Friday, May 04, 2007

Roger Ebert Returns to the Public

Roger wrote about his decision to return to public life, even though he is still recuperating. He includes photos of what he looks like now, after a tracheostomy.

I've known Roger (via e-mail) for a number of years, and he's quoted me a few times in his columns and books. He's a very nice, very smart guy, who changed the face of film criticism forever. (Some people still don't know he was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer.)

He's been recovering from a series of medical problems that has kept him out of the public life for quite a while now, and it's left a pretty big hole in film criticism. (Anyone try to watch his show without him? It's almost painful.)

I understand what he's going through. During my own serious illness, I made it a point not to be seen by anyone. It was actually pretty easy, because I got sick just before Christmas, so many people never knew what happened, since they were on vacation or out of town anyway.

Why is it that we don't want people to see us sick? Vanity? Or some prehistoric fear that we'll be more likely to be taken advantage of (eaten) in a weakened condition?

For me the conscious reasons were twofold. Self-preservation is definitely a part of it. I was seriously concerned that if anyone saw me that sick, that I would never find work again. Unfortunately, I had to be on stage at the MPSE Golden Reels to present George Lucas with the Filmmaker Award in late February that year, and I still looked terrible. I was about 30 pounds lighter, walking with a cane, and had a hugely inflamed lip from a staph infection. It was very, very clear from the reactions of people who saw me that I had definitely changed permanently, in their opinion. A lot of people did not even recognize me until my name was announced. I made sure no photos were taken of me that night.

The other reason is vain, somewhat. I knew there was a chance that if I had a recurrence of pneumonia in that weakened condition that I would not survive, and I did not want people to remember me that way. *I* don't even want to remember me that way.

But there is a downside to that attitude. No one seeing me in the hospital meant no visitors. The only person, other than my wife, who visited me in the hospital was the music editor friend who took over the job I was doing when I got sick, and he only saw me when I was unconscious. For a month in the hospital, I saw no one, not even my family, and it was pretty depressing.

Even at home I shunned people for months. One USC faculty member and one friend stopped by in the first month I was back. They both were stunned when they saw me. One cried. So, that didn't exactly cheer me up, either, but at least there are a few people who know how really sick I was. Now, I appear to have had a complete recovery, and I get the impression that there are some people who think I was exaggerating how sick I was in order to get some time off. Believe me, there's nothing worse than being sick at home with nothing to do for months. I'd much rather have been working.

To make a long story short, (is it too late for that?) I wish Roger the best in his recovery, and I sincerely hope that his transition back into public life is an easy one. Like me, he has a loving wife, and for me, that was the only reason I made it through.
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