Performer: Alice in Chains
Songwriters: Jerry Cantrell, Mike Inez, Layne Staley
Original Release: Jar of Flies EP
Definitive Version: None.
I was pretty much in shock when my doctor in Flint told me that I had to have my gall bladder taken out—now—when I went to St. Joseph’s Hospital in March 1994. And when he said that this was going to happen in an hour, actions became reflexive.
No one knew I even was in the hospital, let alone about to undergo major surgery. You don’t have to be worldly to know that all sorts of things can go wrong in surgery. If something happened to me, I didn’t want Mom and Dad to find out out of the blue.
The nurses in ICU, where I had spent a miserable night, as I mentioned, let me use the phone behind the desk. I called Mom. No answer. She probably was passed out and almost never answered the phone. I didn’t want to leave a message on her answering machine. I called Dad; he wasn’t at work yet. I called his home. No answer.
I called my boss. At least Dave was at work. I told him what was happening, that I wouldn’t be in work that night and that I had no idea when I’d be back.
I had to call someone in my family, however, so I called Aunt Nan in Ann Arbor. She was home. I told her I was about to go into surgery in the next few minutes, so would she please call everyone in Columbus and fill them in and that if anything happened to me in surgery tell them that I loved them since I couldn’t tell them personally.
She said she’d take care of it, which led to a humorous situation later. She called her husband, Carl, to give him the news but couldn’t reach him. They both ended up calling Dad at the same time, and his secretary, Debbie, talked to one and then the other on different lines, before they realized: Let’s just cut out the middle man and call each other.
When I hung up, I said, “OK, let’s do it.” And with that, I was wheeled into surgery—my first major one since I was a little boy (story to come).
I wasn’t afraid. If anything I was glad that it was happening that fast. It gave me no time to think, and as we all know, thinking can only hurt the ballclub. The last thing I remember was after I was given an IV and they turned on the anesthetic, my vision blurred and I was gone.
When I came to, I was minus one gall bladder and plus three new marks on my torso. My doctor had told me that the procedure would be via laproscopy, which meant I wouldn’t have a big zipper on my stomach. Instead I had an inch-wide incision just below my sternum and two “punctures”, one at my navel and another on my side at waist level. The surgery went just the way it was drawn up in a textbook.
I still was going to be in the hospital for a couple of days, however. After I was well enough to go home, I probably would require more recovery time. I didn’t like hearing that. I already was going to miss a week of work, and the sports copy desk was stressed enough. I couldn’t miss a second week … Don’t think, meat, just recover. I did just have major surgery, you know.
That day after the surgery was something of a dream—a series of unrelated events. I’m pretty sure I finally talked to both Mom and Dad that day, but I’m more sure I spent most of the time sleeping.
The next day I was more alert. I was in a double room, but for the most part, I was the only one in there, which I appreciated—particularly because the nurses wanted to measure how much I was going to the bathroom to make sure everything was processing as it should. Well, there was no way I was going to use the bed pan, but the plastic pitcher to measure my whaz output was OK. I just had to pull the curtain enough around my bed to gain a little privacy.
I wasn’t allowed to eat anything, not even ice chips. My nourishment was intravenous, but I wasn’t hungry, as you might suspect. I also wasn’t going to the bathroom as much as the nurses wanted. I didn’t think anything of it until I just stopped going altogether. Soon after that, I started feeling a lot of discomfort in my abdomen.
I suppose you probably can guess where I’m going (ahem) with this. They gave me a catheter. Wait … you’re going to stick that tube where? That was embarrassing enough, but the embarrassment factor was ratcheted up a couple notches when an attractive woman—by far the most attractive I saw the whole time I was in the hospital as it turned out—arrived to do the (dis)honors.
Fortunately, my discomfort trumped any embarrassment, and within seconds I was feeling much better and had filled not one but two jugs. (An old Richard Pryor bit flashed before my eyes … “Nurse! I’m not gonna make it!!)
From then on, however, I was in decent shape, all things considered. My recovery progressed, although I had to stay longer than expected when my fever persisted. I had a few visitors—almost everyone from the White Horse crew stopped by at one point or another—and I was itching to go home. That’s when you know you’re fine. Before then I didn’t want to go anywhere but back to sleep.
But I wasn’t going to be allowed to go back to work for another week—mostly because I wasn’t allowed to drive for a while. Well, if I can’t drive, I can’t get myself to work from Grand Blanc, so I went to stay with my aunt Martha, who volunteered to take care of me. Martha had driven over after my surgery and took my car—still outside the Emergency Room—back to my apartment.
Before we went to her place in Okemos, we swung by my apartment to get some clothes, my Walkman and some essential music. I just had made a tape of Jar of Flies, and that one had to come along with me as I entered the next stage in my recovery.