Since he largely vanished nearly a year ago sightings of our resident railroad planner; Robert Mann, have been on par with those of D. B. Cooper and Bigfoot. MJ wondeerd aloud; 'What ever happened to Jacksonville's streetcar tzar and our Co-publisher?' It took some doing, and when we finally caught up we had to wait for the screaming to stop before we could answer the question on so many of your minds; 'What About Bob?' Here are the details in his own words.
St. Vincents Photo
They say; 'misery loves company' and if that is true, 'I'm your Huckleberry!' How do you spell pain? That guy with the cherub face looks like he was tossed under the bus.
The Operating Room (OR) at St. Vincent's in the former St. Luke's or Southside campus really is colder then a 'witches tits in a brass bra,' but then I was thanking God for Blanket Warmers. As a 'professional patient' I couldn't give the team of medical specialists, nurses and technicians higher ratings as I discovered that the entire St. Vincent's team really was extraordinary and always moving “Above. Beyond. Because.” Jax Bus Journal Photo
The expert team was led by Doctor Ali Chahlavi. Doctor Chahlavi gained preeminence whilst still a student at Georgetown with breakthrough discoveries and techniques that were widely published in the Medical field. Of the dozens and dozens of doctors I've seen over the last 17 years, the office staff, nurses and technicians at both Doctors Chahlavi at St. Vincent's and Doctor H. Zhang who did pain control - followup at Coastal Spine and Pain Center, were second to none. These doctors and their staffs are by far the kindest and most attentive in this years-long odyssey. Jax Bus Journal Photo
What About Bob?
Some of you might be wondering about my apparent absence from our beloved metrojacksonville pages over the last few months and some of you know or knew that I’m a disabled veteran and not in very good health. For those who have asked, I thought I’d pass along this little story.
Of course this all started some 17 years ago, and for 17 years I have been undergoing endless deadend mystery tests by VA Medical students. You'd think that after 17 years they might have a clue as to why I have been in so much pain? Not the VA; breaking out of the Federal system it took a very young female ARNP named Ashley Schivelbein at Family Medical on the Southside to cut through years of stupidity, order the right tests and get me in to see the gifted Doctors Haitao Zhang and Ali Chahlavi. She did this within a week. So if I sound a bit careworn by the governments medical system you'll understand.
Well it's nice to know things are back to normal again... I can't sit up or roll over without gut wrenching pain, lying down is excruciating. I have however made some beneficial observations for anyone that might visit a hospital. For me this was operation number 7 in what was supposed to be a simple surgery.
BTW, I can't sleep either! I am however relaxing with a nice cocktail of Oxycodone, Valium and ketorolac Toradol I.V., some clown even tossed in some Tylenol just for good measure though I can't figure out why for the life of me.
So here I lay in the Hospital, a two-day and two-night post surgery stay that quickly degenerated into my typical ‘nothing-works-right-month-long-stay.’ So lets start by saying that most ‘overnight surgeries’ will be anything but.
St. Vincent’s, I should have expected it, a nurse had previously warned me that on this date a doctor would enter my room with a ‘Homelite 9 Amp, 14 inch, Electric Chain Saw,’ and cut me from my shoulder blades to my tailbone. During my surgery the doctors were going to reconstruct a facsimile of the Eifel Tower around my spine complete with nuts, bolts and hinges. Before this surgery a multi-vitamin would keep me going all day, but afterwords, I’ll need a daily multi-vitamin and a shot of WD-40.
I took comfort in the words of the Inpatient Care Unit Instructions; “We encourage drinking as much as can be tolerated.” Obviously this is going to be my kind of hospital! Nurse, I’ll have a SOCO 100 or better yet a Rebel Yell double on the rocks!
The able staff was careful to prep me for the coming surgery. I should have remembered that my experience has shown that bathing in a tub of Succinylcholine (a non-depolarizing paralytic), is generally more desirable then a colonoscopy. But mine was a unique experience; flexible sigmoid scopes are generally not very flexible. It is now my educated opinion that the one used on me was carved from a giant saguaro cactus somewhere in Arizona. Hospitals run all of these tests on patients to make sure your body is strong enough to survive a major surgery.
Immediately after my tests were completed they told me I would need to shave and bathe with Hibiclens antiseptic/antimicrobial skin cleansing cloths before I could go into the Operating Room. Mature men should take note that the amount of surgical shaving, washing and prep in the pubes, will always be delegated proportionately to the youngest, sexiest babe on staff.
Almost predictably, things really started moving as I was being drawn into the 13th mystery episode of the morning on the television monitor. It seems that Bert and Ernie were in a real jam, they were stuck on the planet ‘Shhh’ and there was no apparent way out.
About this time I made the discovery that Latex was actually meant for only one part of the human anatomy and even then for no more then 45 minutes at a time.
Usually carefree in the hands of surgeons, this time I was in mortal fear. Some many years ago, my father had suffered a similar spinal dysfunction and undergone the exact same surgery in the same hospital, it was a surgery that failed; and left him to a lifetime of debilitating pain.
This time, if I appeared to be carefree, it was only to camouflage my terror, a macho need to shield my pride, I tried to cover my fear with a show of gladness, just don’t let that show convince you, that I was happy since my ordeal began.(i.)
Just as my latest TV adventure seemed hopeless, a team of doctors, nurses and technicians suddenly swarmed into my room, surrounding me. I was jostled around being Injected, Inspected, Detected, Infected and Selected. Our pastor said a prayer over me just as a host of exotic fluids started racing through my new I.V. array. I was praying too, knowing hospital food is rather bland; I was asking the Lord for an Oreo I.V. As an old hippie, none of that disturbed me, I’m rarely, if ever intimidated by the thought of some drug induced neo-classical fictitious life or overtly enhanced realism. I also realized that my insurance has only paid for an economy class operation when they dressed me in ½ of a gown.
Properly scrubbed and draped for my surgery I thought I recalled someone asking me if I wanted ‘smoking’ or ‘no smoking?’ Even with my supreme confidence in my surgeon and the St. Vincent’s team it was not some bizarre mistake leading to my untimely demise that worried me, but was this going to hurt? Reality and hallucinatory illusion were rapidly melding into a singular existence.
Through a versed colored fog I heard my wife’s soothing voice quietly whisper; “Before you slip into unconsciousness, I'd like to have another kiss another flashing chance at bliss, another kiss, another kiss.”(ii.) As transport arrived to roll me into the ice chest known as the O.R., the room was literally colder then a witches tits in a brass bra. In the next moment, when we finally stopped under the bright lights, a luxuriant warming blanket was placed over me.
Voices, words and worlds mingled. “Here’s something for your IV; …the whole department; Susan call Karen and ask her; Mr. Mann, your daughter called; BP is now 155 over; thirst; Amy did you administer; Doctor Chahlavi…” These would rise and fall in fitful, drug induced, semiconscious reality.
I was shown to my seat next to an open window in a great ship. This ship I was told removed people from their earthly existence and sailed to a place of sublime peace. Far beyond the sea, the ship entered the River Styx.
“Sickness can surely take the mind where minds can’t usually go. Come along on my amazing journey and learn all that you should know.
A vague haze of delirium creeps up on me. All at once a tall stranger I suddenly see. He’s dressed in a silver-sparked glittering gown and his golden beard flows nearly down to the ground. Nothing to say, nothing to hear, and nothing to see, each sensation makes a note in my symphony. His eyes are the eyes that transmit all they know. Sparkle warm crystalline glances to show that he is your leader and he is your guide. On this amazing journey together we’ll ride.” (iii.)
As the mask was held to my face, the river became storm tossed, there was no sky, just a swirling circus of clouds overhead. Something far beyond fear or pain had gripped me. Even the rocks winked and welcomed me aboard this crystal ship. A world turned inside out, a very real place that now lived within me as I lived within it, the Fourth Circle of Hell.
Suddenly I was caught in a whirlwind that came out of the storm tossed sea. As I ascended into the swirling smoky sky the underworld began to fade away. I yelled out; Auntie Em! Auntie Em! It’s a twister! It’s a twister! (iv.)
“I’m sailing away, set an open course for the virgin sea
I’ve got to be free, free to face the life that’s ahead of me
On board, I’m the captain, so climb aboard
We’ll search for tomorrow on every shore
And I’ll try, oh Lord, I’ll try to carry on
I look to the sea, reflections in the waves spark my memory
Some happy some sad
I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had
We live happily forever, so the story goes
But somehow we missed out on that pot of gold
But we’ll try best that we can to carry on
A gathering of angels appeared above my head
They sang me this song of hope, and this is what they said
They said come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me." (v.)
- - - - - - - - CONTINUED BELOW
Saint Vincents Southside Campus just off of I-95 at the J.Turner Butler Expressway is where the actual spinal fusion took place.
Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital at the corner of Beach and University Boulevards would be home for just shy of a month of intensive therapies, "Can you feel your foot Bob? Okay, now we are going to try and walk on uneven ground..." I thought to myself, never take tiny steps because they just get shorter and shorter until they're gone!
Memorial Hospital at Jacksonville, shares it's acreage with Brooks, staff goes back and forth as they checked out the blood work and opened another half-dozen cans of worms,
"Bob did you know your liver, kidney and thyroid function is abnormal? You have gall stones Mr. Mann, but we won't need to take them out yet, what concerns us is the iliad in the intestines." "I-L-I-A-D, and NO you didn't swallow a Greek Novel but it is possible that one of those gods got loose in your intestinal tract!"
Just when you dare think this storm is over, I woke up in the St. Vincent's ER with pneumonia that led to severe asthma. With my vital spinal cord recently bolted into my new spine, a single cough is painful, asthma is a near death experience that keeps on giving.
This is the VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city nearly the same size as Jacksonville and likely to be smaller then Jacksonville by the next census or two. Milwaukee has no military bases, no PX or Navy Exchange, few retirees and our entire VA Clinic facility would fit in Milwaukee's parking lot several times over. The Zamblocki VA Medical Center has been a refreshing change from the long lines and assembly-line medicine of the Sunbelt VA systems, picking up from several private specialists and offering amazing personal care which proves 'THERE IS A GOD!'
- - - - - - - - CONTINUATION
I landed hard, it took the breath out of me… breathe! Perhaps I was on the beach? My head was swirling. Then another dizzying thought, is this a bed? Still swirling. Tears were in my eyes and voices were again trying to soothe me.
In the next moment I realized I had become “Pain Incarnate.” To be touched was to scream, to touch was to scream, to move was to scream, to breathe was to scream. A simple cough or hiccup, a common side effect of oral morphine was to die Ten thousand deaths, there was nothing human about this fog-shrouded existence. No one knows pain in this world of light. The boasting of millions, soldiers, sailors and ladies in labor arguing over ‘who can take it best,’ seemed infinitesimally silly. The torturing mind bending affliction felt after spinal surgery defies such a naïve definition.
The St. Vincent’s staff hovered around and over me, no doubt acutely aware that the screaming emanating from my mouth was bolstering the will and the spirits of every other person in the recovery room, if not the entire surgical suite.
Somewhere in a long ago literature class I learned to,
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun.
The frumious Bandersnatch!" (vi)
I reflected on that old poem as they loaded me into an ambulance for transfer to the Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital, how funny, creatures that could have once terrified a young mind seemed inconsequential. After what I was now experiencing the worst that the frumious Bandersnatch could dish out seemed blasé.
Brooks is a center for spine and brain injuries, and once again I was a center of attention, surrounded by doctors, nurses and technicians they rolled me into a large room at the end of a hall. Within hours, they were testing my surgery site and ability to push my new limitations, whilst being kept in a fog of powerful pain medications.
It was at Brooks on that morning after that I noticed the bird singing outside my windowsill was a buzzard.
Every night about 4 am at Brooks, I would be awakened to find a 8’ foot tall Viking woman standing over me to pull blood from my veins. Of course they have a good IV in my arm, so they won’t have to stick me every time they come into the room. No matter how soundly I sleep the fact that hospitals have the worlds heaviest and noisiest doors guarantees that I’ll be wide awake when they start that new IV… the one I was promised wouldn’t happen.
The staff at Brooks made up for much of the cruelties of the rehabilitation plan or the evil supply clerk who decided that a patient under the effects of several exotic opiates should have his bathroom stocked with toilet paper that came from the Black and Decker sander accessory catalog.
Everything was wrong about my stay at Brooks, there was no room for me at the inn, this is the reason they moved me from the St. Vincent’s/Brooks location to the Memorial Hospital/Brooks Hospital complex. So here I was with my back injury, on a floor devoted to restoring those with severe head and brain trauma, a Freudian slip perhaps, but I found that I fit right in without too much fuss.
No problem, I was soon out of the hospital and recovering nicely. You see, it’s really about tomorrow; for tomorrow I’ll probably return for another surgical consult. This is because while I was at Brooks, the Memorial Hospital team came in and found that my Kidneys, Liver and intestines were about to fall right out onto the floor. Not to mention the fact that I followed my month in the hospital with pneumonia and now a full-blown case of asthma.
No longer able to maintain my house in World Golf Village, we put it up for sale and were pleasantly surprised when it sold almost as fast as the sign went up. We were rather suddenly homeless when my eldest daughter invited us to Wisconsin for the summer. With plans to return to Florida in the fall there are still a myriad of medical things that must be taken care of before I’m feet on the ground again.
I transferred to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the summer but depending on how the next tests turn out the VA informed me that on or about next August, they’ve scheduled a doctor to come into my room with a Ryobi 18-Volt One+ Cordless Reciprocating Saws All, and that he plans to cut me from my eyelids to my navel. I can hardly wait.
As for Bert and Ernie, I may never know if they were rescued…
Story written as experienced by 'OCKLAWAHA' aka: Bob Mann
"One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she's ten feet tall
And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you're going to fall" (vii)
Now that I'm in treatment at the VA Medical Center in Milwaukee it's finally all over... Yeah, well, maybe not as I try out the Veterans ER
Bibliography and Credits
i. Paraphrased from "The Tears Of A Clown" track #5 on the album My World: The Definitive Collection. By Smokey Robinson
- Capacitance, Inductance, and CrossTalk Analysis, by Charles S. Walker
ii. Paraphrased from, "Crystal Ship" track #5 on the album Doors. It was written by Robbie Krieger; Jim Morrison; John Densmore; Ray Manzarek.
iii. Paraphrased from, "Amazing Journey" track #3 on the album Tommy. It was written by Peter Townshend.
iv. Blantantly stolen from the movie, 'Airplane', which ripped it off from the movie, 'The Wizard of Oz.'
v. Paraphrased from, "Come Sail Away" is track #1 on the album The Grand Illusion. It was written by De Young, Dennis.
vi. JABBERWOCKY, By Lewis Carroll (from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)
- Gone with The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell House
vii. "Go Ask Alice" recorded by Jefferson Airplane, it was written by Grace Slick.