Monthly Archives: March 2014

A Guitarist’s Nightmare 8

Summer, 2012

I fell into a routine as best I could, the visits to therapy, trying to up my practice time on the guitar (breaking the sessions up into 15 minute increments throughout the day and alternating pieces that required different techniques, coddling things along which I despised) , preparing for a big concert with trumpeter Ken Watters, Ingrid on piano, blues guitarist Dave Gallaher, and percussionist Darell Tibbs. The left wrist bothered me a lot as far as the playing went, the shattered elbow was gradually getting more and more range of motion. Let me put it this way, at therapy I would tell Nicole and Jessica things like “I was able to brush my teeth today with my right arm!” or “Look, I can almost touch my nose, how cool is that?!” Reacquiring the basic dexterity we all take for granted was a long, painful process.

I need to tell this about my in-laws, because it contributed greatly to the guilt I was feeling about the accident. I mean, what kind of idiot trips over a root the size of a pencil and then disrupts the lives of all who care about this dweeb for the next few months? They had just gone through a horrible ordeal not seven days earlier. Their mother, Traudel von Spakovsky had died the week before. It was completely unexpected and devastating to us all. She had just had Easter dinner with me and Ingrid the week before she became ill. I had a lot to do Easter weekend, trying to get ready for some performances coming up and had discussed putting off having her over for dinner to another time. In the end, I thought, “It’s Easter. This holiday means something to her, I will cook her one the the dishes she really likes. I’ll catch up later on the practicing.” The dish she liked was grilled rack of lamb. It’s tricky to do on a charcoal grill because you have to keep a constant watch on it so the fat doesn’t flare up into a grease fire and ruin an expensive cut of meat. I cooked it, we sat down and had a wonderful time together, and in a week she was gone. The whole family just barely got to the hospital to be with her when she took her last breath. To this day I can’t cook that dish without thinking about her, and I would never have forgiven myself if I had gone with my original plan to have her over a week or two later. The von Spakovsky family were superb in how they dealt with the estate, there was no petty squabbling between family members, they’re a class act. I don’t blame them at all for occasionally questioning my wife’s choice of husbands. I question it all the time. I played this piece with Gianni Graffeo, Ingrid’s nephew, at the memorial service. Afro-Cuban Lullabye

Most people were very considerate of us and what we were going through. I say most, not all.

Ingrid and I are members of a local professional organization, and she had been serving as treasurer for a few years. A new president came to office, and began pestering Ingrid extensively, wanting to review every detail about the books. It’s a tiny account, barely over a grand. At one point El Presidente decided it should be switched to Quickbooks. There are barely a dozen entries a year, including deposits and checks written, it could be done on clay tablets with Babylonian cuneiform, although postage would be an issue. Ingrid handled the account just like ours, writing down the entries in the checkbook. Duh. What was she going to do, clear out the account and drive to Tunica? I could tell she was getting upset and suggested emailing El Presidente, and remind her of our situation. So she did, and here’s the reply.

I know that you have had a lot on your plate recently and I know that I have contacted you frequently about ….. financial concerns. Given your situation, I am sorry about that but at the same time I must get the …. things for the coming year wrapped up this week because I have plans for June.

Wow. I have plans for June. We were dealing with the grief from the loss of a family member, my recovery (which was far from certain then), and Ingrid making frequent trips to her Mother’s house to help out with the estate, but El Presidente had plans for June. How clumsy of us not to fit this into her social calendar. She then informed us she would be coming to our house to collect the documents. I called her and told her “do not come to my house. Ingrid has resigned as treasurer effective immediately and is taking the documents to ……. (the only other member who was a signature to the account).” Over and done with right? But no. She came to my house anyway and banged on my door like it was a drug raid. I didn’t answer the door, it was a bad pain day and I wanted to be left alone. She pounded for a very long time, and eventually left. This is trespassing, if you’re told specifically not to come to someone’s house and you do, the homeowner has the right to call the police and have you removed. What kind of person would do this anyway? It’s basic human decency not to bother people with trivial matters when they are dealing with real life issues and have asked you to leave them be. I could not even conceive of doing this to a colleague, harangue them about a triviality, then go bang on their door while they were in pain recovering from surgery after being asked to leave them be.

This Kafkaesque tale goes on, when I emailed the executive board protesting this absurd behavior, El Presidente wanted to sue me for libel. Later in the year Ingrid had lunch with a board member to discuss this and was told that at a planning meeting when it was suggested that Ingrid and I present a program the next season, El Presidente slammed her little fist on the table and said “WE DO NOT MENTION THE WEAVERS!” To me this brings to mind Southpark, season 10 episode 10 when Cartman is appointed hall monitor. “Respect muh authoriteh!!” At one point I decided to check the bylaws to see why the president was given such power. Well guess what- El Presidente’s actual powers are to preside at meetings and appoint committees. That’s pretty much it. So Ingrid and I are blacklisted and our privacy was invaded by someone who assumed powers that were not theirs to begin with. At that lunch Ingrid was also told that when El Presidente was recovering from an illness she became annoyed at being sent a mere email, she insisted she be left alone. @!@W#@$#%^^!&* 

A Guitarist’s Nightmare 6

April-May 2012

The three weeks of house arrest dragged on and on. Several people were incredibly kind to me and Ingrid during this. Mrs. South and her son (he studied  guitar with me for several years) brought some food by. She was horrified to see my left arm bandaged up, she thought it was just the right elbow. Brian Hudson (a former student) brought me a copy of Kieth Richards’ autobiography and mowed the lawn. He also took me for a walk around the neighborhood. I hated not being able to exercise much, that felt really good. My friend Wayne Thompson visited. He’s a very accomplished guitarist (another former student) and it was tough on him to see me all bandaged up and unable to do much. I would have had a tough time if the situation were reversed. As a musician, what do you say to someone who might never be a musician again?

I did make one excursion, I had a final exam to give for beginning class guitar. I could have just given grades based on what the students had accomplished to that point but it was an exam where they played for me one-on-one and they had been working towards that. I had some help giving the test and we got it done.

Finally the three weeks were up and it was off to the Orthopaedic Center to see Dr. Griffin and get my stitches out. After processing and xrays I was in a little examining room and the xray tech comes in and puts this on the computer screen. Holy @$#%! I’m not against abstract sculpture it just isn’t what I would go out of my way to acquire. Now I have this permanently installed. I was told that my ulnar nerve had been moved to accommodate all of the hardware and the process of installing it. That made sense, Even to this day it feels like the signals to my right hand have been rerouted somehow. I could tell that as soon as I woke up from the operation.


It does have its own special charm as a work of art, so I put it up on Facebook. The wristplate is creepy too, just not as massively impressive as the elbow sculpture.


I was set up for therapy sessions, asked if I needed more narcotics (no, not yet), told I could play guitar if I wanted, and sent home. A very, very long hot shower was the first thing I did. I felt wonderful.

Eventually I worked up the courage to get a guitar in playing position and see if anything would work. It didn’t. After three weeks of inactivity my muscles were rubbery, I had horrible range of motion in my right arm, and the left wrist was excruciatingly painful. But I persisted and got through five whole minutes, and towards the end it wasn’t entirely incoherent. Maybe this will get better. It was pretty discouraging but I told myself “tomorrow you try for ten minutes.” Tomorrow was my first round of therapy too, I wondered what that would be like.

A Guitarist’s Nightmare 5

Huntsville Hospital, April 2012

The pain was pretty bad after the surgery, and I hated feeling so trapped- my fingers worked but I couldn’t move my right arm at all and the left wrist had been operated on too, a metal plate had been installed. I figured the right arm and elbow probably looked like an erector set. I learned how to get around the room while hauling the IV stand with me. I couldn’t wait to get out, but with another surgery looming thought it would never happen. Luckily for me they eventually decided that the broken scapula could heal on its own without surgery so I was sprung after a few days. Everyone at Huntsville Hospital was very nice and I was very well taken care of. At one point the orderly was changing the sheets and when he was finished I asked “Don’t I get a chocolate mint under the pillow?” he said “How about I get you a bag of chips?” We had a good laugh. But when all was said and done, I wanted out of there. I felt like I was in jail. I very much appreciated the visits of friends and family. Ingrid’s brother Alexis came to see me several times, and my friend Kristey Fry.

My task for the next three weeks was to keep still, change the bandages every day, and take medication as needed for pain. And try not to go crazy. While it might seem a lovely vacation to be given a bottle of eighty percosets, told to do nothing but rest and rot your brain with Netflix as much as you want for twenty-one days, in reality it was maddening. I tried the best I could to be positive but I kept thinking that I would never get through this, I’d never play again, and that music as a career was over for me. The grayish tinge to my right hand and the first look at my scars when the bandage was changed did nothing to lift my spirits. On my left wrist it was about an eight inch scar, the sutures holding the skin closed, and it was swollen. I remember staring at it thinking “This will never be functional ever again.” The right arm was a huge zipper of a scar around the elbow I had shattered. The way I coped was to have the attitude of wait and see. Don’t celebrate defeat until you actually achieve it.

Kristey made it a point of coming over every day pretty much to assist with changing the surgical dressings. It’s a lot harder than you might think, there was a lot of ground to cover, taping the sterile dressing to the wounds and then wrapping them up with gauze. Here is the bandage team, sorry the shot is out of focus but so was I. Ingrid is on the left, Kristey on the right. Both of them excellent at yelling at me if I tried to express defeat or tried to feel sorry for myself. They took all the fun out of it.


A Guitarist’s Nightmare 4

Huntsville Hospital, April 2012

As it turned out I was not operated on that evening, the new plan was for me to be operated on Monday afternoon. So I was still on the morphine and IV diet. No food, no water. Word got out pretty quickly about the accident. I got a message to the people in charge of the local arts festival that I would not be able to perform that weekend. My friend Ginny Kennedy at our local public radio station WLRH made an on-air announcement. It was nice to know folks were thinking of me. The music office at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where I’m an adjunct professor, sent a bouquet of flowers to my room. The dean’s office at the College of Liberal Arts sent a HUGE bouquet. My dear friend Kristey Fry came to see me almost right away, and Ingrid called Dave Gallaher, so he came to the room as well. It’s got to be hard to see a fellow musician in the condition I was in.

Dr. Bill Cox, a cardiologist who takes lessons from me stopped by when he had a break. Kristey got on to me when she heard me tell the nurse my pain level was not a 10 out of 1 to 10. “Always tell them the highest number! That way you’ll get more morphine!”

Eventually I got to meet my surgeon, Dr. David Griffin. He explained what they were going to do and eventually asked what I did for a living. When I told him I was a concert guitarist he reacted as if someone had punched him in the stomach, he bent forward exclaiming something like “Oh, Jeez!” or something along those lines. I thought, well this doesn’t seem promising at all. He told me I would never have full extension in my right arm again, and was curious about what range of movement I needed to play. Now this was just for the elbow and wrist, the broken scapula would be another surgery.

The afternoon turned to evening, still waiting for the trip to the OR. And we waited, and waited. Finally they hauled me off. They put some kind of happy juice in my IV bag because I was not apprehensive in the least. The next few hours would determine if I would be a musician ever again, nothing at ALL to worry about. I might as well have been waiting for my sandwich order to get to me at Happy Tummy, no worries at all. That was SOME kind of happy juice! They took me into the OR, and asked if I could move off the cart I was on to the operating table. I said sure. My legs were working if not my arms. No need to be picked up. They juiced me up and I konked out. I woke up groggy, nauseous but not too bad, in a lot of pain, but as disoriented as I was I moved the fingers of my right hand to see if I could. They worked! Maybe I could get through this.

The operation took a good four hours, they would update my wife Ingrid from time to time during this. Dr. Griffin was pretty happy with his handiwork. I was sent back up to my room and sent Ingrid home to get some rest, it was two in the morning I think. I was very sore and asked for morphine, was alone and with both arms messed up pretty much helpless, but I could wiggle the fingers of my right hand! Yay!!