SHECKYmagazine.com HOME   BACK to the Columnist INDEX JUL-AUG 2003 ISSUE

"Speaking of cost, how much do you think a stroke goes for these days?"
The Big Move
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TOMMY JAMES made the Big Move to Los Angeles.





#12 IN A SERIES . . . . . NEW BIG MOVE EVERY MONTH! In the movie A Bronx Tale Sonny tries to explain to Calogero how to tell if a woman loves you. Sonny explains, "Open the door for her and let her in. Then you close the door for her and you walk around the back of the car and look through the rear window. If she doesnít reach over and lift up that button so you could get in, dump her. Just like that. Listen to me kid. If she doesnít reach over and lift that button, so you could get in that means sheís a selfish broad and all youíve seen is the tip of the iceberg. You dump her and you dump her fast."

A useful bit of wisdom for the 1960ís, but in todayís age of power locks and keyless entry itís a bit outdated. So Tom, if one wants to tell if a woman really loves me, what should I do? Iím glad you asked. First, have a tremendous argument. Make it over something trivial such as where youíll have lunch, but blow it out of proportion to the point where the two of you arenít even talking. Then give each other the silent treatment for a few hours-- this always helps to build tension especially if youíre sitting in the same room and you decide to watch something on TV, not because you enjoy whatís on, but because you know it pisses her off. Finally, and this is important, have a stroke. Thatís right, have a stroke. If she calls 911, sheís a keeper. If she can look beyond the fact that you were watching Rambo for the 29th time only to annoy her and still attempts to get a paramedic, she obviously doesnít hold a grudge-- and she probably loves you.

Now I wasnít watching Rambo, it was actually 60 Minutes, but I did have a stroke on Memorial Day Weekend. So while most of you were at the beach or on the lake or at a friendís backyard barbeque, I was on the floor paralyzed on the right side and unable to speak. The ambulance came in literally seconds and they attempted to aid me immediately, but I couldnít tell them what was wrong. I was just making noises similar to NASCAR fans at Talladega or Rockingham after a 500-mile race and 400 Busch beers. I could comprehend English and form thoughts; I just wasnít making sense, much like a David Lynch film or Sylvester Stalloneís career. By the way, how could Stallone make a classic like "Rocky" and then crap such as "Over the Top?" Over the Top is my favorite arm wrestling movie in much the same way "Side Out" is my favorite volleyball film, but I digress.

About fifteen minutes after dropping to the floor, I found myself in an ambulance. It was surreal to say the least. I couldnít move my right side and I began to throw up. I donít need to tell you where this is going. I had no control of my body and no ability to move so guess where lunch landed. You got that right-- in my lap. A few moments later it was off to Cedarís Sinai in Beverly Hills, which is just a short trip down Melrose Avenue from my place. My beef here was that they didnít use the siren. They didnít fuck up traffic. How many times Iíve missed a green light because some 94 year- old fossil was having "chest pains" or broke his hip and here I was having a stroke, but the ambulance driver was abiding by the rules of the road. Come on man. Floor it! Letís see what this babyís got under the hood. Tie up traffic. Blow that horn. Make some noise, you bastard. Iím dying here. But not dying like a two-bit hack doing Lewisnsky jokes and Croc Hunter impressions at some one-nighter in Paducah, Iím really fucking dying!

I didnít die which upset some of my "friends" who, moments after the news broke, were already fighting over the rights to my joke notebook. Word on the street is it only took two hours for the bickering over my "education reform" bit to escalate and almost come to blows. I was paralyzed, though, and frightened like never before. Thankfully, I was only paralyzed for two days, but that was long enough for me. Thereís nothing scarier than being paralyzed and then regaining movement, but remembering it. Sure, sitting in the middle seat between Gallagher and Gallagher 2 on a trans- Atlantic flight sounds horrifying, but the memory of actually being paralyzed haunts me every day. The worst part is my paralysis didnít last long enough for me to obtain a handicapped-parking permit. By the time we got the paperwork, I had regained my mobility and, just like that, Iím walking half a mile to the mall just like every other schmuck. Evidently the fine folks at the DMV have been duped before and werenít having any of my "bullshit." If Iíd only been paralyzed a little bit longer.

When I had meningitis last month (yes, itís been a great spring) I told you that if you wanted to expedite the waiting process and be seen sooner rather than later while waiting in an emergency room, all you have to do is just vomit. It really does work. Hereís another tip for you: Donít, and I repeat donít, have a stroke on Memorial Day Weekend. There are absolutely no doctors around. You could scream, "Is there a doctor in the house" and get no response. Oh sure, there are a few residents hanging around, but letís be honest, residents are for people without insurance. And we all know everyone got health coverage after I told you last month that my meningitis cost $36,000. Speaking of cost, how much do you think a stroke goes for these days? Theyíre actually quite a bargain, all things considered, coming in at a tidy $77,000. Ray Romano just signed a contract that will pay him $1.8 million per episode. That means, based on a 22-minute episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray Romano will make more per minute ($81,818.18) than my stroke is going to cost United Healthcare. That, folks, is what we call perspective.

While at the hospital I was a human pincushion with all the blood tests I had to endure. Every fifteen minutes, it seemed, theyíd come in and pop me for a few more ounces - the vampires were relentless. Oh, and did I mention that I had to receive blood thinners intravenously? And did I mention that those needles were to be received through my stomach. Good God, these shots hurt like a bitch-- twice a day no less. But the absolute worst was when I was told the doctors still had no explanation for why I suffered the stroke and the needed to do a second, yes second, spinal tap on me in just four weeks. (Remember I had meningitis last month) Doctors like to refer to a spinal tap as a lumbar puncture, but their candy coating makes it no less uncomfortable. They might as well call it the "backstabbing." Because thatís literally what it is. Essentially, you roll over so they can pierce you with the biggest needle they can possibly fit in your body. And the best part is yet to come, as afterwards you must lie flat and motionless for upwards of six hours so as not to obtain a post- lumbar headache that can last one to three days. Gotta love the spinal tap. Canít wait for the next one.

Three days in and still no answers. No explanation for the stroke and itís time to for another big test. Time for an angiogram. I know most of you (I say most as if more than three people read my column and that includes my wife and mom) have no idea what an angiogram is, so Iíll do my best to describe it in its most horrific brutal honesty. With an angiogram, a catheter or tube is inserted into an artery, usually in the groin area, and guided through the arterial system into the heart and into the coronary arteries. A dye is then injected through the catheter into the bloodstream and x- rays of the heart and coronary arteries are taken. So basically they cut me open just below my family jewels and ran a tube through me as if they were wiring an apartment for cable. One nice thing that they did was shave my pubes. And they didnít just shave the area to the right of my Johnson; they shaved both sides - which was completely unnecessary, but most appreciated. They didnít have to do that, although thatís the kind of special treatment you get at a Beverly Hills hospital. Itís those little things.

Now just prior to the symmetrical ball shaviní action and the angiogram, a doctor comes in and alerts you to the potential dangers. Itís not a fun list. He tells me that thereís a chance I could suffer: excessive post-procedure bleeding from the artery that will be punctured when the catheter is inserted, possible shock from blood loss, kidney damage, and/or a second stroke. A second stroke!?!?!? Thanks doc, any more great news? Then he tells me, "Donít worry, I havenít lost anyone since 1999." Thatís not very reassuring. Even I can do that math. If you want to make me feel better, give me a year I canít determine in my head. Make one up if you must. 1981. 1983. Anything, just not some year that any imbecile can figure. I probably should have asked, "So, itís been four years since you lost somebody, but how many procedures have you done since then?" But I was afraid heíd say, "None. Youíre my first time back on the ol' angiogram horse." That wouldíve made me crap my pants-- had I been wearing any.

So my groin is now open and the catheter is making itís way up my torso and I hear one of the doctors actually utter the word "Oops." Thatís about the worst thing you can EVER hear a doctor say when your groin has been sliced like Thanksgiving turkey and youíve just been warned of the potential dangers of the procedure. I donít know about you, but in my world, I say "Oops" after I screw up. Most people Iíve checked with told me the same. They said you can say "Oops" when you forget something at home, lose your cell phone, and even when you get caught cheating on your lover. But doctors should never, ever say "Oops" when theyíve just cut you open just below your scrotum. I think Iíd rather have heard the doctor say, "Nurse, you know Iíve had a run of bad luck, but this time I think weíre really gonna turn things around-- Knock on wood."

The angiogram turned up negative, as did every other test from the three MRI tests, to the TEE, the MRA, the CAT scan, and everything else. But I remained in the hospital day after day, night after night. When I first arrived, someone asked my wife what religion we practiced. I put up a tree in the winter and occasionally decorate eggs in the spring but thatís about it for me as far as religion goes. Sure if I really need something I do a little praying, but I think due to my recent absenteeism at church (When I say recent, I mean 15 years or so) I think my requests are of low priority. But they were persistent in their wish to learn our religious preference so my wife said Roman Catholic, which is how I was raised because Iím from New Jersey and I think itís the law. What they should have asked my wife was, "What type of religious freaks would you like to badger you whenever you have a moment of peace and quiet in room 7119?"

These lunatics would parade in and out wanting to talk about the Lord. One woman walked in and said to me "Hi, my name is Linda and Iíd like to talk about Jesus. Now sometimes Jesus calls for us when weíre not ready, but we have to trust he knows best." I freaked. "Hold it right there, Linda. What do you know that I donít? Go get my chart. Bring it in here. What are you saying? I thought I was going to be okay. Thanks for raining on my parade." These nutjobs shouldnít be allowed to preach that kind of propaganda and negativity in hospitals. They should save it for the schoolchildren that have to listen-- at least until their Confirmation in the 8th grade.

Cutting an already long story a tad shorter. The doctors still canít explain why I had a stroke. Iím an enigma. My parents have been telling me that for years, but now itís confirmed. The excellent staff at Cedarís Sinai is puzzled with my situation. It resembles Behcetís Syndrome but is not exactly that. Iíve been told that they may submit my story to they New England Journal of Medicine. They tell me they might have found a new disease right here in my very body. Sure Drew Carey, Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano had their own sitcoms, but can any of them claim to have had their own diseases? No. Itís just Lou Gherig and me. Not good company in retrospect.

My condition appears to be treatable though. Iím on myriad medications including a steroid known as prednisone. Itís not a Sammy Sosa/Mark McGuire steroid, rather more like a Jerry Lewis, freaky fat face steroid. It has the ability to prevent future strokes, but it has ALL the negative side effects you hear about in those ridiculous TV commercials. Prednisone causes: an uncontrollable appetite, rapid weight gain, increased thirst, water retention, acne, recurring hiccups, increased perspiration, frequent urination, mood swings, insomnia and restlessness, among other things. Itís also affected my emotions in a strange way. Now, for some reason, I cry like a baby. Everything makes me cry. Iíll be watching Last Comic Standing and cry over the stupidest things. Like why does Rich Vos always have to be ironing those jeans? And bang, Iím crying. Thereís really no reason for the tears, maybe I just donít understand why anyone outside of Texas would want pressed jeans. In Richís own words, "Thatís stupid." But there he is behind the ironing board with his Leviís and Iím bawling. And I blame it on the steroids. Theyíre ruining my life. Iím just afraid that the next time Iím killing on stage itís gonna be tainted. I can hear it now, all the murmuring in the back of the club from the other comics. "Sure heís funny, but heís on the juice."

So now itís a summer of visiting doctors. Itís all I do. I have a neurologist, a rheumatologist, a geneticist, an opthamologist, an internist for blood tests, and a therapist to discuss the trauma. How about that? A therapist. Now Iím officially in Hollywood. Sure you can move here from wherever it is that you live, but you truly arenít "in the biz" until youíve got a therapist. Now I just need someone to read my treatments and specs. The heir to the Max Factor fortune rapes someone and people are reading HIS journals. Maybe if I kidnapped somebody I could get coverage on one of my scripts.

This has been a life-changing event. Iím a little scared and a little sad, but Iím going to be fine. There are a thousand people Iíd like to thank, but this is already the longest article Iíve ever submitted to SHECKY and Iím a bit forgetful these days. (Blame it on the meds) Iíd like to thank the following people though, if you donít mind. For their support, calls, visits, and prayers because, like I said, my prayers are probably of low priority. Thank you to the following comedians: Tom Ryan, Mark Saldana, Jimmy Shubert, Peter Grumbine, Ann Abeyta, Doug Stanhope, Billy Gardell, Danny Bevins, Rob Little, Suzy Soro, Flip Schultz, Brian McKim, Traci Skene, Mark Knope, Father Luke, Tanyalee Davis, Steve Seagren, Lenny Schmidt, Dan Mengini, Scotty K, Dicky Palmer, Chris McGuire, Dan Kaufman, and everyone who posted nice things in ACS. Also thanks to my friend Jeremy Haft who isnít a comic, but the director of the best show to hit MTV, Surf Girls, for making me laugh while I laid in bed and also nearly killing me when we walked to the hospital cafeteria to get ice cream all the while I unknowingly had a dangerous blood clot in my leg. And to Bonnie McFarlane for the nice e-mail, even though you came up with some bullshit story about how you were "about to visit," but then I was released from the hospital - A likely story.

And thank you to my parents and brother, Dave. You all made a miserable experience a lot better with your support, phone calls and love. Thanks, mom, for flying out to help with everything. And dad, I know you wanted to come too, but one frantic parent was enough. Oh and I canít forget all my aunts, uncles and cousins for the calls and medical research. Especially Lynn and Dianne for putting in extra time at their hospitals up in NY, trying to find out what they could.

And finally, thank you to Michelle, my wife and love. I always knew you were the type to "open the car lock" for me. I know it was tiresome going back and forth from work twice a day to visit me, but it brightened my days in ways I canít explain. Now itís time to move forward. What do you say? Thank you for everything baby. I love you. And Iím so happy to have a second chance with you and at life.

See you next month.



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