'I ain't going'


MY wife never met a cliche she didn't like.

Sometimes, when she gets into a groove, Joan can rattle them off, rat-a-tat-tat, in the rapid-fire delivery style of a comedian doing a routine of one-liners.

But sometimes, one of her equally familiar malaprops gets in the way.

Like the time, in a state of apprehension years ago, she said in all seriousness: "It's like waiting for the third shoe to drop!"

Well, the third shoe did drop in our family in 1992, along with a couple of galoshes and maybe a dozen or so hip boots.

A year ago, on Feb. 21, I drove myself to the family doctor, complaining of an extremely sore back. It was almost a death trip.

Joan marked Feb. 21 on our 1992 kitchen wall calendar with a succinct message in block letters: "Black Friday." Just four days later, she wrote: "Dad given 10 percent chance."

The first diagnosis at Harbor Medical Center was a heart aneurysm, but the next day at the University of Maryland Hospital it was discovered that I had suffered a ruptured esophagus.

That, in turn, led to blood poisoning which spread to all my major organs.

My kidneys were affected, and at one time the prognosis was that in the event of recovery I probably would be on dialysis the rest of my life.

The liver was next on the hit parade and, I was told later, there seemed to be a new crisis every day.

I also began to retain water, ballooning from 238 to 290 pounds and looking, Joan said later, like the advertisement for the Michelin Man, with my skin cracking under the strain. My brother, Armand, said I reminded him of the Elephant Man.

I was given an artificial trachea and was fed through tubes for many weeks. But a drug-induced coma got me through the most serious part of my illness without feeling pain. Joan was there every day, missing only once (because of snow) until I was finally discharged to rehabilitation on July 16. By then, I was down to 202, having lost some 40 pounds -- the hard way.

Joan steadfastly insisted that I would recover, and at one time spoke angrily to a nurse who voiced an opinion that my vocal chords had been damaged, that I would never speak again.

Friends accused my wife of being overly optimistic.

What sustained her, or at least gave her a brave front, can be traced to an old Mary Tyler Moore show. In an episode on death, the various characters described how they would depart. Lou Grant, I believe, said to just stuff him in a trash can and put a hat on his head.

When the discussion got around to the irrepressible Ted Baxter, he said simply: "I ain't going."

I picked up on that phrase whenever Joan talked about making out a will, and that's what she told people during my darkest days. "Gordon said he wasn't going . . . and I believe him."

It was, of course, an impossible dream, but it was just enough to give her strength. That, plus the outpouring of get-well cards and flowers and prayers from many friends.

At one point, Joan told the congregation at Gatch Memorial United Methodist Church that doctors had told her, "I don't know what you're doing, but whatever it is, keep it up."

At the Montebello Rehabilitation Center, I received a get-well poster from my cartoonist friend, Mike Ricigliano, which showed me in a hospital gown and the inscription, "Comeback Patient of the Year." It had been passed around the Oriole Park press box for signatures and words of encouragement from my former colleagues.

The doctors and nurses at University Hospital worked miracles and, appropriately, the nurses called me their "Miracle Baby."

I learned to walk once again at Montebello, first with the aid of parallel bars, then walkers and canes. The treatment continued with home visits from nurses and therapists, and later with physical therapy sessions at Good Samaritan Hospital.

My sense of humor, once dormant, has returned and I have joined with Mike Ricigliano to resume producing the "Emcee" cartoon for Other Voices.

I have even tempered my reaction to Joan's cliches, especially the one that says, "When you have your health, you have everything."

Gordon Beard, retired Associated Press sports writer, writes from Baltimore.

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