“Smile…things could be worse.” So, I smiled…and things got worse…
We are now in the waning days of 2021 and I’m feeling reflective about the past twelve months. Last year, as 2020 came to its much-anticipated conclusion, it was with hopeful optimism that the new year would see the end to the plague that befell mankind (sounds a bit biblical, but no less true).
But 2021 didn’t turn out to be the year I envisioned. With the pandemic still very much part of our collective everyday lives, who did have a good year? For me, 2021 was a pretty miserable one filled with personal trials and tribulations. In fact, 2021 was particularly shitty.
In a blog I wrote during the first Covid wave of 2020, I reflected upon the many personal accounts shared by my patients about how they each were coping with the pandemic maelstrom that engulfed us all. I mused that we were not all in the same boat but rather in our own individual boats weathering the same viral storm.
So many people have suffered great hardships, and I have tremendous empathy for them. But, I can say without apology that for me, 2021 was a bitch.
It all started in the spring…
In April, I was attacked on the subway. Thankfully, I was not physically injured in my subterranean altercation. But truth be told, afterward, I was a bit unnerved every time I stood on a subway platform. I became hyper-aware of my surroundings and didn’t stand as close to the tracks as I once had.
Now, you wouldn’t think a 6’4” 250-lb. man would need to worry about being assaulted – yet, I did. The many articles about subway violence I had previously scrolled past now engaged me, and I began to wonder if I had PTSD.
But, despite my wariness, I continued my life as a strap-hanger. But I took to carrying a wrench in my backpack – a very big, heavy wrench – just in case. How ridiculous was that?
So, I decided to see if I could find something lighter and more portable than a wrench. It turns out that Amazon has a virtual cornucopia of martial arts instruments meant for self-defense, and one such item was a cute, flashlight-size device that, when activated, extended out into an 18-inch metal wand. Lightweight (only 10 oz.), with a price tag of only $45, and overnight delivery – I ordered it. When it arrived I threw it into my backpack. It was akin to a child’s security blanket for a short while.
Then I proceeded to forget all about it.
Fast-forward four weeks. My wife, Ann, and I traveled to California to visit my mom. With all of us fully vaccinated, we were liberated by the familiar feeling of freedom to travel again and had a wonderful trip. There was no traffic on the way back to LAX (no traffic in L.A., imagine that!), and we arrived at the airport two hours before our flight was scheduled to take off. There was no line at security, either. Easy-peasy! Or so I thought.
While going through security, a TSA agent spotted something suspicious in my backpack. That’s right – he noticed the wand! I had totally forgotten it was there. I was aghast and tried to explain it – to no avail.
TSA then summoned the police (really!) and I was detained by three officers who proceeded to run a background check on me. Some ninety minutes later, I was presented with a yellow “ticket,” and off we dashed to the gate, barely getting there in time to board the plane.
Once seated and ready for departure, I took out the yellow piece of paper I’d stuffed into my pocket to inspect it. It wasn’t a ticket – it was a summons to appear in Los Angeles County Court six months hence and answer to a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon on an airplane! WTF???
Apparently, my wand was technically a collapsible baton and is considered a concealed weapon…ergo: illegal. I started to freak out. Me? Appear in criminal court for a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to a year in jail? Jail? A criminal record? What would happen to my dental license? Are you kidding me? Didn’t I get whacked in the head for helping a woman who was being menaced by an enraged man? Does no good deed go unpunished?”
And, what was I thinking when I ordered that “baton” in the first place? As if an assailant would afford me the opportunity first to unclip my backpack then rummage into its darkest recesses until…there it is – En Garde!
As it is said in legal vernacular, I needed to lawyer-up. But what the hell did I know about criminal law save what I’d seen on T.V.? How does one go about finding, let alone vetting, a criminal attorney? A California criminal attorney, no less?
I frantically sought the advice of those who know more than I do about such matters. It was surreal to be on the phone with a criminal lawyer about me!
To make a long story short (which is never easy for me) I retained very competent and reassuring counsel by the name of Shep Kopp. The pandemic had slowed down the court system, which made this saga drag on for 6-1/2 months (of interrupted sleep on my part). But Shep resolved the issue, and I am no longer worried about going to jail. And, I now can comprehend how women can lose things in their pocketbooks!
Two months after the LAX incident went down, I flew down to Florida for an implant conference. Admittedly, it was a bit of a white-knuckle experience going through airport security again because I had a fleeting feeling that I might be on some kind of no-fly list. Alas, the trip lacked the drama of my last one. Or so I thought.
Unbeknownst to me, it seems likely that while I was in the Sunshine State I was bitten by an insect, probably a spider. In the ensuing days after returning to my office, I started feeling increasingly depleted of energy. Then things took a turn for the worse, and I landed at NYU Langone Hospital for a three-day stay on intravenous antibiotics due to cellulitis in my leg!
There’s a bright side to this story, however. It was the 4th of July weekend and I had a birds-eye view of the Macy’s fireworks right outside my window. I could actually see the barge below! (It was a consolation prize of sorts considering I was supposed to be attending one of my dearest friend’s wedding that weekend.)
The month of August arrived and summer was in full swing. Our granddaughter Wren turned one year old, and we had a small family gathering to celebrate.
All eight of the adults present were fully vaccinated, yet five of us ended up with breakthrough infections courtesy of the delta variant.
Two days after testing positive, I was off to the hospital again – this time with a fever and low pulse-ox. I was admitted again. After four days lying in a hospital bed with supplemental oxygen and remdesivir and dexamethasone by IV, I was finally discharged to recuperate at home. But it took a good six weeks before I fully regained my mojo.
Of the five who had breakthrough infections, I was the only one to end up in the hospital. One theory is that my bout with cellulitis had weakened my resistance and made me more susceptible to the virus. My body went into inflammatory and metabolic overdrive. The upside is that I lost nearly 40 lbs. (No surprise – I’ve managed to regain about half of it back.)
While most of August is a blur to me, what stands out in my mind is the tremendous support I received from my staff, most especially from Carmen and Sandra.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving, a mere four weeks ago. I woke up from a deep sleep with a jolting sensation running down my leg. Never in my life had I experienced such intense, incapacitating pain. It was unremitting. Anyone who’s suffered from back pain from a slipped or herniated disc can relate. Hitherto, I hadn’t had the pleasure and was clueless about the nightmarish proportions such pain can be.
I was able to sit, but walking and sleeping were problematic. After a week of misery during which I missed only one day at the office, I received an epidural injection, which has given me tremendous relief and enabled me to keep on going. I started physical therapy this past week and hope to press the reset button and get back to where I was before all this happened without surgical intervention. Time will tell.
What precipitated my latest medical misadventure? One doctor theorizes that my dramatic Covid-induced weight loss caused a decrease in my muscle mass. Apparently, my core muscles had weakened, which allowed my spine to shift out of kilter and put pressure on my sciatic nerve. I had noticed that my arms and legs looked smaller, and my pants were baggy around the thighs.
The good news is I feel immensely better and believe that I am on the road to recovery. If I do need surgery, it will be minimally invasive with limited downtime.
So, as I sit at my keyboard and recount my misadventures, I am filled with a sense of incredulity. I share this tale with a smile of disbelief that 2021 was so besmirched with one unfortunate event after the other. Does “what doesn’t kill you only make you stronger?” In the long run….perhaps. But for certain, it can leave you feeling battered. And, whoever said that bad luck happens in threes – can’t count!
Through it all, I’ve tried to maintain my sense of humor. I gained strength and perspective from the support and encouragement I’ve received from my wife, family, friends, and loved ones – including the very special people I have the pleasure to work with: my team…my dental family.
I wish you all a healthy 2022. I, for one, am hoping for a much better year!
A huge shout-out to Rick Smolan, a generous crusader who took on my legal plight with a determined ferocity and showed me the way out. Also, a nod of thanks to my friends Joey Dussich and Alan Blanc, who were instrumental in my “get out of jail free” card.