Monday, October 31, 2016

"A" for appendix and "B" for beginning


It was November of 1957, a year before I met my wife, Gloria. I was on a date. I don't remember her name (doesn't matter) but I was beginning to feel sick (not because of the date).  We had gone to a movie and now we were pulling into the parking lot of Rip's Huddle on Government St. near Foster Dr.   I'm not sure it was Rip's (doesn't matter), but the location was correct.  

Rip's was a popular little bar with seating serving no more than 16 people at 4 tables.  The word "little" does not begin to give justice to the description.  It was "tiny".  My date said "Wow, what a cozy little place. But I thought it would be full." There was no one else in the place except the bartender.  My date was referring to the full parking lot.  I explained to her that the bar was simply a front operation.  In the back was where the real action took place ... illegal  gambling. 

My sickness worsened and I had to apologize to her and take her home.  I then went home (at age 22 I still lived at home with my parents).  It was near 11 pm and my parents and brother were asleep.  I looked for an Alka seltzer, but there was none to be found.  My stomach was hurting worse and worse.  I tried going to sleep, but to no avail. My stomach pain worsened. When I checked the time it was after 2 AM.  Soon my mother awoke and came to check on me.  I was writhing in pain. She awoke my father who also came to my bedside. 

"What did you eat tonight?" my mother asked.  My dad asked "What did you drink?"  I explained that I began feeling nauseous and weak before going to the bar and that we had gotten nothing in the movie theater. 

Near sunrise I could no longer take the pain.  My mother said "I'm calling Dr. Thompson". Doctor O.M. Thompson was our family physician.  Within 30 minutes Dr. Thompson arrived.  Upon examining me he said "Boy, we've gotta get you to the hospital." I then asked "Do you have an Alka Seltzer?" He said "You're not going to get anywhere near an Alka Seltzer." My response: "But that's probably all I need." He said "Alka Seltzer would probably kill you." Gulp!  Thank you, God, for not allowing me to find the Alka Seltzer!   

Back then the OLOL (Our Lady of the Lake Hospital) was in its original location just north of the state capital on Capital Lake.  Today neither OLOL nor Capital Lake is still there. 

Upon arriving I was immediately put in a pre-op room and this lovely nurse came in with a straight razor and pan of hot water.  She said "Hope you don't mind but I have to shave you." As attractive as she was I was not in any mood to discuss whatever she had to do.  My pain level restricted me to just one word "Whatever".  She proceeded to shave my lower abdomen.  

After the shave I was wheeled into the O.R. and an Anesthetist turned me on my side and asked that I curl up my legs to my chest (fetal position) as tight as possible.  I was not crazy about having to contort myself while enduring intolerable pain, but I nonetheless complied.  I was then given a spinal injection.  The Anesthetist said that I was given about 15 minutes of anesthesia. 

A wall was then mounted over my chest to prevent my being able to watch my own surgery.  The shot was a local allowing me to be conscious during the procedure.  Dr. Thompson said that my appendix was seriously inflamed and would have to come out.

I said "But why must it come out?  The pain has gone away.  I feel like I can go home now." With that insane assessment there were several giggles and titters coming from the medical personnel that were in the room.  Dr. T said "You're feeling no pain because you've been given an anesthesia." 

I then felt what seemed like an icicle on my stomach.  I said "Hey, Dr. Thompson, I am feeling something cold on my stomach.  Are you sure I won't feel anything during the surgery?" He laughed and said "Boy, we've had you opened up for nearly 10 minutes now."  My only response then was "Oh!" Anyway I was told later that the anesthesia affects all the nerves except the cold nerves.

In my euphoric anesthetic state I watched in awe via one of the surgical lamp reflectors.  I could see a distorted view of the surgical activity. After a few minutes what I was seeing I was now beginning to feel.  What's going on?  I'm supposed to be pain-free during this procedure.  After a few minutes more the pain had gotten increasingly unbearable. What's going on? Then I spoke up.  "Hey, Doc, I'm feeling a lot of pain now.  What's happening?" Dr. Thompson then explained that the procedure was taking longer than the 15 minutes of anesthesia was able to handle.  I asked "Then why was I given only 15 minutes of pain-killer?" He said "Because we thought that we were dealing with a simple appendectomy, but we discovered that your appendix had ruptured, so we have to do a little more work." I said "Then can you give me more anesthesia?  This is really hurting." He said "Not now we can't, but soon we'll sew you up and send you to your room." Crap! I was now gripping the mattress, the bed hardware, anything I could to help relieve the pain of this surgery. I could feel every cut, tuck and pull.  No fun! 

Soon the tuck and pulls subsided and I was being wheeled to post-op. Man, what an experience!  I'd find out later that the surgery took nearly 45 minutes which meant I was not anesthsized for 30 minutes of that surgery.  No fun! 

I was soon transferred to a room. For about 30 minutes I enjoyed the relief, then I began having those same pains again that had kept me awake all night.  Now what's happening?  I thought the surgery was going to fix me.  When Dr. T came in a little later I asked about these post-op pains and he said that was gas and I would be having gas pains for a few days.  He said I should just pass the gas, that it won't smell since it is really just air."  What?!  "You mean just fart?" He said "Yes." I said "But what if people are visiting me?" He said "You've had a very serious surgery.  Passing the gas is OK. You may just need to explain to your visitors that you have to do this."  Wow, how embarrassing! 

Over the next couple of days I was visited by family and a few friends. Then around day 4 of my recovery I was visited by a young lady I had dated several times.  I think her name was Nancy. I was not going to pass gas (or air) while Nancy was visiting, so I held back.  But the longer I held back, the more pain I suffered until I finally just had to ask her if she would leave the room for a few minutes.  She did, then I did.  Whew! A few minutes later she came back in accompanied by another visitor .... another young lady I had dated a while back.  This was Dorothy (I think).  I know, I know I should remember their names.  But give me a break.  It's been some 60 years ago. 

I could now see the tension growing between these two ladies. But not nearly the amount of tension my stomach was once again going through.  I invited both to please leave the room for a few minutes. They left, I did my thing and I awaited their return.  Didn't happen.  They didn't come back.  Hmmm!  I wonder why. At that point I couldn't care less.  I was alone and didn't have to invite anyone to leave the room. 

Nine days later I was released to go home.  Dr. T said my incision looked good (about 5 inches) and that I was not to exercise or do any strenuous activity for about a month.  Wow, such inactivity was going to drive me crazy, but I complied .. at least for the first week.  But then I got a call from state civil service asking if I would come in tomorrow morning at the Capital Annex for a job interview.  I had applied to C.S. for a job with the Louisiana Division of Employment Security (today's LaWorks). 

The following morning as I was leaving the house my mother asked why I was so dressed up.  "I have a job interview." With some justifiable concern she asked "Should you be doing this so soon after your surgery?" Attempting to put her mind at ease I said "Mom, I'm feeling fine. Dr. T simply asked that I not do any strenuous activity. An interview is not strenuous activity."  

So off I went to the appointed time of my interview with Mr. Clabo Roberts at the Capital Annex.  After parking I made my way around to the front steps of the Annex. I had forgotten that the Annex had a lengthy stair entrance.  Must have been 20 or 30 steps just to get into the lobby. 

The interview went well, I got the job and was to start on Monday.  As I departed Mr. Roberts' office I began to feel a little whoosy.  Upon completing my trek down those front steps I began to feel a wetness in the vicinity of my incision.  Oh shit!  Upon getting into my car I opened my vest only to be greeted by a pool of blood covering my shirt and pants.  Seeing that image nearly put me out, but I managed to recover some semblance of control.  I started the car and made it home.  My mom said "Oh my God!  You OK?"  Not wanting to alarm her any more than she already was I said "I'm fine, Mom.  Just a little bleeding, that's all."  To which she responded "A LITTLE?  I'm calling Dr. Thompson.

He met us in his office and said "What have you been doing?" I explained that I had kept an appointment for a job interview.  He then said "I've got to now clamp that incision.  And this clamp will cause an adhesion." I asked "What does that mean?" He said "Your belly skin will adhere to your inner lining, the membrane that holds your organs." I asked "Is that bad?"  He said "Don't gain weight.  If you get too heavy and this adhesion breaks, you could bleed internally and die within a few minutes." Hmmm, yep, that's bad. I immediately set up limits on my eating habits.  At the time I was around 180 pounds.  I vowed not to go beyond 185 ... if at all possible. 

But then 1958 came and went, 1959, 1960, 1961 through 1967 and my body weight was now up to 205 and my gut hung over my belt.  But then the Baton Rouge Little Theatre announced its summer musical choice for the forthcoming summer of 1968:  CAROUSEL.  Wow!  I wanted to be, I HAD to be cast as Billy Bigalow, but not in my current physical condition.  I immediately adjusted my diet and got my weight down to 185 again.  And Gloria reminded me that the prospect of being cast in CAROUSEL may have saved my life.  She reminded me of Dr. Thompson's admonition to watch my body weight or I could die.  Wow!  How could I have forgotten?  But I had.


Anyway in the spring of 1968 Director Lee Edwards held auditions for CAROUSEL and of course I was there ... ready, prepared and determined.  I had some pretty stiff competition and feared I might lose out, but after several grueling days of directorial indecision and vacillating, Lee finally called me:  "Jerry, are you still interested in playing Billy?" Of course I was. 

But even before "Billy" my fortunes had changed.  In 1959 my dear friends from my "HIT OF MISS" days had all decided to go to either New York or Hollywood and begged me to join them.  But I had just met Gloria, my future wife, and told them I was going to stay in Baton Rouge and bring Hollywood here.  How I was going to do that I had no idea.  But then my fortunes began to change in my favor.  My new job with the Louisiana Employment Service came through for me.  In 1960 my boss, the late Charles Densdorff, said "Jerry, since you are a theatre person, I'm assuming you wouldn't have a problem assisting visiting motion picture producers with their casting needs." And of course I didn't have a problem.  That saga continues with my Raymond Burr link. Then in 1966 my good fortune continued.  I was now on the payroll of GSRI (Gulf South Research Institute) and this story continues with my Otto Preminger link.  Then the adventure that closed the deal was John Wayne. 

After nearly 50 years these events culminated into an event of recognition I will cherish the rest of my life.  The LIFF (Louisiana International Film Festival) had decided to recognize the now late Anne Price who had been the ADVOCATE news paper's Arts and Entertainment editor for over 6 decades.  In 2014 The LIFF committee created the ANNE PRICE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD and to my great surprise and gratification decided that I should be their inaugural recipient.

I was speechless.   And still am.


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