On May 21, 2012 I did a stand up comedy show at Bowery Poetry Club, in NYC. After the show, I was driving home in the rain. It was about 3:30 in the morning. I hit a slippery patch on the highway, and hydroplaned. I lost control of the car, which spun and apparently, hit a wall. I hit my head. I don’t remember the impact or the next 15 or 20 minutes after that. What I do know is that there were no other cars involved in the accident, which I am very thankful for.
My next memory is fifteen minutes later, mid conversation with a cop. I was standing outside of my car. I explained to him what happened. He said the ambulance was on the way. I said “Oh that’s okay, I don’t need the ambulance, I’m alright.” I had a broken neck and a collapsed lung. My body was in shock. The cop must have thought I was a lunatic. The cop told me he got the call 15 minutes ago. I didn’t have any memories of the crash or the time in between. I was confused. I thought, “how could he have gotten the call 15 minutes ago? This just happened.” I started to realize I had amnesia. I still don’t know if I was fully conscious or not in those 15 minutes that I can’t remember.
The ambulance came and I stepped inside. I talked to the EMTs about what I remembered. I think I mostly babbled nonsense.
At the hospital they cut all my clothes off of me. My Minor Threat t-shirt and my good jeans were ruined. I remember saying, “Are you cutting my jeans? God Damn it!” Inside the pocket of my jeans was the money I got paid for the show I did earlier that night. I never saw that money again.
They put me in a temporary room for a few hours. I was naked, except for a sheet that covered me. They did some X-rays or some other test to check my injuries. They were nervous that my brain was bleeding. A brain surgeon came in to talk to me about what the surgery would be like if my brain was in fact bleeding. A neurosurgeon also came in to talk to me about the possibility of spinal surgery. I was lucky enough that none of those things were an issue. My neck was going to heal on it’s own. I fractured 2 vertebrae (numbers 5 and 6). Basically pieces of the vertebrae chipped, but the chips stayed in place. This meant it would heal all by itself. They slapped a neck brace on me. They said I had to wear it for 6-8 weeks. They said my brain wasn’t bleeding and I didn’t need brain surgery.
There was one procedure that needed to be done. In the accident, the seatbelt collapsed my lung and I guess I had some kind of internal bleeding. They told me they needed to insert a tube into my chest cavity. The tube would suction out the blood and air that was filling my chest and keeping my lung collapsed. They numbed the incision area with lidocaine. Then they shot me with Morphine. I felt the muscles in my arms and legs relax. They made the incision on the side of my chest and started shoving the tube in me. I screamed like someone was killing me. I could feel the tube making it’s way around my muscles. It took several minutes before they were done pushing it through. The Morphine never really kicked in.
I had my cell phone and was able to make some phone calls when I first arrived, around 5 in the morning. Some of my best friends came to see me around 8am. They were freaked out and tearing up. I was cracking jokes. I was lucky to be alive, and the last thing I wanted to do was complain or be a bummer. I told my friends to get some footage of me in the hospital. We had been filming comedy shows and behind the scenes footage for a documentary and I realized that this hospital stay would be expensive. This was now a big budget movie. I wanted to take advantage.
Eight hours later they moved me to my actual room. I had a window. There was art on the wall. My room mate was very friendly. He was an older man, with long hair. He was always sneaking outside to have a smoke. He told all of the doctors that I was a comedian. One of them took my information and actually watched some of my videos online. This guy was doing PR for me while I was laying in a hospital bed. He was great.
I was in bed for days, not really sure how badly I was actually hurt. I didn’t remember the accident, and I didn’t get a good look at my car, so I had no idea what the damage was like. This didn’t seem real. I kept telling the story to people, but since I didn’t actually remember being there, it was hard to wrap my head around.
I had a plastic container that I had been peeing in, so I had not gotten out of bed yet. But by day 2 or 3 I had to take a shit. This is something I had been doing on my own for many years. Suddenly it wasn’t that simple. I was attached to a machine that was suctioning the blood and air out of my chest cavity, which would then allow my lung to re-expand. This meant that in order for me to get up and go to the bathroom, a nurse needed to come and unhook me from the suction. Then they handed me the machine that was connected to my tube, which I had to carry with me into the bathroom. But they didn’t have to come in with me. I did all of that by myself.
As I took my first steps in 48 hours, I realized how hurt I was. My head felt like it weighed 100 pounds. I was sore everywhere. Using the bathroom was incredibly hard and frustrating. After I was done, they had to reconnect me and turn the suction back on, and then help me back into bed. This all took about 20 minutes. I was physically and mentally exhausted. It was the most depressing shit I had ever taken. I felt helpless and weak. But I was making progress. Two days after an accident that should have killed me, I sat up, got out of bed, and walked around. I went to bed feeling mildly accomplished.
The next day started out poorly. I didn’t sleep well. I was tired of lying in the same position all day every day. I was still attached to the machine, even though the doctors thought I would be off of it by then. I was frustrated. I felt beaten. A physical therapist came in to talk to me. He asked if I could walk. I told him my legs worked fine. He helped me out of bed and we walked around the halls together. It felt great. When we got back to my room, he brought me a chair to sit in. I sat in the chair all day. It made me feel like myself again. I wasn’t bed ridden. My friends came to see me. They were happy to see me out of bed. It was almost like we were just hanging out. I felt good.
The next day I woke up in a lot of pain. The tube in me was really starting to hurt. I told the nurse. It took a long time for her to do anything about it. Eventually a bunch of doctors came in to look at me. They crowded around my bed. They said maybe the tube moved out of place. They took off the bandages that were covering the big ugly hole where the tube was shoved inside me. Then they started shoving it back into place. I screamed in agony. It hurt worse than the first time they jammed that thing in my side. My insides were already sore from the tube being in there for so long. Also I wasn’t on any pain medication this time. After a few minutes of this, they redressed the wound and left me. I was nearly in tears. 15 or so minutes later the nurse came in and gave me oxycodone and toradol. Then she left. I couldn’t move. 15 or 20 minutes later those medications kicked in. I didn’t feel anything. It was amazing. I had earned this. I don’t remember much of the rest of that day.
While I was in the hospital, all of my comedy friends were coming by to see me. We were talking about a show that we all booked together. We were all supposed to perform. Obviously I wasn’t going to make it. They decided that they would keep my slot, and they were all going to do my act. Everyone went up and did a few of my jokes each. Then they all got together and sang one of my songs together, like a choir. They showed me the footage. It was amazing. I was in the hospital, but my jokes were still out there in the world. A couple of days later, I had another show booked. I asked Ricky Wells to go do the show as me. He agreed. No one there knew who I was, so they didn’t even realize what was happening. I got introduced “Ladies and gentleman, Anthony Kapfer.” And Ricky Wells got up and did my whole act. I also got to see this footage. All of this helped me get through these long, hard days at the hospital.
Days kept passing. I was scared that my lung wasn’t healing. I still had an air leak, which meant there was a small hole. It also meant I still needed the tube and the machine. Doctors came in and talked to me about the possibility of surgery. There were 3 different options they spoke about. I was never really sure which one was a possibility for me. The first option was that a part of my lung would be removed. Another option was that my lung would be stapled closed. The last option was they would blow some kind of powder onto my lung and scar tissue would form, closing the hole. None of these options sounded good to me. I was scared.
After a full week in the hospital, they decided to take the tube out of me. It felt great to not be connected to it. It was much easier to get out of bed by myself. Going to the bathroom was easier. I was in less pain. But I still couldn’t go home. They were still watching my lung. There was still a hole, and if it didn’t close up, they would have to re-insert the tube and operate on me. That was scary. Every morning at 5am I would have X-rays done. Then I would sit around and wait for a doctor to come in and talk to me about how my lung was doing. They never came. Apparently, no news is good news. If my lung was bad, they would have been coming in and talking to me, but since it was ok, they didn’t have to tell me anything. I didn’t really know this at the time, so I was really nervous and confused.
I had an attractive nurse. She was working the night shift on one of my last nights in the hospital. She kept coming into the room and talking to me. I told her about the accident. We also talked about other things. It wasn’t like the way the other nurses talked to me. She was young, maybe younger than me. She laughed at my jokes. I thought maybe she might be flirting with me. Then she asked me, “when was your last bowel movement.” It was then that I knew she wasn’t flirting with me. She went about her business, and I went to sleep.
After ten full days, I was finally well enough to go home. The hole in my lung had closed on it’s own. I didn’t need surgery. I got dressed, and they wheeled me donwstairs in a wheelchair, because that’s what they do. I thought about how lucky I was. I wasn’t going to need a wheelchair once I got downstairs. I broke my neck, but I walked out of that hospital.
Six days after getting out of the hospital, I made my return to comedy. It was at a bar called The Flat, in Brooklyn. I had tons of new jokes about neck braces and hospitals. A bunch of my friends came out to see me. And with a broken neck, I took the stage and made people laugh. I am back.