But sometimes you can't resist, and Joseph Helfgot can shatter the toughest of facades. When he's not knocking on death's door, it's hard to believe he's a patient at all. In the ICU his bed is usually littered with half a dozen movie scripts. Piles of yellow legal pads filled with notes cover the top of his hospital tray, and a second tray on the other side of his bed holds his laptop and his BlackBerry. He has set up shop here. The nurses call it his bedquarters, a term his employees have been using for years. Even before he got sick Helfgot loved to work from bed.
In the hospital he regales anyone who cares to listen, as well as a few who don't, with behind-the-scenes stories about the "real" Hollywood. It isn't uncommon to find a heart specialist with a gaggle of medical students crowding around Helfgot, who is propped up in bed with a movie booming loudly on his laptop. "So I'm watching Public Enemy. You know, Jimmy Cagney plays a gangster? They're doing a kind of remake, with Johnny Depp as John Dillinger. So which do you like better? The scene over here, where Cagney shoots the guy?" The students lean in. "Or this one, where he kisses the girl?" He fast-forwards the movie as they stare blankly at the screen. "Christ, how old are you guys anyway? Do you even know who James Cagney is? How about Jean Harlow? You know, the blonde? Crap, never mind."
Some of the nurses adore him–mostly those he hasn't driven half-crazy with his perpetual list of demands. With a few of them he has the kind of relationship they have with their hairdresser. He can also be exasperating.
"I'm sorry, Judy, but I need this ice-cold, please."
"Mr. Helfgot, we're talking about liquid potassium. It's medicine, not a cocktail. We don't serve it on the rocks."
"Just bring me some ice, please," he says, flashing a petulant smile.
Judy shakes her head. The first time she met him, he asked if she was married.
"No," she said, busily attending to an occluded IV. "Put your arm out and try to hold still, will you?"
"Why not?" he asked, inches from her face as she checked his line, looking for the chink in the tubing.
She stared back at him blankly, thinking, Boy, that's personal. But then she heard herself saying, "Good question. Why the hell am I not married?"
"You'll find somebody," he told her. "You're pretty."
Helfgot's wife was there, and he turned to her and said, "Susan, do we know anyone for her?" To the nurse's embarrassment, which conveniently masked how much she was enjoying this conversation, Joseph and Susan began ticking off names of the single men they knew, and why this one or that one would be suitable or not. A year and a few dates later, some with Helfgot's bachelor friends, Judy was still single.
"I'll get your ice, but you have to drink it all at once, and not over the course of the next two weeks. Your K is so low you're going to crash."
"Okay. I promise."
Dr. Rawn steps quietly into Helfgot's room. This morning, right after the transplant, there aren't any scripts on the bed. Just Helfgot. He hasn't woken up, but it was a long surgery.
"He's not waking up," the nurse says. The nurse is worried, but he's trying not to show it.
Rawn stands over the bed and does his own quick check. He lifts Helfgot's eyelids and examines his pupils, which are dilated. He takes the flashlight from the wall and shines it right into Helfgot's eyes. Nothing happens, no contraction at all. Shit. He calls for a CT scan and the nurse picks up the phone.