It’s 7:35 on a Thursday evening and I can’t talk. Really. No voice. A low whisper… like a dying man or a little kid playing hide and seek. Some of you secretly wish this condition permanent. Shame on you.
It is a weird feeling to be a person who makes a living talking and then all of the sudden you can’t talk. Forced silence. Whispers of nothingness. Silent snow, secret snow. I can hear okay. I just can’t talk. I am cut off from what I love to do every morning that there’s oxygen and traffic. Without the 5:30 morning show, I am lost, looking for that other shoe. No socks in the sock drawer. Out of milk. Car’s on empty. Where’s the ice scraper? Put the wrong underwear on, the pair you said you were gonna throw away but never did.
I am out of sync. I just had a long phone conversation with my brother, Jeff, who’s a doctor in Ohio.
“So you still sick?” he asked.
“How’d you know? Are you one of the three or four who read my blog?”
“No. I listened to Kusiak on the internet this morning. He said you can’t talk. That’s funny.”
“No it’s not.”
Jeff gave me a rundown on stuff like influenza A or B. And we spoke whimsically about 20 milligrams of prednisone and the chemical makeup of Z-pacs. My brother is a very analytical fellow, a great doctor, thorough, and if in the future I can’t sleep, I’ll call him up and ask him to explain the workings of the pituitary gland.
It was good to hear my brother’s voice and to hear him talk about something passionately. He too had this flu and couldn’t talk, but it’s not nearly as funny when a doctor has the flu and can’t talk as when a radio guy has it and can’t talk. It reminds of when I was a kid and the forces of the world cut me off from the one thing that I loved to do more than anything – run around.
That’s right. One day as a kid in fifth grade, my aunt Gayle Blanton took me and my cousin Roger to the Shriner’s circus at the Hammond Civic Center. It was the same circus as the year before and the year before that. Elephants, tigers, clowns, flamethrowers and these women in really cool looking stockings dangling on ropes from the rafters. I was then, and am now, a fan of women in fishnet stockings dangling from ropes… or dancing around poles… or just fishnets in general.
Anyways, Aunt Gayle, my cousin Roger and I were walking along Sohl Avenue to the car when I sat down in the grass next to the curb and said, “Aunt Gayle, I can’t walk anymore.”
“I can’t walk. You’ll have to go get the car.”
And she did. Roger helped me in the backseat. The next day I went to the doctor and wound up in the hospital for what seemed like eternity – in traction of all things. That’s when you lay still on the bed and they attach ropes to your ankles. On the end of the ropes, hanging off the end of the bed, are weights. I laid there through Thanksgiving and Christmas with these weights hanging off of my legs.
It was horrible. The weight pulled on your joints and it hurt. But more importantly, I couldn’t move. For the first few weeks, they wouldn’t even let me get out of bed to go to the bathroom. For the rest of my life I’ll have a mortal fear of bedpans.
Somewhere in all of this a doctor did surgery to put a pin in my hip. And then there was an infection, a bad one. They put me in this special room with a window and no one who wasn’t in a gas mask could come in. My mom stood at the window and made funny faces. They said I had a 105 degree fever, but I don’t remember that. I just remember the bedpans, and the traction.
One thing I do remember clearly, though, is looking out of the fifth floor of St. Margaret Hospital at the side of a building. “Hotel LaSalle” is what that brick building had painted on it. This caused me great confusion as I got older and got my first real job as a reporter at WJOB. News director Ron Perzo sent me out once on an assignment – “Go over to the LaSalle Hotel. Someone’s dead there. See what happened.”
“Is that anywhere near the Hotel LaSalle?”
“What are you talking about?”
After all of these years, I finally realize that as I sat there gazing out of the fifth floor window of St. Margaret Hospital, I was reading it backwards. It says, I’m sure, LaSalle Hotel on the side of the building. But as I stared at it day after day, the dysylexia set in and my mind read it as “Hotel LaSalle.” So there.
Eventually I got out of the hospital and they gave us a wheelchair. I went out a few times in it, but too many people came up to me with this look of pity on their faces. I remember those looks, and I’ve tried like hell whenever I run into someone with an abnormality to wipe the look of pity off my visage. It doesn’t always work.
By Spring, I could get out of the wheelchair and onto crutches. And man did I get good at moving around on crutches. I could beat my little brothers in a race – right leg, left crutch, right leg, left crutch - which to this day surely pisses them off.
“Even when my bully of an older brother is on crutches I can’t beat him.”
Oh well, I am the older brother… who was in traction, and in solitary confinement with an infection, and in a wheelchair and then on crutches for a long as hell time. I bring all of this up in that sitting here not being able to talk reminds me of being cut off from something that I really love to do, which of course is to talk on the radio every morning. It has become part of me, just like playing basketball in the backyard with Joey Chruby and Chris Klyczek… and throwing rocks at trains with Mark Lukawski and Russel Gower.
I do remember one thing that happened after I came out of the medical challenges as a kid – with a forever limp. After that experience, I learned to appreciate the simple joy of walking around, of going for a run, of playing basketball. And it’s a simple joy that to this day I appreciate.
I appreciate it so much that when I got a cold over the weekend, I decided that I would turn to the one thing that’s always there for me, that I turn to in times of need – running. I took a few Advil, waited for them to take away the cold and flu symptoms, and then went for an hour-long run in the rain.
After a couple days of running in the rain, I couldn’t talk, and it persists days later. I am cut off from radio, from doing the morning show, from doing podcasts and live videos and giving orders to the yahoos in the office. I am lying in bed once again looking at the side of a building that says, “Hotel LaSalle.”
Thanks to Dave Kusiak for doing the show for the past couple of days, and thanks to Tom Dabertin for doing it tomorrow morning. There’s a lotta good people in and around the station and that’s how radio goes on, with or without me. 1293 words. See ya.