Filler Bike Wreck

By Jeff Smith

LEGENDARY TUCSON BLUES picker (and grinner, but how one can grin through the blues is oxymoronic to a mind as constrained as my own) Rainer Ptacek sustained a broken clavicle and a somewhat rung bell in a low-speed bicycle crash following the local Groundhog Day fete, officials report. Substance abuse was not cited as a factor in the incident.

Smith Rainer, also known as "Rainer" and as the guy who used to be Rainer, of Rainer and Das Kombo, was taken to University Medical Center, where doctors performed a battery of diagnostics.

Rainer confirmed he felt real bad, plus he couldn't remember all the words to his songs.

Son, you got d'blues. Nobody knows all the words. Now mos' medical professionals misdiagnose this condition in white folks and calls it depression, but what it is is the blues. Compounded by a busted collar-bone, which make anybody feel bad.

Well, duh. You try playing a National Steel guitar without a bottleneck for 25 years and see if you can ride your bike from way out by Rosemont clear to the Chicago Store without falling over. Anyway, while they had him wearing his bathrobe backwards they decided to run up the bill a little, so they did the imaging thing and came up with a worrisome spot in between his ears and underneath where his Baseball cap usually sits. At first they called it a tumor.

Well that didn't sit too well with anybody, but you know science--it marches on--so they ran some tests below the neck and didn't find anything tumorous, malign or benign, down there. Meanwhile, back at the brain, a subsequent test turned up what was described as a sort of "cloud" that wasn't conveniently located and confined and handy to biopsy. Sounded terrible, and indeed the family was advised to begin counting time in specific, smallish units.

But then they did a biopsy, and according to Rainer's wife (and Gabe, Rudy and Lily's mom, Vicha's daughter, friend to thousands) Patty, "They didn't find a terminal kind of tumor."

So as of presstime the docs were, again using Patty's terms, "leaning toward...maybe...possibly it's some kind of infection or lymphitis or something, which is treatable." Hot diggity.

So she hands the phone over to Rainer, who tells me, "I'm born again, baby."

And if that ain't good news enough to cure all the blues in Memphis and the south half of Chicago, I'll kiss Julia Roberts' ass.

The bad news is financial. So what else is news? As a professional blues guitarist and singer, Rainer Ptaceck is legally forbidden to have health insurance.

It would look like hedging your bets. It would look...white...and mildly depressing.

So the week in the hospital and the usual menu of tests, plus Kleenex, coupla aspirin, Salisbury steak and tapioca pudding...the toothbrush....Round that off at, say, an even 250 grand. Forget it. The hospital eats it. I mean it's not as if Rainer did this for the cuisine and the clean sheets.

But speaking of eating it, there is this little matter of groceries and rent. Plus daughter Lily, who is not yet halfway through her first year. What I'm getting at is that if it takes a village to raise a child, it's going to take a city to help a family of five through its period of trial.

Toward that end, friends of Rainer and Patty and the kids will be staging various fund-raising events--inclining toward the musical in nature--to benefit the Ptacek family. I hate to say it, but watch the local dailies and electronic media for dates, times and places. We at The Weekly will apprise you as our more leisurely schedule permits.

Meanwhile, a fund has been established at Bank One. It's called "The Charitable Fund for Rainer Ptacek," and you can make deposits to it at any Bank One branch in Arizona. I suggest you get right out and do so. Donations also can be mailed to the Bank One branch at 4711 E. Speedway, 85712.

This experience has been a genuine moral boost for Rainer and Patty. They were getting a little bummed about life in Tucson lately, and then along comes a bike wreck and the suspicion of cancer, and all the good thoughts and caring expressions of love lifted them up and blew the clouds away. They thank you. And I thank you. TW

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