Heart and Soul Pt. 2

March 29th, 2016 by Max Allan Collins

Parody cover courtesy of Gene Eugene

The week I spent on the fifth floor – the rehab area – I remember clearly. The days weren’t bad, with Barb again visiting me from late morning till early evening, and bringing me in real food for lunch. Every day had me receiving a mildly demanding schedule, with O.T. (Occupational Therapy) and P.T. (Physical Therapy) sessions every morning and afternoon.

P.T. concentrates on the waist down, getting you walking again, building your strength up, utilizing such things as parallel bars, stationary bikes and a little flight of stairs. The P.T. trainers tended to be young, several of them working on their grad degrees. The one in charge was an attractive blonde named Tessa who had a deadpan sense of humor that Buster Keaton might have envied (not that Tessa would have any idea who Buster Keaton was). She took voluminous notes on her laptop while her grad school charges worked with me, and I accused her of moonlighting on a blog, which I speculated was called “Fit to Fit,” concentrating on fashion tips for the gym.

Another young woman, one of the grad students (whose name I unfortunately don’t recall), attempted to teach me how to get into and out of bed, without disturbing my chest incision (a big concern at the hospital). She demonstrated easily, using her abs since you’re not allowed to push up on your hands. I asked her how old she was, and she said, “Twenty-two.” Then I asked her how much she weighed, and she said, “One-hundred twenty.” I said last year I’d eaten 120 pounds of doughnuts.

The O.T. trainers who I worked with were all women, of various ages. The youngest, in her early twenties, had never heard of Bela Lugosi. I don’t remember how that came up, but she also had never heard of Boris Karloff. Nor Vincent Price. A somewhat older young woman was passing by, and I asked her about Lugosi and Karloff, and she’d never heard of them either. She did know Vincent Price, and explained to the younger woman that he was “the guy at the end of ‘Thriller.’”

O.T. concentrated on my hand, putting me to work with a Silly Putty-like substance and having me insert tiny pegs into slots. Early on we discovered I had lost my signature and could not use a computer keyboard. But we stayed at it.

One of the things various O.T. females did was guide me through my morning shower. This embarrassed me for about ten seconds. I looked like forty miles of bad road and humiliation was a way of life by now. The point was to demonstrate that I could do my own showering and such without help, or anyway much help. I did this pretty well, despite my dislike of showers (also, I had to sit on a bench in there). My funky right hand had me using my left for shaving, at first, but shortly I began forcing myself to use the right for that (electric razor, not straight razor!) and started brushing my teeth with my right hand as well. A big part of getting my hand back (I’m at about 80% now) has been forcing the right hand to do its work, as with eating utensils.

The bathroom had an oddity that I still can’t figure. The sink was narrow and long, putting way too much distance between your face and the mirror, making shaving very tricky indeed. I described this to one O.T. female as being like watching your neighbor across a courtyard shave out the window.

Another oddity, not in the bathroom, was the reclining chair in which a patient spent a lot of time, since the bed was so uncomfortable. The lean-back lever was incredibly hard to utilize – particularly for somebody who was not supposed to strain his chest incision. I think the guy who bought the sinks also bought the chairs. Musta got a deal.

Between the physical therapy sessions and my lovely wife’s presence, the days weren’t bad at all. Seeing Barb come in the door always lit up my world. But oh those nights, those endless, endlessly interrupted nights.

One of the worst began when my heart surgeon stopped by to ask about, well, my regularity since the surgery. It was a week since then and there hadn’t been any. He said cheerfully, “Well, we’ll hit it from both ends.” I will allow your imagination to help you interpret that, as well as spare you the discomfort and embarrassment that made that particular night the longest of all. But God bless the nurses who saw me through it.

The next day I was so weak and dehydrated that I couldn’t leave my room. The O.T. and P.T. people came to me and we soldiered on.

The last straw that led to Barb and me insisting on a release came on an even longer night. I was alternating short bouts of sleep with reading books and watching DVDs, and a nurse suggested that I take a sleeping pill.

A sleeping pill called Ambien.

Let me do a quick sidebar here, having to do with a gift my son gave me for Christmas, one of the best presents I ever received – a Blu-ray box from Japan of the complete COLUMBO in a cigar box. Fantastic! Barb and I, in the weeks preceding my surgery, watched a COLUMBO episode each evening.

Thus it was that during my hospital stay I dreamed my own brand-new COLUMBO episodes almost every night. Sometimes I was Columbo, sometimes I was the killer, other times I just watched. The most memorable episode was about identical twins who’d both had heart surgery and were sharing a room in the hospital. One brother sneaked out to kill somebody, and Columbo caught him because the two urine jugs in the room had both been filled by one brother.

Nate told me he doubted that would play very well on TV.

But you get the idea of the nature of my dreams in that place. Under the first-time influence of Ambien, I dreamed not of Columbo but of Miss Marple and her two talented nephews. Remember those great Christie characters? Me either. But they got themselves caught up in a gauzy European horror film right out of Dario Argento, with a serial killer slaughtering everybody left and right. I was suddenly in the midst of it all, trying to move through one sheer curtain after another while the killer pursued me.

Now understand that I was not allowed to get out of bed without assistance. That I was essentially in the process of learning to walk again. That I was required to ring for help to use the bathroom. Nonetheless, I apparently ran out into the hall, shouting, “Murder! He’s killing everyone! Murder! Save me!” I don’t think I fell down – I certainly had no signs of that, after – but I remember vividly being on the floor while a nurse bent down before me like she was giving a water bowl to her dog.

“Do you know where you are?” she asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “But I think I’m in Max Allan Collins’ room.”

Time to go home.


– – –

Check out the Wikipedia page for the QUARRY TV series.

And the official QUARRY series web site.

Speaking of Quarry, top writer Mike Dennis provides this great QUARRY’S VOTE review at his web site.


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16 Responses to “Heart and Soul Pt. 2”

  1. Tom Zappe/St Louis says:

    I don’t eat that many donuts, but I had a similar encounter with a sweet young thing at the pharmacy. In perusing my paperwork, she commented that I don’t look near that old [67]. Pointing to my shaved skull I said that when you do this you cease to age because you have no gray hair to give things away.

    “Just look at Yul Brenner” I told her.

    With a charmingly vacant stare she asked, “Oh, who’s Yul Brenner?”

    “Young lady,” I retorted with all the indignation I could muster on such short notice, “I have prescriptions older than you are!!”

    I search in vain for my obituary.

  2. Bill Crider says:

    Great book cover.

    When you go to the hospital, you leave your dignity at home.

    Glad to hear the hand is at 80%. Should be 100% soon. If you typed this blog entry, you’re doing better at 80% than I can do at 100%.

    You should get a book or two out of those dreams. I’d read the one about Miss Marple and her two talented nephews.

    The recovery seems to be going well, which is great news. Before long that hospital stay will seem like just an Ambien-induced dream.

  3. Joe Menta says:

    I think the extended sink was made to accommodate wheelchair patients. They could wheel their chairs under the sink, with the sink extending over the patients’ laps. At least that’s what I thought when I saw such sinks in hospitals.

    Great entry this week!

  4. Howard says:


    A friend has had heart valve replacement surgery, twice. But he has never described any such experiences as you’ve had. Either he was trying to spare me, or you have had a hell of a time unlike some others.

    Well, anyway, you are working through it all, and I kind of think (hope!) a book or several will come out of this. Keep on truckin’, buddy.

  5. Fred Blosser says:

    “He said cheerfully, ‘Well, we’ll hit it from both ends.'” Don’t you love it when doctors are cheerful? I second Bill’s vote for a novel about Miss Marple’s nephews. Glad to hear that you’re bouncing back so well.

  6. Max Allan Collins says:


    thanks for these fun, lovely comments.

    My heart valve experience was perhaps tougher than some because I had two bypasses and some other stuff done. Also, I had a mild stroke, which is why I’ve been working so hard to get my hand back. (I’m doing well. Biggest problem is fatigue.){

    Joe, my wife said the same thing about that sink being wheelchair friendly. Oddly, nobody at the hospital to whom I pointed it out knew that. The terribly unfriendly recliner I doubt there’s a reason for, other than maybe the guy who bought them was related to the manufacturer. One thing I left out was that I requested a different recliner and was brought one of the older ones — and it was worse. Complaining in a hospital is risky at best.

  7. Randi Day says:

    OMG I love this! If it weren’t all true (I’m quite sure it is) I would love it even more. Sorry for the indignities and such that are inevitable to a certain extent when experiencing major surgery and rehab. They do make for an entertaining story at any rate. Glad to hear you are making progress in your recovery. A sense of humor and a dash of irony can carry you a long way.

  8. W Ted Jones says:

    glad you are getting better and your dreams are fantastic could almost do a movie “horror in the hospital” lol keep getting well

  9. Jan Griffin O'Reilly says:

    Sweet Jesus, Max! You have really been through it. It takes a lot of work to come back from your surgery and, what, a mild stroke on top of everything else. I experienced a panic attack as I was reading this. I wish I were kidding. I’m serious. Talk about getting your readers involved! Just overly sensitive … but it’s great to know you’re coming back and working hard, and, damn, I hope the crazy ass shit stops soon. I know what you mean about being of an age where we know things and people the rest of the world doesn’t. Although I did go to Batman vs. Superman with my 30 year old son yesterday and during one scene he leaned over and said, “Oh, that’s Senator Debbie Stabenow and there’s former Senator Patrick Leahy.” I felt pretty proud at that moment, being from Pennsylvania, they’re not our Senators. He’d know Yul and Boris and Bella and Vincent, too. Anyway, please take care. Get better soon!

  10. Joe Menta says:

    Yeah, I was wondering these past weeks how heart surgery would result in weakness and loss of motor control in your hand, so I was sorry to hear your explanation that these things were caused by a mild stroke. You HAVE been through the wringer! But it also sounds like the worst is past. Your last couple of updates have been particularly vivid for me, because my mother was in ICU this past Christmas with hernia/bowel issues (she’s better now), so it was very easy for me to picture an ICU’s combination of intensity and boredom as you described your experiences.

    Also been laughing at your mentions of bringing in edible food from the outside. In my mother’s case, I couldn’t bring stuff in for her to eat because her medical issues were mainly digestive, but my brothers and I would frequently bring in outside food for my dad, who was constantly there visiting and didn’t want to always be stuck with eating food from the hospital cafeteria. So, being in the Philadelphia area, we started bringing him cheese steaks and hoagies, which he loved. Until my mom got mad and said, “Your dad’s getting fat– just bring him a salad from now on!”

  11. Laura morris says:

    Max, I am so glad to hear you are doing so well. It still makes me sad you had such a hard time with us. You made me laugh daily and I miss it :)

  12. Paul K says:

    For the past three years, since retiring, UI’ve been volunteering at the rehab Inst of Chicago, so a lot of what you write about is too familiar. In addition, after three stents were put in my heart I’ve been visiting Northwestern’s Cardio Rehab three days a week at 630 am. I’m rereading Stolen Away as I work out. Advantage of aging, books and movies i loved are like new when I reread them!
    Monday, a one legged Russian (this sounds like a joke, but it isn’t) was put on the parallel bars for his first attempt to walk with one leg, After his first hop, his pants fell to his ankles revealing the entire USSR. Everyone laughed.
    I hope your pants are belied or else you can get some suspenders.


  13. Linda Donaldson Grim says:

    You certainly have had quite an experience. Glad that you are coming along. Be patient, as one doctor told me when I was recovering from back surgery, this didn’t happen overnight, so you won’t recover overnight. And the next thing to come out of his mouth was, don’t forget you are not 20 anymore. Doctors always seem to smile as they are saying dumb things. PT workers are miracle workers. I worked at a hospital and I would see people come in to start PT. In my mind I could not believe they would be up walking and doing everyday chores. I saw them improve and yes, they are back to doing most of their previous activities. Keep up the dialogue with us. I can see some of this experience incorporated in a book or two.

  14. Megan Zurawicz says:

    So glad to hear you’re on the mend. It can be a long road, but at least it’s a road above ground and surrounded by loved ones! Looking forward to reading all the stories in “Dreams at the Ambien Cafe.” :)

  15. stephen borer says:

    Am glad youse guys are back home ; am sickened to read about the stroke. Am suggesting to all of us readers that pray to keep praying in the direction of Muscatine.

  16. Jan Griffin O'Reilly says:

    P.S. Leahy isn’t a former Senator, of course, but I can’t figure out how to edit. My error. LOL