Slowly but surely, I would begin to slip in and out of bouts of sanity. Things would temporarily make sense…the dots would connect long enough until they were once again splattered sporadically. I found myself in a clean, climate controlled room in a different hospital, and when I say different, I’m talking complete polar opposite. I had my own room, the aroma went from stale urine to sterile gauze, and the nurses were actually smiling; happy to do their jobs.
I sat in my bed. An older man with a beard sat in a chair facing me.
“Now Nick, I am going to take you through a few rounds of cognitive testing. You have suffered severe head trauma and we want to make sure the wheels are still turning.” He said.
“Head trauma?” I expressed with deep concern. “What do you mean, Doc?”
The doctor responded, “The force from the collision knocked you off of your bike. It also knocked your helmet off of your head. You fractured your skull into three pieces.”
Once again, I couldn’t help but to think that the Doctor had been mistaken. I was thinking completely clear and although I had battled through some temporary insanity (most of which I will contest to my deathbed wasn’t my fault) and had zero recollection of the crash, I felt just fine. I was a bit slow…which I thought was just a side effect of the pain killers…but I was still the quick witted asshole I had always been. I could still articulate, remember details, and solve problems. Perhaps he had the wrong paperwork…
Just as I opened my mouth to contest, I repositioned my pillow behind my head and felt a sharp pain. I reached back and with my hand I could sense what felt like spikes all over the back of my head. I carefully ran my fingers across them and I could feel lines of sutures and staples, as if the doctors had sewed and stapled a roadmap in the back of my head.
I felt like Bruce Willis at the end of The Sixth Sense. I violently looked around for a mirror to see what my head looked like. The sudden and jolting motions made me nauseous and dizzy. I had to close my eyes in order to alleviate the dizziness.
The doctor began to scribble in his notebook. He would eye me, and then jot down some notes. Observing me like I was some scientific anomaly, I wondered exactly what he was writing about me. I grew paranoid. I felt he was there to prove that I was a basket case that needed to be institutionalized.
However paranoid he made me, he had a warm, gentle nature about him. He seemed actually cared whether or not my brain was fully functioning. He took me through intervals of memory testing. Luckily for me…even if I was bat shit crazy and borderline brain dead, my memory had always been something I was over confident about, so naturally, I went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure he knew just how smart I was.
He administered test after test and I would pass each with flying colors.
“Wow Nick,” He expressed, “Im impressed. I’ve seen patients with half the head trauma you have suffered struggle twice as hard with these tests. You really are a lucky guy. It seems to me that you won’t be needing much cognitive therapy after all.”
I could feel the relief flush through my entire body. But then again…what else should I have expected? I had always felt invincible, hence the motorcycle…but surviving a catastrophic event like I had made me feel even more so. My delusions of grandeur were running at an all time high.
“Well, Doc…” I began, ever so pompously, “Any more brain busters?”
He laughed. “Just one more. I’m going to give you ten seconds to list off as many words you can that start with whatever letter I say.”
One last stupid test and I could bury this brain trauma bullshit for good.
The Doctor began. “3…2…1. A”
“Astounding, astronomical, anatomic, anaerobic, altruistic, albumen, allegorical…”
“Good.” The doctor responded, “J”.
“Jarlsberg, juxtaposition, jarring, jaunting, jealousy,…”
“Nice. One last test set. S”
I sat there, disconcerted. I couldn’t think of a single word that began with S. Panic began to rush through my body…as If I had just been lethally injected and I only had 10 seconds to live. I raced through my mind for the answer. Nothing came up.
“Three seconds,” said the Doctor. “3…2…”
I could only think of one word.
“SEX!” I proclaimed.
The Doctor began to violently scribble in his notes. I grew more paranoid, trying my hardest to come up with an excuse. Aside from passing it off as a joke, I couldn’t think of a valid excuse that could explain this. Perhaps I was the one mistaken.
It was now evident. I didn’t escape the accident unscathed. My brain wasn’t exactly spared from the effects of a fractured skull and hemorrhage. I was terrified. What else was there to uncover? What if this was all just some false realty I was experiencing while still in a coma? How would I get out? Would I want to get out and face the reality of a vegetated life?
My mind was suddenly brought to a screeching halt. The Doctor finished taking his notes and addressed me.
“Nick, as you and everyone in the hospital can see…you are very high functioning. However, as you just saw…you have suffered some brain trauma.”
I crossed my arms and pursed my lips like a child who has just been tagged it or sent to timeout.
“The fact that the only words you respond with are those of relative difficulty. You only think of long, smart sounding words…while the simple ones are left alone.”
I looked at him funny…but he had a point.
“And when I asked for words that began with S, you drew a blank. Your short term memory has been significantly affected. With your type A personality – you will struggle with this. But you should know that you will be fine.”
He closed up his notes, reminded me he would be back to test me in the morning, and exited my room. I sat in my hospital bed…frustrated because I couldn’t pass the test…confused because I couldn’t remember what a “type-a personality” was…frustrated because the Doctor was right…and even more frustrated that I was wrong.
Damn that Doctor…and damn the letter S!
* * *
Things had been going great. I was progressing steadily, faster than anyone anticipated. When the nurses wanted to wipe my ass, I had already flushed the toilet and washed my hands. When they wanted to teach me how to use my wheelchair, I was already crutching down the hall. The ambitious 25-year-old was often excused as the delusional, overzealous patient…but I continued to progress at a rate that the whole hospital staff couldn’t keep up with.
I had developed an affinity for applesauce and jello…the only foods they had a la carte in the hospital, and crutched out to the hallway to ask for some…however, I couldn’t find a nurse to help me out.
I looked down the hall and could see a nurse wheeling in a middle aged man. The nurse acknowledged me in the hallway, “Nick. Meet Larry. You both have a lot in common, riding motorcycles and all.”
I looked down at Larry and empathetically offered my condolences. I began to go off on some motivational tirade when I caught eye contact with Larry and was brought to a sudden stop. He sat there, completely still. His eyes were glazed over and his mouth hung wide open.
“Larry cant respond, Nick,” the nurse said. “He is not as lucky as you are.”
The nurse wheeled Larry down the hall and I leaned on my crutches. I had just been hit hard by a philosophical freight train and could feel some deep thinking brewing in mind. How close had I come to being like Larry. What had actually happened that night? How is it that I could suffer such catastrophic, life threatening trauma, and come away relatively unscathed? Why wasn’t Larry as lucky? Why was I so lucky?
All I knew was this: I should have died that night, yet I will walk again. Some way, somehow…the planets aligned that night to protect me.
There is a method to every madness; thus there was a reason why I was still here and functioning. It was now my job; my duty; my mission…to find out.