Some suggested amputation. Others rushed to the First Aid kit. A serious medical situation had arisen inside the Channel 2 newsroom, and there was a chance I wasn't going to make it.
It was June 6, 2013. Approximately 5:35 p.m. Just like in the movies, I saw the light. It was one of those crystallizing, where-were-you moments that survivors of tragedy often tell, those moments you can never fully understand until you have one.
My co-workers' heroic attempts to save me had failed. The First Aid kit was no help. Amputation was too risky, even for the highly-skilled Channel 2 team of surgeons. It was time for me to go to the hospital. Maybe they'd be able to save me.
I teetered on the edge of the speed limit as I drove to the emergency room. I parked in an illegal spot near the hospital. Laws be darned. This was life-or-death. I sprinted through the automatic doors and rushed into a room full of people with broken legs, broken arms, IVs, breathing machines and full-body casts.
I had to be the first person this had ever happened to. Maybe I couldn't be saved. This was a rare medical condition, after all, something that happens to a very minuscule percentage of the general population. Perhaps doctors and modern medicine hadn't advanced far enough to treat it.
I finally found a nurse and explained my condition. I told her she wasn't going to believe what had happened to me.
"Honey, you're not the first. Have a seat," she said.
And so I waited. And waited. It is excruciating to sit in an emergency room with your life hanging in the balance. And finally, after about a half-hour, a nurse escorted me to a private room and I was finally rescued.
The procedure took about seven seconds.
I was alive.
It was an event so rare, so mystical and so bizarre that the Buffalo News ran a story about my condition the very next day. On the front page of the City and Region section, the story began with a dramatic lede, so as to convey the life-or-death nature of the situation:
"Did you hear the one about the new Channel 2 reporter who ended up in the hospital after doing his first on-air report?
The reporter, Danny Spewak, will be hearing about it for the rest of his career."
So much drama. Such a captivating tale of survival. The article continues:
"Spewak, who arrived this week from KOMU in Missouri, was on the Channel 2 set Thursday after doing his first story for the NBC affiliate..."
Setting the scene. Giving it context. Soon, the reader would learn how I nearly died on my first day.
"After he finished his report, Spewak couldn't get the earpiece out of his ear canal."
"It took about five minutes at the hospital to get it out."
"Spewak said late Friday afternoon that he's feeling great... 'you have to be able to laugh at yourself when something embarrassing happens.'"
So perhaps I exaggerated a bit. I did not see the light at the end of the tunnel. I did not communicate with a higher power in a near-death experience. My life was not in jeopardy.
Nope, I just became the subject of this headline in the newspaper: "Channel 2 reporter winds up in hospital after earpiece gets stuck on first day."
As the nurse explained to me, this is actually more common than you'd expect. She told me a photographer from the television show "Jersey Shore" also had this happen to him once while filming in Niagara Falls. As television reporters, we use these IFB earpieces every single day-- when we are in the field or in the studio, it allows us to hear what the anchors are saying so we can appropriately respond.
On this fateful day, I was using the same earpiece I'd used at KOMU. Channel 2 was about to order me a new, molded fit, but I'd have to wait a few weeks for that to arrive. There was a problem, though. In the final weeks of my time at KOMU, the earbud from my earpiece had fallen off. The IFB equipment still worked, but I'd need to borrow an earbud from the station for the time being. When I was told I'd be appearing on air for the first time on this day, I searched for an earbud in the equipment drawer and found one that appeared to work just fine. I slipped it on the end of my earpiece. Then I worked on my story about the NFTA's new smartphone application and forgot all about the earbud.
About 10 minutes before I was set to appear on the air for the first time, I grabbed my IFB earpiece and waltzed into the studio to make my debut. Like anybody else, I'm only human. I was nervous. I wanted to make sure I got off to a good start at my new station. So as I settled into my spot in the studio, I crammed that IFB into my ear real tight. I didn't want to take any chances-- I wanted to make sure I could hear Scott and Maryalice pitch to me from the anchor desk.
That was my demise. Despite my first at-bat jitters, I managed to survive my first on-air report and felt pretty good about my first story. That feeling last all of about five seconds, when I pulled my earpiece out of my ear and then realized something had gone terribly wrong.
That stupid earbud was stuck in my right ear.
I could have run away. I could have pretended like nothing was wrong and then secretly snuck to the hospital without anybody knowing. But that wasn't my first reaction. Instead, I just started laughing. I told our news director that I was pretty sure the earpiece was stuck in my ear. Suddenly, word began to spread in the newsroom of my bizarre first-day experience.
Unlike my exaggerated tale of survival and seeing the light, this actually turned into a rather hilarious moment for everybody involved. Photographer Dave Harrington wanted to use scissors to cut off my ear (that might have hurt a little bit). Others tried to use tweezers to get the thing out of my ear, but we quickly realized that wasn't going to work and decided that I should probably just go to the hospital.
Yes, I was initially embarrassed, but these are the moments when you have to be able to laugh at yourself. I am a big believer in self-deprecating humor, and I don't like it when people take themselves too seriously. Life's too short not to have some fun at your own expense.
I also did not mind being in the newspaper. I thought it was kind of funny, and it's given me a great icebreaker with sources, as well as reporters from competing media outlets. The very next day, I covered a press conference in Amherst, and the minute I walked in the door, the entire room knew me as That Guy From Channel 2 who'd gotten the earpiece stuck in his ear. Instead of running from it, I've embraced it. Yep, that's me. I'm the idiot who did that.
Something inspiring also happened after that story ran. Click on that newspaper story and read the comments.
"Give the guy a break... it was his first day."
"Welcome to Buffalo Danny."
"Welcome to Buffalo and hope you enjoy your new surroundings."
You guys have my back. That's why I love Western New York, and I'm not just saying that to pander to the crowd or score points with my new community. From the very moment I got here, the good-natured, down-to-earth people reminded me of what I was used to in Missouri. Here's an example: A few days after I arrived in Buffalo, I left the gas cap open on my car and didn't notice it until I was stopped at a red light on Sheridan (noticing a theme? I do a lot of stupid things). To my surprise, a woman in the car behind me got out of her car at the stoplight, waved at me and then screwed my gas cap back in. That doesn't happen in every city, but it happened in Buffalo.
I also learned that my new co-workers at Channel 2 have my back. I might be the new guy, but everybody at the station wanted to make sure I was OK and wished me luck at the hospital. Dave McKinley printed out directions and Ron Plants wanted to make sure I had enough money on me to pay the hospital bill. Small gestures, sure, but I appreciated it.
Over the next few days, I shared a good laugh with just about everybody. So far, a nickname hasn't caught on. "Bud" was an early suggestion, but the story has mostly blown over. That's how the news business works.
Over the past few weeks, though, I've occasionally had a few people mention the incident to me while working on assignments in the field. You're that guy?
Yes, yes I am. I'm That Guy and I'm perfectly OK with it.