Birds chirping, sunshine streaming in, I awoke in a Southold loft with a huge lump on my stomach. I gingerly leaned out of bed and made my way into the bathroom where I soaked a washcloth with cold water. I held the compress over the painful colorful fist-sized protrusion least it burst on my way down the stairs. I finally reached the kitchen where morning coffee was brewing and asked my sister, Rosemary, if she and her husband, Joe, had any special plans for the day. They looked at me quizzically as I revealed the ‘situation’ to them by lifting up my pajama top much like the character Ripley did in the fictional Deepway Station.
Later that day, still half anesthetized, my eyelids fluttered from the window’s bright illumination before me. Gazing through the hospital room window I almost convinced myself that I was still on vacation. Distracted by a huge bandage, and an elastic binder hugging my body, I remembered I was on vacation, but now this was more like an evacuation. I assessed the incision by gauging the size of the area in mortal pain and wondered if plastic surgery would be a future option. My previously scar-less torso was changed forever. The real vacation was over.
My new surgeon fulfilled his promise and produced a 8”x 8” color photo of the infected materials he found. I saw the monstrous mass that was previously left inside me after two attempts at removal by the surgeon who had originally inserted the now notorious hernia mesh. In the seaside town of Greenport, a wonderful doctor at Eastern Long Island Hospital, bravely and in his words “went in up to his elbows,” to remove the plasticized invader from my abdomen. The photo bore an uncanny resemblance to Ellen Ripley’s ALIEN, in all its gory glory. I was grateful, angry, sickened, and oddly enough, humored. I had starred in my own version of a scary movie and became, as the next three years revealed, an incubator.
Nicknames cross international boundaries and even stick to a person whether they are welcomed or not. Pocahontas, was a nickname; her real Powhatan tribal name was ‘Matoaka.’ For me, in the old days, my peers called me THE BOMB, as a compliment. I liked being called THE BOMB, especially after a performance-art show. My insatiability for multi-mannered creative expression, that manifested its way through all forms of art and writing, was being well received. I even read poetry regularly at a Woodstock nightclub.
There are nicknames for rap stars and unless fan-based research is undertaken, or transparency prevails, their real names are unknown. Society relies on nicknames to reveal the best, or worst, traits of an individual’s predominant attributes or faults. People embrace their nicknames if they are complimentary, others who are being ridiculed by their nickname, try desperately to live them down. In 2001, because of obvious reasons, the BOMB nickname disappeared. In real life, however, I, inside my body, became a bomb. My stomach would erupt every four or five months due to the mesh that was used to supposedly ‘fix’ my miniscule work-related hernia.
Another defining cultural element we embrace, and watch over and over again, is movies. Films become go-to spaces for a myriad of personal reasons. Science-fiction was never my favorite genre, and I have never tried to re-create myself in the light of an actor’s on-screen performance. In my life there has always been enough reality within my own career to justify the memory of my now clandestine nickname. Giving “birth” to an infected conglomerate of items, too horrible to describe, never really ‘sunk-in’ until the fifth or sixth time it happened. I would have much preferred my life to be art, not imitate art.
The actual photograph bears an uncanny resemblance to the ALIEN that was born at the dinner table on the fictional Nostromo spacecraft, everybody says so. Ripley’s sleepless nights and abdomen grabbing sequences in her hospital bed at Deepway Station, in the second installment of the franchise, was really good acting because if something like that is really happening to you that is how you act. Sigourney Weaver’s subsequent performance as the character Ripley in Alien: Resurrection, where the alien itself is implanted ‘into’ her body hit me too close to home. Were the writers mimicking mesh-related ongoing hospital experiences?
I was happily vacationing with my family at their home in charming Southold when my stomach blew-out. Now that’s my nightmare. I had spent the Saturday before at McCabe’s Beach on North Sea Road searching for beach glass. You can only find the small lime-green, white (and occasionally blue) bits when wincing your eyes. That’s when they reflect off the sun to reveal themselves amidst the stones and scarcity of seashells. On Sunday the three of us had what we thought of as a celebratory dinner with a bottle of red at Pepi’s Restaurant by the Bay and Port of Egypt. We enjoyed the sea breezes and the view of Shelter Island. Yachts and boats were coming and going. Boat people seem to like hand-waving to shore people, happy for their lot in life I suspect. We waved back.
That night it never dawned on any of us what was unraveling inside of me. I was transforming into a walking mine field, far from the imaginative BOMB I used to be. I can still see the look on the surgeon’s face in NYC conveying his attitude of triumph and benevolence, with his class of green interns grinning, worshipping him, probably to this day.
Swinging into full gear, we dropped everything, and raced to the Emergency Room at ELIH, untouched coffee still steaming. The doctor on call, thankfully, was also an experienced surgeon. The staff wasted no time in hooking me up to clear sacks of fluids, pain medications and whisked me off for a CAT scan. A respected surgeon, he gave the instruction to “prep the OR” to relieve my crisis. The staff hopped to.
My expression of fear and disappointment told the tale. He shook his head back and forth in a no, no, motion as he listened to the information my family supplied. In the OR, this surgeon completely unknown to me, promised he would stand by me until this problem was completely remedied. I drifted off. It was obvious he did not approve of the pertinent history of how my stomach came to be doing the thing it was now doing. This medicine man, who lived on Shelter Island and took the ferry into Greenport to attend to the needs of East Enders practically every day, put me high on his patient roster for three more years. I thank God for him and ELIH’s fine staff and care. Of course, I wasn’t going to give the NYC surgeon and his famous hospital who inserted and failed twice to remove the mesh, another chance, three strikes right.
Feeling like I’d been hit on the head with an apple, a Kafkaesque “Metamorphosis” of my social life occurred and became decimated by twelve medical procedures in five years. Physically exhausted, my career dedication transformed itself into spurts of inspiration. As the sick friend social invitation’s increasingly stopped being extended. Before I realized it, I was out of the loop. My social-life had become undone, but the network inside persisted.
After the most recent invasive procedure I woke up again overlooking the Brewer Marina inlet. Greenport’s Stirling Bay was startlingly sterling with diamond rippled harbor waters. Beautiful, gleaming white yachts winked at me as they rocked with the surf. I could see Porto Bello Restaurant outside my window. When the nurse brought my first dinner of Jell-O, and non-dairy products, I remember wishing someone could row a meal across the water from Porto Bello, something scrumptiously Italian. In my imagination I visualized a deep-sea-going fisherman, clad in waterproof gear, rowing a dingy to my side of the bay with a steaming tray to be delivered bedside.
I continue to stay on Long Island, close to ELIH and my savior surgeon. My family and friends at Pepi’s and the Red Rooster Restaurants witnessed my body inflate as I became the fat BOMB. Recuperating proved to be a mentally implosive undertaking. I lost the weight and began to recognize myself once again. My family took me to a party near the hops farm on Horton’s Lane that I had admired since it was planted a few years ago. I enjoyed the summertime concert at the new Southold Opera House. Meeting the golf-pro from Island’s End Golf and Country Club at Legend’s in New Suffolk, I toured the wonderful course and view of the Long Island Sound from the 16th hole. I went on a date and had Italian Ices in Greenport instead of another operation. I’m writing, making waves and bouncing back, living my real-life again. Not as a Bouncing Betty though, my explosive days gone forever.