The Walls Come Tumblin’ Down

Good Friday this year was spent in a hospital trying to figure out why my headache was so bad I couldn’t open up both eyes at once while the lights were on.  They gave me narcotics that made me feel doped up, and then a cocktail of Motrin and an anti-nausea med that made me feel like I was both going to pass out and my skin was going to crawl off my body.  The last time I had a migraine like this meant sepsis, so I had to give blood and take a round of antibiotics.  The whole thing took about eight hours.  I won’t find out if I actually have sepsis until the blood tests come back Monday, so I opted to go home and continue the IV antibiotics there.  If you’ve ever tried to get sleep at a hospital, you understand why it’s better to be home on Easter morning with two kids than to be in a hospital.  If they give you an option to go, GO! 

Illness and I play a constant game of hide and seek.  Most of the time I can keep just ahead of it.  I peek around corners, fall asleep just before it gets bad, get through a little league practice or a playwrighting lab minutes before it’s able to effectively breathe down my neck and mug me in some back alleyway.  I always feel like if I can just turn down the volume a little, or stop and take a deep breath or close my eyes until the worst passes,  I’ll make it through.

And sometimes there’s nowhere to hide. 

I’ve done this for years.  I worked myself into the ground, almost literally, when I was able to work, in an effort to outrun what was chasing me.  It’s not noble.  In fact it’s reckless.  It’s stubborn.  But what was the alternative, admitting that I couldn’t support my family anymore?  Admitting that the one thing I was always good at, working a problem to death until it was gone, wasn’t going to serve me in this case?  Whatever success I had up until the point I started getting sick, whether it was playwrighting or corporate management or sales was due to 5% talent and 95% tenacity.  I worked 40 hrs a week while I was in college full time, and worked every day during breaks to make the next semester’s tuition.  I traveled into NY from Newburgh for my first career every morning and back every night.  Nothing special, everyone does what they need to do.  But when my energy started to wane I knew I was in serious trouble.  I started parsing it out by importance, and much to the chagrin of the people who were paying me, many times my job didn’t end up on top.  It would always end up BACK on top of course, I couldn’t afford to not be working, but more and more my children and my writing drew my energy and my attention.  I’m not saying it was right, I’m just saying it was.

It took years before I was finally run to ground, years of slow leaking, stumbling blindly forward until I fell.  And I tell myself I’m still who I was, that I’m no less a person for my illness.  But I can’t be who I was.  I can’t hold a job.  I can’t complete a role in a play.  I can write, but now I can’t direct and produce the way I used to.  I can be a parent, but I know I’m not nearly the parent I used to be, the one who was involved and active and who played with my children and got down on the ground with them.  I apologize to them more than I say yes to them.  They tell me it’s OK more than I tell them.  It’s not fair to any of us us, or Mary Ellen, who’s had to take up the slack.

These were the things I was supposed to do this week while the kids were out of school:  go help out at their practices, go to one of Mary El’s rehearsals so I could see how her show is going, have play-dates with with three of Mychal’s and Conor’s friends, and maybe play nine holes of golf with my Dad.  I did none of it, and odds are it will be weeks before I’m in shape to do any of it.  Every time I come back a little less.  I went from working 50 hours to working 40 to working 30 to not working to not leaving the house to hardly leaving the couch.  And I go to my blood doctor and see the folks with the wraps on their heads and their paper-thin skin and I know it could be much, much worse.  But it ain’t great, either.  It sure ain’t great. 

I probably won’t publish this–it’s the kind of stuff nobody wants to hear and nobody wants to say, so why bother making everyone uncomfortable.  Being sick sucks, big news flash!  If I was enjoying it, THAT would make an entertaining post.  Man bites dog.  There was a brief moment of levity, come to think of it.  Saturday night I dragged my sick, migraine-having butt downstairs to help the kids dye the eggs.  The kids are joking and laughing like the Looney Tunes characters that they are and Mychal gets caught up in what he’s talking about, turns around and slaps me right on my bald head.  I’ve had a headache for eight days.  I just stared at him, as his “What?” look turned to “What did I just do?”  He immediately leaves the room and has to be coaxed back by Mary El.  I thought it was kinda funny, after the shock wore off.

    • Paul Coleman
    • April 25th, 2011


    Why good people suffer is not something I have any pat answer to. But I can tell you this:

    My dad never made much money. Six kids. I was number 5. He was 43 when I was born. He eventually lost his job at age 52 and was unemployed nearly a year, finally getting work managing one of the departments at a Caldor. And he did his job there like it was the most important job in the world. What I remember from that time is not just that he was a great dad, who would play catch, or offer advice—I remember his response to adversity. He used humor. He did all he could to make the most out of a difficult situation. And he taught me so much from that. My respect for him is great, in large part not because of how he was when life was good, but because of how he was when life was not so good to him.

    You remind me of my dad in that way. Your body betrays you so you go the place that is not so physical–your heart and soul–and work wonders. Your kids will learn valuable life lessons through all that you must go through. I wish you did not have to suffer so much to impart those lessons, but rest assured they will grow up to be amazingly impressed with how you dealt with adversity–and that will most assuredly help them when they inevitably go through their own trials.

    Saying all that, I pray that you will feel much better!

    Keep up the writing and all you do. You are making a difference.

    • Joseph Gayton
    • April 25th, 2011


    I love your writing and reading this made me feel closer to you. Whenever I think what you must go thru on a daily basis, I am in awe.
    Please keep writing. You’re a gift to those who are lucky enough to be a part of your daily lives thru your missives. Feel better, my friend…

  1. Thank you gents.

    • Kae
    • April 27th, 2011

    Wow, I couldn’t have said better what Paul and Joseph expressed above.

    I wish you didn’t have to suffer, Brian, but you do, and as you said, you plow ahead tenaciously. Your sons will indeed learn a great deal from that, and they will be– probably already are– people who are capable of true empathy.

    I’m glad you spent Easter at home. I know, too, that one gets no rest in a hospital.

    I love your blog. I always look forward to it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your humor. And feel better! I’m praying it’s not sepsis.

    K xxx

  2. Thank you, Kae. So far it’s not, but whatever it is it seems to be responding to the antibiotic so there must be an infection somewhere. I think I need House to come hit me with his cane or something.

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