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Souchin' into Bethlehem

Greg Wood's latest health scare costs him a few pounds of flesh and almost takes his arm

The adventures continue for Houston singer-songwriter Greg Wood. As summer faded into fall, the former Horseshoe front man rolled out of the defunct Spring Branch-area bowling alley he had been calling home and moved back to the Montrose area.

During that time he was laying pretty low -- he wasn't performing at all, and there had been few sightings of the hard-living barroom bard in his usual haunts, though he had been answering the phone and had been glimpsed lurking about the 'hood.

And then, suddenly, he fell off the face of the earth. Since he lived a few blocks from my house, over the last couple of months I would drop by his place from time to time, and he was never home. His songwriting partner Rob Mahan likewise reported that Wood's place was always empty. It was eerie -- the door was unlocked and a bedroom window was ajar. It sort of reminded me of the Mary Celeste, the ship that was discovered drifting in the north Atlantic with nobody aboard, food still on the tables, and no signs of foul play. Like that spooky boat, Wood's place was empty in a mysteriously interrupted way.

Still, this was Wood, and I thought that maybe he had met a woman, or gone on a bender, or maybe had gone deeper into hiding. Maybe he had found another bowling alley to lodge in, or maybe he had gone on that long-promised European tour. (Judging by various Web sites I have Google-translated, Wood is very well received in Germany, France and Holland.)

But frankly, I should have known where he was all along; I should have realized that when Wood falls off the earth, he tends to land in hell -- or at least Ben Taub Hospital. Over the years, the 40-year-old Wood's diabetes and related illnesses and infections had relegated him in the Tub's hot water several times, on each occasion for a period of weeks. And when I returned to work after the hubbub of the holidays, I found that Wood had spent parts of November and January and all of December there.

"I was in a deep fever for about two days before I got there, and once you get to that stage you don't really have any decision-making skills," Wood says, sounding pretty chipper considering his latest ordeal. "I should have been in the hospital a minimum of three days before I got there. [Sighs.] Yeah, they were gonna chop off the arm and everything from the shoulder... They went in and found all these blood clots in my shoulder and lungs, and then they made me wait until everything was gone, and then they adjusted medications and stuff like that. Hopefully this time it will take and I won't have to worry about this kind of shit in the future."

Indeed. This ain't Wood's first near-death rodeo. Back in 1999, he collapsed and almost died from a diabetes-related heart-valve infection, one that spread to his eye and blinded it. Doctors also inserted a plastic valve into his heart, and now he is more susceptible to internal infections than even most diabetics. In the summer of 2003 he was hospitalized after a strokelike heart-related episode that for a time robbed him of the use of an arm.

After each scare, Wood would clean up his act. And then he would backslide big-time. Fresh out of the hospital, he'd play shows against doctor's orders and throw himself into the music for all he was worth. He would also guzzle all the beers and shots any three normal men could handle. Last summer, he and his friends literally drank the defunct bowling alley's bar dry -- the kegs of beer and bottles of bourbon went first, then the rest of the brown liquor, then the tequila, rum and gin, and last, all the liqueurs, cordials and schnapps.

It doesn't take much snap to see that Wood has a death wish -- his song "Everything Is Okay" spells it out explicitly. "Every now and then, I get the blues so hard / Feel the cold settle in my heart /And there are things I cannot say / Seductive voices from beyond the grave / Say 'come on over and play, it's gonna be OK.' "

And this time those seductive voices almost cost Wood his left arm. A Ben Taub surgeon told Wood that the arm had to go, at which point Wood fell asleep. His condition improved while he slept, and the doctors decided his arm could stay, though they would have to remove some chunks of it. The one-eyed Wood awoke and expected to be even more Long John Silver-like than he had been. "There's nothing like waking up the next day and going, 'Hey, I have my hand,' " he says. "That was the first thing I looked at. I thought, 'Phantom limb syndrome is way more realistic than I thought.' And then I looked and they had drawn on my shoulder all the cutting information, all the guidelines to cut my arm off. I thought, 'Well, that's kind of a moral lesson.' I should have taken a photograph of that. That would have been a good one."

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