On The Road Again
A Unique Perspective on Survival by Stroke Survivor and Comedian John Kawie
If you witnessed the exact moment of my stroke, you’d be surprised how underwhelming the event was … no dramatic collapsing or keeling over. In fact, I was asleep at the time.
Marilyn and I were in a Connecticut hotel room and I was passing up prime weekend gigs at top New York City comedy clubs to attend my friend’s wedding in New London. For a comedian this was comparable to the Pope sitting out Easter mass. But I was determined to make the best of it — PAAAA-TEE! — and I did. This included several (seven?) glasses of Moet, a Kentucky cheroot and dancing. I danced with my wife, the bride, the groom, a waiter and a couple of folding chairs.
My strapping 130-pound body is more Olive Oil than Popeye, but when I went to bed at least everything was working. The next morning, suddenly English was my second language. When I turned to Marilyn and said, "Sumptin’s wong" we both knew I needed medical attention. So Marilyn did her best Andy Granatelli up Route 1 and we quickly made our way to the closest ER.
Getting out of the car wasn’t as easy. It felt like my left side was spot-welded to the seat. Two attendants, noticing the problem, came running towards us with a gurney. One was named Donna and the other Karen. As they wheeled me in a joke managed to work its way through my numb lips. "I dithn’t know Donna Karen wath two people." Not the greatest bit, but I expected at least a chuckle. Instead all I heard was the ER’s buzzing gadgets and beeping monitors.
They stretched me out on the examining table under high-powered surgical bulbs that were brighter than any theater lights I had ever experienced. A team of doctors started poking and prodding. When one of them stepped forward to announce their findings, I imagined him as the emcee introducing me to an audience.
"You’ve seen him on Comedy Central, you’ve heard him on radio, and now ladies and gentlemen, the man has had a stroke."
"Get him started on heparin right away."
So I mumbled, "You know, my wife lookth like Auuuudthrey Heparin."
Okay, another weak bit, but again, not even a smile. Had the humor gods abandoned me? Here I was being given a possible life-ending diagnosis, my body was like a rag doll, I couldn’t sit up by myself let alone walk, and I was worried because my jokes weren’t working. During my two-week ICU stay, therapists came and went faster than my setups and punches. Still, no reaction. This was the worst road gig ever.
Finally Marilyn had me transferred to St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City — a three-hour trip. They wrapped me mummy style in a blanket, strapped me to a gurney and shoved me into an ambulance. I looked like a giant egg roll in a straight jacket.
When we pulled into St Vincent’s the EMS guys rolled me through the bedlam of the inner-city ER. A doctor wearing a blood-splattered gown asked, "What’s his problem?"
My guy said, "CVA."
I blurted, "No, I hath a stroke."
"CVA means cerebral vascular accident," he explained. "It’s the medical term for stroke."
Reflexively I said, "They should rename it a C-V-MF-U! Cerebral vascular major foul-up."
With that the entire ER broke into hysterics — an audience of doctors, nurses and attendants laughed at my joke! I was killing in the emergency room! That’s when I knew everything was going to be okay.
Good to be home.
See a clip from John’s one-man show, Brain Freeze.