’t scaled any mountains, I climbed much higher.    On all three of my summit attempts I am turned back just before the peak.  Each time my Sherpa brother-in-law drags me from the gates, in a shopping cart no less,  and back down the hill.  Sherpa is also my CPA.  This reeks of symbolism.

When I awake from my coma, I am cloaked only is a large swaddly t-shirt that reads:  “I went to Heaven Three Times, and All I Got was this stinkin’ Goatee”

And back to the goatee.  Below the facial hair is a large area of necrotic skin. “Necro” as in I sleep with dead people “Necro”-philia.  That’s right I don’t see dead people, I smell them.  For the past three weeks I’ve been sniffing the early stages of gangrene, right below my nose.  It’s a smell best unsmelled.

Keeping with the “tis better to give than receive” tone of the holiday, Dr. Lecter returns to my room with a single scalpel.   Ever heard the expression “give me some skin?”   And with only the glow of my respiratory monitor to guide her, Dr. Lecter, without any numbing agents, anesthesia or drugs, removes my goatee and then some.  “Well Clarice, how does that look?”

Dr. Lecter

I can’t scream.  It hurts to much scream.  Nor can I speak; (see earlier excuse in this sentence. ) Unbeknownst to Dr Lecter who thought the room to be empty, behind her sat a young girl about eight years of age, the niece of Dave the barber.   I am scarred while she is now emotionally scared.

Post Script: In February 2007 I am at Albany Med Center for “clean up work,” their words not mine. Apparently there is actually a medical diagnostic code for handling the “mulligans.” I am there for my chin replacement surgery.  Soon I shall be free from the pointing fingers of Babes. “Mommy, is that Man Michael Jackson?”

As I’m being wheeled into the operating room, I tug at the Plastic Surgeon’s pant leg.  “Dr. M, can I ask you a favor?  I know we didn’t discuss this earlier, but can you give my new chin some character. I’ve also wanted a distinguished chin.”

“Why certainly Clarice” he replies, “Merry Christmas.”

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  1. Great story. You manage to poke fun at yourself, the medical profession and death all in one entertaining tale. As hip as the goatee might have seemed, I dont think its in style anymore…

    I appreciate your upbeat attitude! Keep on writing!

  2. Your outlook on life is amazing, I really enjoy reading your posts, and actually look forward to them. Hope your doing well

  3. Great read. Entertaining and funny in a warped kind of way!

    • I’m your one stop entertainment destination…I’m still working on the lap dance part of the show. Given that I am paralyzed in the area.

  4. oh man! do i remeber these days!!

    • I’m already beginning to cast the movie version of the blog. My part will be played by Daniel Day Lewis. I’m thinking for your role Reese Witherspoon. One catch though, she wants you to do her nude scenes. I hope you don’t mind that I told her you would.

  5. I had the benefit, if you want to call it that, of seeing that “goatee” up close and personal after it was scraped. The big reveal, with Jeff pulling the bandage off to show me, took place in a common room at Helen Hayes Rehab center after “hand exercise class”. I know that I did not ask to see what was under the bandage as I already wasn’t feeling well that day. Well, one look was all it took to send me running into the courtyard to loose lunch. Thanks for sharing Jeff!

    • Hey, what are Brothers for? Besides, some of the things that I showed to your high school friends left them with a better look on their face. “You’re Cathy’s Brother aren’t you?” “Maybe, why are you asking?”

  6. Dr Lecter is defending herself now. You forgot to tell the audience that I hacked off your chin wearing my Santa Claus hat!!!!!!!! Love you!

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