Saturday, March 7, 2009

Two phone calls from my hospital bed

  Dopey cartoon from the 1994 book CLIP & GO by John Long
In 1993 I moved from New York City to a little town in rural Idaho. I had spent a decade in the the city doing illustrations for advertising agencies, and I needed a change. My occupation was unsatisfying, and I desperately wanted to take on new drawing work. I had been dreaming of doing book and magazine illustrations instead of the drudgery of the advertising work.

At the same time, I wanted to start working as an instructor for an outdoor school in Wyoming. I felt a very real pull to change careers. After a ten long years in the corporate world, it was a fantasy for me to play the role of an educator in the mountains.

In the winter of 1994 I was living in a little cabin in Idaho, still doing advertising agency illustrations thru the fax machine back to my clients in New York. I was yearning for other jobs. But, it felt impossible to break into a new avenue of work, I was pidgin holed in a very narrow style of drawing - and I felt stuck.

At the same time, I had applied, and been accepted, to take the instructor training for this prestigious outdoor school, I was due to start the 35-day course in May. This was a dream-come-true and enormously exciting.

Late in the winter of 1994 I felt a dull ache in my belly, and at the same time I had a high fever. I spent a sweaty day laid out on the couch lost in a spiraling dream state. The next day I called my doctor and went into his office. He was quite concerned, and suspected appendicitis. He withdrew some blood and did a white cell count, and then sent me immediately to the emergency room at the local hospital.

I spent the next 24 hours being poked, prodded and tested by a team of doctors, and they all seemed stumped. They all suspected appendicitis, but they weren’t sure. The next morning I went into surgery thinking that I would simply have my appendix removed, a normal procedure, and I would be fine after a few days.

When I came out of general anesthesia, the doctors were gravely seriousness as they spoke. The told me the surgery was much more complicated than they had expected. There was an infectious mass that was quite unusual in my abdomen. They were forced to remove approximately one third of my large intestine, and I was should expect a long recovery.

Two days earlier I was healthy and strong, but now I stuck in a bed with a creepy web of tubes going in and out of me, and a long scar that ran from groin almost to my ribs. I felt absolutely horrible, the pain was debilitating and the feeling of weakness just crushed me.

I lay there in that bed, and my only concern was the impending 35-day instructor’s course in May. I was due to start the training for a new career in less than two months, and my heart sank because that was obviously not going to happen. My dream had evaporated. I called the school and talked to my admissions contact, and told him I was in a hospital bed and I had no idea when I would be strong enough - if ever - to take on the training.

When I hung up my mood was horrendously low.

The very next call was to check my answering machine at home for messages. I lay in the hospital bed and heard this loud and boisterous voice in my ear.

“Mike Buddy. Largo here. Gimme a call. We got work to do!”

And he left a number and hung up.

Largo is the nickname of a famous rock climber in California, his real name is John Long, and I had no idea how he found my name or why he would call me. I dialed his number and he picked up the phone. He had this goofy way of talking, acting like we were lifelong pals, and went right into why he called. He was doing a instructional climbing book and he wanted me to do the illustrations, he loved my cartoon style, and he thought it was perfect for this book.

I asked how he even heard about me. He said he saw some samples from the editor at CLIMBING magazine. It took me a moment to figure out what this meant. Then I remembered about a year earlier I had sent a manila envelope with a handful of xeroxed pages to that magazine. There wasn’t much to it, just some samples of my cartoon style.

I told him I was in the hospital, and I had just come out of surgery that morning, and I had no idea when I would be back at my desk.

Largo grunted, “What? Well get the hell out of there, I don’t want any excuses--we’ve got a book to create!”

I had just had two phone calls, one involve me telling the school that I was too weak to work for them. This meant that a long time dream had simply vanished. Poof, gone.

But the next call had been with this funny guy telling me that I was going to illustrate his book.

One of my life dreams had disappeared, but another dream had arrived instead.

My recovery was excruciatingly slow, and I walked out of the hospital nine days later on shaky legs.

I spent the summer improving, and it was therapeutic time for me sitting at the desk drawing funny cartoons for Largo’s book. This lead to another book, and then a bunch more. I also got work doing illustrations for CLIMBING magazine. Presently, I’ve illustrated about 20 or so books, all in the playful and goofy style that began with that phone call from the hospital bed.

I’ll add, that later in August of 1994, I was strong enough to take that training course in Wyoming, and fifteen years later I’m in the role of senior instructor at the school. Now I train newer instructors in advanced winter camping skills and glacier rescue techniques.

On April 1st, 1994 (yes, April Fool’s Day) I had two phone calls, back to back, in a hospital bed while my head was still in the fog of general anesthesia. I had one dream evaporate, and then I had a new career, one that I desperately wanted, magically appear out of nowhere.


Text added August 11th, 2013
I just saw the time count on this posting is 12:34. This number is a big deal for me and I am forced to pay attention when it appears.



Michael R. MacDonald said...

Love that story

Anonymous said...

your template displayed incorrectly in my browser(chrome)

Anonymous said...

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