forgotten laughter


forgotten laughter 11.20.14

The subject of how and why I use humor in less is more came up in a conversation I had yesterday. That got me thinking: how long did it take me to start laughing after my accident? After the trauma and displacement of waking up in a hospital one limb short of what I came in with, surely I’d remember the first moment of genuine brightness breaking through the gloom (and medication) that enveloped me?

I’ve never asked myself that question before. And the answer – after careful thought – is that I can’t remember the first time I laughed after my failed two-step with a car. And that strikes me as strange, although perhaps it’s no stranger than not being able to remember the entire incident that led to me becoming an amputee in the first place.

I can say with certainty that I wasn’t laughing while still in ICU. Well, I apparently did giggle a bit, though I have no memory of it. Cara tells me that I woke up at one point and she told me that an old family friend had stopped by to check in on her. In my medicated haze I apparently chuckled and said, “[Friend’s name], what an a#$hole.” (I have not disclosed my friend’s name because (a) I’ve never told him the story, (b) I don’t think he’s an a#$hole, but (c) I fear that if he learns I once said this about him, he’ll consider it a pharmaceutically-induced yet true description of how I subliminally felt about him. [Friend’s name], trust me – I’ve met plenty of people who are a#$holes. You’re not one of them.)

After it became clear that any mental problems I was having resulted from my everyday stupidity and not bleeding in the brain, doctors transferred me to a normal hospital room. I don’t remember anything fun about that either. I do recall getting fairly freaked out watching the show Millennium, a darker, scarier version of The X-Files. Medication, serial murderers and vaguely sinister plots about the end of days do not mix well when you’ve just lost a limb. It’s possible I cracked a joke about the fact that my father ate a box of chocolates that I received from the family of the young woman whose car I was pushing. I know it struck me as slightly absurd at the time. I have a body part amputated. I get a box of chocolates. The least I should get for my troubles is a good piece of chocolate with caramel or marshmallow inside it, no? But my dad ate them (while – I kid you not – I’m watching and getting freaked out by Millennium, as I recall). That box of chocolates was the closest I ever came to actual communication with the young woman whose car I was pushing. I’m sure I could create some kind of interesting metaphor around the symbolic importance of my father’s Godiva intervention, but I’ll refrain from trying to draw it here.

Before I left the hospital for a week stint at an in-patient rehab facility I got to cruise the halls in a wheelchair, which I remember finding amusing. But I don’t think I ever laughed while doing laps around my floor.

I definitely didn’t laugh upon arriving at Rusk in New York City. As I’ve discussed many times before, Rusk in 1997 hadn’t been refurbished in many years. It had a distinctly One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest vibe to it. Cara, especially, was not amused.

I’m assuming that I eventually did start smiling and laughing over the course of the next week at some point. I say that because (a) I can’t imagine not laughing or cracking some dark joke for two entire weeks, and (b) I distinctly remember having fun as my physical therapist worked with me. Cara confirms that Ann and I hit it off immediately and that my whole mood immediately brightened when she and I started working together. But again, I have no actual memory of a single humorous event.

I wasn’t laughing when I returned home and on my first night back fell down while entering a restaurant on crutches. I was in a black rage for the rest of the night. Watching people with two legs fall is hilarious. Falling when you only have one and are using crutches, on the other hand, is catastrophic.

Christmas flew by in a Percocet-induced blur. Very funny in retrospect, but not so much in the moment, which consisted of me being unable to focus on any conversations going on around me and nudging Cara every 15 minutes to ask her when I could take the pills next.

The days before getting fit with my prosthesis consisted of lying around my living room, watching TV, and listening to sports radio. I filled nights with reading to distract myself from the phantom sensations pulsing through the air below what remained of my left leg. I mostly remember this period as monotonous and boring, a dull lull between the unexpected excitement of waking up in a hospital on the one hand and learning how to walk on the other. That post-amputation/pre-ambulation epoch is a kind of limb-loss purgatory – you’re waiting for the ferryman to escort you across the river to your prosthesis. You understand the life you’ve lost and you’re dimly aware there’s more to come. You just can’t comprehend what it will be like.

If I had to pick the one day where I know I grinned and really enjoyed myself, it was the second day in my prosthesis. I’d been walking between parallel bars and trying to get a feel for the biomechanics of walking with an artificial limb. I dimly remember reaching the end of the bars and then continuing into the open space beyond … tentatively … awkwardly. I had set up my whole life over the previous 7 weeks around this moment – walking without any assistance. Cara’s hands went up to her face as she started crying. For the first time in nearly two months I felt something that hadn’t been there before: confidence that I’d be ok.

4 thoughts on “forgotten laughter

  1. Dave, you gave me pause to think about the first time I laughed after my dance with a car. Like you, the tango with the auto that hit me, left me feeling like the proverbial, bug on a windshield and I can tell you what is NOT the last thing on your mind. At least you did receive a box of chocolates, even if you didn’t get to try them. Also, like you, I fell the first day home from the hospital. It is not fun, however, afterward, it might of been the first time I laughed….once the waves of pain subsided. I wasn’t allowed to use crutches do to the injuries my shoulder sustained. I was stuck with a walker. Hitting a mole run, with the feet of a walker can guarantee you will end up looking like Tim Conway doing his little old man character. Lying on my back in the drive way by barn, with the legs of the walker pointing straight up in the air… funny looking site.
    We are here to carry on, and to be able to look back. Maybe that was God’s greater plan in us surviving our accidents…Here to relate, here to help others. At least, I hope I do, and I know that you try to do the same. Your blog tells that….
    As long as we keep laughing……………

  2. Thanks for writing this one Dave. It made me think back to those same days for me.

    Your description of limb loss purgatory hit the nail on the head. I will use that in my peer visiting presentation.

    I also don’t remember the first time I laughed post injury. My amp wasn’t for another month. It was a drug induced dark time for me as I was trying to sort out the best route to take while trying to imagine my future.

    • Neal – thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. As I’ve thought about it more since writing the post, perhaps it’s not at all surprising that it’s hard for us to remember this kind of thing post-amputation. It’s difficult to process what’s happening – the enormity of an amputation is overwhelming. Then you often factor in the influence of prescription drugs on top of that … it’s next-to-impossible to act in a rational, coherent way unless you’re actually documenting it all in real time. I wonder if the experience today is radically different because of selfies, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram than it was 18 years ago when there was no readily-available vehicle sitting in our hands (iPhone? Galaxy?) to document our lives in real time? I’ll bet it is. Would welcome newer amputees’ thoughts on that.

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