Archive for the ‘Pain in the Neck’ Category

Gotham Diary:
Here will we sit…
25 October 2011

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

I could say that Kathleen beguiled me into staying up late, listening to a new Schubert CD and an old favorite by Vaughan Williams, but I didn’t actually go to bed at any very late hour. Rather, I didn’t want to get up this morning. I was more comfortable in bed than I knew I’d be when I got up, and had to begin the day, as I always begin the day now, with the selection of a photograph for this entry. I had chosen a picture last night, but it was a case of making do, and I wasn’t happy with it. So I stayed in bed until all hours (after nine!), and when I got up the first thing I did was mount the camera on the tripod and look for a subject.

The crotona plants in the living room took me by surprise. I was interested in a tree behind a building on First Avenue; it is the only tree whose leaves have turned color so far. But the morning light was all wrong; I’ll have to wait until this afternoon, and even then it may be too sunny. I cast my gaze around the balcony, but nothing tempted me, and I kept turning, and voilà, there, right at my side, was this profusion of shiny, variegated leaves, begging to have their picture taken.

That was hours ago. My apologies.


 The Epicurean Dealmaker has written a great piece about the Volcker Rule mess. It prompted me to resume my serious thinking on regulation and how to go about it. Our standard model regulatory agency, with its commissions, staffs, rule-making procedures, enforcment provisions and fees is about as up-to-date as the rotary-dial telephone. The model itself is arteriosclerotic; decades of usage and abusage have fermented a Washington culture of bureaucrats that make the Middle Kingdom’s mandarins look like Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. We need a new game.

While Kathleen got dressed, I sketched a few ideas. One of the Epicurean Dealmaker’s points for further discussion is the possibility that our systems are too complex to be managed. One way to simplify systems without abandoning the benefits of complexity is to break things up into smaller, self-supporting units. For example, regulatory commissioners could be drawn from a college of professional regulators without portfolio. They would be tasked to address a current problem: are markets fair? Is corporate governance suitably transparent? Has an industry or economic sector succumbed to monopolistic practices? These commissioners would appoint free-standing, independent-contracting teams of investigators, and vest them with subpoena power. The teams would consist of accountants, lawyers, economists, psychologists, environmentalists — not too many of any, but enough to get to the bottom of things and to produce an enlightening report. The commissioners would then empanel hearings, appointing a senator, a congressman, their and state- and local-level  correlatives, and any other appropriate judges. This panel would issue a legislative mandate, calling for the implementation of specific amendments to existing laws. It would also, where appropriate, hand over its findings to district attorneys.

As I spoke, it seemed that these ideas were coming to me out of the blue, but in writing them down I see that, with the exception of the last part — the bit about the panels and the hearings and the mandates — what I’ve described is the modern complex surgery, much like the operation performed on my neck in 2007 at the Hospital for Special Surgery. I remember being wheeled into a room that looked more like Steve Jobs’s sometime garage than an “operating room,” and it was full of people. Two of them, I understood, were neurological consultants who never touched me but constantly monitored my responsiveness. I don’t know about the rest, aside from the head surgeon and the anaethesiologist. It was a complex, one-shot attempt to solve a serious problem, and I have to say that the team did a great job.

The regulator in the case was my internist, who didn’t even look at the X-rays. He knew whom to call, though.

Gotham Diary:
7 October 2011

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Why am I so tired? I’m ao drowsy and lackluster that I can’t think why I should be so tired. I can’t think,. Then I remember that I forgot to take a pill. I’m on a course of antibiotics, to clear up a patch of infected skin. I take the pill, and my mind curls up like an old dog by the fire.  

But first, I have a banana, so that there is something in my stomach, and that gets me to thinking about bananas, which, I read the other day, come naturally equipped with seeds the size of small stones. We don’t see naturally equipped bananas up here, of course; we see bunches of an asexual cultivar called the Cavendish, I believe, that has fallen victim to a blight in Central America, where most bananas are grown. We don’t see the blighted bananas, either. We see more expensive bananas, although I haven’t been paying attention to that. I have dropped the habit of starting the day with a banana, just as I’ve given up reading the Times first thing. Writing here is what I do first thing now, and then I have a bowl of Grape Nuts, or an English muffin with marmalade (not butter). By eleven, I’m starving again, and it only occurred to me the other day why this is the case. Thanks to Lunesta, I’ve been drinking about half as much wine as I was going through before the sleeping pill, and my body still craves those calories. I have to tell myself that the hunger is “simulated.” My stomach is not in pain. I am in pain. And I have to soldier through it. Happily, the hunger is unaccompanied by appetite; there’s nothing that I particularly want to eat. As with antibiotics, I find it difficult to think straight during these hunger pangs.

After the movies this morning (I plan to see The Ides of March, even though Anthony Lane found it disappointing), I hope to write a few more words about Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods, with a view to composing a new page for Civil Pleasures. That is what I would like to do with my afternoon. Let’s see if I have my way, he said, envying Geroge I, whose biography he is almost done with, and who didn’t always have his own way, either, especially in his favorite field, which was foreign affairs — speaking of which, why weren’t we taught about the Great Northern War (1700-1721) in school, at all?


Daily Office: Monday

Monday, November 10th, 2008


¶ Matins: David Carr writes about a momentous meeting, a little over eighteen months ago, between Internet pioneer Marc Andreessen and a

junior member of a large and powerful organization with a thin, but impressive, résumé, he was about to take on far more powerful forces in a battle for leadership.

Guess who the other guy was.

¶ Tierce: Ailing GM can’t cut off its union workers — not quite yet — but white collar retirees can kiss their “gold-plated” health care goodbye. Nick Bunkley reports.

¶ Sext: Eric Pfanner’s somewhat breathless account of the state of play between Google and book publishers nonetheless conveys a good idea of where books are going. And it does indeed look like a good idea.

¶ Vespers: It’s not the potato-stuck-up-the-bum that’s funny. It’s the idea that anybody would believe the story of how it got there.

The clergyman, in his 50s, told nurses he had been hanging curtains when he fell backwards on to his kitchen table.

He happened to be nude at the time of the mishap, said the vicar, who insisted he had not been playing a sex game.

(Thanks, Joe.)


Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008


¶ Matins: Five movies in one afternoon and evening — I tacked on Rushmore at the end. Even though I still haven’t got to the bottom of the NuLytely literbox, I’m ready for bed, and no longer hungry. The munchies passed at around nine o’clock, long before I started in on the Sauvignon Blanc.

¶ Nones: Well, that’s over — and LXIV and I celebrated with a lovely lunch afterward. Just when I was getting good at remembering Versed, they changed the anaesthetic to something called Propothal, about which I can find nothing very official on the Internet.

¶ Compline: Somehow, I managed to squeak through on the Book Review front. This week’s look, at Portico. (more…)


Sunday, October 14th, 2007

All went well with the housecleaning yesterday. I moved slowly and avoided twisty situations. But then, in a near-final bit of cleanup, I reached high to replace of boxed set of Mozart’s mature string quartets in its pile atop the CD/DVD shelves in the corridor. That was a mistake. It hurt. I’m hoping it’s just muscle.

Always in search of new and difficult learning curves, I installed Coffee Cup on the laptop, to serve as my HTML editor, and I’m finding that FrontPage it ain’t. (FrontPage may not have been perfect, but I knew how to use it, which of course guaranteed that it would be discontinued.) How long it’s going to take me to figure out how to work with the new software is almost as much fun to guess at as the nature of the pain in my neck.

In a little while, Kathleen and I are going to promenade down Third Avenue to Gracious Empire, doubtless with several intermediate stops. I’ll be the guy with the tan corduroy jacket, the neck brace, the cane, the scraggly beard. and the neat wampum that Kathleen strung together for my reading glasses.

I know that I promised a risotto write-up for today – we’ll see. Maybe I’ll content myself with a PodCast – of me moaning. I can do that now! (But seriously, folks, it’s not that bad.)

Bon weekend à tous!

Back to HSS

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Special Surgery

The building at the center of the photograph that is topped by a construction crane is the Greenberg Pavilion at New York Hospital, a/k/a Weill Cornell Medical Center or somesuch nonsense. (If I were Dante, I’d create a level of hell for living philanthropists deluded enough to try to glue their names on to their benefactions. As the song goes, Just You Wait, Sandy Weill, Just You Wait. I’ll get dressed and go to town.)

It’s the building in front of and below the Greenberg Pavilion that I’m off to today, at least figuratively speaking. The building with the bands of darkish windows that might seem to be the lower floors of Greenberg is actually a block closer to the camera, and it’s the Hospital for Special Surgery. Almost everyone in our very large apartment building who has heard about my broken neck has come out and asked me if I had it taken care of at “Special Surgery,” and my reply has always been a polite version of “Damn right.” This hospital, so long familiar to me as the site of a calm and quiet infusion unit (chemotherapy, without the cancer), became a “real” hospital in earnest three weeks ago, and it’s where for the first time in my life a scalpel was taken to my skin.

As it happens, the surgeon who headed the operation, and who will examine me today to see if if the wounds (not that anybody uses that word) have healed sufficiently for the two sutures to be removed (yes, only two, for an incision that’s 27 centimetres long), does not have his office in the hospital proper. My rheumatologist does. My rheumatologist’s office, together with the crammed chamber in which his two secretaries try not to step on each other as they do their work, would fit in our living room. The surgeon’s personal office is not much larger, but it is part of a vast suite of offices and examining rooms and whatnot, in a hospital annex two blocks to the north.

Kathleen is going with me, thank heaven. She was in Washington the last time I was in the surgeon’s office – when I was sent directly to the hospital as an “emergency entrant.” There is no emergency room at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Almost every patient has been suffering from some ghastly misery for ages, and is only now getting it fixed, on schedule. People who fall down and break their necks go to other hospitals, unless, like me, they’ve got some pre-existing bone problem. There aren’t that many such cases, so the hospital doesn’t really need an emergency room. But it does have procedures for “emergency entrants. ” I’m sure that it must. It certainly has an “emergency bustle.”

Did I mention that the other “emergency entrant” on the day of my admission was a woman who had just recovered from an operation sufficiently to be sent home, only to fall down in the lobby? How did that happen? Everybody leaves the hospital in a wheelchair. (I certainly did. Fossil Darling resisted the urge to push me into the East River, but we were out in the driveway by then, and he was distracted by stowing my gear in the trunk of the car. I suppose I owe my life to his ADD.) But that is what I overheard. The lady fell down in on her way out. It was too awful to think about, both for the woman and for her family.

Kathleen will be with me for however long it takes (within reason), and then she’ll go to the office, unless she insists on seeing me home. Once home (I’m painting pretty pictures here, assuming that the surgeon doesn’t discover any ill consequences of my having moved the Steinway grand), I shall reread vast swathes of Alexander Waugh’s Fathers and Sons, so that I can write it up. It is just the sort of book for me right now. The author’s father and grandfather compensated for the discomforts of life with alcohol and extreme wit. Mr Waugh, in contrast, appears to have a more gently cynical spirit, more inclined to smile with an intense frown than to say, as his father did of tourists from the Midlands who, in his opinion, besmirched his beloved Somerset with their litter,

The roads of West Somerset are jammed as never before with caravans from birmingham and the West Midlands. Their horrible occupants only come down here to search for a place where they can go to the lavatory free. Then they return to Birmingham, boasting in their hideous flat voices about how much money they have saved.

I don’t suppose many of the brutes can read, but anybody who wants a good book for the holidays is recommended to try a new publication form the Church Information Office: <i>The Churchyard Handbook.</i> It laments the passing of that ancient literary form, the epitaph, suggesting that many tombstones put up nowadays dedicated to “Mum” or “Dad” or “Ginger” would be more suitable for a dog cemetery than for the resting place of Christians.

The trouble is that people can afford tombstones nowadays who have no business to be remembered at all. Few of these repulsive creatures in caravans are Christians, I imagine, but I would happily spend the rest of my days composing epitaphs for them in exchange for a suitable fee.:

He had a shit on Gwennap Head,
It cost him nothing. Now he’s dead.

He left a turd on Porlock Hill
As he lies here, it does there still.

Write such things today, and you’ll be given the Carol Gotbaum treatment.

And when I’m through with Mr Waugh – or he with me – I’ve got eight other books to write up next. I’ll have to re-read them all in order to say anything halfway intelligent. In this way, I promise to spend the balance of my time here below, never lifting anything heavier than a pretzel stick – I promise!


The suture has been removed. There were actually two sutures, but the barber appears to have shaved off the one at the top of my neck, so we’ll just live with that bit of blue thread. Another suture, complete overlooked these past three weeks so far as dressing and cleaning is concerned, was removed from an incision over my pelvis. That’s where they got the bit of gushy interior-bone stuff that I became familiar with while watching Manda Bala. 

The surgeon, Dr Andrew Sama himself, showed up to congratulate me on my speedy recovery. It was a good thing that Kathleeen came along, because she wouldn’t have believed me if I’d told her that he said that I can fly, as long as I wear my brace. This means that Kathleen may get to see some sun on or around Thanksgiving after all.

I am one hell of a lucky guy. Once again, though, thanks for all your good wishes. They helped!

At My Kitchen Table: Default Menu

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

While I wouldn’t claim to be the worst convalescent in the world, I’m certainly a very bad one. Instead of sitting quietly, reading away, doing nothing more strenuous than writing the occasional blog entry, I have been reorganizing my entire life. Stop drinking a gallon of martinis a day, and you’ll probably start reorganizing things, too. Most of the reorganization hasn’t required any heavy lifting, but…

I don’t want to think about that. My head is still erect and, if my shoulders hurt a little, they ought to. I took it much easier today than I did yesterday, which I took much easier than I did Friday – on which day I was idleness itself compared to Thursday. On Thursday, I learned how to do the podcast thingy, and that was so exciting that I had to move the Steinway grand from the blue room to the living room….

I exaggerate; there is no Steinway grand. But I did find an electronic keyboard tucked away behind some draperies. Two years ago, at least, I promised this unused article to some friends of friends who were thinking of buying one for their little boy, who is undoubtedly in law school by now. It was very embarrassing, not being able to find the keyboard where I thought I’d put it. I also found a portrait of me painted by an artist whom we used to know. It is a fiercely expressionistic work – my beard is a sort of creamy teal, while my face is painted the same red as my flannel shirt – but we find it a good likeness (a gallon of martinis per diem will do that to your flannel shirts). We really don’t have anywhere to hang the picture, and I don’t know what to do with it. But it’s not going back behind the draperies. One of my many new mottoes is: No Hidden Assets.

It was my intention to share a risotto recipe with you this evening, but what with one thing another… the day went so quickly. There were the weekend papers to read, and a novel to finish, and a long walk to take (Kathleen estimates it at two miles). Then there was dinner to make. My default, brain-dead menu: roast chicken, some sort of pasta with butter and parmesan, and a vegetable, in tonight’s case deliciously overcooked asparagus. For once, I said “to hell with the al dente school of asparagus,” and I let the tips steam for as long as the elbow macaroni took to boil, seven minutes. That’s much too long, according to current fashions, but it was just what we wanted. We got all the crunch anybody could ask for from the sinfully crispy chicken skin.

While I was in hospital, the beautiful bead chain that Kathleen made some time back for my reading glasses got caught in the neck brace and broke. The beads spilled everywhere, but we recovered most of them; some, I’m embarrassed to say, from the folds of my body. (I’d never have known they were there, but Fossil Darling was giving me an assist in the bathroom. This was shortly after he considered knifing me; see below.) I have become fatally dependent not only upon reading glasses but upon the chain from which they hang when I don’t need them, which is most of the time. For two days – I lost the store-bought backup at the movies on Friday; it was on its last legs, and I didn’t even miss it until I was on the IRT headed north from Union Square – I’ve been taking off the reading glasses and – dropping them on the floor! Not to mention looking all over the apartment for them.

Tomorrow, Columbus Day, is a local, New York holiday. Kathleen’s firm, headquartered in Chicago, does not recognize it, but she’s taking the day off anyway. Fossil Darling, who has the day off anyway – he works for a a well-known umbrella firm – will be junketing to the neighborhood for a haircut. We’re planning a penitential luncheon afterward, which should be very jolly for all the souls in Purgatory whom we’ll be speeding heaven-ward. Maybe someone will take pictures – if the crime scene is sufficiently gory. If she could read this (and who’s to say she can’t, FD’s sainted, late mother would be clucking, not for the first time in forty-four years, “Oh, you two!”

Brief Outing

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

The physical therapist who will pay four visits at the insurer’s expense but who says that there’s not really going to be any need for that many, doesn’t want me walking out in the streets unaccompanied until she gets to take a stroll with me on Monday down to Carl Schurz Park. While I observe the flora and the fauna, she will observe me.

But she did tell me that I must walk, and walk a lot, so I enlisted the help of Nom de Plume this afternoon. She’d had a long, all-day meeting, and I’m sure was hoping just to sit by the virtual fire and sip tea, but she readily agreed to walk me the two blocks up 86th Street to the “better” Barnes & Noble – better than the one across the street. I was looking for audiobooks, because sometimes my eyes just can’t take any more reading. The problem was, I’d either read the book, owned the book, or knew from the Book Review that the book wasn’t for me. I did find two titles, though, more about which later. I’m too tired to cross the room to fetch the shopping bag. We were out between five-thirty and six-fifteen. Yorkville High Street was very crowded, and I was lightly afraid of being jostled from behind. But our trip passed without incident. Somewhere between Wu Liang Ye and Laytner’s – both on the north side of 86th between Third and Second – I said to Nom that I felt that we’d walked halfway to midtown. I needed to walk!

I feel sure that I’ll sleep tonight. I don’t count on it, quite, not after I don’t know how many years of steering clear of bed until a few drams of alcohol have lulled my senses. Increasing numbers of drams. Right now, Valium is doing alcohol’s job, and I have every confidence that I’ll be able to cut back on the relaxant. Over the years, the doctors have prescribed every manner of sleeping potion (except the big guns, such as Ambien), but only one has worked, and I was dumbstruck when it was taken off the market as a recreationally-abused drugs. Qaaludes, which I started taking the day after they hit the market, worked perfectly for me, and I was amazed that they didn’t work for everyone. Typical, really. Want to know which one of a half-dozen proposed china patterns won’t sell very well? Just ask Kathleen and me to tell you our favorite. That’s the one.

Souvenirs of Happy Times

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

Knifey Mikey

Fossil Darling plays nurse’s aide.  He’s new at it, though, and doesn’t realize that what’s called for here is a spoon. I bear up well, don’t you think? Not a crease of impatience.

How Long I’ve waited…

On second thought, maybe the knife was less lethal.

Escape Agent

All the nurses and techs at the Hospital for Special Surgery are great (the doctors, of course, are gods), but if it weren’t for the indefagitably cheerful Colleen, I’d still be waiting for my release paperwork.

The Atrium/Solarium

Not that I’d mind looking out the window. Built directly over the FDR Drive, the new wing of the Hospital for Special Surgery makes the most of its views. That’s Roosevelt Island across the East River – home of “Main Street, New York.” The river is the real star of the show, because it’s always up to something different. It can lie still as a lake, or boil like a tidal bore. It flows north; it flows south. Unfortunately, the strait is so long that tides alone are incapable of flushing it clean.

Anyway, you can see why I hated to trade the scene of such lively frolics for the routines of home life.

My Touch of Wellsperger's

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

Because I know next to nothing about Asperger’s Syndrome, but believe that I present a few of the symptoms; and, furthermore, that reviewing my life in terms of cognitive gaffes, which appear to be the most striking aspect of the malady to healthy people, seems to explain a good deal of hitherto obdurately inexplicable behavior; and, finally, because I’m mindful that there are many sufferers whose lives have been crippled by the disorder, while mine has merely been inconvenienced, I have decided not to talk about Asperger’s at all. While I was in the hospital - under the influence of morphine, no doubt - I ran into many language labyrinths. I could never say “Percoset” right off. First of all, I had to reject “Prednisone.” Then I would thrash my way through verbal salads of “Penobscot,” “Pemaquid,” finally landing on “Butternut.” The Butternut phase was followed by an easy ability to say “Percoset.” All the while, I was thinking, in this or that connection, “That’s my Wellsperger’s talking.”  

In the essay that I linked to a couple of weeks ago, Tim Page makes the extraordinary claim that he learned how to interact with people from Emily Post’s handbook of etiquette. I had the advantage of direct tutorials from my mother, who would take me out to dinner before a Philharmonic concert every now and then. (As always, I went overboard. I wasn’t supposed to like the music; I was there to learn to sit still.) Ordinarily contentious, our relations during these evenings were almost playful. I was learning a game, and the object of the game was to fool waiters and headwaiters and other adults into regarding me as a well-behaved teen-ager, a “young man.” In the ad-libbed environment of high school free periods, with no script to work with, I was hopelessly clumsy. Every once in a while, I came up with a clever remark, but that made me tolerable, not admirable. Having absolutely no lust in my own breast, I couldn’t explain the knack that classmates had – especially the attractive, popular ones – for making themselves miserable because their passions were not satisfactorily requited. I hope it won’t offend readers to learn that I sailed through adolescence – and the rest of my life – untroubled, if that’s the word, by “nocturnal emissions.”

So I learned how to make friends and influence people from the outside in. I whistled happy tunes.

I whistle a happy tune
And ev’ry single time
The happiness in the tune
Convinces me that I’m not afraid.

Make believe you’re brave
And the trick will take you far.
You may be as brave
As you make believe you are….*

Eventually, I didn’t even have to whistle. This was a mistake, of course, because I still had much to learn  about people, and the memories of mistakes and inadvertent insults that I compounded during my twenties (when I was also a lobster out of water in Houston) can still make my blood run cold.

In any case, the idea of “acting naturally” strikes me as totally outlandish. I can fake acting naturally, but only after I’ve had thirty or so minutes to study my environment.

Here is the note that I want to close on, this morning: the time and effort that I have put into honing antennae and sizing up a roomful of people have cost me, if not a Nobel, then at least a MacArthur grant. Am I resentful? Certainly not! It’s a relief to know why.

* Rodgers and Hammerstein, The King and I.

I'm Home!

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Incredibly, I’m at home. Thanks to everyone who sent so many good wishes; I hope to return the favor with a few good stories. But what a whirlwind! A week ago today, I was seeing a spine surgeon for the first time – and he was thinking that it was unsafe to let me go home to pack a bag. The next day, the surgery took either five hours (according to the MASH surgeon) or eight (according to the much more sober anaesthesiologist). Neurologists were on hand, continuously testing the integrity of my spinal cord.

Let’s not talk about Recovery (Thursday); it seemed to take place in a different country, one in which any high-tech support was well-hidden. They meant well, though.

The three days that I spent hanging around my double room made a story in improvements, and, just when I’d worked out all the right routines, it was time to go. Don’t worry – I wasn’t tempted to stick around.

I will leave you with the three Blessed Miracles:

1. When I take the neck brace off in March or sometime around then, my head will stand more erect than it did before the fall.

2. Unlike that of most ankylosing spondylitis victims, the constitution of my vertebrae is robust. For that reason, I’m not sporting a halo.

3. I can now undergo a CT scan without major ingestion of painkillers. Why it didn’t hurt in the least. The third one, I’m talking about.

God bless the good people – the very good people – at the Hospital for the Ruptured and the Crippled!