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How a bruised brain made Syracuse Jazz legend Joe Riposo wonder if he'd ever play again

On Aug. 13, four days before the medical procedure was scheduled, "I started feeling so strange that I went back to the emergency room for another CAT scan," he said. Blood continued to pressure the brain. Resident surgeon Dr. Margaret Riordan told him not to wait four more days.

"If blood gets into your brain," she said, "You're in trouble."

After discussing his options with his family, Riposo underwent the emergency procedure on Aug. 14 at Upstate. Riordan performed operation under the supervision of neurosurgeon Dr. Gregory Canute.

"I felt more comfortable about the decision because of what I know about the brain," Riposo said. "I was able to discuss things with the surgeons."

He remained awake and alert through the entire operation.

"I was able to examine the instruments and ask the doctors what they were doing and why," he recalled. They shaved the right side of his head, cut into his scalp to expose the skull, drilled a small hole through the bone and inserted a metal bolt and a clear tube through which they siphoned 10 cubic centimeters of blood from the hematoma.

"There was absolutely no pain," Riposo said.

But he knew he wasn't yet out of the woods.

"The unknowns are what really scare you," he said. "With my limited knowledge of the procedure, I knew about the possibility of air getting into the brain when the [drain] bolt was removed," he said. "But then Dr. Eric Deshaies took the hardware out of my head on Aug. 15, so that unknown was gone."

Quiet road to recovery

As he recovered from the surgical intervention, Riposo still couldn't play his horn.

"I heard music in my mind, but I couldn't play it," he said. Instead, he wrote four arrangements for a couple local ensembles. He also began a new book, "Developing a Jazz Vocabulary," to add to previous publications such as "BeBop Scales" and "Target and Approach Tones" and, of course, "The Whole-Brain Approach," his 1989 masterpiece on improving improvisation by understanding hemisphericity.

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