How Comedy Nearly Killed Me (and how it still might).

Oct 26, 2018

As some of you know, a few years back I almost died from a pulmonary embolism.  

A pulmonary embolism is a sudden blockage in a lung artery. The cause is usually a blood clot  in the leg called a deep vein thrombosis  that breaks loose and travels through the bloodstream to the lung. Pulmonary embolism is a serious condition that can cause

  • Permanent damage to the affected lung 
  • Low oxygen levels in your blood 
  • Damage to other organs in your body from not getting enough oxygen 

If a clot is large, or if there are many clots, pulmonary embolism can cause death.

Luckily my symptoms (shortness of breath, leg pain, sweating) happened in a grocery store. The manager of the store called 911 and I got to ride in an ambulance to the hospital. The entire way the EMTs were commenting on how purple I looked. I told them it was my aura.

My clot was the largest my pulmonary physician had ever seen. But luckily it was a newer clot, and was easy to break up with a intravenously administered "clot buster." (I still have an old clot in my left leg and as a friend of mine put it "it's so old it's a scar.") It probably won't ever break loose, but if it does, I'm probably dead.

Now what does this have to do with stand-up comedy? Sitting. Sitting mostly in my car but sometimes on airplanes.

See, I started comedy during the Big Comedy Scare of the mid 1980s. There were paying comedy gigs all over the U.S., especially in the midwest. So I drove a lot! Sometimes 12 to 15 hours in a day. And I'd do that for weeks. Sitting on my butt in my trusty Volvo. (Sometimes I flew, but not in the Volvo.)

Eventually all that sitting caught up to me. Years later (early 2000s) I had a long bout of sciatica, which eventually went away. The clots didn't go away. They just moved, from my legs to my lungs. I had a bilateral pulmonary embolism, both lungs. But, like I said, I survived.

So why am I telling this story? So you, fellow comedians and butt sitters, stand up and walk around for a few minutes. On airplanes you can do this while they're moving, cars not so much. Gotta park them first. 

Stand up and stand-up. Keep yourself healthy and do what you love for a much longer time.

Category: Stand-Up Comedy

James Zingelman


James R. Zingelman is the "real" name of Hypnotic Comic Rusty Z.

Please add a comment

Posted by Gene McGuire on
I enjoyed reading this. What a great point to stand up. I used to live a sedentary lifestyle but now I am on my feet and moving most of the day. Country life, grandkids, and critters are keeping me moving. Thanks for sharing your story buddy.
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