I’m typing with only my left hand. My right hand is in a sling made of a six-foot leash looped twice around my neck. I’m practicing being one-armed, because in a few weeks, I will be, for some time. I’m not sure how long. A few months, at least.
My right shoulder has to be replaced. They have to saw off the top of the humeral bone, drive a new one into the marrow, slice off part of the shoulder blade and hammer a new socket and three nails into the side where the ball-and-joint fit together. I’ve had two operations on this shoulder over the years, and there is no more repairing it. The thing has gone the way of the suspension in your '71 Gremlin and quit working altogether.
Overall, I think I’m up to 21 operations, though I lost count years ago. Many of those were minor – things like an appendix or a few hernias, but many were substantial. Orthopedic repairs after being crushed in the Himalaya, the removal of a paralyzing spinal cord tumor, the first primitive shoulder surgery. I’m filled with steel bars, staples and screws. I am an example of the correlation between number of scars on a person and how boneheaded they are.
I’ve known for a long time that I had to do this, but I’ve been putting it off because of Roo. The surgeon tells me that it will be a minimum of two weeks with no walking of any kind whatsoever. After that he says it will be a minimum of two to three months before being permitted on anything more than a sidewalk. Holding a leash? Too dangerous. Roo is well-behaved on a leash, but it doesn’t take much for her to be startled or to jump at a passing squirrel and no jarring will be permitted. But, it just can’t wait any more. The shoulder is trashed. It's murder.
The first time I had surgery on that shoulder was when I was 19. Back in those days, shoulder surgeries were slaughterhouse affairs. My arm was taped to my chest for six months, and after that in a sling for another six. Physical therapy consisted of a beefy guy leveraging his entire weight on me and whanging my arm to one side, like the put-down in a brutal arm wrestling match. The object was to tear the scar tissue that formed in the shoulder.
This took place at a rehab clinic in Manhattan that was filled with athletes from the Yankees, Mets, Knicks, Jets and Giants.
One day, one of the Yanks happened to be walking past the room when the therapist put my arm in position and on the count of three bore down on it with all his weight to tear the scar tissue. You wouldn’t believe the sound that made. It stopped the Yank like he just landed on third to beat a double play.
Word spread among the players, and when it was time for my bi-weekly sessions, a gaggle of them would gather at the door to watch. Naturally, as the skinny, awkward kid with Coke-bottle glasses, an odd nerd incongruous to the athletes for the pretty Vassar girls waiting for me out in the lobby, I developed the ethic of maintaining a completely straight poker face during the spectacles. I’d fix one of them with an unblinking gaze and a little smile while the scar tissue was torn. It was a good act.
“Yo, man, come on, come on, hurry up!” one of the athletes would announce to the rest while I was placed on a special table designed to keep steady under the load. “Beker’s here! Come on!” They'd splash out of their whirlpool baths or interrupt the heat treatments they were getting, and eight or ten of the strongest professional badasses in the New York metropolitan area would jostle for position just inside the door. They could have come in the room, but they never did. They couldn't risk the bad mojo.
“Go ahead and make yourselves comfortable, fellows,” I would invite them.
“You okay with this?” the therapist would ask.
“But of course,” I would answer. "I live to spread light."
The therapist would then entwine my arm in his in a complicated position for rotating it outward to rip the scar tissue while at the same time supporting the shoulder to keep it from dislocating. This embrace provided a dramatic setup. The Yanks and Knicks would grab each other like skittish teenage dates at a horror flick. One or two would put a hand over their eyes and peek through their fingers. Baseball players, in particular, could not stop themselves from shielding their crotches, as if a line drive was headed straight for them instead of me.
As the therapist rose on his toes in advance of bringing his weight down, the room would silence. Then, R R R I I I I P P P P! the shoulder would go. It sounded like a quick tear in a crisp newspaper. The guys would all let out their breath and wince and groan and bury their faces in the palms of their hands. It was the high point of their day, just as watching a few captured Phoenicians get their arms chopped off by a gladiator would have been in another era. Some things never change. I was glad to oblige.
“Oh, man! How ain't you dead yet?” one would call.
“OUCH, DUDE! SHEEEEE-OUCH!” another would say.
They would punch each other in the arm or put half nelsons on each other. Some Jet would towel snap a Giant. It was the only locker room bonhomie I had ever participated in, having successfully eluded participation in every high school sport, but I have to admit that I enjoyed it. Except for the actual ripping and tearing, which had to be repeated a few times each session, it was fun.
OK - so I'd be sweating by the time it was over. But that was the only sign of stress. While I got off the table and worked my way back into my sling, I'd shake my head at the players and say something like, “Try to remember that the next time one of you pussies is rolling around in the dirt and screaming your head off on national TV because a wittle ball hit you in your wittle hand.” Having a scrawny kid tell them that always brought a big laugh. They'd make way for me to pass them in the corridor and shake me by the left hand and say, “All right, man, all right,” as if they were holding the ropes for me to leave the ring in triumph after 15 rounds of beating up Joe Frasier. As soon as I got outside, I'd jaywalk into the middle of roaring traffic on First Avenue and scream.
Luckily, I got a lot of practice at being one-armed. It comes back to you quickly. Just now, I made it through getting undressed, showering, getting dressed again, taking out the garbage, opening the coffee container, loading the coffee maker, replacing the wire ties that hold the coffee bag in place, tearing open the Equal packets by tooth, cleaning the coffee maker - and the opening and closing Roo’s duck jerky bag - all with, if I do say so myself, astonishing dexterity. The only scary part was remembering how much I would need to worry about not slipping in the shower when it's for real. The surgeon told me that if that happened we, “would have a problem. A big problem.” He makes it sound like they're out of titanium and have to use a couple of old sherry glasses in there.
But now, as I write this, it's nearly one o'clock, and the Kahoo is starting to go crazy. It's a beautiful day in Asheville and it’s time for her walk. Twice a minute she imagines that she hears me thinking about a mouse and jumps up. Since we teamed up, I doubt she’s gone five days without her long walks, so it’s not realistic to expect her to suddenly dispense with them. A dog will adapt, but that doesn’t mean they’ll understand or be happy about it. It is going to be a huge diminution in her circumstances. If I could wait until the heat of summer, I would, but there's no way.
This is exactly the sort of situation I hoped to cover with Roo’s List, but I was never able to find a way to implement that as a website. It's simply too expensive to develop something like that. There are no cheap solutions. And it wasn't possible for me to embark on a new career, learning how to code and build a specialized website. But, man, oh, man, the failure to implement that idea is something I regret every day. Especially right now. It wasn't for lack of trying. I simply don't have the chops to develop a complicated website. If anyone has any ideas, let me know.
Anyway, that's the news from the front. Rookie Kahoo is staring at me and pacing around. She really, really, really wants to get going. She is who she is in her heart when she is out on her walks.
Might as well get going while the going is good.