Birthday Boy

A birthday for me has taken on a few extra layers of context for the majority of my life. The special twist of appropriate fate that the day my life kicked off its second shot would from then on, forever be shared with the same day as my first. You could refer to this as something of a rebirth, but aside from the underlying hokey religious connotations, that would just come off as corny.

It was 24 years ago today when I woke up in the Mayo Clinic Intensive Care unit on the day of my seventh birthday, September 5th, 1990. I recall regaining consciousness in the dark, the only light in the room was the green glow and eerily accompanying beep emitting from of the heart monitor to my side, and a little bit of light slipping in from under the door outside the room. I’m sure this combined with waking up alone in this crazy place would’ve terrified the living hell out of me of I weren’t on a slew of drugs at that point, but as I remember it, (probably one of my most vivid memories of my young life to this day) all I was was tired, a little confused, and felt too weak to speak or call out to anyone. In all likelihood, the idea of waking up at seven years old, in the dark, surrounded by creepy, Frankenstein machinery with tubes coming out of you would probably be traumatic, but my brain didn’t seem to be conscious enough to form anything close to that thought. All I recall doing was lying in bed watching the green glow of the monitors and let the repetitive beeps and clicks of the machinery lull me back to sleep.

When morning came and someone realized I was awake, my grandmother and parents were brought in for a little reunion. While my father had been called away for his day job, my mom and grandmother had stuck around and been in and out of the hospital on every iteration of visiting hours in the days where I had been sleeping it off in a medicated coma. My grandparents on my dad’s side, who in their early days of retirement, had taken to traveling the country in an RV and drove all the way down from Alaska to visit for a couple of days. I think the combination of being over 20 years removed from the experience and being doped out of my gourd can account for most of why I don’t remember much beyond this.

In this time period, I had apparently begun to accumulate a large collection of awesome gifts from random people. Everything from video games for my old, faithful Nintendo Entertainment Set to stacks of comics, toys, and other random knick knacks. I’ve only gotten to thank some of them over the years and others my family and I are unsure of their identities to this day. Someone was nice enough to send me one of those NES Advantage Joysticks, which provided me with hours of extra fun as I trained myself to play Super Mario Bros. with my feet.

My mom wrote letters and started calling around to various places that she knew I liked and told my story in the interest of possibly getting free shwag. The good thing about the “sick kid” card is that it usually works. DC Comics sent us a free pair of first print editions of their DC Archive Edition hardcovers of the first Superman adventures by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster and the first Batman adventures by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. As far as things from my childhood go, those two books might be the only things I still own that haven’t been torn apart or awkwardly manhandled into dust. The cool thing about those DC Archive editions are that they still print them now. Walk into a random comic shop today and you’ll see volumes upon volumes of these old tomes collecting the earliest adventures of every DC character from Adam Strange to Wonder Woman, and the cover designs have remained uniform to those first editions up to today. Holding those books in young hands almost felt like holding a piece of history akin to the original US Constitution or the Bill Of Rights.

Better still, the now defunct New Line Studios production company who at the time held the license of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which at the time, had generated the popular cartoon, the blockbuster movie, and was just generally continuing to tear young minds asunder with awesomeness offered to send out a person in a Ninja Turtle costume to visit me in the hospital. The idea was quickly overruled, as mind blowing as it would’ve been, in the interest of not overstimulating my healing ticker too early in the process. Instead, they elected to try and get us the next best thing. Within the next week, we received via mail, a TMNT coloring and activity book, signed by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird (AKA: the two dudes who created the Ninja Turtles) themselves. This piece of memorabilia has since been colored in to death and any sense of collectible value gone long ago, but I’ve never really been one of those types who was incredibly anal about his comics. If you’re not gonna have fun with something, what’s the point?

Not many people get a significant extension on their life-span for their birthday, but at 7 years old, I wasn’t expected to live into my double digits. I’ve jokingly begun referring to my life past my seventh birthday as my “borrowed time”, which slowly keeps ticking upward for over twenty years and counting. I’m thankful for the mountains moved by my parents and doctors that have gotten me to the point I am today. Thanks to them, I’m not just surviving, I’m thriving in the best shape of my life with a career doing what I love that’s just beginning to truly succeed. I couldn’t ask for more on any birthday (Although, if you really want to get me something, here’s my Amazon Wishlist. 😉 ). You wouldn’t believe how many people I’ve called or run into in the process of trying to research for this blog or for The Zipper Club who are flat out shocked that I’m alive now at 31 years old and counting. It’s gotten to the point where I kinda get off on defying expectations.

T’was The Night Before Major Invasive Surgery…

The ages of 0 to around 6 years old, I have very little recollection of. The time my memory really kicked in and I consider my life to have truly “begun” oddly enough happened at the time when it was looking very likely that it was closer to it’s end. When the time finally came for my second surgery, my parents were, needless to say, on pins and needles. One of my first vivid memories was of the days that lead up to my surgery in Rochester Minnesota at the world renowned Mayo Clinic. We showed up a few days early to see some of the sights in the area and hopefully do a few things to lighten the mood and have some fun before the inevitable came up. The stress was compounded by the fact that my dad was unable to come with us when we first went to Minnesota because of work, so our trip consisted of myself, my Mom, and my Grandmother. Our stay was taken care of by the local Ronald McDonald House, (which means I will refrain from any McDonald’s bashing for this particular post as a sign of good will.)  consisted of all the “fun” my mom could cram into the time period before we hit the zero hour and I would go back under the knife for the first time in nearly seven years.

It was a couple  of weeks before my seventh birthday and by the time my birthday was going to hit, I would have, in the best case scenario, been laid up in a bed on an entire slew of drugs. We spent our time going from activity to activity which I’m sure must have cost them a fortune. A trip to the Minnesota Zoo, which I honestly don’t remember a damn bit of, no matter how hard I try.

The night before my surgery, and one of the most fun experiences of my early life that I remember to this day was spending several hours in a local arcade playing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Game with my mom.

We died.

We died a lot.

All said and done, my mom stuck it out like a trooper and kept us in quarters until we beat every level of that game from beginning to end. By the end of that couple of hours, we had ended up pumping about fifteen bucks into that machine together, which, in the days where playing a game on an arcade machine only cost a single quarter meant we died at least sixty times before we were done.

I had a lot of fear looming over my little head as the days before my surgery edged closer. It became a point of dread for me, even though I remained blissfully ignorant to how much was truly at stake once they put me to sleep. I was just worried it would hurt. I was worried I might wake up in the middle of it and panic when I saw my chest laid open like Freddy Kruger had gotten a hold of me. I worried about what the scars would look like. Practically every exaggerated, childish nightmare scenario that could have sprung from something like this came into my head at the time.

For that night though, all those bad thoughts just sort of went away without acknowledgement. All I remember from the days leading up to my long hospital stay were happy ones, spent with my parents, doing fun things and feeling extremely loved. The fact that my parent’s marriage was in the final stages of unraveling and the sense of fear that they clearly must have had about what was going to happen to me remained completely undetected in my eyes. My mom and dad had extremely good poker faces and the fact that they were able to keep me so positive more than likely had a lot to do with how I recovered later on.

If I ever have a child with a health problem like my own, I only hope that I’m able to do the same for them that Betsy and Allen did for me. I can only imagine the horrible thoughts that were coursing through their heads.