Heart & Soul Pt. 3

April 5th, 2016 by Max Allan Collins

Before we get to the third (and final) episode of my hospital capers, I’d like to share with you the kind of e-mail that makes my days. Here goes (from “R.G.”):

“I recently discovered one of your novels in the new section of the local library. To my surprise it was a Mike Hammer mystery. I have to tell you that I’m now on my third one in the last week. I actually still have all the original paperbacks from Spillane that I purchased for sixty cents many years ago as well as all the Brett Halliday from that era. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have found you. You would swear that Spillane had finished these manuscripts himself. I had already found finished manuscripts from William Johnstone and Robert Parker but the Spillane books are incredible. I can’t wait to read the rest of them. Thank you so much for your talent.”

This kind of response is what makes it all worthwhile.

Now, part three of HEART & SOUL (some links after):

During my hospital stay, and for a week or so after, I had occasional crying jags. I am told there’s a medical term for that, which I don’t remember, though it’s specifically tied to the fact that your heart is physically removed from your body. I wouldn’t call this depression, more like emotions gone generally out of control, and in fact some of the crying was of the “I love you so much” variety (addressed to my wife, not random nurses).

Late in my stay, I had an odd experience with a crying episode. My breakfast arrived, and while it was worth crying over, that wasn’t the trigger. All I’d ordered was a biscuit with grape jelly, orange juice, and orange jello. Shortly after I finished this feast, a nurse came in and said, “You weren’t supposed to eat your breakfast before I checked your blood sugar.” Then she took the blood sample anyway, and shortly I was told that my blood sugar was very high (no kidding) and I’d be getting an insulin shot.

Understand that I hadn’t been diagnosed with diabetes. But on several occasions, when my blood sugar registered high (the orange Steak-and-Shake shake I had Barb sneak me may have been one culprit), I was given insulin. This was just one of a pin-cushion parade of blood tests and blood draws and I.V,’s and shots that I was subjected to during my stay.

Well, I kind of flipped. Of course after that breakfast my blood sugar was high! I indignantly refused the insulin. Then, as I was preparing to shower, I started to cry. No doubt part of it was the problem with my hand, which at that point was pretty useless, but mostly I was frustrated with the blood sugar fuck up. One of the Occupational Therapy females arrived to help me with my shower and found me in tears. Megan, her name is, and she was sympathetic beyond words. Really talked me down off the ledge, bless her.

“I can’t take this bureaucratic shit,” I said, sobbing. “I hate bureaucracies in general, but this hospital bureaucracy is crushing me.”

Now, upon reflection, the hospital wasn’t all that bureaucratic. They had a schedule they kept, for giving you meds and drawing blood and so on, and my physical therapy (which I valued) was also structured. So mostly I think I was just riding an emotional roller coaster. I can look at it now and know two things: (a) it was no big deal, and (b) I was shattered anyway.

I believe reporting this incident to Barb convinced her more than ever that I would do better at home. My heart surgeon wanted me to stay for another week of physical therapy, but he had no idea how the endless hospital nights were dragging me down. The doctor who ran fifth-floor rehab approved my dismissal, but asked me to stay another night, to get the paperwork done. Even one more long night was hard to face, but I of course went along.

This gave the O.T. and P.T. females a day to give me final testing, and I did well on the P.T. stuff, although on the O.T. side, my hand was not progressing quickly. I was taken to a faux kitchen area to make sure I could bend down and secure pots and pans and use a microwave. Megan (again) wanted me to show her how the dishwasher worked. I said, “Sure,” and called out to Barb nearby, “Honey? Are these clean?”

Finally one of the O.T. females walked me over to a computer with keyboard and said, “You’re not leaving till you type something.” I typed “ROAD TO PERDITION by Max Allan Collins” and “TRUE DETECTIVE by Max Allan Collins.” You will be proud to hear I did not break into tears.

There were goodbyes with various nurses and nurse’s aides. One aide named Laura had a talented son in high school who got very excited when he learned I was his mom’s patient. Turned out he was a buff on famous disasters like the Titanic and the Hindenburg, so Barb rounded up copies of the entire disaster series for him. That was a nice boost for my ego, or anyway it was till I realized I couldn’t sign them for him. I did read something of his and dictated to Barb my glowing comments.

Suddenly I was in our car, being driven. The oddest thing was being reminded that we were in Rock Island, Illinois, a mere forty miles from home. It had felt like another planet. Or anyway, Chicago.

Home seemed unreal to me, but I was so glad to be there. Barb got a bench for me to sit on while showering, and rented me a claw-foot cane. I slept in my living room recliner and Barb slept on the nearby couch, so she could walk me to the bathroom should I have to get up in the night. As a middle-aged man (and for me to be middle-aged, I’ll have to live to 136), that means only about a half dozen trips per night.

Soon it became clear I needed to use the upstairs guest room, which allowed Barb to sleep in our master bedroom and put the bathroom a few steps away from me. The claw-foot cane became unnecessary at this point.

For several weeks, I had in-house therapy with both O.T. and P.T. professionals – they were great, mostly giving me exercises I could do at home (I‘m still doing them). A nurse came and gave me a medical onceover every couple of days. Oddly, she turned out to be a new neighbor of ours from two doors down.

I felt okay. My incision was bandaged in a Frankenstein’s monster manner, as were the seven incisions on my inner thighs. But I was alive. I never got the “good drugs” everybody said I could look forward to, unless you count Tylenol. The worst thing was a kind of spongy quality to my walk – it was like I was on a diving board, narrow and bouncy. But my hand responded fairly quickly to the exercises. I worked toward getting my signature back and it took only a few days.

The smartest thing I did – with Barb’s blessing – was order the new keyboard (musical not computer) I’d had my eye on prior to going in the hospital. I found immediately that I could play quite a lot, and for an hour or so a day I worked at it. For getting dexterity back, this was a Godsend. I’m still at it.

After the first week or so, Barb and I began taking the occasional meal out. We took very tentative day trips (in part so we could listen to MURDER NEVER KNOCKS read by Stacy Keach) to Davenport and Iowa City. We also went to a few movies. Barb stayed right with me, then as I got some confidence, she finally dropped me off by myself at the Davenport Barnes & Noble while she went to Von Maur to buy a girl friend an Easter present. At B & N, I spent my fifty-buck Christmas gift certificate and did not fall on my ass – a triumph!

From the start, the biggest problem has been getting my stamina and strength back. Just today I started twice-a-week eighty-minute P.T./O.T. out-patient sessions, and they are working me hard. Good things will happen.

As I wind this up, let me make a couple of points. Some of you have understandably expressed concern about me having had a stroke – hey, it was a mild one and I’m recovering quickly. This is the main thing – a little time in the hospital underscores how many people on this planet have it worse than you do.

Let me close by talking about Barb, or rather demonstrating what kind of wife and friend she is. I’d been home about four days, living on the first floor. She announced that we were going up the stairs to my office. I said, “Nothing doing.” She wouldn’t hear of that, knowing damn well I was avoiding it. She walked me into my office and the surroundings of my work life swallowed me and spit me out. She held me as, yes, I had a crying jag.

The last one.

* * *

Here’s an interesting QUARRY’S CUT review.

Lovely review here of CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL specifically and the Heller series in general.

Finally, here’s a splendid review of MURDER NEVER KNOCKS. Have you read that yet? Have you posted an Amazon review? Get busy!


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12 Responses to “Heart & Soul Pt. 3”

  1. Tom Zappe/St Louis says:

    When will this be hitting the shelves?

  2. Bill Crider says:

    Hey, I have crying jags, too, and I haven’t even had heart surgery. I attribute mine to the fact that I’m (A) old and (B) sentimental. Loved the dishwasher story. If you can keep your sense of humor, you know you’re going to be okay. Keep on truckin’!

  3. Brian Drake says:

    Dude your hospital stories are as compelling as a Heller novel. I’m very glad you’re getting better.

  4. Jan Griffin O'Reilly says:

    Okay. I read this and I didn’t have a panic attack. It was lovely. You’re well on the road to recovery. Thank gods. Barb and you together. What could be better. See you in September, yes, siree. Love to you both.

  5. Max Allan Collins says:

    I am very grateful to everyone who has commented here and on Facebook. I was hesitant to write up my heart-surgery experiences because I feared it would come off as self-indulgent, even for a blog. But I felt I had to get this stuff off what was left of my chest.

    You may be aware that I kept this pending surgery quiet, then wrote about it when I thought I was on the eve of the operation…only to have the surgery postponed a number of times. I was amazed by the outpouring of support from friends, acquaintances and fans. Among the coolest were posts from friends dating back to high school.

    By the way, my original band the Daybreakers is doing a reunion show at my 50th high school reunion in September — a big incentive for getting my hand working 100% again!

  6. And, once again, I see why you are one of my favorite writers.

  7. Howard says:

    Thanks for being so forthcoming and honest about your recuperation. I’ve never read anything like this, or heard of it either. Sooner or later, like most folks (I am about as old as you), I’ll probably have to have major surgery. I must say I am not particularly looking forward to side effects like you have dealt with.

    Best wishes and a full recovery to you, my friend. (I feel I can say that, as I’ve been reading you for many years.)

  8. Howie Gold says:

    Thank you for sharing. I had not seen these 3 posts until now, and have been concerned about how your recovery was progressing. I had 26 sessions of PT after my 2 heart attacks in ’99, so I understand a bit of what you’re going through, although I got away with 4 stents instead of the still in my future open heart surgery. Every now and then I think about how the surgeon said “the stents are usually good for about ten years.” 16 and counting.

    Continued positive thought and prayers as you strengthen.

  9. Tom Zappe/St Louis says:

    Will you and the band be playing anyplace besides the reunion? Perhaps you could book a venue where the general public might have the opportunity to pay their respects [or perhaps even sit in] kind of like a “got well party” or supermarket opening maybe? Maybe sign a few books?

  10. Max Allan Collins says:

    Howie, I know how you feel. My new valve is supposed to last around 18 years…but they start seriously checking it at five.

    Tom, right now the Daybreakers are only playing at the reunion (a Saturday night). I had a Sunday afternoon venue but it fell through, and I am reluctant to book the Friday for a public gig because I’d like to partake of the 50th reunion stuff. I am playing a number of gigs later this year with Crusin’, however.

  11. Mike Dennis says:

    Great that you’re back home, Max. That’s always the big step toward complete recovery. May yours be swift.

  12. Tom Zappe/St Louis says:

    I’m sure many of us, myself included, would like to be informed about those gigs.