Sunday, December 30, 2012

Day by Boring Day

A month ago today I fell. My first thought as I landed on the Stambaugh Auditorium backstage floor was that, hopefully, my wrist/arm/hand was just bruised and I would get myself off the floor and walk to the stage to start the Barber of Seville overture for our 45-minute presentation for the local elementary, middle, and high school children. I had spent the previous two months mastering this very difficult piano transcription. As I lay crumpled on the floor, more than 400 kids were finding their seats.

When I tried to lift my arm off the floor, I looked in horror as my left hand just dangled from the wrist. I knew instantly that I was in big trouble.

My earlier post about the accident gives all the details of that first day.

My fall occurred on Friday, Nov. 30. On Wednesday, Dec. 5 (my older son's birthday), I was Dr. J. J. Stefancin's first appointment of the day.

The nurse showed me the x-ray sent over by Northside Hospital ER. (See photo above) She pointed to the right side of the radius, where the break occurred, and I could see the bulge of pulverized bone. She told me Dr. Stefancin would have to manually compress the bone back into place before casting my wrist. She assured me he would deaden my wrist before applying this pressure. Then I explained to her that I had started playing piano at age 3½ and wanted to be able to continue when the cast was off. She quickly excused herself and I waited for the doctor to appear. (I learned later that she had gone to alert the doctor to my musical abilities. He would quickly determine that compression and casting would not be my answer!)

In a few minutes the nurse returned with the doctor and the intern. Dr. Stefancin looked long and hard at the x-ray, asked me a few questions, then said I would need surgery. He used his pen as a straight line to illustrate what the wrist joint should look like as compared to what my fall had caused mine to look like. Because of how the bone had disintegrated at the break point, a plate would have to be attached to the bone to give me normal function again. His staff quickly got on the phone and scheduled me into the Surgical Hospital at Southwoods. The scheduler snuck one more appointment into Friday afternoon and I was set to go.

I would get a plate similar to the picture to the right. The four screws at the top secure it at the wrist, then several screws down the shank attach it to the radius. Now all that was left for me to do was to attempt to stay calm until Friday, two days away.

The Jazzman arranged to have the day off to take me to the hospital and keep me from freaking out. To say I was impressed with this facility and every member of the staff with whom I interacted is a gross understatement.

The intake nurse, a compassionate man named David, was excellent at calming me. He shared stories with me about his teenaged son who plays trumpet, piano and guitar. Before inserting the IV needle into the back of my right hand, he asked my permission, telling me about the patient he once had who was a massage therapist and begged for the needle to go anywhere but in her hands. The anesthesiologist, Dr. Gemma, came in and, learning I sing with the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, promised not to put the breathing tube down past my vocal chords. Further, given the risks of nerve damage in an "arm block" or "nerve block" and my desire to have the same abilities I had before my fall, he agreed that general anesthesia was the best solution. Dr. Stefancin came in briefly to reassure me that he had my best interests at heart. And in a few minutes I was being wheeled into surgery. The last thing I saw before sliding into my drug-induced sleep was our dear friend Diane, who is a surgical nurse at Southwoods and had arranged to be assigned to my case. Seeing her face gave me utter peace of mind.

A couple of hours later I was awakened from a very involved dream to see that I was the only patient remaining in recovery. I was freezing and shaking. The nurse brought me a magical blanket into which hot air was circulating—I want one of those! To get over the shakes, the nurses kept reminding me to take deep breaths from the oxygen tube in my nose. And an hour later we were leaving the hospital.

Lots of Vicodin accompanied my next several days. Ten days later, on Dec. 19, I went to Dr. Stefancin's office and saw this lovely and colorful arm.

And now I just wait. I'm in a brace. I alternate between pain, annoyance, and fear. Everyone who has been through a similar injury tells me that—after the pain and toil of physical therapy—I'll be playing my daddy's favorite "Alley Cat" again. And all our friends call and text and email and contact me on Facebook to let me know of their concern.

And my mantra is, "It could have been so much worse!"

All in all, I'm pretty lucky.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Crash! Boom! Ouch! Damn!!!

In a story of "Timing is everything," Friday was a very bad day.

NOTE: This post is typed entirely with my right hand. You can see where this is going, can't you?

One of my jobs is accompanist (collaborative keyboard artist) for Opera Western Reserve's (OWR) Young Artists Program. Along with two-to-four opera singers who are either finishing college or just beginning their musical careers, I go into local elementary, middle, and high schools to present a "Fun With Opera" educational program.


We give a little history of the genre and teach the kids various elements—voice parts and ranges, languages used, what all goes into staging an opera (singers, orchestra, conductor, set designer, costume designer and seamstresses, lighting designer, etc.). We try to make it as interactive as possible. Each of the artists sings two aria snippets, and the students choose their favorite.

At the end of the program, the artists perform a brief "opera" they've "composed" with the students' input. (We're at a bus stop. Who are we and why are we here? How do we feel about being here?) The suggestions from the kids are frequently hilarious. And sometimes sobering. For example, you're a mom going to school to pick up your sick kid. Or you're out of work and you're on your way to a job interview. Or you're on your way to work in a doctor's office and you hate your job. I hear months from teachers that the kids love our visits and fondly remember these improvised operas.

The other function of the Young Artists Program is to stage an abbreviated version of the opera that will be presented by OWR. We begin several months before the scheduled performance date. I sit down with the production director, David Vosburgh, who determines which arias and recitatives are required to tell the story, and what is merely fluff or repetition the can be omitted. The score is condensed to about 40 minutes. A director is named, roles are assigned, and singers begin learning and memorizing their music. (It's important to note that many of these singers also have different roles in the main stage performance&emdash;double the work! The school performance takes place at 10:00 a.m. on the same day that the full performance will occur at 7:30 p.m.


Over two months ago, I received the music for this performance. Simultaneously, I was learning the accompaniment and rehearsing for a cabaret evening of obscure Broadway tunes to be performed by a Cleveland Orchestra Chorus (COC) colleague of mine, and learning the alto part of all the COC Christmas music. The past two months have been absolutely overwhelming for me, and when my alarm rang at 6:00 on Friday morning, I turned it off with a distinct sense of relief. In six hours I would be done with "The Barber of Seville" and—after a celebratory lunch—could just focus on holiday music.

The cast met backstage at Stambaugh Auditorium at 7:45. We quickly ran the finale, then at 8:15 began a full run-thru, noting the points where we'd have to pay special attention during performance. At 9:25 we were told there were hundreds of kids outside who wanted to be let in. We cleared the stage and reassembled backstage to finish talking through any trouble spots, check hair and makeup, and prepare to go on and wow the kids.

I had only been backstage in this hall once before, so had to ask one of the girls directions to the Ladies Room. I walked in, answered Nature's call, washed my hands, and opened the door to step out into the hallway. I didn't remember that I had successfully negotiated a very tall step to get into the restroom, so stepped out as if the hall floor was at the same level as the restroom. I quickly realized there was a problem.

I started doing the "Please Help Me, I'm Fallin'" two-step. I thought I had recovered my balance, but then felt myself falling toward the wall and put out my left hand to catch myself. The next thing I knew I was on the floor. My first thought was a hope my left hand/arm was only bruised so I could play the show. Then I reached over with my right hand and lifted my left arm, only to watch my hand droop. Trouble. I was in real trouble!

I called out to the cast who had no idea what had happened. Somehow they helped me get to my feet. They radioed someone in front of house to come help me. Someone retrieved my phone. Fortunately for me, my daughter-in-law was home a half-mile away and, at my phone call, hopped in the van to get me and take me to Northside hospital a mile away.

Northside ER personnel were wonderful to me, getting me into a room quickly and getting me pain meds. (I had no idea a broken bone could hurt. OMG, the pain!) They even put me right back into the same room where I was on Tuesday for my bronchitis diagnosis. How thoughtful.

Two hours later I was diagnosed and splinted and had instructions for seeing a doctor on Monday. The PA, who had also treated me on Tuesday,