Tuesday, Aug. 23, came to an abrupt halt for me at 7:45 a.m. As I reported yesterday, I was wiped out before I ever saw the inside of that operating room in New York.
I don't know when I regained consciousness. I can tell you only that I recall nothing about the first three days that followed surgery.
My earliest post-operative recollection is of the pattern of curtain tracks in the ceiling of the intensive care unit. Those tracks provided me with my only means of judging what was real and what wasn't.
Post-operative heart patients are kept heavily sedated. In my case, at least, the medication caused frequent hallucination.
The dreams were so realistic that when I broke through into occasional consciousness, I had trouble getting reoriented -- especially so because I was flat on my back and couldn't turn my head enough to get my bearings.
When I dreamed that I was back home in my own bed again, all I had to do was open my eyes. If there were curtain tracks in the ceiling, I knew I was still in thehospital.
On Sunday, five days after the operation, one dream had to do with bringing baseball back to Washington. My son had just informed me that Charlie Finley had phoned to say he was ready to sell his team at a reasonable price and wanted to see us in Chicago. "Do you want me to come along?" son Walter had asked.
"No," I said, "this man must be handled very delicately. You don't know him and you might queer the whole deal."
Walter grinned. "All right," he said. "If that's what you really think of my negotiating skills, I'll humor you."
"Look," I said as I opened my eyes. "I don't mean to hurt your feelings. It's just that ..."
I stopped talking and tried to think. The curtain tracks were still in the ceiling, so I was still in the hospital. But was I hallucinating? Was my son at my bedside, grinning at me, or wasn't he? Where did hallucination end and reality begin?
After a while, the cobwebs cleared and I realized that I had awakened from a dream that included Walter just in time to find that he had come up from Washington to see me.
Some people come through open - heart surgery with relatively little pain. One woman I met, a physical education teacher in the New York school system, was in such fine fettle one week after her operation that she said she was ready to put on a dress and sign herself out.
For the majority, however, the first six weeks of post-operative recuperation are quite painful; and for at least some, those first weeks are a time of almost unbearable pain. I was in the latter category.
On the Monday following my operation I was in utter agony -- unable to move and unable to endure lying in the same position. "If I had known in advance what I'd have to go through, I told myself, "I think it would have been better to die and get it over with." I have never in my life been so low, or regarded my circumstances with such despair.
At that moment, Ted Lerner walked into the intensive care unit and came over to my bedside. "I know you're tired, so I'll stay for only a minute," he said. "I just want you to know how happy I am to learn that everything went well for you, and the worst is over. You're getting well now, do you hear me?" His smile of confidence seemed to generate an electric current through my body. "Just hang in there and you've got it made. All right?"
"Right," I said, and closed my eyes. When I opened them again, my wife was at my bedside. "Did TedLerner really come to visit me or have I been hallucinating again?" I asked.
"You really are a little goofy, aren't you?" she said. "Yes, that was Ted. Do you know who I am?"
Indeed I do, madam. You're the long-suffering woman whose patient support has kept me from going bananas. I may occasionally forget to send you a card on your birthday, but when the chips are down, I know who my friends are.
For those among you who want to know about my present condition and the status of the column, I can file this report: I think I am getting better, but the surgeon warned me to expect good days and bad days, and he was pretty close. One must expect bad days and worse ones, with the bad days the best of the lot. So for the next few weeks I will write on the bad days and I will not write on the days when too many pain pills fuzz my brain. Yes, I know - a fuzzy brain never stopped me from writing before, but that was different.