Jeannie Gaffigan is an actress, producer, writer, philanthropist, mother of five and all around comedic force. She is most well-known for the comedy empire she created with her writing, producing partner, and husband, Jim Gaffigan, and is a New York Times Bestseller for her book, “When Life Gives You Pears.”
Jeannie was the story editor on the two New York Times Best Sellers, Dad is Fat and Food: A Love Story. Jeannie’s New York Times bestselling book When Life Gives You Pears, a memoir chronicling her diagnosis, surgery and recovery from a Pear sized brain tumor, is available now wherever books are sold. She is also the director and a founding member of The Imagine Society.
John Shegerian: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy. It is the largest fully-integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.
John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. This is a very special Thanksgiving episode, the 2020 edition of the Impact Podcast. We all need a little help this year to weather this difficult and tragic COVID-19 storm, so we invited a true angel who walks among us, mere mortals. Jeannie Gaffigan is a gift for all of us to learn from today, her own journey. We counted in her New York Times best-selling book, When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People. Jeannie, we are so blessed and grateful for you joining us today.
Jeannie Gaffigan: Thank you, John. I am so grateful to be here.
John: Well, you are, of course, a writer, producer, author, two New York Times best-sellers with your husband, seven or so specials that you have co-written and produced with him, and also the author of this best-selling book. But most importantly, you are the mother of five beautiful children.
Jeannie: Yes, that is I would say that is the headline. That is the diamond in my tiara.
John: You are also the oldest of nine. Unbelievable.
John: Like I shared with you before we started this, I have read your book. I heard your interviews. I followed your story when you were going through it. Like I said, this is our Thanksgiving edition of the Impact Podcast because we all could hear a little bit more about faith, family, food, fun, and funny people. Having you on today is really special. I have interviewed over one thousand three hundred guests on this podcast. I do not know if I have had someone as special as you for so many reasons why you are special. Thank you. Thank you for being here. Before we get into the book and your journey, talk a little bit about growing up. I mean, how did you, as you say, your husband says it as well, how did you become a Shiite Catholic? Was that just all part of your upbringing in the Catholic family?
Jeannie: I think those were the roots of it, but I did not really start getting into my faith and my devotion in a real meaningful way until my life got more and more difficult to deal with on my own. Do you know what I mean? For me, personally, because I had that basis, that kind of allurement of God from being a kid and having my mom always talking about God. “If God is here, God then will protect you. God is watching all the time.” God was just part of the daily conversation, and so even though at bedtime, I could not have told you probably what the Pope’s latest encyclical was or something, I still knew about God. As things got more and more difficult in my life, I started to really tune in to, “What do I believe?” and “Why do I believe in it?” or “Why do I feel so much magnetic attraction to it?” It was not like I was in some kind of ideological family where we were kneeling every five minutes or something, but I do think that that was sort of the root. Having a really strong, spiritual mother and also a father who is much more – I mean, he has definitely went to mass with us but he would be much more quiet about his faith. He is an intellectual. I sort of just described my life as sort of like the Newman. You know, the Catholic, the church in the university type thing. I grew up with this very diverse way of looking at the world, so I did not have two parents who are exactly on the same page with their faith, but they were on the same page with survival of having nine kids in modern society of nobody.
We knew some families that had huge amounts of kids. But normally, the youngest child was already like in college or in high school, but it was more of a different generation. Among my generation of kids, we were the largest family. It was kind of weird to be part of that, but now on the other side, I see how valuable. So much about life and probably about what the theme of our podcast is going to be today is that a lot of times when you are in something, you do not realize the benefit and the grace that you are going to get out of things that seemed difficult and troubling. I think that that is really the way that I have sort of been living my life, especially since the medical crisis that I had in my life in 2017 where I did not know if I was going to live. Ever since that incident and my recovery, I have just been really focused on this sort of in the moment when we feel something is insurmountable, that there is a grace that is going to happen sometime, maybe next year by a way. Having that perspective helped so much get through those crises, but I do want to say one other thing about having the nine kids in my family. My mother, who I have literally no idea how she did it with no nanny or housekeeper or those sort of urban ways that we deal the kids, do you see? Basically, getting help. And no grandparents or cousins or anyone around. So like, “Oh, can you take the kids while I take a shower” type of thing.
During this pandemic, when it has become another lesson to me, I said, “It has always been like a month. How did not everybody die?” Like, how did you not chew on a cord all the time? But during this pandemic when there are no babysitters coming in and out, there is no person next to me at all times saying like, “Oh, can you run this to the post office?” Like that kind of support system is kind of gone. It is really hands-on at this point. When I think of my mom having four more kids than I have, it is unbelievable, and many, many less resources than I have. So I am really impressed by my mom. At that time, of course, I thought she was nuts. I was like, “Mom, stop getting pregnant,” because I was the oldest, right? So I was like, “I could not have had a normal life, Mom. You get pregnant like every year. What is going on?” So what is the worst thing to do was to become a helper, right? Because in their first, I was motivated by selfishness. Because I was like, If I want clean blue jeans to wear to school, I got to learn how to do laundry, right? So, my mom was nursing and pregnant for my whole childhood. So I really started to appreciate that kind of absolute selfless giving. And so, then I look around the world and I see selfless giving, I recognize it and I want to emulate it.
John: Is that from your mom or is that where you picked up some of your organizational skills, such as I know the book and the story that we are about to get into starts in a doctor’s office where you literally set up. I have never heard this before but it is brilliant when you read it and think about it. You had set up your appointments for your children all at the same time so that they could all be organized and go to the doctor at the same time. All five of them. Is that part of what you learned growing up from your mom?
Jeannie: You know, I did not learn it from my mom exactly. I have more learned it in spite of my mom. I had loved, like my mom is unbelievable, but one of the things that she is not is the organized. Because of that though, and this is a very important lesson for anyone who has kids or is in-charge of someone, is that if you do everything for your kids, they are not going to learn it. My mom was not able because of her being pregnant, nursing, and having all these kids to do that. That was not her gift, right? I do not know if I have ever told this story before, but I have written pages and pages on this and never post it or anything. When I was a kid, there was an opportunity for me to, I think it was house sit/dog sit for a neighbor while they were on vacation or something. You would take these babysitting jobs and these little errand jobs when you were a kid because this was where you were old enough to get a work permit to get some pocket money. And so, I took care of the neighbor’s house. I remember just walking around their house stunned, stunned at the organization.
Let us say we are like drawn at the light and every cover was immaculate, and everything was facing the same way and every room had a focus and every piece of furniture was placed in a certain way. Everything was just unbelievable. I remembered just walking, I was watering the plants or something. I was just walking from room to room, and even the basement, like you could eat off the floor. It was crazy. I think, “Oh, my gosh. This would make my life so much easier to live in an environment like this.” It just all of a sudden, like all my sort of crazy tendency towards attention-deficit and all these little things that probably identifying as whatever sort of good problems in our kids. This is just the norm. Like, a lot of people have this kind of racing minds and lack of structure in their thinking. And I, all of a sudden got this wave of peace by seeing everything organized. My house was not like that. After I did this little excuse, I am dog-sitting, I said like, “I want to live in this environment,” right?
John: You made a mental note that when you have your chance, this is what it was going to look like.
Jeannie: Yes, but I took my chance right away because I am the oldest of the family. I was bossy and I said, “Okay. This is what we are going to do. We are going to move this bed here. We are doing this and sort.” Also, I am very kind of motivated, like I have high energy. I kind of like feng shui the whole house. My role in my family is I just am the role of the organizer. I just started organizing everything. I sort of learned this method of survival in a lot of ways, probably, in spite of my brain and in spite of a way that it was not taught to me. Right now, I had let go of a lot of it and we can talk about that “why” in the book. One is to hurt you and hurt your relations with people, It is not worth that kind of thing. But I still need a schedule and list, and I still need to check things off because that is just the way my brain works. when I said things like, “How the heck am I going to get all my kids a flu shot?” One has doctor -and this is the normal non-pandemic time -one has rehearsal and one has piano. It all just follows logically to put them all back-to-back-to-back-to-back. One trip, one and done because that is just the way I could sort of manage my approach to having a big family.
John: So you have got a huge career with your husband. You are at the doctor’s office with five children, and the book starts, this best-selling book, When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People. Take it from there. You were in the doctor’s office, five kids, it was three years ago, and you start. Tell us what was going on. It was an issue with your ear, the doctor recognized it, the hearing issue. Take it from there, Jeannie.
Jeannie: I want to put in the story is my doctor. She is a caring human being. Actually, it was not just kind of make a buck or a lot of bucks, looks like it. But when she was talking to me about the flu shots, I must have believed full word and convinced me to getting. She said, “What is wrong with your ear?” That was where the whole thing started. It was that she noticed that and I felt like I cannot really hear out of that ear and she said, “When did that start?” So she started to do inquiries with me because I was ignoring it because I was so busy with all this organization and all these schedules. So she really took an interest and was like, “What the heck is wrong with Jeannie’s ear?” That started a series of visits for me because I was kind of concerned about where everyone else was, and I was going to be sat and I was a kind of mad getting my own things checked out.
Eventually, they could not find any really visible reason why my ear just stopped working like that. The ENT doctor, who was also a great guy, just said, “I want to just get you an MRI to rule out any kind of neuroma or anything that could be in your inner ear.” I was like, “Great. No problem.” MRI, I got that scheduled. I went to the MRI and that was when everything went crazy. I write about this in the book. I did not come into that MRI as a fit person with any diagnosis or anything, so the demeanor of the room… You know, read the room, right, from comedy was just fun like, “Okay, get an MRI, whatever,” and when I came out, I felt the tension in the air from the technician who obviously did not tell me anything that was going on. The radiologist just does the test and they see the results, but they send it to the doctor and then you have to meet with the doctor.
But I knew that there was something really, really wrong with the energy in the room. Within several hours, and this is all chronicled in the book, so I am just going to get to the main point. We found out that I had a mass in my brain that was quite scary-looking, and that I was not able to really identify what it was or why it was there. In the book, I talked about how just randomly – and this between you and me, I call this the Holy Spirit – but for some reason, I texted this childhood friend of mine who is now a neurologist in Milwaukee and he told me, “Send me the scan. Get the scan and send it to me,” because I was like, “I cannot read the scan in my computer. I have no idea what this is.” And I remember Dr. John. At this point, the ENT was like, “Here is the main. Let me know when you get the appointment but just outside of my scope, you know, my specialty.
Anyway, meanwhile, my friend looks at the scan and called me and is like, “You need to you get to a hospital today.” He was like, “It is compressing your brainstem.” He took a screenshot of his screen and sent it to me, and that was the first time I thought that I had a giant tumor on my brainstem that looked like a pear, so the title of the book is When Life Gives You Pears. But Dr. John, my friend from childhood, cannot believe that I was walking around and talking. Later on, when I met an amazing brain surgeon that day, which was another series of miracles which I will outlined in the book. That was not like I was watching what was inside of the VIP card. Like, I was walking off the street, basically, into a walk-in appointment from the series of miracles that happened. We got to the best neurosurgeon in New York City in his office because he had a random surgery postponed. It is crazy how this happened.
John: And at every inflection point in the book, you actually take a timeout to point out that if any of these things did not happen, you would not be here today, unfortunately. If you did not take your children in for their shots and the doctor did not care as much as she cared, if you did not have the childhood friend, if you and Jim did not walk into Mount Sinai and literally find the best neurosurgeon in the world for your type of tumor, and you literally point out that this was not just a bunch of dumb luck. I mean, there was a grace of God that went along with this series of dominos.
Jeannie: Yes, it was written. It was written. One of the other things that, just from a medical standpoint, which is also kind of a dangerous thing, what the neurosurgeon, Dr. Beaverson, said was that likely, this tumor was growing slowly and tediously for years and years and years, which would be the only reason that I could have something like this in my head and be running around, talking, walking, and just experiencing mild symptoms that I could write of as other things and with the hearing loss being the biggest symptom, right? So which could be a number of things. I also just wrote in the book about as he was asking me questions about different behaviors or different symptoms I had, they all came together. I was like, “Oh, how could I have not seen that?” because I had compartmentalized so many of the little things and excused in a way like allergies or fatigue. When the allergy, in context, are obviously symptoms of like a giant brain tumor. I also took a lesson from that to pay attention to that small voice in your head that says, “You know, it is not really right to almost blackout every time you stand up too fast.” Like, that is just not normal. So it is a lot of good life lessons that I learned that I feel might be valuable for other people whom I think are neglecting.
John: Yes. We are going to go over a lot of them because you have actually, in the book, made a list. I want to go back to that later on after we get through a lot of the journey in terms of lessons. I mean, if the world was ever given a pear, it is this year. I mean, like, this is the pear. For our listeners out there who just joined us, this is a Thanksgiving edition of the Impact Podcast. We are blessed and grateful to have Jeannie Gaffigan. She is the writer of the best-selling book, When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People. I will let you take it from here. Now, you meet the number one neurosurgeon for your type of brain tumor. Take it from there.
Jeannie: Yes, and sort of remind me that I do want to get back to the pandemic because I do seek the value in this story.
John: We are going to. There is lots of value. The metaphor of the pear and pandemic is more than just a p-word.
Jeannie: Yes, exactly. So basically, he told me that although my friend who did– When I said, “Oh, well, maybe I will go in a Monday,” he was like,” No, no. Today.” The neurosurgeon was like, “I do need to catch the full story here, so I need you to come back in tomorrow. Just spend the whole day in MRIs and CAT scans and all this stuff so I can draw this kind of digital picture of your brain, so I can really figure out what kind of tumor this is. Like, how the surgery is going to go, and then you are going to have the weekend off, and then you are going to come to us on Monday and have a series of two surgeries. One was to embolize the tumor, and then the second one would be to actually do the craniotomy.”
John: Let me just ask you a question because was this not also Holy Week? Were we not going into Good Friday and Easter or there was something of that nature going on?
Jeannie: So that is what I was about to bring up. It is that the timing because it was kind of hard for me to… Like, if anybody gets news like your house burned down, your dog got run over, or worse, you have terminal cancer or whatever, that we, in our lives, are going to be faced with some really challenging things. And to put this into context, for me, which was part of my ability to process and survive this was the timing. Because the time stops and it does not matter. I said, “You know how it was with the pandemic.” You are like, “Is it Wednesday? Is it Thursday? I have no idea what day it is today.” But in this kind of sense, the reason why it was another little link from God was that when I went to look at my calendar or what I had to cancel the next day, it was Good Friday. I was like, “Oh.” This is like a really terrible time that was followed by a really amazing miracle, right? That is the kind of journey that I am on right now. I was able to understand it and cope with it on a metaphysical level that rose me, it brought me higher than the actual reality situation.
So very easily, any of us humans, there is nothing special about me. I am not an angel, I am not a special superhuman or whatever, but any of us could easily go down into the dumps or we could try to rise out of the fire stronger, right? So obviously, when we get something like that happening to us, that is all there because that is a human reaction. Having that extra kind of like “nudge” by God, being like, “Oh, yeah.” Right now, you know how this is the highest holy day of our religion and what it means and something. Christ has been reborn and it is very hopeful. Like, it just elevated the situation. Now, I cannot replicate that for anyone who is also facing a horrible thing or will face horrible things, but there is literally no way that they would be like, “You are going to have a childhood bestfriend who would turn out to be a neurologist. You are going to be on Easter. You are going to have a comedian husband. You are going to have a family with nine kids in it that they come in and babysit and take care of you, and be at the hospital and all this stuff.”
So I am very unique in a very, very unique situation. But what the experience told me was to recognize those things around us so that in our tragedy, in our pain, in our sufferings, are those things around us that are glorious, and are unique to our experience. And what held me then were not looking for them because they are there.
John: Or leaving yourselves open for God’s graces. You are so right. I get it. But your unique situation… But we are all unique and no one gets through this journey unscathed. It does not have to be as wildly difficult as you went through. I mean, you went through the highest level possible of difficulty. But everyone is going to face something, if not more than something. Leaving yourself open for God’s graces is really your message. Am I missing that or is that true?
Jeannie: No, it is absolutely true. And to not run away from suffering because if we are running away from what happened, you are putting [inaudible]. But when you have to suffer, you have to endure all suffering by now. We are all canceling plans, we are canceling trips with people. We miss our jobs. We are losing money. We are losing our ability to commune with other people. We have to find what is happening in us right now that is something that never ever were to happen if we had not been going through this pandemic. I think that as much as I am also frustrated over it and I see all the bad things that could come out of this, especially with the way people are getting so tribally divided over things because we are not face-to-face with each other, right? We do not have that compassion because we are just watching the news or going on Twitter or whatever. There also is our thing that instead of focusing on that and understanding that finding those unique ways in which we are being asked to grow, we are being given a gift. And that is where the gratitude comes in.
There is something that we are being given. Each of us is being given a gift in this pandemic, yet if we do not know what it is, we should look for it. Is it more time with our kid who was supposed to be in college? Is it a bit bigger? Even things that seem hard at the time like, is there something about marriage that has not been dealt with but can come out in the situation and then we are like, “Oh, there it is.” Now, we are going to have to deal with it, and then we are going to have a beautiful resolution to it because we are going to grow. It is like little things that are very difficult to see when we are just going, “Again?!” or as I am waking up like Groundhog Day and it is the pandemic again, that kind of mentality, and believe me, I am guilty of it and I have to stop myself because that kind of mentality will only drag you down in the dumps further and make you less open to what grace or to what lesson on a very secular level. Like, we are learning a lesson here, and we are learning about ourselves, and by opening ourselves up to grace, we are going, “Okay, how am I wasting this pandemic?” What am I supposed to be doing right now that I would never be able to do if after or getting on the plane every day, or whatever it was.
But what gift can we find in this? That is why I feel like for me, personally, because I was in my personal pandemic, when all of a sudden I can see people I love. I could not leave. I was in a room. It was like I went through something like this before that was like warming me for something like this to happen. And also, if you read my book, you will see that I disclosed several little things in my life that happened before that happened that were also warming me up for this big one. And I have no solution that there are no more big ones coming because it is like– And there are more big ones coming. I mean, I saw both my parents, my kids, thank God, are all healthy, but we have to be so appreciative of every second that we are alive, and that our loved ones are alive.
John: And at the end of the book, you said you were grateful for your tumor because it made you grateful for your life and so many other things that you took for granted.
Jeannie: Yes. I thanked my tumor in my acknowledgments at the end of the book.
John: Now, we are in the last part of this, and then I want to talk about some of the other fascinating lessons learned that will help people get through to the finish line of this pandemic, and get us over the finish line. Talk about what happens next in the journey here.
Jeannie: Okay. So what happens next in the journey is, and I am skipping details, but what happens next is I have an incredibly successful brain surgery. I am skipping the whole part of the fact that while they were trying to do the embolization, they discovered that I had a rare disease in my carotid artery that had nothing to do with the brain tumor that I wound up getting treated for it later, which would have been fatal to me had they not found it. That is another riddle. But there is another time for that. I had a wildly successful surgery even though the facial nerve that Dr. Beaverson was pretty sure was in jeopardy of not being– That I would have one set of my face paralyzed, which I really did not care at that point because I was like, “Well, I lived.” But even that got saved. So I was in–
John: Jeannie, I got to ask you this question because I looked for it three different times where I went through this section. I know you blessed the doctor’s hands as you were going into surgery, blessing the hands that were going to operate on you, but nowhere did I ever see any… And you did not get it; I am not even sure you were given it. What were the odds going in, just life and death, to this kind of surgery?
Jeannie: Well, he would not give me any odds. And I have to say that I think that the good doctors do not give up. Because even with my child work, I would always say, “What are the odds that I am going to…” and those kinds of mental pictures sometimes are not…
Jeannie: So he would just say, “You are going to live. You are going to live.”
John: That is great.
Jeannie: But after Easter Vigil, I did get the Anointing of the Sick because I was not sure what exactly was going to happen, and I had to be ready to face whatever it was.
John: And you said you felt that way. And you said that after the Anointing, you said in the book that you felt that way.
Jeannie: Yes, I did. I was ready.
John: I love when you blessed his hands. That was the… I mean, I was like, “This is just better than great.”
Jeannie: I asked, “God, bless the hand,” and then I also want the old machines to get blessed because I have realized that the hands were already blessed.
John: You said it was like NASA in there. You said it was like NASA, like a rocket was going to be launched.
Jeannie: Yeah. Those hands were… That was when I really was like, “Woah,” because when I touched his hands, the hands were already vibrating with like some kind of supernatural. Like, surgeons are really gifted people in this world and we all can help each other, right? We all have gifts that are meant to be given to each other and that is what they are for, to give to each other, right? Not to keep them to ourselves and bury them in the sand. You have a gift, I have a gift, the brain surgeon has a gift, Jim has a gift, my kids, each individual, We all have this really special thing and we can cultivate it, and if we use it, we do not let it die. So it was an amazingly successful surgery. Hence, everyone was super happy because all the things that could have gone wrong did not go wrong. There were a lot of complications with my newly found carotid artery to be those that are called fibromuscular dysplasia, which they discovered that I had, which would completely change the way they were going to do the surgery. Because the way they were going to twist my neck would not have been good.
There was a lot of challenges. Amazingly successful surgery and because of the location of where the tumor was on cranial nerves and the size of it and when it came out, my nerves from before, and this is too had found different pathways to work, not breathing, swallowing, things that the cranial nerve that was really affected two-fold were sort of distended, right? The nerve was not in its normal spot. When the tumor went away, the nerves got compromised. They did not get cut or ruined, but they were not functioning correctly and during the night – and no one really could have foreseen this – after the surgery, my swallowing and my breathing got conflicted and I breathe in a lot of my own secretions. Therefore, my lungs are full of fluids. I got double lung strep pneumonia and was moved to ICU and put on life support. To wake up to that after I had been like, “Yay! You are…” I remember when I woke and realized that I was alive, I was joyful. No, obviously, I was in recovery so I did not see my family but it did not seem like I was going to be in the hospital for that long.
Then the next thing I knew, I woke and I was in the ICU where I was rang around but things where beeping, then I had these big plastics down my throat and on my nose, and I had all these IVs and there was machines everywhere and I was like, “What is going on?” I could not move, but it was all there in my head. And so, that started really the myth of the book, right? That short [inaudible] of the challenge that I met the challenge up to there, but that is when I really was struggling. That is when I found it not so look on the bright side at all. It was bad and I did not react that great to it. I really was down in the dumps and I was terrified and not in pain at all, but I was furious. I was just so angry and I would say, “Why me? What is going on?” And then, I kind of realized, after like I do not know how, and the time was not… I cannot tell you how I had that feeling but I did realize that I was going into my own head and not allowing God to be there. And when I did, that is when things started to improve and I started to say, “God. I am not ready for this and I do not know… I know I told you I was ready for it, but I am not ready for it because, now, I just feel like I need to do more. I need to be around more. And I want to be able to show love to other people in a way that maybe I have not realized that I have not really been showing them.” And so I really had a heart-to-heart conversation with God. That is one the things that happen to people when they, [crosstalk] —
John: You were deal-making. You are cutting a deal.
Jeannie: [crosstalk] I will go in the east for six weeks and I am going to live in a tent with a shaman. I had one of those course on me, one of those [crosstalk] of [crosstalk] happen.
John: You cut the deal. If you let me stay here, I will… this is what is going to happen here. I am going to be…
Jeannie: Yes. I have really felt God was like, “Yes. Do not be dramatic. You are going to live, all right?” He is giving that. I am such a drama queen. I felt such utter confidence from God that it was not like, “Well, all right, Jeannie. If I will wake you.” It was not like that. It was like, “Yes, you are going to live. This is just a bumpy road. There is so much hope.”
John: Is it that not nice? And then you settled down after that? After you got that, you settled down? You got into a groove.
Jeannie: I mean I just started to feel like I could get through it. I cannot tell you it was easy. Especially because of the not eating thing. Because I am not even the one in my family who is like made a living and telling jokes about foods.
John: Well, wait a second. You wrote the joke. So you co-wrote those jokes about food?
Jeannie: I help with his point of view on food. He is so funny about food. If any time, I am the one who is like, “Slow down on the food.” I am like, “Okay. Let us go on a diet. Let us eat bread.” It was like that before.
John: Are you announcing to the audience that really Hot Pockets with Jim and was not you?
Jeannie: Jim had Hot Pockets before I even met him. That is how [inaudible]. And I have been with Jim for twenty years so Hot Pockets… Hot Pockets were like the key to little things. When I met Jim in 2000, he is big about Manatee and it is literally the funniest joke in the entire world. And I was like, “I was not even a comedy thing.” And I was like, “Oh, my Gosh. This Manatee thing is the best.” I mean 2005 because I remember I was pregnant with Jack. Jim did a comedy central special where he did the Hot Pockets joke and that Hot Pockets joke is what really changed everything and started to take us to the pit or some sort of some comedy club. So I never write Hot Pocket at all. I did nothing to do with Hot Pocket.
John: Okay. Again, humble and magnanimous of obviously goes right in line with Jeannie Gaffigan. I got it. That is cool. I got it. You are sweet. It is awesome.
Jeannie: Yes. I mean eat by the patio given a little [crosstalk] —
John: Oh, she is hearing that. [crosstalk] Couple of notes.
Jeannie: That is my ball.
John: Yes, I love it. That is great. So getting through and for our listeners here, this is the Thanksgiving 2020 Special with Jeannie Gaffigan who just wrote, not just wrote, it is about a year now, but it is a New York Times Best Selling Book, “When Life Gives You Pears,” And, man, we all got a pear this year in 2020. The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People. Now, you are in ICU and you are really starting this journey. I got to just say this, you give the greatest of all time. This should be actually up in every hospital in the United States, probably, around the world, the dos and do not’s of ICU. Can you just share with our audience a little bit of your dos and do not’s of ICU behavior for both guest and also for patients?
Jeannie: Yes. All right. This actually is not just ICU. This is the hospital. This is any kind of critical care situation. When you visit someone in the hospital. I mean, I am not going to go through my list because I still want people to read my book, but I will give you the gist of that.
John: Just give a couple of them, the greatest hits.
Jeannie: Okay. Well, here is a big one. Okay. When you go visit someone in the ICU or you got to the hospital, do not walk in like you are going to the funeral. Do not walk in with the puss on your face and the droopy dog and, “Oh, my God. I am so sorry.” Because that is the worst. You should come in with a big joke or a big smile or big blast, you know? A bit of hope. “Hi. Oh, my gosh. You look so great.” And then if they do not look great be like, “I think that that colored gown looks great on you.” You know?
John: Just be positive and hopeful. I love it.
Jeannie: Yes. The thing that is like great. I mean, for me, personally, for me I feel that way and people were like, “Yes. I agree.” I have been sick and people come in and they are like, “I am sorry.” Sometimes you might be crying while you are laughing, right? Because my sister, Michelle, she definitely burst into tears when she walks into the room, but my sister was laughing too, right? So another one is if the person is on a restricted diet, like they cannot eat or drink, do not bring put food in. You know what I mean? Like there is this kid who used to come out and on the front porch where I grew up and eat his dessert in front of the whole neighborhood. So he was one of those moms whose moms would make with the pudding in a cloud with the cool whip and the pudding and the cherry and we all just be sitting like, “Can I have a bite?” “Nope.” You do not eat in front of someone who cannot have what you are having. So that was something funny that I thought of, too.
And then also, just practically, because cannot get up on their bed and arrange their stuff, right? So when people bring in like cards. Like once I yelled, “By the way, you cannot have flower in the ICU. Lot of people do not now that, but a lot of you will bring flowers into the recovery room [inaudible] cannot flowers. There is a water for someone. When you come into the room, chances are there are flowers are going to be dead in the vase. Nobody wants to sit there looking at dead flowers. I mean, how not uplifting. I mean, I just thought it was so I am like, “Could someone change the water in my flower? I cannot talk here.” And would there be a set of cards that no one read to me and I go [throat clearing], “Let me just take that card.” So that was a definite do not’s. And then the do’s, I think like bring a book in and sit next to. Do not just be like, “Oh, I am visiting. I am here for this hour. I would just check e-mail on it.” It is like what is really wonderful is if you read aloud your book to someone who cannot read and they cannot… My brother would come in with all the latest podcasts. I remember I was listening to the… Did you ever hear the Richard Simmons one?
John: Yes, Looking for Richard Simmons. Yes.
Jeannie: Yes. It was so fun. It was just one of those things where it would just take out of my pain. To have my brother there with his laptop and to play the Richard Simmons thing and it was like time was not so brutal, you know? I make a list in my book about these dos and do not’s of the same people in the hospital and it was literally a list that my sister… [inaudible] because she got it, you know? She saw people come in and complain about how uncomfortable the chair was while I had a million tubes in every corner of my body and stuff like, “Oh, this chair sucks.” So my sister and I had a good laugh then we want to make your list that we feel we thought we never should have laid there and that I wanted to put in your book. So that was fun.
John: That is an awesome list and for any hospital administrators out there, please, post this list in your hospital. It is just so perfect. It is just the best list ever, I will tell you. I have read three time like, “This is the best list. I am going to learn so much from this and be a better guest from now on and, hopefully, not a bad patient either.” Now, you are in the middle of getting through this very, very unexpected and also difficult part of the recovery, the double pneumonia, in ICU and going through a rotation of family, friends, and of course, Jim, and being separated from your children for four months was it? Three and a half, four months?
Jeannie: No, it was like a month, but it felt like five years. As if it was like years, but it was horrible. Because every day felt like a year, right?
John: Yes, of course.
Jeannie: Every day was like a year. It was like so slow and I would think it will be the next day because I would be like, “Oh.” And never sleeping on a normal time so I would fall asleep and then I would wake up and I would be like, “Is it tomorrow?” And the nurse would be like, “No. It is like three minutes after you asked me if it was tomorrow.” So it was like that kind of time. I mean, for people staying in the hospital, it is not normal reality. It is like another little mini pandemic. It feels like we have been in this forever but yet we just started and we do not know. Like time is weird. Time is very weird.
John: And also, food which is a big deal to you, and Jim, and your family, and you were not allowed not only to eat food. you could not even sip water for fear of aspiration. Nothing. I mean, just that whole month.
Jeannie: Yes. For months. After I got out of the ICU, that was months because my swallower would put stuff in my lungs during meals. So in order for me to be safe and not aspirate and have pneumonia again and go back to the ICU, I could not have eaten by mouth so I had a food bag in my stomach when I got discharged. Because in the hospital, I had a nasogastric tube which is the one that gives you the nutrition up your nose, and down to your esophagus and down to your stomach. When I was to be released from the hospital, they did that surgery where they put the PEG tube directly into the stomach. So I had the tracheotomy. I had to breathe. I had the whole neck with the… I will show you in the tracheotomy before. So I was a beauty queen, let me tell you. I looked great.
John: Which, by the way, right before you were to leave, I think the day before you expelled that, it almost created a panic where you were not allowed to leave the hospital just when you were about to leave the hospital.
Jeannie: Yes, that is a big spoiler alert. That definitely is like. It was quite the experiment.
John: She got home and you were twenty pounds later than when you went in. And you were never a heavy woman so went in thin. You came at home twenty pounds later with a PEG tube and you said when you got home, that is when Jim’s funny bone kicked back in again. All of a sudden, he created almost like a cooking show around you in terms of a YouTube pegging show which I have watched which is just beyond hilarious.
Jeannie: Yes, that was. At a certain point, my optimism got kind of exhausted, right? Like I just cannot deal with the fact that I cannot eat and while I am home. Because when I thought about going home, I thought about making dinner. And then all of sudden, I am home and everyone else can eat but I am not part of it, so I thought badly. I felt like I was not really there because even though I got to be there, it is like part of food is like family, and feeding people, and like seating, and eating, and everything like that so it was really weird. And I started going down in the dumps and Jim just picked me. This is where another place where funny people come in, is that he just lifted my spirits when I will get down in the dumps and do these crazy things where I was like, “So?” Those eating thing was literally once I got off the machine. So I got off the machine and then what he will do is, when the machine is not giving you a steady stream of food, either machine at my house and into the PEG tube. But once I was able to do like direct food pegging with the food bag injector like the big syringe.
And also, I had a few people who were concerned that I was, I mean not to be against the medical but the formula that has been prescribed to me might have been creating a lot of like a mucus reactions and that is really, really dangerous so I started to look for… And people on Twitter, and social media would e-mail or comment when I was on the food PEG who had children who were fed this way reached out and said, “We have this great formula that is nutritious and it is healthy.” So all this time, the entire world of people who exist before all the time would kind of sort of opened up, and then we got this natural food, and Jim would mix them like a big cocktail shaker and do the videos on YouTube where he was like it was called Feeding Frenzy. It was like a cooking show, right? Where we are all that dinner, he would light a candle and if you came over to visit, he would be like, “Oh, you are going to be a guest on the Food PEG show.” And then, all of these people from the Food PEG community were like… And this speech swallow community who had disorders was going to be like, “Thank you so much for normalizing this because doing my life.” And so, it was just another grace, another blessing that came out off the pain.
John: And a miracle.
Jeannie: I needed to Jim’s mind, to like tickle when mine was kind of like put out.
John: Jeannie, today, three years post, you just said something really important. Your optimism when you got home is sort of worn out. And I could say the same about pretty much everybody, not in the United States, but everyone I talked to around the world is pretty much worn out from this pandemic. We are going to get to the finish line. We are going to get to the other side. It is science as one. We see already two vaccines. Many more coming that are massively successful. Let us look back a little bit, you know, your three years in the rearview mirror. Thank God. How are you today? First of all, how are you today and what are some of the great lessons? I do not want to give away the book. I want people to read the book When Life Gives You Pears. I am going to give away some copies of it to our listeners out there, of course, but some of your favorite and greatest lessons from this journey. And how are you today first before we go over some of the great lessons that are applicable for all of us that are getting through this pear of a 2020?
Jeannie: So everyone has their own little method but for me, first of all, you have to acknowledge that there is something bigger going on. This is what our reality is. We all have a different reality. We have a different way that we are dealing, and some people are by themselves, and some people are hold up in a tiny apartment with like twenty people. And we all have our own challenges and our own obstacle that we have to go over. But for me, personally, understanding that there is a bigger picture to this. That there is a God, right? I do not know what you want to call it. The force be with you, it is like that is the thing. And there is a reason. There is a reason why we are here, right? So we are here right now for a reason and there might be a big, huge global reason. There might be a humanity of reason. There might be a reason for a miracle, you know? I am a big revel, okay? So to put in context.
But also, we are here because we have a relationship with something that is bigger than us. We are being challenged to find what it is in us that could possibly bring us grace on the other side. What is it, right now, that is just unique? The light inside of me because I did not know any of you that are listening. I do not know you but you know you. So your unique gift that is being challenged. What is the one thing that you are finding about yourself that you never would have found if this pandemic has never happened to you and it is very easy to find the bad, right? Oh, I lost my job. I cannot see my fam. My kid, I paid all this money for college and now, they are home. Whatever it is, right? It is easy for us to list, and list, and list the bad things. Like what if it is this good and express gratitude for that, and then you are going to find that it is going to grow. That gratitude is going to grow, and it is going to be infectious, and it is going to spread to other people. The other thing that I kind of came out of this with is that the importance of goodness spreading, right?
And so, to me, that way is to show goodness to other people and to show good to young people. After young people put their solutions and their observation about what they would do with current problems. It might be like, “Oh, I would…” They may not have any idea what you are talking about. They are like, “Listen. People lost their jobs and there is always people that are starving in New York City and they are lining up the food pantry.” Like what should we do? And the kid might say, “Give everyone an ice cream.” And they are like, “No. That is not going to work.” But there is something in that idea that is what I see as hope. I see as fun. I see as extra. So it is like, what could we do with that idea? Like how can we grow that idea and how do we tell the kid that is a great idea? And let us do something with it. So that is why the Imagine Society which is our chair of organization that used to be in very small scale, were doing small projects and we are doing small programs. And then during the pandemic, rather than saying, “Okay. Programs are canceled and so the other side of that.” We were like, “What can we do in the pandemic?” And what we did was, ironically, there was ice cream vault. It was one of those amazing miracles where there was a gal in Brooklyn who had an ice cream factory, and it had to shut down and all those ice cream that she needed to donate, right? And I was like, “Oh, my God. We are are going to literally give ice cream to everyone at the food pantry. And they are going to be like, “Wow. Someone thought of us to give ice cream, too.” And ice cream is like so hopeful, right?
John: I love it.
Jeannie: Right? That is just one story.
John: Ice cream is comfort food. So for our listeners out there, theimaginesociety.org, Jeannie, how can our listeners get involved? How can they part of the solution by getting involved? Is it money? Is there a business opportunity to bring in these young people? What do you want our listeners to do to activate them and to take action?
Jeannie: I am really thankful to you for amplifying that and to ask that. I think that rather than the Imagine Society being like a just like another thing that you give money to or whatever. This is what I would say as Imagine Society, if you are on Instagram, follow @theimaginesociety on Instagram and just see what is happening, and obviously, you can go to theimaginesociety.org and go to the service page and see what the kids are doing to make other people’s lives better in the pandemic. These are the New York City-based thing but also, it is inspirational to think about ways that you could be part of the Imagine Society. The Imagine Society is more of an idea than an organization, so you will see that the Imagine Society is a group of people who want to help other organizations, right? There is like teenagers involved who are seriously depressed about their self getting cancelled, but instead of being stressed about it, they are like, “I am going to take that time that I would be going to that ball, and I am going to help design a way for these homeless kids that are born into a shelter in a pandemic to get book.” Right?
Then all these opportunities that we can find to use some of the the extra time that we have. And even if we do not have extra money, this is the other thing. A lot of people are suffering, right? But one of the things that we are doing at the Imagine Society is we are doing this program called Messages of Love, where if you do not have any money or whatever, you could draw a picture or put a photograph and a little thing and just uplifting, like “Things are only going to get better over that but there is sunshine.” And you e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Every Thursday, we get like a hundred of these things and we send to different organizations. We send them to nursing homes. We send them to food pantries where they print them out and they put all of them into grocery bags. We send them to [inaudible] Mission, and so the people who are in the show there, [inaudible] Mission, get a little note from a kid or an adult on their bed at night and they pick it up, it is like, “Thinking about you. Tomorrow is going to be a good day.” And so, it is not just about money, right? Although money is good, too, because there is several times where we… We are this program right now, where we are providing a healthy meal to cook together as a family. Not just prepare food but to cook as a family for like three hundred and fifty families at the Morningside Heights that are from the food secure. But the kids in all their different little houses made a cooking show to show how they make these recipes and the recipes go into bag. So it is this really wonderful little things.
John: It is about service. Doing good. Not just writing a check and forgetting it. It is getting involved, rolling up your sleeves and say. “I want to make this. I want to be a part of the solution.”
Jeannie: Yes, and also, there is people who are just happy to write the check. If you have done this, that was just fine, too. Like there is a lot of people who are working in the Imagine Society that need it. And because New York was the first hit, that is where the homeless problem is skyrocketing. That is where the food insecurity is skyrocketing. During the beginning of the pandemic, the way that started a Food for Fearless Program which we started raising all these money for to employ the production food trucks that we were aware would be the mobile unit that would go to like a movie set, and in a pool kitchen, and all those stuff. They would go to the hospital and we would get free meals for all the essential workers who are doing the ICU, and the ambulance drivers, and these people did not get a break for months. Now, we may be headed into it again but the New York was like a warzone for March, April, May. It was really something else and nobody could leave their house, the kids. All these little networks of youth groups needed something to do. So we organized this Food for Fearless Campaign and that is when the Imagine Society really skyrocketed. So now, I do not credit myself for having this idea. I think it is all God. It is just a creative way to help other people. So the credit is that the love in our hearts is for other people, right? It is for our family that our other brothers and sisters we do not even know we have. It might be that guy who is going down the street. Like he is a part of our family. And just like if we saw somebody in our family lounge suite, we got to think, “That guy, he is part of our family.”
John: For the grace of God go I. It is crazy and there is a lot of it out there right now, unfortunately. It is a lot of it going on more than ever. theimaginesociety.org. Write a check if you can but get involved. If you are a local in New York, in the local area, get involved, and be part of the solution. Do good. Be of service. Jeannie, how are you today? Physically, you sound amazing. You are brilliant, obviously. I have watched in an interview, you are such a warrior. In one of the interviews, I have watched as I was getting ready for today, you literally showed up in the studio and you had some sort of left focal cord surgery before you came, and did the interview. I think it was Jenny McCarthy or something, and you did the interviewer right after, “Oh, yes. I just got that tuned up but, you know, I am fine.” How are you now? Three years post-2017.
Jeannie: I will never be like pre-surgery, but I am so grateful for that. I do not think that, probably, I got much time shaped up my life which is amazing. I do have like the follow-ups like I have the long scans every six months. And brain scans every two months to make sure there is no regrowth, but the good news is that if the brain tumor regrows, they could get it with radiation. I am never going to have to have brain surgery again.
John: Well, God. That is great.
Jeannie: I still have a swallowing disorder, but it is under control. I can pretty much eat anything. There is no how I have to eat it. I have speech and swallow therapy for along time. It is just on pause right now because of the pandemic. You have to kind of do some things over Zoom. I still have a little bit of physical therapy for some of the loss of motion on my right side, but I am doing really, really great. I have to tell you that this pandemic has been extremely challenging for me, in terms of my “self-care” that I talk about in the book a lot. It is really challenging and it reminds me just you having five kids at distance learning and having that level of chaos in the house and that many people who are vibrant personalities. It reminds a lot of when I had a toddler and a newborn baby, and I was like, “Wait. Did I shower for the past three days?” Like there is a little bit of that going on. But at the same time, I have to say that I am being really gentle to myself because of that thing. Like, “Okay. Maybe my nails look like I am a background actor on the Walking Dead.”
But you know what? I got to be gentle with myself because this is survival mode, and there is priorities and the priority might be when I thought I was going to get some self-care in, my son may come to me and say, “You know what, mom? I am really confused with this science lab app.” And I am thinking, “Wow. What an opportunity because this kid would not give me the time of day when he was at school.” He was running to this lesson and this sports. And now, it is like, “Hey, mom. How do you read that movie about whatever. For my Zoom class I have to do a chess game and I was just wondering if you have any pointers for me.” So I am like, “Wow. I am having these relationships with my kids that I never would have had before.” It is like, Oh, maybe I was going to say, “You know what, this is the time that I am going to get a break. I am going to take a big bowl of bath, do my nails, you know.” There is not a lot of that going, and I say in my book, “Make time to do that.” And I still agree.
Also, when you are in survival mode, you also have to look at what other self-care. It is not a cheerful, tire-free, like giving care to other people while your back hurts and you need a bath or whatever. But it is also like you needed to cure your soul, too. And sometimes, it might just be sitting with your fourteen-year-old son and figuring out how to balance a chemical equation because you forgot how to do it, you know? So that is a gift, too. So I am doing really well. And if anyone is seeing a picture of me right now, and my hair looks like crap and my nails look bad. You know what? That is the way it is right now, and as much as I think self-care is important. Sometimes, you are in survival mode, and I feel like in this time, we have to prioritize, I would say, “What does God want me to do right now? And how can I do it great?”
John: Jeannie, I am going to let you have the last word. This is Thanksgiving Week. Thanksgiving is this Thursday. For our listeners out there, to learn more about Jeanie Gaffigan, go to www.jeanniegaffigan.com. Also, to get involved the Imagine Society, www.theimaginesociety.org. When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power, of Family, Faith, and Funny People. Jeannie, I will give you a last word, and then I will sign us off.
Jeannie: Thank you, John. I just wanted to say that for Thanksgiving, I want to say how grateful I am to have this opportunity to talk to your audience. I just wish that no matter how weird this holiday season is, just find the joy in it. Find something incredible about it and just remember that I love you and that we are going to get through this.
John: This is the Thanksgiving Special of the Impact Podcast. God bless you, Jeannie Gaffigan. We are grateful and blessed that you are with us today.
Jeannie: Thank you so much, John.