It was 4:45 on a February morning when our dog started barking and our doorbell rang in successions. I was thrown into that dart-out-of-bed you dread feeling. As I scurried to the front door trying not to trip on my robe, I see outside the window, a silent ambulance with its lights ominously twirling in the night sky, a gurney on my small front stoop and an EMT on either side of it. I opened the door and as I did, it “dawned” on the two of them that they were at the wrong house. The wrong side, I should say because I live in a duplex.
On the other side of the duplex, live my friends Mare Carmody (voice over actor, professional musician) and her husband. I profiled Mare in 2018, soon after they’d moved in over there. I asked the EMT’s as they quickly backed up the gurney, “what’s going on over there?” and my dog yipped from getting caught in one of the wheels, adding to the intensity of the situation. “We’re not at liberty to say, ma’am” was their terse reply.
So I didn’t know which one of them they’d come for. I went inside my house, grabbed my coat and paced the driveway for the next 15 minutes.
It was Mare they brought out on the gurney, looking far off and unaware even though they positioned her sitting upright. Her husband came out; we started to cry. They have pets, so I helped get them fed and calmed down while he grabbed a few things he thought Mare might need in the hospital. He emerged from their bedroom with one of her bras dangling from his wrist by its strap. “Okay, I think I’ve got everything I can think of” was something like what he said. I told him, “Dude, you might wanna put that bra dangling from your wrist inside the bag you have in your hand.” It was a much-needed moment.
Fast forward to the other day, Mare and I are sitting at a coffee house singing “Happiness is a Warm Gun” before commencing to recount what she went through leading up to that morning and since. When we get to the lyric, bang- bang, shoot-shoot, we smirk over the irony of what she’s been through; what we’ve all been through.
My first question is ‘to what do you attribute your strength for being able to get back up after being knocked down time after time over the past 2 years?’
“That I’m a tough old bird. I am my mother’s daughter. I’m hard headed.”
What Mare experienced, her doctors are coming around to admit, was likely a “long haul” symptom of COVID. Two grand mal seizures later and less than 1 hour apart (one at home; one at the emergency room), the consequence was one shoulder torn and reconstructed and the other so completely broken and shattered that the surgeon had to reach in to find it, in order to replace it.
The haplessness she felt during the first weeks of 2 consecutive recovery periods and rehab; she couldn’t do regular things like close a car door or even put on that bra that her husband thought she’d need, much less play her guitar, was the challenge. “It was frustrating to have to depend on others to do everything for me. I don’t like that feeling.”
She made up her mind not to let negative overshadow her fierce commitment to get her voice and her chops back. She reveals to me another scary outcome that happened during one of the many procedures and tests she had to endure. One of her lungs collapsed leaving her breathing at times, compromised.
She set a goal to start singing and playing her guitar again by September. “It was May/June and the more I’d hear about musicians getting back on stages and my bandmates doing gigs without me, the more resolute I became to start slow and get my voice going, to practice playing my smaller acoustic guitar. I had new song ideas and melodies waiting for their chord progressions! That, it’s-now-or-never feeling hit me. The bottom line is that while people will cheer you on in your efforts to get better, they can’t do it for you. And my husband knows better than anyone, that music is what keeps me sane.”
Prior to moving here, she was completely healthy. So when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2019, the effects and treatments rendered a weight loss that rendered frailty in her bones that rendered a fall that rendered a broken hip. Then she caught the COVID.
“There are moments when I feel sorry for myself, cursing life for kicking me in the ass time after time, but getting up and out walking in the neighborhood is medicinal. Ideas and inspiration come from putting one foot in front of the other. The universe says to me, ‘take these gifts and let them guide you’. Musician friends who invite me to sit in on gigs prove I am viable even during recovery. It’s easy to get bogged down in the notion that because I’ve had some challenges that I might be past my prime.” To that I say, ‘Oh contraire my friend, oh contraire!’
Once the cognition of how big a deal this was, once the gravity set in, she got down and kissed the ground. She doesn’t remember certain things she said or did. Doctors explain that when fighting a coronavirus for instance, our bodies have what they call a cytokine storm which happens when our immune system kicks into overdrive to fight an infection. Instead of helping her it hurt her. She says her doctors explained it this way: It manifests as an electrical storm in your brain.
The electric impulses are causing your muscles to contract and release violently within a grand mal seizure.
“All this has me rethinking how I go through life. I truly live for today because nothing gives me a greater appreciation for my life and what I’ve been blessed with than almost dying.”
Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at firstname.lastname@example.org