When I was a kid I prided myself on never having broken a bone or having had stitches. Not being much of athlete, I had little chance of either occurring (and in my world, such bone-breaking sports as skiing involved people in Switzerland or Colorado or Vermont, not some kid a few miles from the Bronx). Apart from the compulsory miseries of gym class—dodge-ball, punch-ball, the usual activities that pitted the übermenschen against the weak; then, later, soccer, lacrosse and—the one sport I liked and still follow as a spectator—tennis, my athletic fields consisted of the school playground for after-hours stickball, and the street outside the house for stoopball, both of which were played with a pink Spalding, bought for a quarter at the local candy store. These were the sports of the Dead End Kids, not some eager Little Leaguer anticipating a major league career.
Since then, and apart from a horror-flick tonsillectomy at the age of four, I’ve been lucky. A few stitches here and there where I’d foolishly tried to cut a delicata squash in my hand and not on the board, and there was the hernia operation several years ago that changed my whole attitude towards physical pain, but I’m at this moment recovering from a full hip replacement, and I think I can now say I’ve paid my dues.
No bone was broken during the procedure; it was sawed off, and fortunately I slept heavily and dreamlessly through it all. And it was determined in the half-hour beforehand in the prep room that indeed I may well be able to ascribe the origin of this moment to a fall I’d taken from a horse some years ago, when, through every fault of my own, I tumbled directly onto the hip off a skittish gelding. Riding a horse is not something I’m especially suited to; like Jason Schwartzman’s character in HBO’s “Bored to Death,” my assumption had always been that Jews didn’t ride horses. But when I started riding I found out my grandfather had been in the Russian cavalry, and that two of my favorite writers, Proust and Kafka, had ridden either voluntarily or under military duress. This allowed me no protection whatsoever. After that fall I got back on and rode for a few more years after that, twice a week around and around a wooden paddock, going nowhere at moderate speed in spiffy boots and breeches. Riding to hounds, the goal of this particular stable, was not going to be in my future. In any event, they wouldn’t have wanted me. Wrong class, wrong attitude, wrong accent.
Immediately upon awakening in the recovery room, my first words were, “This isn’t in the script.” For a few months now I’ve been developing a screenplay with a production company in Los Angeles, and that the night prior to surgery I was in a telephone conference with their development executive, taking notes for my next, hopefully last, rewrite. So the fact that this was on my mind as I rose up out of a narcotized state was not unusual. I spent three days in hospital being very well cared-for and very poorly fed (my best meal was a bowl of Raisin Bran), I had WiFi and I could read. TV consisted of about fourteen basic cable stations, including one that kept running litigation ads for those who’d been given a faulty artificial hip joint renowned for destroying lives.
Though the pain was tolerable, the discomfort—the sheer inability to move without the assistance of others and a kind of trapeze over my bed I’d last seen Marlon Brando use in “The Men”—was amazing, and dealing with the various necessities of life demanded certain ingenuities, such as injecting myself with a blood-thinner every morning, which I actually became quite good at. Small needle equals small pain, as long as your aim is true and you don’t think about it too much.
Now at home for nearly two weeks, my physical therapist visits every few days, I do a range of exercises daily, and I’m now down to a single crutch and have just ordered a rather handsome cane that looks like it came out of Paramount’s prop department, which will serve me well for several months. Some things are uncomfortable. I am not permitted to cross my legs or ankles, and when I sleep it’s on my back. Period. Which after eight hours can be uncomfortable. Stairs have become completely manageable. Horses are forbidden. I haven’t yet got behind the wheel of a car. But I do know that soon enough the stiffness and pain will be gone and I’ll be able to enjoy a painless left side. In any event, I keep it out of mind by working on a script in which hip surgery had not, and never will, be a part.
Causes J.P. Smith Supports