Thursday, September 30, 2010

Three good ones

We lost three really talented artists in the entertainment industry this week. Yes, the urban legend still rings true -- Hollywood deaths come in threes! But strangely enough, these three couldn't be any different from one another and yet they each left equally strong impressions.

The words actor and movie stars don't always go hand in hand. Most performers are either one or the other. But Tony Curtis was definitely both. His IMDB page credits him in 130 titles, both in TV and film. That's not counting his work on stage. I've only seen a small fraction of his work, but that little taste of Tony Curtis will be hard to forget. Everyone loves him as Joe/Josephine in Some Like It Hot (1959) (he and Jack Lemmon had such great chemistry that you would laugh whenever they were on screen, even if they had no dialogue), but my favorite Curtis role is that of Joker Jackson in Stanley Kramer's The Defiant Ones (1958), in which he starred alongside Sidney Poitier as escaped prisoners who are chained together. One is white, one is black. It was ground-breaking during its time, but when I viewed it some 40 years after its release, it felt as fresh and timeless as anything I ever saw. A great film, a great role, and Tony Curtis will be greatly missed.

Arthur Penn is a film director who never made a lot of movies. But when he did a movie, man, did he do it well. His most popular is Bonnie & Clyde (1967), which turned Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman into bona-fide movie stars. The Miracle Worker (1962) had great performances from Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. But my favorite Penn film is one I caught just recently: Night Moves (1975). He re-teamed with Gene Hackman to make this gritty, cerebral detective noir that starts off as a missing person's story and veers into a murder mystery. The ending was much-discussed and debated upon the film's release, and it was a ballsy, intelligent finale that left me thinking about the entire movie well past the viewing.

Finally, but not least, Sally Menke died suddenly at the young age of 56. She may not be a household name, but she is essentially Quentin Tarantino's right-hand woman. She edited all of his films, and if you are fan of Tarantino's work (or even a non-fan who has seen his stuff), you would know that the editing of a Tarantino film has a unique style. Never mind the fragmented, out-of-order nature of his storylines, but think about the pacing. All of Tarantino's movies run well over 2 hours, but none of them have a boring moment. His films are tight, bristling with manic energy and genuine surprise. Only a great editor can keep an animated filmmaker from going overboard, and Sally Menke did just that. Quentin Tarantino's future films will never be the same.

One Week Update

Looking less like Sloth each day
Short and sweet, for now. It was one week ago yesterday when I got the surgery, and as you can see, the incision is healing nicely.

I feel pretty good, except for one problem: I live in a funhouse where the walls are constantly moving! Today is better than yesterday, though. I am functional and am able to walk around without hitting the furniture.

More soon. Thanks for the great support.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An Open Letter to the Common Cold

Dear Common Cold,

I haven't seen you in a year. You look well; traveling looks good on you. But we need to talk.

Please don't think that I'm ungrateful for what you've done for us in the past year. You've left the kids alone, and never bothered Mara during her pregnancy. I haven't experienced any of your symptoms during '10. You've been good to all of us.

You have a lot of strong traits that I admire (rarely overstaying your 3-5 day window of attack, predictability, persistence, etc), but timing was never your strong suit. I understand; the change of seasons in the north east is like Christmas morning to you. So many weak immune systems to attack. I can't really say I blame you. It's a sickness. You do what you need to do to survive.

But come on. Really? You needed to come now? Not a week later? Or earlier? I don't know if you've been reading my new blog (you were on Facebook recently, so I know you've seen my post), but I'm kind of going through a sensitive recovery period right now. When I cough, my head really hurts. I know you tried to give me the non-coughing cold, but they were out-of-stock. Still, I'm sure you could have let me switch with someone. Kind of selfish on your part, no? Looks ugly on you, pal.

And the dizziness. I know that's not entirely your fault; I did have surgery in the ear after all. But why the extra fluid up there? Was that really necessary? It's overkill. You're not usually that mean-spirited. Is something bothering you at home?

I'll have you know that I don't appreciate you attacking my wife at the same time. You've given her an unusual symptom of extreme dizziness, which is cold-hearted, even for you. Leaving Ryan and Emma with not one but two parents who can't seem to walk around without bumping into the walls? That's downright villainy, sir. Hannibal Lecter wouldn't even go that far. 

I'll tell you what. All will be completely forgiven if you go away....very soon. Like, now. We'll let bygones be bygones. You can come back and attack me any other time. It'll be fun; we'll get snot all over the pillow; we'll scare everyone in the house with my ridiculously loud sneezes; we'll drink tea, eat soup, and act like big babies and get pampered. Just like old times. 

But not now. Go away, ok? And leave my wife alone too. She doesn't deserve this. 

See you soon (but not too soon).


P.S. I'm still mad about the cough. You better take that with you, too.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sound Advice

Do your best not to sneeze while recovering from head surgery.


Goonies never say die!


It was a beautiful day to drill a hole in my skull! Mara and I got into the city at 9:30 and took our time getting to the NYU Medical Center. Check in time was at 11am, so we went to McDonald's for breakfast. She had her big breakfast platter while I salivated over the buttered biscuit and shiny-looking eggs on her plate. Was I hungry? Maybe a little. :-)

Ready for a mid-day nap!
We got to NYU a little bit before 11, but they took us into the pre-op room almost immediately. I changed into my gown. A long succession of nurses came into the room one after the other asking me the same questions again and again.

Are you allergic to medication?
Have you ever had surgery before?
Which ear will we be doing?
Your name? Date of birth?
Are you really that hairy?

The doc marking his territory
Dr. Roland, the surgeon, came in at 12:30 to say hello and to mark my ear. 20 minutes later, a nurse escorted me into the operating room. She was hot. I even noticed the male doctors and nurses staring at her as we were walking by. Made me think of Grey's Anatomy, wondering which of them she actually slept with. The room was freezing cold, but they kept me warm with heating blankets. They hooked up my IV and leg warmers. I was ridiculously cozy. I remember thinking, "I don't need anasthesia. I am so freakin' comfortable, I could fall asleep ri--"... then I was out.

That was the easy part.


The first image coming out of consciousness was of my wife and father talking with the nurse. I couldn't move, I couldn't hear. I was so groggy. I passed out again, and when I woke up, they were all standing/sitting around my bed, looking so sullen. Did someone die?, I thought.

Out cold
The bandage was wrapped really tight around my head. It definitely decreased the blood flow up there! It took me 3 hours to finally muster enough energy to get out of the bed and into the chair. I threw up immediately, of course. There was talk about possibly staying the night, but I refused. I was so uncomfortable, I just wanted my bed. Just give me my meds and my pillow, and I'll be fine.

I was wheeled out of the hospital to the street. The picture below is an apt description of how I felt at that time. I'm such a baby. Who knew it would take so long to get out of this groggy state?
 The 90 min car ride was fine, despite the terrible rain storm we drove through. The walk from the car to the house made me dizzy and I threw up again. Parker, our excitable puggle, was so damned thrilled to see me, he almost knocked me right down into the toilet. Despite my general discomfort, I slept through the night, surprisingly enough.

Waiting for the car
The following 4 full days of recovery were on-again off-again. Sometimes I felt pretty good, and other times I just felt crummy. The incision was the least of my problems. The meds were working and it was healing fine. The swelling was uncomfortable, but got better each day. What plagued me most was the dull generalized heachaches near my temples. I also had slight vertigo/dizziness, as well as a very irregular digestive system. (Prune juice = gross). All were considered to be normal. Some symptoms will come and go for a good 7 to 10 days. So even if I'm feeling a little better one day, the next day may not necessarily be the same.

My wife has been awesome throughout the entire experience. She made sure I got all of the rest I needed. She may have muttered at some point about men never surviving the childbirth process, but I probably tuned her out. Remember, I only have one functioning ear. I can only hear certain things now.

The deepest cut
Today - Day 5 of Recovery - the general headache still persists, along with some light-headedness. On top of that, I think I might be getting a cold as I'm feeling a bit hazy, got a little sore throat. It didn't help that it was windy and rainy during the walk to my office this morning. Yuck!

So what have we learned from this so far?
In a nutshell, I'm a big baby. That's all there is to it.

Oh, and what's the meaning of my post title, you ask? Well, Mara and I noticed after the bandage came off on Thursday morning that I resembled a popular character from the great 80's film The Goonies.

Yup, you guessed it.

The swelling has since gone down, though.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Surgery

Tomorrow, I will be undergoing a procedure that, miracle of all miracles, will make me hear better. Is that even possible? Well, that's what the brochure said.... 

Here is the nitty-gritty, in the simplest terms possible. Behind my ear, the surgeon will make an incision and implant an internal device to be wired to my cochlear. The device rests against the skull and will be unseen. The scar will heal and vanish completely. After three weeks of recovery, the audiologist will be able to "activate" the device using an external processor that will rest on my ear (looks kinda like a hearing aid). Initial results vary by individual. Some begin "hearing" right away, some only pick up certain sounds. For several weeks/months of auditory sessions (called mapping), the external processor, the internal device and my brain all work together to understand and process sound. It's an exhaustive rehabilitation process on the individual, but the success rate is extremely high. It's just a question of how long will it take to achieve maximum sound quality. Each individual has their own time frame.

How is a cochlear implant better than a hearing aid? A friend of mine put it best. "The hearing aid is like owning a Model T Ford, and the cochlear implant is like owning a Lamborghini." Power and technology are key. The difference in performance is simply astounding.

I have no doubt I will benefit from this. People who have been completely deaf for most or all of their lives are able to legitimately hear, thanks to the cochlear implant. As I mentioned in the last post, my hearing is uneven. So the goal is to have a "very good" ear (the implanted one) and a "pretty good" ear both working together. Bottom line: better hearing.

Will it change my life? No idea, too soon to tell.

Will it make life a little easier? Probably, yes.

Will it be worth it? Well, my children are growing up and will soon be speaking in complete, coherent sentences. If this means I can hear every precious word coming out of their mouths, then ... well ... that's kind of a no-brainer, isn't it?

My hearing journey

I never thought I'd be writing a blog. Life is full of surprises, isn't it?

I am beginning a new chapter in my life tomorrow. I'm getting a cochlear implant! A lot of implant recipients I've spoken with felt it was cathartic and therapeutic to write about the experience. It's a very drawn out process; it takes several months (if not longer) to get the full benefits of the implant.  So I'm giving this whole blogging thing a shot. It's a work in progress. Bear with me.

So, before I start posting my musings and random thoughts in the coming weeks, I thought I'd start with a little background on my hearing. Appropriate, right?

On a fateful November day in 1977, I was born with a severe-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss. It was not detected until 6 weeks later when my observant mother realized that something was not right. One day I was in the kitchen with my mother, minding my own business. As she reached for a dish at the top of a pantry, she slipped and several pots and pans came crashing down on the counter and floor. She attempted to soothe my fears, but realized that I didn't notice the loud and sudden incident. I didn't even flinch. She was shocked. As fate would have it, Mom had just read an article about infants and hearing loss just a few days earlier. She referred back to the article and looked for a number or address. Then she made the phone call that would change our lives forever.

<cue dramatic score>

When I was diagnosed with the hearing loss at the League for the Hard of Hearing in Manhattan, my parents knew there was some tough challenges that lie ahead. I was fitted for my first pair of hearing aids before I turned one. Regular trips to the League became common; I remember taking a lot of rides to the city from Jersey. Testings, hearing aid and FM unit fittings, speech therapy -- it became my childhood. When it was time to start school, it was my mother's insistence that I attend public school and be mainstreamed. She had no ill will towards deaf culture; she felt that my hearing was strong enough to survive a classroom with other hearing children. She also wanted me to have the same opportunities and benefits as any hearing kid my age. After some resistance from local social workers, she won out...and I started Kindergarten in the Freehold Township public school system.

Still with me here? Good. We're making headway!

Every student has their own set of challenges. Some struggled with math, or spelling, or language. My challenge was associated with hearing loss. With the help of professionals, I got through it. I have nothing but fond memories of my elementary years. I blended in with my hearing peers in and out of school. I remember slumber parties, field days, classroom activities. I had warm, loving teachers. I even had my first girlfriend in the 6th grade, and she held my hand every Friday night during the roller skating events at the gym. I also remember the in-school speech therapy sessions, and I actually looked forward to them every day. Some kids would be in health or gym, and I'd be the lucky one playing with puzzles and speech games.

I used the FM unit all through elementary school. I didn't mind it. Some kids even thought it was cool. My grades were proof that it helped. But as I grew older, I began to resist it. Part of it was cosmetic since I was becoming self-conscious of my image. It just didn't look cool. Another part was my insistance that I no longer needed the help. "I can do this on my own." I phased it out slowly throughout junior high, but was completely rid of it during my freshman year of high school. I was finally independent.

As with every kid, you begin to establish your own identity when you go into junior high. I found my niche: drama. Mr. Barlaam wasn't your normal drama teacher. He had a big bushy beard and an even bigger personality. They always say you never forget the teachers that touched you the most. He was definitely one of them. My hearing loss never restricted me from enjoying the pleasures of being on stage. Barlaam was sure to give me my "notes" while close to the stage so I can read his lips. Lip-reading, body language and hearing aids got me through junior high and, well, the rest of my life. Losing the FM unit made me adapt to more natural ways of "listening."

The acting bug carried over into my high school years. Another great drama coach -- and all around great guy -- Mr. Forman guided me through these years as a high school "actor." Without my FM unit, I admit that I did struggle. I had more challenges than ever before. However, my grades kept up and I'm proud of my academic achievements. I have great memories of high school, but it was also a time of awkwardness as I was lacking a sense of self and belonging. Graduation was near and I didn't know where to go, or what to do. I was distancing myself from old friends and retreating from social situations. I was becoming more and more reclusive.

In hindsight, I think I was scared of life outside of school. I remember thinking, "What if I can't hear as well as I do in a classroom?" "What if my hearing loss prevents me from getting a job?"  Everyone I know had their own fears of starting college or moving on, but I still felt alone.

Luckily I found a great pair of friends during my last two years of high school. We were inseparable. In their own indirect ways, they guided me through the transition from high school into college. Even though we went to separate schools hours apart from one another, we still remained close. They made me feel a lot less alone, despite not being physically there with me in Boston. I ended up marrying one of them years later, but that's a story for another post.

My years at Emerson College shaped me to be the person I am today. I adapted to the real world as a hearing-impaired individual. I saw the opportunities available to me. I buried myself in film at the same time, deepening my passion for the medium and learning to view the world as seen through the eyes of a film lens. After college, I landed some odd jobs in television and film, eventually landing at Fox Cable Networks in NYC, where I am now. I'm happily married with two great kids and in a really good place in my life.

My hearing loss has been consistent for 30 years. I always remembered having a good ear and a not-so-good ear. In the past two years, my not-so-good ear gradually became worse. I started noticing an imbalance of sound, that I was depending on my good ear more than ever. I was struggling a little bit.  A series of audiological exams confirmed that my hearing in my bad ear was in fact very gradually worsening. My wonderful audiologist of many years said to me matter-of-factly: "I'm not going to beat around the bush here, might be time to consider a CI."

The notion of a cochlear implant was in the back of my mind for many years, but I never seriously considered it. Last year, I started doing some active research and eventually learned that it will become inevitable. I was hopeful, though; the technology astounded me and I was impressed by what it can do.

When it came time to make a decision, I thought, "Well, what do I have to lose?" I thought about how lucky I am to be surrounded by great friends and family and a good job and to be in excellent health, and I wondered, "What if I can enjoy all of this a little more? What if better hearing can make me more confident in my job and in social gatherings? What if I can hear my kids without missing a beat?"

And that's when "What If" became "Let's Do It."

And I haven't looked back!