Friday, December 9, 2016
What happens is this. I’m up early on a Friday, ready to walk the dog before I fix breakfast for my son. It’s the first real cold weather we’ve had so far this winter, and there’s thick new-fallen snow on the lawn. I’m wearing jeans and sneakers without socks, so — genius that I am — I decide to walk the dog in the street so I don’t get snow in my shoes.
Friday is usually the morning after a band practice, but we skipped this week. We had been gearing up for a Roscoe’s Basement show the week before Christmas, but we just got word that the gig fell through. So I’m feeling lonesome and vaguely bummed out as I leash up Katya the neurotic husky and step onto the asphalt. We’ve taken maybe ten steps when suddenly my feet are no longer underneath me. I briefly see my toecaps shooting up into my field of vision; then I am staring at the white sky, flat on my back on the ice of the street.
I get to my feet — somehow I have managed to keep hold of the dog’s leash — and walk shakily toward the sidewalk, trying to get my wind back. Lucky I didn’t bash my skull in, I think. I look at the dog; she’s naturally skittish anyway, and the excitement hasn’t done much for her mood. It takes her a few moments to relax. “It’s okay,” I whisper. “Everything’s okay.”
But everything is not okay. As the dog settles into her morning squat, I realize that my left arm isn’t doing what I want it to do. There’s no pain yet, not exactly; but I am aware of an odd grinding sensation when I move it.
I file this feeling away for later. My brain — perhaps in an effort to spare my body — focuses entirely on completing the morning’s tasks. I clean up after the dog, slipping a plastic bag over my good hand, and go inside to fix Sam’s oatmeal. “Pretty sure I just broke my arm,” I say, rather too jauntily.
When Danielle comes down, I tell her what’s happened. She’s been on vacation all week; now she gets to spend her final day off accompanying me through the whirlwind of urgent care — where I am X-rayed, then fitted with a half-cast and an Ace bandage — and then the orthopedics clinic at the big university hospital, where I am further checked out. A physician’s assistant tells me I’ve fractured the head of my radius, one of the two long bones of the forearm. At the spot where it meets up with the ulna to form the elbow joint, the knobby end has been broken into at least three pieces.
There happens to be a surgeon working the floor while I’m there, and he looks in on my case. Depending on the extent of the damage, he tells me, repairing it will involve either installing a metal plate and screws to hold the damaged bone together as it knits, or replacing the radial head altogether with a titanium appliance. He books me for a PET scan on Monday and a surgical consult the day after that.
Then we go home, and I spend the rest of the weekend freaking out. I’m perfectly comfortable, so long as my arm is immobilized by the cast and sling; I can still type, albeit slowly, so I can continue to work. But there’s a very real chance I will never play guitar again. It’s unlikely (though possible) that I will suffer nerve damage or partial paralysis during the procedure. But even in a best-case scenario, I will, in all likelihood, lose some range of motion. This is my fretting hand, remember; for proper positioning, the elbow must be flexed sharply, the palm turned fully inward, and the wrist cocked down. My injury isn’t as bad as (say) Bono’s, but it doesn’t have to be. Losing even a few degrees of functional range in any one of these areas might effectively end my career as a guitar player.
I think about this, as I struggle to button my jeans with one hand. And I wait.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
I drive myself in to meet with my surgeon, my pea coat draped over and my good arm through one sleeve, steering with one hand. (Thank God my little Honda has an automatic transmission.) He looks at my scans and talks me through the surgery. He can’t tell from the scans which procedure he’ll need to do — whether he’ll fix the existing bone together with a plate, or replace it with prosthesis. He and his team will be ready for either, and he’ll make the call once he’s opened my arm up and seen how things look in there.
Now, on one level I understand that this man is tops in his field, and that he’s done this dozens if not hundreds of times, and that he has earned my trust many times over. On another level, though, WOW, THIS GUY TOLD ME STRAIGHT-UP THAT HE’S GOING TO JUST START CUTTING WITHOUT A DEFINITE GAME PLAN. Well, throw out your gold teeth and see how they roll; I sign a stack of consent forms and we book the surgery for a week out.
On the drive home, my brake lines — which have been running a slow leak for weeks — blow out entirely, This is the kind of thing that causes fatal accidents in the movies, but I limp home to the squeal of metal on metal every time I have to slow down.
With the surgery booked, I sit down and write a long, anguished e-mail to the members of Roscoe’s Basement, bringing them up to speed and dumping all my fears on them. They are kind and reassuring, every one. “You’re the Jack of Diamonds,” Deanna tells me. “This will all be in your rearview mirror soon.” I feel like crying — with despair, or with gratitude for having these people in my life, I don’t know. Both, I guess.
A winter storm howls through town on Thursday, and we end up cancelling rehearsal again — but it’s still an eventful week. Craig has some health news of his own, for one thing; he’s been bothered with a hernia for some time, and has finally booked a procedure for January. His postsurgical care will put him out of action for weeks; he will be sharply limited as to what he can lift, which is damned inconvenient for a bass player.
And we get back the completed mixes from our recording sessions at FLCC. They’re a mixed bag. Certainly none of us were expecting pro-quality mixes from a student project, but only half of them are even passable. Craig’s songs are particularly ill-served. The intricate harmonies of “Waiting for World War III” and “Got That Girl” don’t mesh; the vocal blend, which sounded so lush on the playback monitors, seems thin and weedy, and the whole thing sounds like a rush job. I’m disappointed, for my part, in “Down by the Wayside.” Neither Deanna’s lead line nor the cascading harmonies have the definition or pop I’d hoped for.
The rowdiest songs fare better. “Purple Jesus” turns out pretty well, as do Chuck’s two compositions. “Sister Saintly” take a moment to settle into its groove — that damned click track! — but once we’re all locked in, it positively cooks.
“Sister Saintly” studio demo. Music by Michael Mann, words by Jack Feerick, performed by Roscoe’s Basement. Jack Feerick – lead and backing vocals; Deanna Finn – backing vocals; Tom Finn – drums; Craig Hanson – bass guitar, backing vocals; Mike Mann – electric guitars; Chuck Romano – electric guitar. Engineered and mixed by Joe Nauert at Finger Lakes Community College Studio 1, November 2016.
As promised, Joe has given us a hard drive with all the stems — the basic digital files from the sessions — and I have high hopes that a competent producer might be able to “fix it in the mix,” turning these performances into something releasable. But when Chuck runs them past a producer he knows, it becomes plain that I’m a little over-ambitious. The recording conditions, our inexperience in the studio, performance nerves — the source material is simply subpar. Time to suck it up and learn to love what we’ve got.
You know. Like you do.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
Surgery happens on Tuesday morning. They put me out and screw my arm back together, then send me home to sleep for most of the day and night in a blanket of lingering anesthesia. I don’t lose any mobility in my fingers, thank heaven, but at the moment that’s all I know. I’ll be in a full cast for weeks yet, and my long-term recovery is still an open question. My new cast is bulkier and heavier than the presurgical one, reaching from my bicep to my wrist, with a big plaster dome over the elbow. All the positions and props that let me sleep and work in comfort for ten days beforehand — they don’t work anymore, so I’m back to square one. And I’m in actual pain (as opposed to mere discomfort) for the first time in the process, so I’m high-strung and irritable when I’m not foggy from Percocet.
But I’m not admitting any kind of defeat just yet. So tonight, two days after going under the knife, I have bummed rides from my bandmates and am down in the basement, singing through the glorious din. Not well — my arm is pinned to my chest, squishing my lungs, so my breath control is for beans — and of course I can’t play, not even tambourine. But it feels good.
And so we rehearse, after a fashion, just like normal, one last time before a break for the holidays. Tom and Deanna give us each a gift — a Christmas ornament with the band logo, all done with custom-printed vinyl decals and cunning use of an X-Acto knife — and we ooh and ahh and laugh, and wish each other a happy New Year.
And then we go out into the dark and wait to see what happens.