More Than You Think You Are part one
They say life is fragile, and love even more so. I’ve always been one to take any platitude prefaced with ‘they say’ and treat it with suspicion, doubt, disbelief. But in this case, those surreal and formless sages, those enigmatic ‘they’ who aid us in all things in life, from choosing the right brand of cola to putting entire lives into perspective, those damned know-it-alls, if you will—this time, “they” were right….
The ‘right before’ is still vague and fuzzy to me, but the doc says that one might never come back. That’s okay with me; there’s nothing there that I really want to remember anyway. Nothing I want to see any clearer. When the nightmares come, and they still do, they involve little more than the colour red…the orange red of fire, the copper red of Scully’s hair, the black red of smoke and the ichor scarlet of blood…
Reds…shades of red… the acrid smell of burning…the dark red of blood mixed in copper…the taste of blood in my mouth, the feel of her hair in my hand…wash of red, a vision of spinning and tumbling, the shriek of metal and a woman’s scream…the reds jumble; scarlet and copper and fire, dark and light, black and light, red and light again…I’m calling her name and there’s only the nasty bittersweet taste of blood in my mouth and the air is hot when I try to breathe…it feels like my head is about to explode, expanding and throbbing and the redness grows even as her name fades and she falls away from me, and the last thing I see is the strobing red light that might signify salvation or death…a voice from beyond calls;
“Holy shit! Get a rig over here, I’ve got a live one!”
Light behind my eyes, and a softness under my head alerted me to the change in my situation. I no longer smelled fire. Instead, something soft, and citrony, vaguely antiseptic. I wondered if I was dead, decided that the pillow was too soft to be part of a casket, and slowly opened my eyes. Some gummy crap gluing them shut suggested to my weary mind that I might have been out longer than a few minutes.
“Well, look who’s awake.” When the room came into focus, the nurse at my side grinned at me like I’d opened my eyes especially for her. I licked at my dry lips, then tried to push sound through them. It didn’t work. Blinking to try and get the gunk out of my eyes didn’t work either.
The nurse must have done this before. She immediately put a hand on the side of my face, her palm warm and soothing, and also rigid and steady. I couldn’t turn my head when her other hand swooped down towards my eyes with something white and astringent smelling in it, but I did close my eyes, and a moment later my lids were bathed in cool liquid, and the smell was stronger. When her hands came away from my face, I kept my eyes closed a moment longer, until a bright red fireball bloomed behind my lids. Then I opened my eyes easily, looked up at the nurse, and tried to thank her. Again, my voice stubbornly refused to cooperate, but her hand, warm on my arm, made me think she understood.
“I’ll get the doctor,” she told me. “Don’t try to talk yet. Let me get you something for your throat first, alright?” Her eyes were twinkling with kindness, and I felt myself giving her a small smile in return. Then she was gone in a whisper of linen and crepe soled shoes, and I was left alone with a gigantic headache and about a million questions, give or take a few.
Moments later, a small gray-haired man bustled into the room looking as pleased as the nurse had.
“We thought we had another Rip Van Winkle on our hands,” he said as he busied himself with looking into my eyes and mouth and listening to my heartbeat. The nurse took my blood pressure, proclaimed it “excellent!” with another huge smile, and then wandered off, presumably in search of the promised drink.
Another nurse came in while the doctor was asking me to inhale-and-exhale, and this one checked the IV in my arm, which I had almost been successfully ignoring up until this point. She injected something into the rubber tubing, and I felt cold, then warm but not excruciating pain in the crook of my elbow as some new thing was added to it. She left, the doctor began some basic reflex tests, and the first nurse came back, armed with another killer smile and a pitcher of water. My tastebuds cramped just looking at it. Seconds later she was holding a plastic cup full of water and pushing a flexed straw between my lips. I closed my eyes and almost groaned aloud as my dry mouth and throat were bathed in cool liquid.
Too soon the soothing cold treat was withdrawn.
I cleared my throat a couple of times, opened my mouth, closed it, tried to decide what to say, and wound up simply croaking out “more?”
The nurse (my nurse, as I was coming to think of her) started to move the cup forward but the doctor held his arm up, and I think I could have cheerfully strangled him in that moment, both for my own disappointment, and also for the small frown that appeared on my nurse’s face.
“Take a moment,” said the doctor. “It would be a shame to waste all that lovely water by having it all come back up, now wouldn’t it?” He shook his head and cut off my protest before I could utter a word. “I know, you feel fine, you want more, believe me, I’ve heard it all. But I’ve learned enough to not believe anything anyone in a coma says when they first wake up. Five minutes. Then you can have another glassful. Trust me, you’ll appreciate it.”
Again the man checked my heartbeat, beaming at me the whole time, even as I was glaring at him and throwing my best set of puppy dog eyes at my nurse, mentally begging her to challenge the doctor’s orders and get me more to drink. None of it was working.
“Do you feel up to answering some questions?” the doctor asked.
“Um, sure. If I can.” ‘What about you,’ I thought. ‘How bout you answer a few questions for me. Like, why did you just use the word ‘coma’? How long have I been here?’
“Let’s start easy. With your name,” said the doctor.
“You had no ID on you, and you’ve been unconscious since you were brought in. The staff’s been calling you John…you know, like in John Doe.”
“Oh. No. My name is F—“ The word wouldn’t come. Where my name should have been, right there on the tip of my tongue, there was only a frightening blank.
“I-I-I don’t know!” I exclaimed. “I don’t know my own name!”
“Just be calm, now. You had a nasty blow to your head. It may be just some of the circuits aren’t firing the way they ought to.”
“But my name? How can I not know my own damn name?” I closed my eyes and tried to get my memory to cooperate. Instead, all I saw was just more of those brilliant red flashes, followed by a sick feeling of spinning weightlessness and my eyes opened wide as I felt my gorge rise.
Immediately the nurse materialized at my side, pushing me back on the bed with brusque compassion.
The doctor patted my arm, and I barely restrained the urge to shove him away. “You rest now,” he said. “We’ll try again later.” And he turned and left the room, my chart still in one hand, muttering something to himself.
The nurse offered me a pill, to help me sleep. I shook my head at her and tried on a weak smile.
“I’ve slept enough, don’t you think?”
I did accept more water, though, and was pleased to find I could hold the pale pink plastic cup myself, without pouring the cool liquid down the front of my hospital gown. After a moment, I handed the cup back to the nurse, and quietly asked her, “What happened to me?”
I didn’t think she was going to answer at first, then she took the cup and set it on the bedside table, gave me a shrug and adjusted my bed, talking while she worked the button that lowered my head.
“A car crash, but I don’t really know any more than that.”
“Neither do I, apparently.” I wondered if my grin looked as sheepish to her as it felt to me. Maybe not, as she just pulled the blanket higher up my chest and patted my arm with a comforting smile of her own.
“I’m sure the doctor’s right,” she said reassuringly. “You just need more rest.” She handed me the call button. “There’s more water right here, and if you manage to keep it all inside you for the next few hours, we can move on to the ever-exciting ginger ale, and fruit juice.”
“Yummy,” I muttered.
“If you need anything else, you just call.”
“What’s your name?” It suddenly seemed vitally important for me to know.
“Thank you, Constance.”
Another smile, a quick smooth hand over a miniscule crease in the blanket, and she was gone with only a whisper of those crepe soles and the soft creaking of the floor to suggest she was ever there.