Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Long Night

First there is evening and then there is day, but there is night in between, and the night is terrible and long.

On Wednesday April 17, 2002 six days after my arrival, I am transferred from the ICU to a general ward. The mood is festive: my father and my friends gather around my bed and celebrate this giant step in my recovery. Unlike the harsh white and incessant beeping of the ICU, the light here is warm and golden and beeps are mercifully absent. Through the haze of my bad eyesight I see the outlines of beds in the other parts of the room. The evening wears on, visiting hours draw to a close and it is time for everyone to go home. The nurse comes, checks my temperature, adjusts my IV, changes my bandages, fills my eyes with drops and turns off the lights. I sleep.

Somewhere in the middle of my sleep, there is a clap. Not a clap like clapping of hands, but rather the physical sensation of being ripped from one second to the next, of losing consciousness and then regaining it. I am shocked awake. I have been hit on the head. I reach my hand to my forehead but feel no wound. Nonetheless, I ring for the nurse.

“Something fell on my head”.

“Nothing fell on your head. Go back to sleep.”

I know that she is wrong. Something did fall on my head. I felt it. It might fall on me again. But what can I do? I am stuck here. I go back to sleep, but warily. I am right to be wary, for now my mind is caught up in a bizarre dream. I am in the elaborate main entrance to the hospital, looking up the grand staircase. Now the staircase is transformed into a deep waterfall fountain decked with flowers on every level and I am swimming along the stairs, trying to get to the top. All around me in the water are cavorting babies of all races. I rest along one of the stairs and try to pull the babies out of the gurgling water but there are more and more of them. Now the babies and the staircase are gone and I am trying to get out of the hospital, but the nurses are taking my temperature and will not let me go. At last I am out but now I am trying to get back into the hospital, as I am due back at five, and I have to hurry and I am rollerblading like nobody’s business, skating fast and wild, doing flying leaps off the backs of speeding dump trucks and flying through the sky until my mind spins out of control is just whirlingandwhirlingwhirling and going fasterfasterfaster like your VCR when you fast forward it and watch it as it goes. I cannot take this I am going to explode…CLAP!

I am shocked awake. The nurse was right! Nothing hit me on the head. I am having seizures! I ring for the nurse.

“I had a seizure”.

“You did not have a seizure. Go back to sleep”.

As we speak I notice that my bed is no longer in its place. I have been moved into a very dark closet, and I am all alone.

“Why did you move my bed into a closet?”

“We did not move your bed. Go back to sleep”

I really, really do not want to go back to sleep now. But it is dark and quiet and I have nothing to do and after what could be thirty minutes or two hours (I really do not know) I drift off again. The dreams come back and the whirling mind and the clap. I try one last time to get some assistance here. I ring for the nurse.

“Really, I had a seizure”.

“We will tell the doctor in the morning. In the meantime go to sleep.”

Now I am angry. It isn’t bad enough I was in a bombing, I have to be brain damaged as well? I try to figure out how much brain damage I have suffered thus far. Three seizures so far? Hopefully not too much. If I can just not sleep anymore. If I can just hold on until morning….

In the morning, it will be a bright sunny day and the room will be light. I will see that I am not in a closet. There were curtains drawn around my bed. The attending physician, after listening with a solemn expression to my complaint, will call Ruthie, a psychologist. Ruthie will arrive, and after hearing me out, she will explain to me that I am not having seizures. Each night, one’s brain looks at the day’s activities and puts them into the proper drawers. Where do you put a suicide bombing? My brain is simply recreating the bombing-or rather what I knew of it, the moment of unconsciousness-and trying to figure out where it goes. This is a question that will occupy my brain for the next couple of nights. Based on the amount of times that rollerblades appear in my dreams, it appears that my brain eventually decides that, when it comes to stupid things you can do to endanger your life, rollerblading and bombings are at about the same level. As soon as Ruthie explains all this, I will be comforted. It will all make perfect sense. Her explanation turns into a sort of magic talisman, and the next night, when my mind once again starts spinning I will parrot her words back to myself, thus waking myself up and ending the dream.

When the morning comes, the morning of the seventh day, all this will happen and it will be good. But now it is still night and who knows when or if morning is going to come for me? Maybe I will be a vegetable by then? Now is dark, and I am alone and frightened beyond belief. I clutch my teddy bear to me, and I wait for morning.


Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

Oh Gila! I wish I could send a hug back in time! I wish I could send a message to the nurse!

How wonderful that at least you had a teddy bear (I hope).

Gila said...

In addition to the whole "brain figuring stuff out" issue, I suspect that a lot of the night's freakiness is attributable to coming off the fun cocktail of drugs I was on in the ICU. My guess is that the nurse knew this and was used to it.

SavtaDotty said...

The nurse was used to it, but she certainly had a "failure of empathy." I guess night shift nurses don't like wakeful patients much. But they should.