COMIC'S TRAGEDY IS CHANGING TWO LIVES.
``HELLO, this is Lauren. I am a nurse at UCLA Emergency,'' came the unfamiliar voice on my message service. ``Phil Perrier wanted me to call you to tell you he is here and he's all right, but that is why he didn't call you last night.''
My first reaction was, aw, isn't that just like him to be worried about what I would think? But it didn't take more than a moment for my pragmatic mind to piece together the overriding riddle: If he is there, he can't be all right.
And that's how I learned that my best friend and comedy companion - and a frequent Daily News contributor - had been in a severe surfing accident and was paralyzed from the neck down.
He isn't the first performer that this has happened to, and as the fates will have it, he most certainly won't be the last. He is nowhere near the most famous, but just the same, he has thousands, possibly tens of thousand, of adoring fans (from his stand-up, his radio show and his newspaper columns) who will be panicked, or at the very least, worried. No, he's not the most famous guy this has happened to, but he's the only one I know.
My job is to remain calm.
The one-hour flight from my home of Phoenix to L.A. seems to take forever. We fly through the air at exactly the same speed I am flying through the steps of grief. Denial, anger, acceptance, all simultaneously whiz through my psyche, until, at last, I land on a new phase: a silent conversation exclusive to an opening-act comic lamenting the tragedy of her headliner friend.
``There goes my 25 minutes in Florida!'' or ``He has to get better soon or I may never work again!''
So I find myself working through the stages of grief all over, only this time it is over my fledgling career. And I learn something about myself. As it turns out, I am exactly the type of person who is capable of taking someone's most horrific personal tragedy and making it all about me. Mental note: I suck!
For the next couple of weeks my hospital visits are evenly spaced: a three- or four-day stay, every seven to 10. Each time he is better than he was before. As of this last visit, if I put my head on his chest, he can put his arms around me all by himself. I can feel the pressure on my back as he uses every ounce of energy to give me a squeeze. It's not a lot, and it's not with his hands, but it's there and I can feel it.
Hope really does spring eternal. Who knew?
When a person, any person, but particularly one as creative as Phil is in a lot pain, the mind plays some wicked tricks.
``Where the hell did you go?'' he asks in an uncharacteristically stern tone, his pent-up and misdirected frustration getting the better of him.
I feel a bit like an errant child.
``Downstairs to get something to eat, I told you I'd be right back.''
``Well, an hour and 10 minutes isn't exactly 'right back.' I'm immobile here!''
My job is to remain calm.
``Yes, I know you are immobile ... but let me be clear,'' I say, trying to swallow my indignation, ``I wouldn't care if you were only a head in a hermetically sealed jar, you ought not talk to me like that.''
Then it happens. I look into those eyes of his. They have always reminded me of the water off the Mediterranean coast, only more so now because they are wet with the kind of tears that only happen when a person is thinking about someone other than himself.
``I'm sorry, Baby,'' he says, his rich deep voice no less boisterous but significantly more tender. ``Here you've flown half-way across the country and I ...'' He says no more.
Now it's my turn. I am so touched as to bypass the shot I would have usually taken by pointing out his seeming lack of knowledge of U.S. geography. My eyes start to burn and the tears come. They are the kind that only happen when - well, you know. So, ahem, we are through with that and no more needs to be said.
For the most part, it's a lot of fun. We crack jokes with and about the nursing staff, who learn to enter our little enclave with their heads slightly ducked in hopes of avoiding our friendly fire. This only makes us worse. I feed him his meals and give him his sponge baths. We laugh, loud and a lot. He lifts his right leg a few inches off the bed, and things just don't seem so bad. The man in the next bed cries a little. We try the hugging thing again.
With every visit he is getting better. With every visit, so am I. I am the one becoming ``better, faster, stronger than I was.'' I have more compassion, more patience, and am in complete awe of the strength and resilient fortitude he shows every day. And I learn something about myself.
Turns out, I am exactly the kind of person who can take someone's most horrific personal tragedy and make it all about me. I learn I am just like the rest of his legions of fans, wishing him the best, praying and doing only that which we can for someone who does so much for all of us. Rehab will be long and expensive, but be sure, he is on his way back!
And so we wait.
Our job is to remain calm.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||May 25, 2005|
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