I was gone over the past few days, and yet I left the apartment exactly once, only to return an hour later. I’d undergone a medical procedure that was best performed without an IV, and so I was placed in what the doctor somewhat romantically referred to as “twilight.”

“I’ll be awake?” I said, with a great deal of alarm, for I’d done the stupidest thing possible and looked up reviews of the procedure online and now fully expected to come out of it with two infected arms, a brain cloud, malaria, and an extra face.

“No,” he said. “But not asleep. Well, maybe asleep. It depends.”

This is exactly the kind of medical precision I was hoping for, and he handed me a sheaf of prescriptions, one of which could flatten all attendant residents of the Hippo Cove, and the sum of which would have zeroed out the student loans of my whole entire graduating class, had I chosen to sell them on the street.

“It’s better if you don’t drive,” he said, and I avoided pointing out that it’s always better if I don’t drive, even when not under the influence of the complete drug catalog of Keith Richards during the Nixon Administration. But then I learned what he really meant. As I picked up the stamped and stickered bundle at the pharmacy, I had to prove my identification more robustly than at my actual birth.

There were so many drugs, and they were so Hollywood, that I had to start the prescriptions two days before the procedure to acclimate myself to the dosage. One was Valium, and I was told not to take this until I was at the clinic and the fun was about to really begin.

I remember the distinctly unfunny irony of the necessity of providing a urine sample and, for the first time in my entire life, being completely unable to pee. I recall stepping on a scale and not liking that in the least, and taking the Valium, which I liked a great deal.

The population of the tiny room in the clinic consisted of the doctor, a nurse, a medical student, me, Josh the PIlot, and the Valium, and as the medical student introduced herself, I said, “Well, now it’s a party. I should have brought beers.” Then Josh sat next my head, chair twisted determinedly away at what was going on elsewhere, and petted my hair. There’s a flash of him asking if I wanted to change into a nightgown. It was Monday.

Then it was Wednesday.

I had four pain pills left and took one just in case the Google people were right and I now had every single disease once requiring leeches.

And I started caring about anything at all on maybe Sunday.

These were controlled substances, all right, and there are three pills still in the bottle. They will stay there. A week of my life has vanished, either by necessary design or aftereffect, and the instances I do remember were a living Radiohead song. Josh was somewhat of interest, because he paid for the pills, but I could have lost every single one of my clients, each student, and every single prospect of anything I’d ever cared about and watched it drift away with only mild curiosity. I had zero energy to expend on zero people, places, or things.

In other words, I was on drugs.

Intellectually I’d always understood why people like me, who battled OCD and depression, often took to such measures; to forget, to feel nothing rather than the terror or the darkness. Now I get it. With those substances inside of me, I was numb to everything. Everything. The entirety of Cincinnati could have burst into flames outside my bedroom window and the most extreme reaction this could have possibly generated was indifferent consideration as to whether or not there was still cheesecake in the fridge.

I am of a certain age. I saw crack, steroids, uppers, downers, diet pills, creatine, and now opioids. If there was an After School Special to be made about it, I was told not to inject, smoke, or swallow it. Until it came in an amber bottle from SuperX, I complied.

So, now that I’m out of being out of it, I am pondering the cleaving of my mind from the rest of me and what this means for athletes, for people who are really, truly in synch with what is going on with the rest of them outside of “I’d like some Twix now, please.” I’m lucky if I can complete a set of crunches without hating the world; I’m not in that category. But for those attuned to every molecule of their muscle-percentaged, perfectly macroed bodies, how do they integrate body-altering substances into the rest of their existence?

I suppose a significant amount of compartmentalization is involved. From what I can glean from Lance Armstrong story, for example, in order for cyclists to even compete at a world-class level, it was the needle or retirement. They re-evened the playing field. And now– now that we know more– one of my favorite non-Reds memories, the summer of Sosa and McGwire, has become a tarnished debate of hypotheticals.

I know why they did it— but…. I mean, how? Are athletes who inject these foreign substances right into their bloodstream floating about a ColorForm landscape like I was, or do they accept and adjust? And what do medals and records and placements even mean, knowing that cheating was necessary to get there?

Is the numbness, then, a feature rather than a bug?

If that’s the case, I can see how professional athletes wouldn’t care even if they did feel disconnected from their muscles and skin. I guess they manage the extra adrenaline and super-strength from a place of cold mechanics: “I need to adjust for the spin of the ball this way now.” Or maybe they feel it all, every cell displaced to every sinew: “This is me, just higher better faster.”

I understand the decision. But now, I’m even more confused about the reality.




24 Responses

  1. Rut

    In terms of substance use, just remember: Practice makes Perfect!

    As Francis “Chainsaw” Gremp reminded us in Summer School, the reason so many drunk drivers end up in car wrecks is that they do not have enough practice driving drunk!

    At least that is the explanation I have for the Reds front office, they are just practicing being baseball execs while being drunk and stoned out of their minds…. only explanation I can reasonably come up with for Krall et al

    • Michael

      @rut omg a summer school reference!!!

    • Jimbo44CN

      Believe it or not, I once had a boss that was a functional, raging alcholic, and he had 3 sons in the business. Was talking with the youngest one day, and he said when his Dad was teaching him to drive, the first thing he would do is make him down 3 stiff drinks, (and this guy knew the meaning of “stiff drinks} and then off for the driving lesson. His Dad explained he needed to know how to drive when drunk, and the only way to do that was thru practice. Not really reccomended for teaching teenagers, but this is a true story. Quite a family they were.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        Hooooollllllly crap. That’s a trauma backstory if ever I’ve heard one.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I think that I, with no processing at all and not the best understanding of stats even sober, probably could have done a better job as a baseball exec last week.

  2. LDS

    As a hardheaded old guy, I ignored the opioid part of my recent procedure and just gritted it out. Decades ago, I had surgery and received morphine at just the right dose to be mentally alert and totally unaware of my body. You could have chopped my arm off and I would watched in amazement. I finally understood Sherlock Holmes. The next day, the dosage was just over the tipping point and all I did was sleep. So, no more opioids for me. Good article, though Doug’s Soto article yesterday is still funnier. I do hope the procedure went well and you’re soon back to full power.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Many thanks! I will attempt to defeat Doug another day 🙂

  3. west larry

    I hope that your pilot guides you to a safe landing and that you fully recover from this experience. It seems that the antidote was almost as bad as the illness. I’m not a drug taker, but I may need all of the drugs you endured to get through this season. I sincerely hope that you don’t need to go through this experience again.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Very sweet of you! Thanks– he took good care of me. I hope this particular event is behind me as well 🙂

  4. Gonzo Reds

    Arrogant Phil and Cheapo Bob – let’s employ the leeches and tell them we’ll remove them only when they sell the team. Of course, they are technically leeches themselves so they might actually enjoy that. Back to the drawing board!

    • Mark Moore

      +500 for a return to leeches in this case

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        Leeches are a way of life in my Regency novels. I applaud any natural appearance of them in 2022.

  5. Mark Moore

    You evoked memories of my first scope procedure, done due to age and family history. The doctor asked why I was having it done and I told him about my late brother. He asked me to turn on my side … and then I remember being home in bed a day or so later.

    The closing bit about that one “fatal” Summer is spot on. It will always hold an asterisk in my mind.

    And I love your hypochondriac journey to Dr. Google. We’ve all been there at one point or another.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Every doctor’s office should have a giant sign on the wall saying “DO NOT GOOGLE ANY OF THE WORDS YOU HEAR IN THIS BUILDING”

  6. Daytonnati

    This season, I have discovered that a double Maker’s Mark, neat, around the seventh inning lessons the inevitable bullpen meltdown coming.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Somewhere in this town is a bar with an absolute buttkicker of a drink called “The Bullpen.”

  7. Daytonnati

    oops, “lessens”, Dr Burkhardt, Senior English would kill me for that. Lessens the pain of the inevitable bullpen meltdown …

  8. SOQ

    Several years ago, I had a meniscus cleaned out. As I was awakening, an older nurse was standing over me and with a big smile said “Oh, you’re awake! Would you like me to bring the other nurse back in?” I thought “Oh dear God what was I saying to her?” :-O

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      lol, I had a tonsillectomy the week after Christmas and I kept trying to commiserate with the nurse for having to work on Christmas Day. That poor woman.

      • Old-school

        I woke up this morning and Covid declared its win. Headache and body aches and just not functional.

        I can identify with brain fog and lost bad days. Count July 20 off the grid.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        noooooooooo! So sorry to hear that! As a Long COVIDer myself, I feel you. Get well soon.

  9. Andrew Brewer

    One Pill makes you larger
    and One Pill makes you small
    And the ones that mother give you,
    Don’t do anything at all…
    Go ask Barry when he was just small…

    Modern medicine is usually pretty good at pain management.
    They are pretty good at diagnoses,
    And if it’s a matter of surgery they do that well too, if it’s needed or not.
    When it comes to their pharmatological playbook, they can keep it.

    Take the Red pill, take the Blue pill, and we’ll see how far down the rabbit hole goes…

    So, if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall,
    Tell ’em a mystic drugged up writer has given you the call…

    For many years in the professional bike racing teams, speed was the drug of choice, that gave way during the 90’s to the epogen, for increased oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. Hematocrit level too high, you were busted. But they all did it. Even Chris Froome would use an inhaler for allergies to excess just to get some kind of edge.
    I don’t know what ball players use, since the big steroid era. Sticky fingers maybe to produce more spin. But all the records they made are now tainted with the band substances they were using. And most of their careers were short lived…
    I like aspirin myself, and an occasional whisky sour…

  10. Melvin

    Great article. Sounds like you’ve been going through some challenging times. I have been too this past month and a half and feel for you. I wish and pray for the absolute best in your health. 🙂