The exploding brain

Apr 13, 2013 12:02pm

When a person gets rushed to intensive care on the day after Christmas day, you might expect food poisoning to be the problem, or perhaps an injury from some shoddy Yuletide gift. In my case it was a hemorrhaging brain. Christmas can be a stressful time of year but, just the same, an exploding brain was a little bit of an overreaction on my part and, I was to discover later, impossibly bad timing to boot.

It would be dramatic here to say that I spent the next week fighting for my life in the ICU, but the fact is that I was little more than a vegetable at that stage, and not able to fight my way out of a wet paper bag.. It’s true that my life was in the balance, but my brains had been inflated like a carnival balloon and I was too out of it to understand.

So, the fight was left to the experts, who ran about, administered medicine, brought my blood pressure down, and stopped my noggin from popping like a failed soufflé. Meanwhile, the people who cared about me the most wondered whether the gibbering idiot in the hospital bed would ever annoy them in his own special way again.. It was about this time, when I was at my most uncomprehending, that poor Julia, already at her wit’s end with worry, discovered that things were actually worse than they appeared; it wasn’t just my brains that had exploded but my finances too (more on that in a minute).

Slowly, I came out of the fog that I’d been in and was reconnected with my own timeline. There is still a missing week or so where all I have is brief, hazy images like from a dream. Sadly, the reality I woke up to was nightmarish; I was half paralyzed. This was a lot to process; would I ever be whole again? Would I walk? Would I ever be able to draw? It was a terrifying thought, and in fact it still is. I have been a working artist since 1982 and drawn since as long as I can remember. The idea that I may not be able to do so again fills me with horror. So I focus instead on getting better. I am not ready to deal with the alternative.

As my cognitive abilities and short term memory slowly came back to me over the next few weeks, I was to discover that fate was not done toying with me yet. When Julia felt I was ready to both grasp and deal with the realities, she told me the terrible truth that she’d learned from the hospital staff a few days after my admission to the ICU: the insurance card in my wallet was not yet valid for another week. Believe me, having a hemorrhaging brain in the ICU is precisely the sort of situation where you need a valid insurance card. However, in my case the stay from December 26th through to January 1st was not covered and would therefore be my responsibility to pay.

I was not only half paralyzed but also $186,000 in debt.

The particulars of my physical situation are very daunting; it is frightening to have half your body cease to function (especially the half that pays the rent) but I plug away at my exercises and ever so incrementally and slowly I improve, whereas the debt just sits there, because the money to pay it down is needed to live on. I’ve broken into my nest egg, because now that I cant work I don’t have any other revenue. Unfortunately, I was denied state disability, so I’ve filed for federal disability, but it may take a year to be processed.

So what to do? Should I spend down my nest egg, file for bankruptcy and have the seven year credit stain? Maybe take legal action against the HR department that messed up my insurance but risk the only steady paycheck that Julia and I have left? Should I just pay the debt but then have my life savings gutted? Or should I pack up my wheelchair and make a run for Cuba?

While I ponder these options in the back of my mind, I’ve made getting physically better a priority, and I plug away at my therapy as hard as I can. I’m happy to say that I have finally been accepted into the outpatient physical therapy program at California Pacific Medical Center (insured this time) and I feel that I must give this rehabilitation everything that I’ve got, to get well as soon as possible. Julia’s family has taken over from mine as my full time Burgess Meredith squad; Don and Susan drive me to therapy classes and coach me on my walks around town (cue the Rocky workout montage). It is tiring, slow work but it has rewards as I can feel myself getting stronger everyday.

Who knows, with any luck I may just lick all my problems yet!

23 thoughts on “The exploding brain”

  1. I agree. You need to keep concentrating on your physical therapy. You’ll need all the strength you can muster when you’re running to Cuba.

    Actually scratch that….You have a lot of wonderful friends. If we all donated 1 dollar you’d get at least 100 bucks. It won’t pay the medical bills but that’s a bitchin meal at Henry Hunans right?

    Ok, scratch that as well. Corrine and I are thinking of you and Julie. We can’t imagine your day to day struggles. Let us know if you need anything. Everyone at Ghostbot is rooting for your speedy recovery.

    Stay strong Jamie!!!! Alan
    — Alan Lau, April 13, 2013

  2. Hey Jimmy,
    Try your hardest (as if you need something else to try your hardest at) to keep the financial aspect of all this in perspective. I know it’s a triple whammy – you just had the snot knocked out of you with this stroke, you have a huge medical bill, and your ability to make money has been temporarily (only temporarily, I’m convinced) impinged upon.
    I’ve had some dings on my credit and recovered from them. It’s a bit of a hassle but it’s certainly not the worst thing on the world, it goes away eventually and it really only effects you when you buy a car or a house or apply for credit cards, all of which I’ve never known you to have. I’m sure, given your situation, that you can work out some payment plan, and maybe even negotiate a smaller sum with the hospital.
    And I can count many upstanding friends of mine who have debt approaching or greatly exceeding that amount in school loans, mortgages on houses that have lost a significant chunk of equity and value, car loans and credit cards. It sucks to have monthly payments on debt, but it does eventually go away.

    Glad you’re getting stronger every day, mate!!
    and if I haven’t mentioned this recently to Julia: you’re an angel.
    — david gordon, April 13, 2013

  3. Hey Jamie, please always remember this wise old saying –
    ‘Fuck it.’
    And stay focused on your recovery. The hospital bill is a daunting detail that will get sorted out.
    And please always remember how many friends you and Julia have that will help in any way needed and take heart.
    — Scott Tolmie, April 13, 2013

  4. Jeez pal, the financial problem seems Trickier than learning to wipe your own bum again! Fate is cruel indeed. However, as you know you have a legion of friends here to help you with at least one of those situations. Say the word and we will commence baking of girl scout cookies and car washing .

    You sound stronger with every report – keep going sport!
    — Matt Jones, April 13, 2013

  5. Yeah, what everyone else said. And Jamie, I’m happy to donate too. The hospital will for sure negotiate a smaller sum, and you have lots of friends who can help you out with some bucks. Like Phil, I’m happy to donate for this cause and don’t ever expect repayment. The most important thing for you is to try to manage the stress knowing that we are truly here for you. Let us know when you set up some sort of gateway for payments, ok?

    The weather in Portland has reverted back to winterishness and that is completely freaking irritating! I have a new dog which my mother plucked up off the streets of Mexico. He’s adorable and brilliant but very fond of waking up at the ass crack of dawn. Much less neurotic than the beloved Toast when I first got her, so lots of promise for the future with him. Things in Candyland are going really well and I’m getting ready for a big marketing push.

    Saw Tony and Gale last night and they are great as always. We went to a great Vietnamese place that you would enjoy very much, friend.
    Lots of love to you and Julia, and let us know when you’re ready for an influx of bucks. xxxooooo Anne
    — Anne Smith, April 13, 2013

  6. thanks so much for these updates, J & J; my thoughts are always with you, and i’d love to see you both again soon.
    — charlie canfield, April 13, 2013

  7. Dear James
    If having the right attitude to life’s hard knocks is the secret, reading your journal makes me think you’ll beat this king hit.
    — Peter Sheehan, April 13, 2013

  8. Jamie! Stay strong man. Health first, loved ones, then everything else. Let’s talk about this financial hurdle and how we (I speak for myself but I think there are many who feel the same) can help you.
    — bosco ng, April 13, 2013

  9. Jamie, please focus on getting all your body parts working together again. That is the most important part. Plan for your future in little steps now and if you can still visualize your art the mechanics will follow. Perhaps a little differently from your past, but it will still be there for you. Just title it your “strokes” period. [I hope you see the humor here.]

    I always read your missives. I am trying to keep my brain together myself and I appreciate your directness and ability to share your experiences with your family and friends.
    As soon as you can draw again, it might be time to write a book. Your writing is certainly eloquent enough and some chapter drawings from each stage would really interesting. What do you think? One way to pay down that $186K.

    Thanks for telling it like is Jamie. I am so happy that you have the ability to do it.
    — Lou Toft, April 13, 2013

  10. Thank you for giving so much of yourself in these journal entries. It is inspiring and humbling to all of us.

    Lots and lots of love to you…
    — Anne Smith, April 28, 2013

  11. Jamie,
    I would be happy to contribute. I would encourage you also to consider bankruptcy as apart from attaining a credit card or getting a mortgage, the damage is minimal. I can probably recommend a lawyer to you as my dad worked in the field if you want. beth
    — Beth Segal, April 14, 2013

  12. You know when you’re flipping through the TV and happen to come across a movie you love that you end up sitting there and watching it? Even though you have the DVD of the exact movie five feet away you’re mesmerized just the same, commercials and all! Yesterday, it was “Finding Nemo,” which made Jess and I immediately think of you. We’re happy to hear your physical progress but also, disheartened by the financial news.
    I listened to an NPR story recently about disability and I guess there are lawyers that you can contact to help you navigate through that process. From the story, people with back-ache and migraines are able to get it so, baffles me why someone like you would be denied. I don’t know if California is different in this regard (the story was from a different State) but it might be worth looking into?
    We hope you continue to push forward, ever forward. Let us know if we can help in any way. Stay strong!
    — Kenn Navarro, April 14, 2013

  13. Jamie,
    Your physical challenges clearly are not difficult enough, you need an additional test.186,000 miles per second is the speed of light. Hmmmm.Ask 186,000 friends to take just one second and mail you one dollar each….Jamie it would not surprise me that you have that many caring friends out there. Most importantly keep your focus on what you need to do to get stronger, and what ever you do don’t sell the Bentley.
    I’m positive that with all the friends here that you could get a lot of support to help address that debt…An art auction fund raiser,a tele-a-thon..web-a-thon…..
    Much love,Bob
    — Bob Pauley, April 14, 2013

  14. Hi Jamie
    Despite I could not even imagine how hard everything has been around you, this debt is way beyond my feeble imagination.
    Meanwhile I was wondering if we could start talking about any possible fund raiser just like we used to hold regularly at Maverix. You have friends from all over the world thinking of you and I believe we are able to at least have a crack at it and lighten the payload before
    Hang in there. Patrick Awa
    — Patrick Awa, April 14, 2013

  15. Jamie – money truly is the very least of your worries, there’s plenty of it in the world, and you have a brains trust here, in this group of friends and family, that are more than capable of breaking it down into chewable bits and helping out.
    Relax, sleep well, work hard and breathe deep.
    I’ll be in touch
    love to you and Julia
    — Lisa Hauge, April 14, 2013

  16. Expensive, but having you here communicating with all of us, is priceless. James I agree with everyone else. Just keep focusing on your rehabilitation & getting stronger & more able every day. No matter what the price, you are worth it. Like others, I’m also happy to contribute what I can to help you out. Just say the word. Make a plan & put it out there & I’ll be in it.

    For God’s sake don’t waste one more minute worrying about money. It’s a finite amount, we are all ready & willing to help. Done.
    You CAN ask us all for help you know :0)
    Take care & keep the humour up!!! Lots of love & hugs,
    — Janine Dawson, April 15, 2013

  17. I can only imagine your daunting task of rehabilitation and now the financial stress — count me in to help you out. Just focus on getting better, my friend.
    — Steward Lee, April 15, 2013

  18. Dear Jamie,
    I’m sorry, I just got around to reading your last entry. We’re moving 10 days and I have a show coming up at the beginning of May- my inbox is sorely neglected!
    I’m so sorry that you weren’t covered during that week- what a bad joke on the universes part. AND it’s completely going to work out; you have so many people that love and care about you. And Steve and I would be honored to help out in some way.
    Sending you huge positive thoughts for healing physically and financially- in fact I see you able-bodied and financially well, laughing at the memory that you ever thought you couldn’t get through this.
    Much Love,
    Larissa, Steve and Zadie xox
    — Larissa Martin, April 19, 2013

  19. The boys and I have read with great admiration all of your entires, James. You are such an inspiration to all of us. We so wish we were able to be there on a daily basis to help out and see you. Jo will be back before you know it in May! You have SOOOOO many people who are rooting for you and willing to lend a hand financially, logistically, medically, whatever. We love you!!!!
    — Priscilla Baker, April 19, 2013

  20. Jimmy, I’m with big Phil…we’re here to help, and I love his idea of getting the jimmy brain ticking on the stories you are so bloody good at. Keep focused on being well.
    Money comes and goes.
    — Deane Taylor, April 20, 2013

  21. Hello to you Jamie, Julia and all your ‘guests’,
    I would dearly love to help you out financially Jamie – unfortunately that’s the only way I can help out being so far away.
    I am happy to just send you a donation direct but I would like to see things get bigger and better than that. I was hoping that a trusted friend/colleague might set up an account on your behalf where donations could be deposited. It would make it a lot simpler for people who wanted to make an electronic transfer rather than sending personal or bank cheques – especially when involving donations from overseas.
    Is there someone in the States among all Guestbook contributors who might be willing to put his/her hand up to get this account set up and get things rolling? Like other contributors, I feel sure there are plenty of people who would like to help you out – if an account were to be set up it would simplify things greatly.
    Meanwhile all the Thomas family is thinking of you and wishing you well. Slow old slog I know but I’ve met two people in just the last week who have suffered a stroke (around your age) and they have made a pretty good if slow recovery.
    Love and all the best for now to you and Julia (Aunty) Marg
    — Margaret Thomas, April 20, 2013

  22. Geeze Jamie that’s the luck of the Irish and aren’t you an Aussie. What is going on, that’s just plain bad luck. I wouldn’t be worrying too much about the money. Money can’t buy love and you have plenty of that around you. It seems a lot of people want to contribute and I think that’s a nice idea but to be honest you need to just get yourself back on track and start writing and drawing again which I know will happen in time. You could just write at this point I’ve always loved your stories and you have plenty of them you never know where that will take you. I seem to be rambling I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to help out. I don’t know why this has happened to you your such a good guy I personally don’t think it’s fair at all. Anyhoo keep up with the physio and let us know how your progressing. I saw a show just tonight it was so interesting they were saying that if you fast for 2 days you can cut your chance of heart disease stroke and cancer by half. Also the brain starts to repair itself if it is starved. It made sense to me you maybe should look into it. Love you lots and lots of jelly tots.
    P.S. I love Bob Pauley’s idea of an Art auction is there someone who could organise that for you. I know Deane would happily donate and I can make you an outfit for the show. It’s not a bad idea, you have so many talented friends who I’m sure would be happy to donate something. Whatchafink?
    — Joy Taylor, April 22, 2013


Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.