Cline column: I left my appendix in Los Angeles

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 3, 2011

You have to give Tony Bennett credit. The entertainer recently turned 85, and heís still going strong. Most folks know that Tonyís signature song is ěI Left My Heart in San Francisco.î
I sort of have a signature song of my own: ěI Left My Appendix in Los Angeles.î I realize my song isnít as good as Tonyís, but itís the best I can offer.
I have previously written of how a friend and I were in the Los Angeles area in January 1994, when a severe earthquake struck Northridge, Calif., just a few miles from our hotel in Burbank. This natural disaster cut short our visit by a few days but didnít deter us from returning eight months later.
We headed back to the Left Coast Sept. 2, arriving in time to attend the three-day weekend celebrity/movie memorabilia show we frequented two or three times yearly.
Our plans were to spend the following Tuesday-Thursday visiting friends, calling on memorabilia collectors and several meetings around town in which my friend John was pitching his latest movie script. We were scheduled to fly home on that Friday, Sept. 9.
This trip there was no earthquake to wreck our plans. In fact, everything went smoothly. That is, until Thursday. I woke up not feeling very well, but nothing really serious. We had a couple of meetings in Culver City at the lot which had previously been the home of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for close to 60 years. MGM had gone in the tank, and the huge studio had been taken over by Columbia Pictures, then and now owned by Sony.
So we arrived at the gate mid-morning and received our instructions as to where to park the car. We would have to get around the humongous facility on foot. I waited in the lobby while John had his first meeting. I was feeling worse than when I woke up. Pretty bad abdominal pain, but no other symptoms of appendicitis. Nevertheless, I knew that was what I had.
With the first meeting over, we hit the studio commissary for lunch (I was not too sick to eat), then started out for the afternoon meeting, way across the lot.
By this time, I could barely walk, but somehow I made it. After the meeting, John went for the car and picked me up, sparing me the long walk back. We returned to our Hollywood Boulevard hotel, and I stretched out in my room until we headed to dinner.
Dinner was at a neat place we liked called the Hamburger Hamlet, a block from our hotel. As we sat in a window booth, we watched folks arriving across the street at the Mannís (formerly Graumanís) Chinese Theatre for the world premiere of some Kevin Bacon movie. It was then that I told John that before I got on a plane the next morning for a four- to five-hour flight at 30,000 feet, I needed to get checked out by a doctor.
I tip my hat to him for remaining calm. We returned to the hotel, and John called our friend Dave, who came right over and took us to the hospital. ěIf you have to go to a hospital, might as well go to the best,î Dave said. So he took me to Cedars-Sinai.
I remember turning off Santa Monica Boulevard onto the road into the complex because itís named George Burns Road. John and Dave took me into the emergency room. I went to the desk to check in. The clerk took my information and said, ěNow, what seems to be the problem?î ěI have appendicitis,î I told her. ěOh, are you a doctor?î she asked. ěNo, but I know enough to know itís appendicitis, or something worse!î ěVery well, have a seat, and weíll be with you shortly.î
Knowing this would probably take a while (after all, I was in an emergency room), Dave and John asked if I minded if they went over to Daveís apartment (it was close), and they would check on me a bit later. I told them that was fine.
I was called back a bit later and put on a gurney. I told a nurse I had appendicitis. She made a blood withdrawal. Probably an hour later (itís now around 10 p.m.), a doctor appeared to talk with and examine me.
He didnít believe it was my appendix because my white blood count was in the normal range, I had no nausea or fever. I told him about the upcoming plane trip scheduled for 12 hours later. Maybe that convinced him to call in a surgeon. So another hour or more passed, and a surgeon appeared. I repeated everything to this doctor, and he started to examine me. He mashed on me in the perfect spot asking, ěDoes this hurt?î
After he pulled me back down out of the ceiling tiles, he told a nurse to take me upstairs. Once there, I recall seeing a clock on the wall (almost midnight) and the nurse putting an IV needle into the top of my hand. All of a sudden, it was 10 in the morning, I was in a private room, and John was standing beside the bed.
He called for a nurse, who came in and told me that my appendix had been removed, and it was a close call. It was ěhot as a chili pepper,î she said, and a few more hours, it would have ruptured. Imagine that happening at 30,000 feet.
So we called my wife, Julie, at home to let her know about our goings-on and not to worry … everything was fine. Of course, this delayed our returning home for two days, but John took care of all the details. He checked me out of my hotel room and called the airlines. Flying was easier back in 1994, so no penalty fees were incurred. They even met me at the Charlotte gate with a cart and took me to the front door of the airport.
The recovery at Cedars went without any problems. Everyone was super nice to me. The morning after, a nurse was writing on my chart when she exclaimed, ěOh my goodness, itís your birthday!î ěIím afraid so,î I answered. To my surprise and delight, when I was served my dinner that night, all of the nurses on the floor came in together with a big birthday cake and sang ěHappy Birthdayî to me. Then we all devoured the round confection.
Two days later, John and I went straight from the hospital to LAX, and we flew home. A few days later, I heard on TV that Dean Martin had just been released from Cedars-Sinai, where he had been a patient for the previous week. Had I known he and I were in the same facility, I would have gone up and down every hall, looked in every room and closet singing ěThatís Amoreî until I found him. Of course, I probably would have been strapped in my bed had I tried.
Few of us, if any, can remember what we did on every one of our natal anniversaries. I know I canít, but Iíll always remember what I did and where I was on my 44th birthday.
California had me in stitches.
Happy Birthday To Me.
Mike Cline lives near Salisbury. His website, ěMike Clineís Then Playing.î documents every movie played in Rowan County from 1920 through 1979.