Suddenly I heard the sound of someone whistling, a cleaner perhaps or a technician of some sort and something in me flickered back to life.
I gathered air into my lungs, help me!
Get me out of here!
But my voice echoed silently around my head; there seemed no escape from that grim chamber. After what seemed an eternity a small door opened in the wall of the cave and two nurses came in and transferred me onto a trolley and wheeled me into the subdued lighting of the intensive-care-unit, all in complete silence.
Now there was an attempt to insert tubes of various colours (blue, yellow, red) into my lungs (colour-coding, I thought automatically) and fought it and worried about it for hours and days. Every now and then someone from my past life appeared at the door of ward and pleaded with me to accept the tubes, but I still resisted. Then a new rather forbidding-looking doctor appeared, a middle-aged woman dressed in a green smock, and said let me get at him I’ll sort this out and then managed to cut the right colour (blue) and I, the bomb, was defused, problem sorted what a relief!
I felt myself ebbing down and sideways and agonized and struggled with my demons. Abandon hope all ye who enter here. I was trying to run across a muddy field in winter but I could not move. I stared down at my feet – they were buried up to the ankles in clammy ooze; I changed direction towards a cliff to jump over – and thus wake up – but I couldn’t get near to the edge I just couldn’t get near enough to that edge to jump I just couldn’t get near the edge I just couldn’t …
I heard the clatter of a helicopter landing outside, bringing someone to visit me no doubt; who on earth could it be I wondered; but it was only some boring local politician whom I had never even heard of. The doctors urged him to try to make me speak but I wouldn’t, I was completely unimpressed by him and even refused to shake his hand. I was too busy trying to concentrate on a new voice saying my name, calling me to wake up. I want to but I’m still down here below the surface of the water … I tried to raise myself to the surface into consciousness but you know what it’s like, that sinking breathless sensation trying to stay in a dream, trying not to wake up … Tom, Tom the soft voice repeated, can you hear me? I woke up holding my sister-in-law’s hand, nodded weakly to various people and then went to sleep.
And dreamed and dreamed – terrible dreams.
One night in the ICU I heard a faint hissing sound. From my bed I could see the corridor to the left of the open ward and saw an extraordinary sight, a double figure gliding by on silent wheels, a male dwarf driving the contraption with his wife bolted to his back facing the opposite direction. Apparently they only came out at night (they lived in one of the private wings of the hospital). It was a tragic accident said one the nurses, impossible to operate, just imagine it, I thought, stuck together forever, what horror! One night I woke to find them at the foot of the bed staring intently at me, the man then wheeled round for the woman to have a look.
More macabre hallucinations followed. I used to wake from these with my bed soaked in sweat and my body thrashing about. Sometimes I used to cry out so loudly that the nurses, (back in the neurology-ward now) used to have to wheel me into a special room so as not to disturb the other patients. My paranoia persisted – I imagined that some of the medical staff were conspiring to do me harm, (probably because of that vision of the doctor in the crypt).
I did not endure it.
Every morning the doctor would make his rounds and at my bed he would read the report of my night’s delinquencies, glancing at me from time to time quizzically. I asked him for ever stronger medication to sleep.
One day after lunch a new doctor appeared beside my bed and talked to me gently and sympathetically. She evidently specialized in patients who were mentally disturbed or were suffering from drug-induced paranoia or post-operation trauma. She came every day for about ten days and patiently listened to my babbling rants. But she helped me to start rebuilding my shattered self-esteem and dismantled psyche. She said she found me an interesting person and that one day I should write it all down, which is what I have just done.
All this was over five years ago and I still survive, living in care, wheel-chair bound, fractious at times and obsessively neurotic.
I am an alien in this place and read much of the time.
At night I go elsewhere in my dreams but in the morning here I am again.
The anguish of that time will never really leave me.