the fall


BRAIN SURGERY!!! I compared the Pace Maker insertion and aftermath with a walk in the park. Well, brain surgery and aftermath was more of a walk in ankle-high mud.

The ride from the doctor’s office to the hospital where the brain operation, if needed, was to take place was the same as the ambulance ride to where the Pacemaker was inserted was the same, except it took longer, and for the most part there was silence.

A few attempts at conversation was made by Gina, my wife, to our oldest son David who was driving. David answered in just a few words as possible. As for me, I was left to my own thoughts. Deep breathing and playing the radio in my mind.

An old time paratrooper taught me about playing the radio in my mind. Before the jump we would fly around an hour, maybe two. Packed like the proverbial sardines, couldn’t move. The noise of the plane so loud you couldn’t talk to the man next to you. If I managed to fall asleep, I would dream. See the trombone movie shot of the fall in the movie VERTIGO. Wake up in a sweat.

I noticed during the flight how Sgt. Estes would be sitting with eyes closed, breathing deep, bobbing his head, and tapping a boot. I asked him about that one night when we were having a beer in Fayetteville.

I listen to my radio in my head. You know how a song plays in your mind sometimes and it drives you goofy after a while. Well you can change the station. Think real hard on a song you want to hear and pretty soon it’ll come on. Do that and you won’t be thinking about what is going to happen outside that plane door.

‘Thinking about what’s going to happen gets you worrying. Pretty soon get you antsy. Doesn’t change the results any. Could cause you to make a mistake when you do jump.

‘Better to just breath deep and listen to the radio in your head and relax.’

So riding to the hospital to see about the fluid in my head, I listened to the radio in my head.

The year I graduated, 1956, the movie THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH premiered and the song that figured so prominently in it was a big hit for Doris Day. It also spoke to me at a time I was now in charge of making the big decisions of my life. It was old fashion music, far removed from the Elvis revolution; but I liked it.Still do. The cheerful styling of Doris Day. Her cheerful smile.

That was the song I tuned to in my mind as we went to the hospital.


What ever will be, will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que Sera, Sera

Eyes closed. Deep breaths. Listened to the music and in my imagination I saw the noble brain surgeon, James Steward, working to heal me.

And wiping the sweat from his brow was Alfred Hitchcock dressed as a nurse, performing his required cameo in his movie.

My daydream helped relax me.

I had no more gotten into the hospital gown in my new room, which looked like my old room except it was a floor higher, than they transported me to the Cscan room. Nothing in the room had changed since I was here last, five weeks before, except the results of the scan. But the fluid had still remained the size of a ‘clemetine’ and had not grown to the that of a full blown orange.

Back in the room it was check the vitals time, but before I got in bed I went to the rest room. I didn’t see a ‘hat’ and went back out and told the nurse. She laughed and told me they didn’t measure output on this floor. Nice to get the ground rules out of the way. Then I asked if nurses went from floor to floor. When she told me no I was relieved. It meant Nurse Mini-Ratched would not be one of my problems.

My vitals checked out. And I didn’t catch diabetes since I was here last. I mentioned that I had not had breakfast or lunch. An aide called down to have some food sent up for me. I asked not to have a turkey sandwich butI wouldn’t mind a tuna sandwich, a couple cups of that green Jello,and a cup of coffee. No coffee was on my food approval form, I was told.

It was a cloudy day for me. I wasn’t in LaLa Land, but I wasn’t fully awake. I knew that the next morning Gina had to take a stress test in conjunction with her nose operation coming up in the fall. I asked David to take her home. Kissed her and wished her the best with the test. She didn’t look happy when she left, promising to come back as soon as the test was over.

I don’t remember much about that rest of the day and night. I know there was a ballgame on TV but I didn’t bother to turn it on. I imagine the night was filled with checking the vitals etc.. I woke up when Gina kissed my forehead. She said her test went well. My mind was cloudy. Que Sera, Sera. Then the darkness came.

And the bad dreams!

They came after the operation. They came when I was slowly coming out of the anesthesia. General, not local. No LaLa Land.

Thanks goodness I don’t remember most of them. The two I remember are bad enough. Nightmares!

One was that all the dreams I was having were on a film loop that would play over and over. Every time I fell asleep from here on.

And the one that really got to me was the cougar attack!

When I mentioned a dream about a cougar, naturally one of my sons laughed. I told him not the kind of cougar he was thinking about.

This was an attack by a cougar, puma, mountain lion, catamount, panther, painter- a very big ferocious pussy cat. I heard the painter scream! It came flying through the air at me! I smelled blood on it’s breath. It stopped, suspended in air, inches from my face.Then it disappeared into the darkness.

I must have had some very bad reactions to that dream because I could feel hands on me and hear Gina’s voice telling me ‘Relax, relax, it’s just a dream, nothing to worry about.’

‘Honey,’ I warned her, ‘Please get away from me. If the cougar comes at me again, and I have to fight, I don’t want to accidentally hit you. Please get away from me!’

Naturally, she didn’t heed my warning but continued to try and sooth me. The cat didn’t come back and I did not have to fight it off.

The nightmare was perhaps triggered by a cougar out west attacking two bicyclist, killing one and injuring another a few weeks before. But the cat in my dream was not the recent killer, but one from my past, my early years, the Autumn Cat.

This particular cougar had been sighted around Mendota in the early fall for several years, always leaving behind a partially eaten carcass of a calf, once a spring colt. It was always about the same time of the year that it’s migratory circle brought it back to Mendota.

I had heard it called many things, cougar, puma, painter, panther, catamount, so one day I went up to the room in the Grandpa’s workshop where Fred LaBatte lived. Fred was a French/Dakotah old-timer who worked sometimes as a hired man for Grandpa. I told him all the names people were calling the Autumn Cat, and wanted to know the right one. Fred told me the animal went by all those names and more.

To the East, the Old People have a name for it that means, ‘Fire Cat that screams from the bottoms of Hell’. The animal does not growl, only screams. And, young Donnie, if you hear the painter’s scream, it may be too late already.’

It was an early fall eve. I was bringing a sauce pan of warm milk to the ferrets we had in four cages in the old barn down in the far corner of the barnyard. Hobo, my dog and my shadow was walking beside me; but he started acting strange as we neared the old barn, low growls followed by whimpering, hitting his body against my leg. Walking along the said of the shed, he actually stood in front of me and growled when we got close to the Dutch door. I peered around and saw the top half was open and the bottom half was hooked shut, as usual. If there was something inside it had to be an owl or maybe a hawk, something that could fly in the top of the door.

I kneed Hobo aside and was about two feet from the door when I heard the most godawful scream’! Both Hobo and myself turned to stone.

A large tawny blur erupted though the open part of the door. I felt the wind as it flew past my face. The Autumn Cat! I had heard the painter scream and prayed it wasn’t too late already.

It hit the ground running. It cleared the fence by a good two feet and kept going across the hay field, disappearing in the woods on the other side. Thank goodness!

Hobo had given out a little bark and took a step to chase it but I yelled ‘Stay’! He looked up at me and wagged his tail. I think he was thankful I had given him a reason not to chase the cat.

Had the cat waited a beat or two before it screamed, I would have been standing in front of the door when it leaped out.

I opened the bottom door and waited a bit for my eyes to adjust to the dusk. When I did see what the cougar had done, I went outside and vomited and Hobo whined.

All four cages were ripped apart, destroyed, and on the ground were the remains of the ferrets.

The cat continued to make it rounds for several more years; but I never saw the cougar nor heard it’s scream again…Until my nightmare!

It was nine hours from the time I left my room until they brought me back. It wasn’t until the early afternoon the next day that I was able to sit up and carry on a conversation. Oh, what a relief to know I could carry on a conversation. It was one of the things I worried about ever doing again prior to the surgery.

‘You sure talked a lot when you were coming to,’ Gina told me. ‘Loud! And sometimes you were even funny.

‘Everybody laughed when you hollered, “If you can’t do your f…ing job, get a f…er that can do the f…ing thing.” Only you used the complete word. I was so embarrassed.’

The two women in white uniforms standing by the bed laughed.

‘Sorry, honey. But at least I didn’t hit you.’

‘Oh, no,’ Gina said, ‘But you sure scared me. You and your cougar nightmare!. You made me cry.’

‘You had me scared too,’ said the taller, younger of the two nurses. ‘I was trying to calm you down and then you warned us you might punch somebody.’ She had a soft soothing voice and a nice smile.

‘Oh, Don,’ Gina said,’ you never met Dr. Angelique, your brain surgeon.’

Could have floored me when the tall young ‘nurse’ smiled and took my hand. I would have pegged her for student nurse, maybe an intern; but never a full fledged doctor and a brain surgeon to boot. She looked much too young.

She must have been a child prodigy, the kind that 60 Minutes likes to do a piece on. The youngster that has enough credits for a BA, but not enough years to take Drivers’ Ed.

And if she was in civilian clothes a body would think she belonged on a fashion runway, or maybe walking down the Red Carpet…Never in an operating room.

Gina had thought the same thing when she first met Dr. Angelique. I had been prepped and ready to be operated on when this tall, willowy, woman walked into the PreOp room. She had on a reddish dress that certainly wasn’t something she could have bought off the rack at Macy’s. And she was wearing matching shoes with high stiletto heels. Gina first thought was what was a fashion model doing in this room. And then when this ‘model’ began to ask questions and give orders…

One of the nurses, seeing the look on my wife’s face, mouthed the words, ‘She’s the surgeon.’ Gina said all she could think of was the high stiletto heels and hoping the doctor would operate with different shoes on

And when Dr. Angelique went to change, the same nurse told Gina how lucky I was to have her as my surgeon. ‘She’s the best,’and another nurse agreed.

Standing there in my room, the surgeon explained she had three choices concerning the fluid in my brain: do nothing, drill holes and drain it, cut open my skull and take the fluid out. The first was out of the question. The second was iffy at best and prone to infection. So she took the third, drastic but the best option.

‘In a day or two, you can touch the staples I put in your head. I take those out in a week or so. The stitches I used will dissolve by themselves. Oh, l your Cscan shows all the fluid is out. The procedure was a success.’

Even though she looked too young to cut open my head, her voice was such I had complete trust in her judgment and her work. Her parents must have had a premonition when they named her Angelique…Little Angel.

I asked her how long it would be before I could have some coffee. She said right away and called down to the kitchen to bring me up some coffee. And she told them that from now I had no more restrictions on coffee.

Once when a young man was collecting my food plates he asked how the coffee tasted. I told him it was okay. He laughed and said that was good to hear. They were laughing in the kitchen about me ordering coffee when I was under sedation.

He said he heard I ordered it about three times and finally I hollered they could stick their coffee. It tastes like horse piss anyway.

‘Gosh, another embarrassing thing I said when I was under the gas. Tell them in the kitchen I really apologize for what I said. I shouldn’t have compared it to horse piss because I honestly never tasted horse piss in my life.’

I spent five days in the hospital all toll. Things were pretty quiet after the operation. The nurses and nurses aides were nice and caring. Dr. Angelique checked in often to see how I was doing, along with the hospital doctor du jour.

There were two physical therapists that worked with me a lot, a young gal and an older woman. The young’un smiled a lot and was content to tie a belt around my chest and we walked around while she held onto the belt in case I fell. The older one at first asked me questions and made me memorize things and tell her later what they were. She liked the fact my brain was functioning; but not as much as I did. If things had gone south on me, could tolerate physical problems, but not mental problems.

Both of the women wanted me to use the walker instead of my cane. I tried to explain that a walker was not the thing for getting around in our house. It has four levels with six or seven steps to navigate to a different level and none of the levels were big enough to warrant a walker.

The younger one understood when I proved to her the stairs were no problem. There were handrails on each one. And she saw for herself when she took me in a ‘gym’ that had a seven stair mockup, which I had no problem going up and down. I explained I could get around walking upright with my cane better than walking hunched over using a walker.

Not so with the older therapist though. She demanded I use the walker instead of the cane. My explanations fell on deaf, stubborn ears. She thought I should go spend a few weeks in a half- way house to rehab before I went home. And I should sell my house and move into a one-level apartment.

Sell our house! Sure someday we will have to do what she says but now is not the time. I began to say something I would probably regret saying. She might insist I had to spend time to a half-way house before she would sign off on me. I bit my tongue and went along with her.

Sure, we would buy a walker. I knew they had them at the Good Will for a nice price. We could sell the house and move into a one-level dwelling. Then I could buy an exercise device. Something small, like maybe a Stair Master. I said I heard they were very good and asked what she thought about them. She agreed.

I wanted to say if that machine is so good to use, why aren’t the stairs in my house any different, but I caught myself in time. Silly ditz!

She stood there smiling while I told her what she wanted to hear. If I told her what I really was going to do she wouldn’t have been smiling.

She gave her okay for me to leave the hospital and didn’t mention anything about wanting me to go to a half-way house for rehab.

Both the hospital doctor and Dr. Angelique gave me the okay to go home on the 5th day. What a relief to go into my son’s car. The walk from the car to the house took a lot out of me, I’ll admit; but I was home. I sat at the kitchen table and drank a cup of coffee while I looked out the French doors.

I watched the rabbits hopping around and the squirrels climbing the trees. The small song birds flitting around. Looked out to the pond and saw wild ducks and geese swimming about. I knew if I stayed there long enough I would see the herd of deer that always came out of the woods and maybe see the flock of wild turkeys. An owl or a hawk would fly in and land on limb and the little birds and critters would hide until the raptor left. If the trees weren’t in the way I would be able to see the Nature Park and Mud Lake across the road. And to think the boss therapist wanted me to sell our little bit of paradise.

I watched JEOPARDY and while I wasn’t as good at it as I was say five years before, I was as good as I was before the fall. I made a request to Gina, would she make some of that green jello to go along with supper.

We both had a lot of doctors’ visits and tests, and Gina had her nose operation coming up, (She came out of it with flying colors. She’s tough. Sweet and loving, but tough.); but what the heck it looked like, thanks to my good doctors, that I was coming out of the fall only a little worse for wear than I was when it happened. Oh yes, I lost a lot of the summer, due to doctor appointments, and living in Minnesota, summers are precious times. Winter is coming and in Minnesota, winters are for the young. And come tomorrow, well… all I can say is:

‘What ever will be, will be.

End Act III. Curtain Closes to the sound of

Doris Day singing



the fall


Now you’ll probably feel something here,’ the doctor warned.

I did. If felt like a long paper-cut under my collar bone. I was glad I couldn’t see much of anything because of the blue veil over my face.

For the next couple hours, I didn’t feel any real pain, just a dullness as the doctor was making the pocket for the device, planting the device, hooking up the two electrodes to my heart via two veins. By the time he sewed me up, I was too bored to pay any attention to the sharp needle. I was also catching up some much needed sleep.

During the early part of the procedure I paid a little attention to the conversation between the doctor and the nurses. Just small talk. Nothing about what they were working on.

‘We got tickets for tonight’s Twins game,’ the doctor said.

I perked up.

‘I hope they call it off early so we don’t have to go and sit in the weather to make our rain checks good.’

‘Not rain checks tonight, snow checks,’ I interjected. ‘Predicting four to six inches.’

I can talk baseball anytime, anyplace.

Knowing that the doctor was a baseball fan gave me more confidence in him doing a good job on me.

‘I always consider winter is over when the Twins open the season,’ I heard the doctor say. ‘And when I go to the ballpark and see my first game of the year, I know it is officially spring. Not this year though. Bad weather and bad scheduling.’

A feminine voice spoke up. ‘It’s always such a shame when you look forward to something and it’s canceled.’

Somebody said,’C’est la vie’.

‘Sounds like the voice of experience, Mr. Ostertag,’ the doctor commented.

And then I realized who said it. ‘Many times,’ I answered. ‘Like you said, bad weather or bad timing.’ I could feel myself going into a deeper relaxation.

(C’est la vie! Brought back memories of growing up in Mendota, a small village across the rivers from St. Paul and Minneapolis. It was where the French-Canadian fur trappers sold their pelts they caught in Dakota territory. Many stayed and settled. My mother was a descendant of those early settlers. She was also in the first generation in the village that had English, not French, as the primary language.

The old-timers could talk English but they talked French among each other. And no matter what language they were using at the time, ‘C’est la vie’ was an important part of their conversations.

‘Pierre got a broken leg. His bay mare gave him a good kick.’

‘C’est la vie.’

‘Pierre and Marie going to have the first baby – already.’

‘C’est la vie.’

Mom could get by in French but my generation only knew a little: ‘comment sa va’,’J’ai faim’ ‘merci’. And some words that brought the age-old motherly threat, ‘Say that again and I’ll wash your mouth out with soap’.)

I settled deeper in La La Land and heard in my mind Chuck Berry singing his song, ‘C’est la vie say the old folks, but you never can tell,’ and watched him schuffle-dance across the stage and then the video segued into Travolta and Thurman dance to it in PULP FICTION.

My entertainment and sleep was abruptly stopped when the doctor pulled the veil from my face and announced the procedure was done and went well.

Back in the room I realized that the procedure could have been an In and Out the same day. It was a walk in the park. But by staying into the next day it changed from an Out Patient procedure to an In Patient and cut my out-of-pocket cost considerably. The doctor explained that to me this monetary advantage when I suggested I felt good enough to go home that day. He neglected to mention my age had something to do with me spending the night.

And if I had gone home the same day I would have missed out on the hospital supper, (My chart still said no coffee, and when I told the nurse I had coffee with the doctor’s permission right after the procedure; and she said she would get some out of the break room. After the first sip I knew why they didn’t want to give the patients coffee, they were ashamed of it.), the every four hours ‘checking my vitals’ and all the poking and prodding that accompanied such going-on’s. And I would have missed out on Nurse Mini-Ratched.

My wife and son, Danny, were sitting on the couch getting ready to go home when this little Asian dynamo came bursting into the room. I was just exiting the rest room. Without so much as a hello or how do you feel, or baise mon cul, she brushed past me and went into the rest room. I sat down in the reclining chair.

The writers in the 40’s like Hammitt and Chandler would have described her as a lovely porcelain China doll. But when she opened her mouth, she came right out of the 60’s, Ken Kesey’s Nurse Ratched in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST.

She came back to the door of the rest room and she screamed at me, several times. Her high frequency voice was such that my hearing aid would have trouble understanding even if she did calm down a bit. And to further complicate things she had a thick accent, Mhong, Japanese?.

I could swear she was telling me to go pee in a hat. I looked for help from my wife or son, but they both just shrugged their shoulders.

I made up my mind. She was telling me to go pee in a hat. I followed her into the rest room. I planned to tell her to go piss up a rope!

She went to shelf in the far corner and took what looked like a small plastic party- sombrero. She shook it at me. She turned it upside down and laid it on the toilet seat with the brim preventing it from falling in.

‘You pee in the hat,’ she demanded. ‘We need to measure what you drink and what you pee,’ she shouted, shaking her finger at me.

‘Hey, lady,’ I said angrily, ‘I’ll play your a games but I have to know the rules. I’ve been here for hours and nobody else told me about measuring my piss!’

‘You just pee in the hat, mister,’ she said ‘Just pee in the hat,’ and she stomped out of the room after almost getting tangled up in my oxygen hose that I had to drag with me.

All the medical staffers that worked on me in the two hospitals the last several days were kind and made me feel at ease. And then there was this little ball of fire. Nurse Mini-Ratchet!

I showed her though. I refused to get into the bed when she wanted me to and stayed in the big chair and used the darn plastic urinal. Actually, I don’t think it bothered her where I slept. I know she waited until I had just got back to sleep to come into the room to do her measuring and complaining that my intake was greater than my output. This went on about every half hour.

I thought about just pouring a little water in the plastic urinal with my urine to make my output more to her liking. Get her off my back, and let me get some sleep. But I remembered about what happened to McMurphy in CUCKOO’ S NEST when he crossed Nurse Ratched. And what happened in real life to Jerry, a part time stagehand.

(Jerry was in the VA hospital being treated for a flare up of something he had contracted back in Nam. He had spent several weeks already in the hospital and was bored. He came up with what he thought was a good joke. He took his breakfast apple juice and hid it under the clean towels in the rest room.

Later when the nurse handed him the daily specimen bottle he took it into the rest room and poured the apple juice in it. He went to hand it to the nurse but quickly pulled it back.

‘Awful pale,’ he said. ‘I’ll just pass it through again.’ And he drank the juice down in one swallow.

The nurse gagged. Jerry laughed.

He managed, through his laughing fit, to tell her what he had done. He thought it was funny. The nurse did not.

She got the last laugh. She arranged to have him spend two days in the Psych Ward to undergo a mental evaluation.)

Mini-Ratchet came in this one time, did her measurements and left the room. She came back about ten minutes later. She was pulling a monitor on wheels with one hand and had a wand which was connected to the contraption in her other hand . She announced she was going to check my bladder.

I contradicted her. I suggested she stick the wand between her legs and fly out of my room.

She let out a ‘humph’, and stomped out of the room. I hollered a C’est la vie and one of the forbidden French phrases to her and she left me alone. Dieu merci!

When the next nurse came on shift at midnight was like night and day. She asked me in a soft voice if I would like to move into the bed. I was more than willing. Believe it or not, I went to sleep and no one woke me, even to check my vitals, much less measure my pee.

The doctor came in after breakfast, checked out his work and my vitals, and then pronounced me fit to go home. My wife was still home waiting for one of the boys to take her to the hospital. The nurse asked me my wife’s name and said she would call her to tell her the good news and what she would have to do to get me released.

In the Army when someone asked you your name, you automatically spout out your name, rank, and serial number. In the hospital the question was answered with name and date of birth. When the nurse asked for Gina’s name, I gave her the name and automatically added Gina’s date of birth.

When the nurse finished explaining to my wife to go to the business office and get all the paper work for my release, I signaled for the phone.

I reminded Gina that when I came it was spring and now it’s winter again so be sure and bring warmer clothes – and a hat. She was way ahead of me on the clothes and reminded me that I had a cap in the hospital already. I repeated she better bring a hat just in case I needed to pee on the way home. I thought it was funny but Gina didn’t just let it slide by.

I imagined Mini-Ratched was pleased that I had left and wouldn’t be around for her shift. I know I was very pleased; even in the cold and blizzard conditions, and the fact the rest of the Twins first home stand had been rescheduled to be played in baseball weather.

My life changed. I revolved around doctor’s appointments. My regular doctor, the heart clinic, the brain clinic. The later was the most crucial to monitor my brain in case of a fluid buildup which often occurs after a blow to head. Each week I went to the hospital and had a Cscan. Then I went to the brain clinic where a tech looked at the scan. Each time it showed no fluid. Things were looking good.

Not good enough for me to fly to Tulsa for our oldest grandchild’s wedding though. That really hurt me. Almost everyone in the entire family flew out to the wedding of Erik and Erin.

Our first grandchild! Gina was Grandma Day Care and I was Erik’s Poppa Reader. First Dr. Suess and as Eric grew older, the Harry Potter books as soon as they were published. And I had to miss his wedding.

In addition to my medical problems, my wife had an operation coming up, scheduled before my fall, to help her breath. Something she should have had done years ago. She had doctor appointments and tests leading up to the surgery which would entail grafting a piece of bone in her nose.

Getting around to our doctor appointments and going to the stores presented no problem even though I shouldn’t drive, and my wife couldn’t drive. Between the sons, daughter-in-laws, and the older grandkids, we were never at loss for a driver. Family! Wonderful family!

On the 5th week after the fall, the brain technician said things were looking so good, I could maybe be ‘discharged’ the next week and do monthly checkups instead of weekly.

I was in good spirits the next week when I went through the Cscan and then over to the brain clinic. The tech took one look at the scan film that came via the internet to the office; she gasped and my good spirits changed to a deep depression.

She said I had a fluid lump about the size of a ‘clementine’ competing with my brain for space in my cranium. She would contact the surgeon and the hospital. And I would get in the car, my oldest son was driving, and get to the hospital on the double. ASAP! Do not pass GO and collect $200. Whatever! Just get a going!


End Act II. Curtain closes to the sound of Chuck Berry singing:



You have no idea how important writing this post is to me. Oh, not because of the content or style. But because for the last 5+months I didn’t know if I would ever be able to write as I had in past ever again. I am rehabbing from a heart stoppage, a bad fall, an insertion of a Pacemaker, and brain surgery. Rough if I had been forty. Really rough because I am twice that age.

the fall


It was just a routine predawn bladder call. I went to walk out of the toilet when I felt a flush of buoyancy rushing through my body.


I heard someone hollering for help, and I thought if that damn fool doesn’t shut up, he’s going to wake up my wife, Gina.

I tried to get my bearings. I was no longer erect. I was prone. My body hurt. My face was wet. I focused on what were white tiles in the distance and brownish tiles beneath my face. I determined that I was face down on the bathroom floor and lying in blood that was streaming from my nose. Oh, I was hurting.

I swear off in the distance Sinatra was singing

Each time I find myself flat on my face

I pick myself up and get back in the race.


Yeah, easy for him to say!

I tried to get up. I called for help again. I managed to get on my knees and pull myself to my feet using the bathroom vanity. I splashed my face with cold water. I was on blood thinner and stopping a nose bleed was not easy – but a must.

The door opened. My wife screamed. I don’t know if it was the cold water or the scream, but my nose stopped bleeding.

‘What happened?’ she asked.

After the initial scream and question that I had no answer for, my wife did as always, she took charge. She wiped off the blood from my face and hair. She led me to the bed, ordered me to get some rest, and said she would make a doctor’s appointment as soon as the office opened.

Naturally, I argued. If lost, I refuse to ask directions. If sick, I refuse to go to the doctor. I was okay, a little fall. I lied. Oh, I hurt. All over! I knew that you should not go to sleep right after a blow on the head, but the heck with it. I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

My regular doctor told my wife not to bother coming to him. He would make arraignments at the Emergency Ward of the hospital. When I cleaned up to go, I had to look into the mirror. Wow! What a sight. Two of the blackest eyes I have ever seen outside of a raccoon, and my nose was squashed up pretty good. I looked like I got the wrong end of a TKO. No wonder my wife screamed!

‘What happened? What happened? What happened?’ Every doctor, nurse and their helpers kept asking me as they got me to a room and changed into hospital garb.

Tired of retelling the same old story, I told one of the young nurses, ‘Well, you would think after 57 years of marriage, I would know enough not to piss her off.’ You should have seen the look on that young lady’s face. I laughed and she realized I was just kidding. Good thing my wife didn’t hear what I said.

Oh, they poked me with needles, stuck me with IV’s. Taped electrodes all over my body. Blew oxygen up my nose.‘Checked my ‘vitals’, over and over. Brought in machines and monitors. Checked my ‘vitals’. Shook their heads and whispered to each other.

Loaded me on a gurney and took me to several rooms where they had the BIG machines. Stuck my head in one and ran my whole body through another.

‘Take a deep breath and hold it.’

Since I didn’t have my hearing aids in, I never heard when I could breathe again. I think I was turning blue when the tech realized I hadn’t heard him, and he signaled me to breathe.

Then a ride back to the room. It was April but it was cold out and the hallways were cold; and although I was being pushed as fast as possible, my teeth were chattering which hurt my sore jaw. A nurse asked if I wanted a warm blanket, as if she had to ask.

They huddled in three different groups as they checked the results from various tests. They did a lot of comparing and shaking their heads. My wife explained later, one group were the heart specialists, another brain specialists, and another were the hospital staff who were in charge of the needles and IV’s and ordering this test and that machine, and checking my ‘vitals’, and hooking the oxygen hose back on my nose. Nobody used real words, a lot of initials and part words, for these tests and machines. C scan. EKG. I figured the only test they didn’t give me was an HCG – test for pregnancy.

And nobody seemed to be in charge of feeding me. They were big on giving me glasses of water, but I hadn’t anything to eat since supper the night before.

Believe me, I was having a lot of second thoughts about my coming to the hospital. I gave a little moan and a nurse asked if I was hurting. I told her just hungry. She went and got a sandwich from the break room. A turkey club. Turkey! She told me ‘everybody likes turkey’. I really was having second thoughts about coming to the hospital. But pretty soon they would let me get a good night’s sleep. As you can tell I was not too familiar with hospitals.

Every 4 hours they would descend on me with their needles and IV’s and blood pressure cuffs, check the monitors, prick my finger to make sure I hadn’t contracted diabetes in the 4 hours since they took it last time. Just checking your vitals was their excuse for not letting me sleep.

A little after two AM, they loaded me on a gurney and took me through the cold, very cold hallways to the ultra sound room. Here’s the pregnancy test I thought but it was for my heart. The reason it was being done at this ungodly hour scared me until the technician explained she had just gotten over a shift at a different hospital and had a message from the heart specialist to come and administer a test on me.

I suggested she must be tired and she agreed. So was I. I closed my eyes and fell asleep. Next thing I knew I was back in ‘my’ bed. And then it was ‘check your vitals’ time.

Then pretty soon it was breakfast and I was brought what I had ordered the night before. No turkey. Green jello though. No coffee. My chart said no coffee. I never tried to eat while I was having my ‘vitals’ checked before, but I was so hungry though it didn’t deter from eating.

My wife walked in the room. I asked how she got to the hospital so early. She said she just came from the cafeteria and had spent all night sleeping on the sofa in the room. I was so wrapped up with myself I hadn’t even noticed she spent the night at the hospital.

The doctors came and left. Nothing! The test showed nothing. Two of the heart doctors explained that they thought my fall had something to do with my heart; but the tests all showed my heart was strong and healthy. And my blood pressure was just a little bit high.

‘Well,’ I said, trying to be helpful, ‘I know it has nothing to do with booze since I have been on the wagon for 40 years.’ One doctor smiled. The other frowned.

The frown got me. It is one thing to have something wrong with you; but when they can’t find out what it is …..

(Well, Mr. Ostertag, we don’t know what is wrong with you so we will just say you have Ostertag’s Syndrome. Now here’s a prescription for a football helmet with full face-guard. See you in two weeks.) Just kidding.

It dawned on me how lucky I was to be where I was when this black-out occurred, even if the floor hit me awful hard. I could have been standing at the head of the stairs. Or, Oh No!, I could have been driving a car. I had a hell of a lot more to worry about than the Minnesota Twins games being called off because of snow and cold.

And then it happened!

I tried to turn a little in bed and…

WHOA! That old feeling! The flush of buoyancy!!

When I regained my senses people, even some I never seen before, were in action. Back on the gurney being pushed down the cold hallways. Got to an elevator and when the door opened, a woman stood there screaming we couldn’t use this kind of elevator. She almost got herself run over. As the door closed we could hear her screaming that she didn’t appreciate that kind of language. I hollered out a few more she could not appreciate.

More tests, only this time they seemed to tell the doctors what they wanted to know. Along with the checking the monitors , the doctors felt they knew the problem.

And more important, the solution – a Pacemaker.

‘But I thought my heart was healthy.’

‘It is with just a minor flaw. The upper chamber and the lower chamber don’t communicate at times.’

‘Kind of like Congress,’ I threw in for a joke. It bombed.

‘Nine seconds!, the doctor said. ‘Your heart stopped for nine whole seconds. That doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but when your heart stops for that long, bad things can happen.’

(Nine seconds! In the paratroopers, you jumped, (that first step is a doozey), counted off five seconds and checked to see your chute had deployed correctly. If it didn’t, you had three seconds to decide if you should shake it to make it fill out, or pull your reserve. Make the wrong decision and you might get hurt – bad. Take longer and it will be too late to do anything but ride it out. And hope. Eight seconds!) I had an idea of just how long nine seconds was.

Not to sound too dramatic, but I figured I was staring Death in the face during that short time. I know the time before I ended up staring the bathroom floor in the face.

‘We will put in a Pacemaker. It won’t be on all the time. Just when it has to. When your heart beat drops to a certain point it kicks in. We don’t perform that procedure here at St. John’s. First thing in the morning you will be brought over to St. Joe’s and I will do it there. Takes a couple hours. Just a local anesthesia. Doesn’t knock you out. Just puts you in La La Land. We cover your face with veil to prevent a cough or sneeze from infecting the wound.

‘You could go home the same day, but we’ll keep you at least overnight, what with your fall and everything. Get a good night’s sleep and I’ll see you in the morning.’

Before he went out the door, he stopped and came back to my bedside. ‘Do you have a living will, Mr. Ostertag?’ After I told him I didn’t, he asked what did I want him to do if things go haywire.

OH!That question was a real confidence builder.

‘Pull the plug,’ I answered. I knew he heard me but he asked me again. And again I gave him the same answer, only louder. He thanked me and left.

I realized that I had not only answered his question, I had just made a Living Will – orally. And I found out my heart wasn’t as strong as I thought. And I had stared Death in the Face.

I hadn’t seen the long dark tunnel with a glint of light at the far end, nor did I hear a chorus of heavenly voices to usher me to the Pearly Gates. And I certainly never experienced what Irish Jack said happened when he had his heart attack.

(Jack, Kewley, and myself walked to the our cars after a long day at the Guthrie. We said, ‘See you in the morning’ and left. But we never saw Irish Jack in the morning. He disappeared for several months. Never called the theater or the union to be replaced. We heard rumors after a couple of months that he was working off the Hiring Hall in St. Paul.

The first week of the Guthrie dark season, that Kewley and I took a call out the St. Paul Local. We walked into the theater and there was Jack sitting across stage. At first we wanted to really tell him off for walking off like he did, but we decided instead to just ignore him. But Jack wasn’t easy to ignore and come noon the three of us went to the nearest bar to have a three-beer lunch.

‘You know, guys,’ Jack said as soon as we sat on the stools and he ordered the first round, ‘I owe you an explanation…’

Kewley and I agreed, and Kewley pointed out Jack was also going to owe the bartender for the next two rounds.

‘Got home. Sat in the chair to take off my shoes and it hit me. I had heart attack,’ Jack said, grabbing his chest and bending over, ‘A massive heart attack!’

‘Massive, no less,’ I said. Jack was known to stretch the truth at times.

Yup, massive,’ he repeated. ‘And you know, guys,’ he raised his head and looked at us, ‘It’s just like they say when you are staring at Death in the Face, every bad thing you ever did in your life passes before your eyes.’

‘Wow,’ Kewley said. ‘Every bad thing you ever did in your life!’ And then Kewley, who never let a good straight line pass him by, observed, ‘Gee, Jack, with a show that long, you must have taken an intermission.’)

I didn’t have to take an intermission, because every bad thing I ever did did not pass before my eyes.

After a bit, one of our sons came and took my wife home. She would be at the other hospital waiting for me in the morning. They brought me supper just like I ordered earlier. No turkey. But still no coffee.

I watched the Twins play on TV, at home, in April. Criminal! It was so cold out there. The fans came with their Viking-watching clothes on; but the poor players, especially the Latin Americans… It was ridiculous to start the season that early and then play in the cold cities on top of it. The Twins won though and there seemed to be speculation that they might not get the rest of the games in during the home stand. Cold and snow in the forecast.

Two EMTs showed up bright and early to bring me to the other hospital. A mixed team. One male, one female. He was either the boss or a bully, maybe both. He had the clipboard and she did the heavy lifting, even the driving.

The forecast was right about the cold. That ambulance ride was something else. The paramedic put a hot blanket on me, but it didn’t do much good.

My wife was there waiting, like I knew she would be, when I got up to the prep room. I think I got more sleep than she did. I imagine she thought back to the procedure about ten years when I was going to have a knee replacement. The procedure that never happened.

(I was on the gurney being pushed the operating room for the knee transplant. [Maybe they call it procedure room now days. Use to be you were ‘operated on’. Now they ‘perform a procedure’ on you.] I was feeling no pain. La La Land. Then I heard someone calling a halt and I got wheeled back to the pre-op room. A new blood test had to be taken. They were talking about white cells and red cells. I knew they were talking leukemia but I was feeling no pain, no fear.

They were right. A form of leukemia. No elective surgery because of infection called the whole thing off.

The cancer has been in remission for several years now, and the knee transplant has been forgotten about. I am too old to go through the rehab after a knee transplant. Besides, I got me a great cane.)

This time nobody stopped the procedure from happening.

La La Land. Not completely asleep. Mellowed out. Sort of like dozing off watching TV and waking a bit when a loud commercial comes on. First time since the my fall that I felt no pain. The doctor had told me that I would know what is going on, but I wouldn’t feel any pain; well, maybe a little bit, at times. La La Land.

End of Act I. Curtain closes to the track of Sinatra singing: