Life is a funny thing sometimes. The people you meet everyday who can change your perception. We walk along most days with blinders on. We only see what we want to see as we get up and go to work or where ever it is we feel we need to be. We close our eyes to those around us and yet sometimes people bump into us and force us to see what were were unable to see before. There are those in our lives whom we love and cherish and then there are those that are strangers who seem to have the most impact in our lives. At the time we don’t see or understand the significance and quite frankly we may be annoyed by there mere presence. They end up being the most powerful influence in our lives. They even bump us off our path and onto anther one. We are changed permanently and we can never go back to who we were.
I was living in Salem, Oregon at the time one such individual changed my life forever. I was 21 years old and miserable. I had just gotten out of difficult and heartbreaking relationship. I moved to a town where I didn’t know anyone and it rained entirely too much. No matter how hard I tried I could not connect to the people around me. I didn’t fit. I felt out of place.
The day was like any other day. It was overcast and cool. I walked the 10 blocks to the bus stop, so I could get to work. I was in my own world. The world around me seemed to have to many distractions so I pretended I couldn’t see the world passing me by.
“Excuse me, do you have a cigarette?” His voice was deep and raspy.
I didn’t look away from where I had been staring. I didn’t see him. I didn’t look. I sighed and thought how come he had to ask me? I wasn’t even smoking at the time, so I could have said no; but I didn’t. I got out a cigarette and handed it to him, still not looking at him; not even in his direction. A few seconds later he asked for a light. I handed him my lighter, now getting more annoyed by being bothered. I waited for my lighter to be handed back which seemed like far too long. I finally looked over and saw his hands, they were dry, cracked, yellow and peeling. Ugh! I woke up from my slumber and took a deep breath. I realized he was struggling with the lighter. I focused on him. I looked at him. I saw him. He was sick. There was snot running from his nose. His eyes were watery and red. I choked on my own pride and lit his cigarette. But rather than seeking help for him I took my lighter and got on the bus. I got to work and didn’t give him a second thought at least not till a few weeks later.
“Wake up, wake up sleepy head its time for you to go now” the sweet angelic voice says as I desperately try to open my eyes. Am I sleeping? Have I died or am I just in Hell? My mind can’t focus and my thoughts are blinding me.
My mind goes in and out. I remember I am in Salem, Oregon living in my studio basement apartment underneath some annoying drug addicts. I work at a pizza parlor where I am the bartender. I don’t know what I am doing here in Portland where my best friend lives. Where is Becky? Becky isn’t here. Her boyfriend, Dan is sitting on his lazy boy chair watching TV. What am I doing here? The room is bright; the sun is coming in from the skylight above me. The rays of light are capturing the dust and I stand mesmerized by its beauty.
Another wave of nausea takes over as Dan asks me, “Are you feeling any better?” I nod and then run to the garbage can where I proceed to relinquish my lunch. I haven’t eaten since yesterday or the day before. I don’t know. What day is it? Have I been here for a week or longer? When did I get here? What was the last thing I ate? Oh– I ate at the deli, I remember now, Joe Joe potatoes and fried chicken. I am never eating there again. Food poisoning that is what I have. I hope this will be over soon.
I wake up again and realize I am in Chris’s bed. Chris is Becky’s roommate. Why am I lying in Chris’s bed? He must be at work. It seems dark in here. Everything is hazy. Is it night? It seems colder in here than it was the last time I awoke. Another wave of nausea comes and I know I need to get up and get to the bathroom, but I am too tired. How long have I been throwing up? It seems like days. I haven’t eaten anything for eternity.
My head begins to spin and I start to fade. The nausea keeps me grounded. I realize that I am on a cloud way up in the sky and it will be okay if I turn my head and throw up. Hopefully it won’t land on anyone down below. I close my eyes.
Too soon, too soon, I feel like I am being pushed, pushed hard, now I am being shaken.
“Angie get up! Get out of my room!”
It is very dark now and I try to focus on his face. I feel as if I am drunk, but I haven’t drank anything for days and days it seems. He is angry and I am sitting up now.
“Get out of my room, now!” as he shakes my arm angrily.
“Okay, okay just a minute.”
I put my feet on the ground and my head begins to spin and I start to shake. It takes all the strength I can muster to stand up. Chris grabs my arm and yanks me out of the room and slams the door behind me.
I suddenly remember what my mom would say when she was mad at one of us, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” I laugh. I must be delirious, but I don’t know. I have tunnel vision and all I can see is the couch. It is so quiet in here it must be late. I somehow manage to get to the couch and lay down before Chris comes storming in.
“Have you puked on my bed? Damn it! Did you puke on my bed?”
He is angry and I just shrug. He throws his blanket out the sliding glass door onto the balcony and storms back into his room. I don’t feel bad for some reason; his anger tells me I should feel bad. I lie down and sleep.
I awake shivering. I am so cold. The blanket I had on me fell off. I turn and see it on the floor. Oh the pain. The pain is so intense. Is this what if feels like to die?
I lay my head down and realize that every part of my body aches as if a hundred, million, trillion needles are pushed into every pore of my body. I look down and my fingers are curled like someone with arthritis. I cannot move them or open them. I try to grab the blanket, but I cannot will my fingers to uncurl. I lay my head down.
Freezing and in pain I realize that I am going to die. I want to laugh at the insanity of this realization. I wanted to die a heroic death or at least wait till I was old and shriveled.
“Is this it, is this all I get?” I have only lived 21 years. Oh well. I open myself up to death and say okay if it is my time to go then I’ll go. I can’t take the pain and I close my eyes welcoming death like a warm, soft blanket coming to surround and embrace me.
All I see is gold light. I feel nothing. I am nothing. I get the sense that I am floating and I am unaware of where or even who I am. I hear music and feel as if I am riding along with the waves of the music. It seems to penetrate through me, radiate through me like the wind tickling my skin only deeper. The music is melodious, perfect like no other sound I have ever heard, and for the time being I feel safe and warm as if I am in the hands of an Angel. I am willing to go wherever the great unknown is and I embrace this beauty and ache to be one with the light.
But something holds me, grabs me, pulls on me and I am yanked down at a frightening rate of speed and I feel everything, every inch of my body aches, screams with agony. My mind and body feel as if they are being ripped in two and then reunited. I feel like screaming and feel myself trying to scream, trying to make whoever is causing this pain to stop. I want to scream, “I am alive,” but only a gurgling, choking sound comes out. I struggle for breath and the pain I feel throughout my body makes me wish I could go back to the golden light. I try to go back. I scratch and claw to go back.
No, please, please I want to stay in the light. I don’t want this bright, white light in my face; the coldness of the room is too much. I close my eyes tight. The door is closed. I want to cry. I beg to whatever or whoever it was that held me, “Let me go, please, take me back, I don’t want to feel this pain.” Even in the state I am in, I know that I have much that I have to do, much that I have been told to do but cannot remember. I am heart broken. I close my eyes and go into the darkness of the unknown.
I awake again and the lights are not as bright and there is no one around. It takes all the energy I have to just open my eyes. All I can do is look briefly at my surroundings. I feel so tired and don’t have the strength to even get my bearings, nor do I seem to care. When I close my eyes I can almost feel that sweetness of the golden light. It is there, just beyond my reach.
I am lying on what feels like a table, with no blanket and wearing a nightgown. I have long stockings on my feet and realize I not wearing any underwear. Where is my underwear? Who took it off? Panic stricken, horrid images flash through my mind. I look around me but I cannot turn my neck. In front of me is a large glass window. What is that window? Am I on display? People walk by, they are familiar they stop and look inside. They wave. Their faces are strained they look like they are trying to put on happy faces when they would rather cry. I smile and realize slowly that they are my father and stepmother. I lay my head back down and close my eyes. Maybe when I wake again all will be as it was, but I can barely remember what it was like before this cold resistance.
I awake again and see my best friend sitting next to me.
“Hi” Becky says.
“Hi,” I respond hesitantly, as I struggle to sit up. I am lying down and she is sitting on the bed beside me. There is no cushion on this board like bed and I have no pillow. My neck gets strained as I look up to see the friendly face of my friend. She smiles. Her smile tells me that she is not worried and that I shouldn’t be either. I barely comprehend my situation and I feel as if this is how it has always been, me lying here peaceful.
Becky says my doctor’s name is Dr. Dworkin. I say, “Oh yea, Dr. Korvorcian? Yea, I have heard of him.” “No,” she says smiling, almost laughing. “Not that doctor, your doctor’s name is Dr. Dworkin, he seems nice.” I still think she said Doctor Korvorcian, the doctor in the news that helps people with assisted suicide. Becky just rolls her eyes and says goodbye.
Again I awake and I see another person walking by. She is tan, beautifully dressed with long brown hair. It slowly dawns on me as she turns to look at me with the same strained smile my father had, this is my sister, Robyn. My heart starts to race and I panic. She smiles and waves as she says, “Mom will be here soon her plane just landed.” My heart is pounding so hard now I feel as if I will choke, if I don’t swallow soon. Mom? Mom is coming? If mom comes that means something is terribly wrong. Mom is coming to see me. Damn it! My mind suddenly comes too, with a jolt like somebody just put the breaks on my free fall. I suddenly remember my brother, Mitch. He can’t know, he can’t see me like this. If mom comes Mitch might come and that cannot happen. My brother has schizophrenia and even though he is older than me I have always felt protective and older. He must not see me like this. I close my eyes; even thinking wears me out.
I awake again and I am moving, at least the bed I am on is moving. I look up and there are lights above me moving. My friend grabs my hand and says excitedly that I can leave ICU that I get my own room now. From her excitement I know that this is a good thing. I close my eyes again.
When I awake I am in a new room that has a window and a door. Strangers walking past no longer can look in on me. In comes Dr. Dworkin. I finally get to meet the famous doctor my friend raves about. He is short with a pleasant smile. I know he is a good man he has goodness about him that you can feel from his smile and his stance. He asks me how I am and proceeds to explain to me what has happened. “You have just gone through a very traumatic experience. You had meningitis, Bacterial meningococcal to be exact.” I shrug it doesn’t sound so bad to me. “When can I go home?” I ask. I am ready to leave this place it is driving me crazy. It seems like someone is constantly trying to poke and prod me. He explains to me almost exasperated by my lack of concern. “There are fourteen different strains of the type of meningitis you had they range in order from one through fourteen. Fourteen being the most deadly.” A long pause then he looks me right in the eye and says, “You had fourteen.” Oh. I still don’t get it. He proceeds to tell me the side effects and possible dangers. I am half listening until he reaches the part about brain damage. For some reason the way he is talking to me and looking at my lack of concern that perhaps he feels like I have suffered some form of brain damage. Oh well. Trying to figure out if I am still as smart as I was seems far to taxing on my brain. My dad walks in while Dr. Dworkin is still talking. He shakes his hand. Dr. Dworkin tells me that they will be moving the IV out of my neck and will put it in my hand in a few minutes. I suddenly look down and see this large tube protruding from my neck. He explains that it is the antibiotic that I will need to keep taking for the next few days. I look down at this and follow the tube to the stand it is hanging from. How come I never noticed this large annoying thing before? Suddenly they can’t come soon enough to change it. I look down under my nightgown and realize the thing has got to be right next to my heart. I don’t like this one bit.
The nurses come to take it out and as they do I feel it slowly leaving my body and I shiver. The nurse that is to put the IV in my wrist is young and another one is explaining how to insert the IV. I am far from thrilled. She starts to poke the needle in and I tell her “My veins are small, please be careful.” She smiles nervously and pokes me so hard I want to reach up and smack her. I take a deep breath and she tries again. This time she starts feeling around for the vein under my skin. I grab her arm, not to politely and yank the needle out. “Please have someone else do this that can do a better job. I really don’t like the way you are doing it.” The other nurse sighs heavily and says that she needs to learn how. I smile and state that I will not be the one she can practice on. They both leave and soon after, another nurse enters and asks me why I have to be so difficult. I am too tired to be annoyed. She puts the IV in and starts the drip. Leave, please, you people are annoying. I need to get out of here. I really hate hospitals. I need some sleep first though. Another nurse comes in and checks my blood pressure and tells me that I should have the other half of my head shaved that I look ridiculous. I just gawk at her and wish that she would leave. I am far too tired to deal with irritating people.
My sister comes in and tells me that she wants to help me take a shower. I have been in her for six days and haven’t had a bath. I think this is a great idea and my mind wants to jump out of bed and hop in the shower. I pull the covers down and notice that my legs are so much thinner than I remember. A nurse comes in and with a painstakingly long procedure I somehow get in the wheel chair with the help of the nurse and my sister. We enter a room with a large shower stall with a bench. The nurse leaves us and my sister helps me to undress. Her breath catches when the hospital gown is off. I know that she is shocked by my appearance. I look down at my body and see only bones and skin. I don’t seem to care and want to tell her that I am alive and that I am still the same person inside. However I want to be strong for her. I try to make a joke. Try to make her see that it is okay. I can tell she is having a hard time looking at me and I see her turn away.
When I am back in my bed I have a strong desire to see what I look like. I get up and grab hold of the sink that is near me. I slowly get to the mirror and my heart sinks as I look at the image in the mirror. I see a face, but I don’t know whom it belongs to. There isn’t any flesh just skin lightly lying on top of bone. My heart sinks and I look at this stranger in the mirror. I had beautiful long blond hair that went way past my shoulders. I reach up to touch my head where there is a large gash and stitches and half of my hair is gone. I close my eyes and my head starts to spin. How could they do that? My head is shaved right down the middle where my part was and I am half bald. I lie back down and want to cry, but I am too tired. I am so ugly.
As if my misery wasn’t enough alone in walks a good-looking male nurse. I have talked to him before flirting almost oh how embarrassing. I want to crawl back under the blankets. I don’t feel like myself anymore. I don’t feel like flirting. He must think I am the ugliest person on earth. He was probably just being nice my arrogant self just believed that he thought I was cute. Ugh! He tells me that it is amazing that I am alive. He says that there was a young girl that died from the same thing right before I was admitted. She was sixteen and her father brought her in. I stop and my heart goes out to her father and my father. I see my father and realize that he must have nearly died when they called him and told him that his daughter was near death.
I lay there staring out the window out into the sky and realized how thankful I am that I am alive. The sky is crystal blue and I know I must be along way up because I can only see the sky. I have a great desire to leave this place and I began begging the doctors and nurses to let me leave.
“You have to prove to us that you can make it when you get out of here. You need to walk from your bed to the door.” Dr. Dworkin said.
“Of course I can do that,” I said.
I sat up and put my legs on the floor my heart began to race and I started to shake. I had to lie back down. This was going to be harder than I thought. I had only been here six days and I had to learn to walk all over again.
My sister came in with a nurse and a walker.
“Are you crazy? I am not an old lady I won’t use that!”
“Just to help you walk,” the nurse replies.
My sister helps me to the side of the bed and we manage to get me standing up right. I put my hands on the walker and my hands start to shake, my palms are sweating and I am ready to sit down.
“Maybe tomorrow you can try again,” my sister says.
I got up early the next day to try again and I managed to walk to the door and back to bed. I was so exhausted I had to sleep. Sleep is not a luxury in the hospital however because there is always someone coming in and checking your blood pressure and waking you up.
In the afternoon I tried again and I proved to the doctor that I could walk.
“You can go home tomorrow,” Dr. Dworkin said smiling a worried look on his face.
“You should stay longer,” he said.
I smile and say, “I want to go home now. Thanks.”
It is morning and I am ecstatic I get to get out of here these nurses are driving me crazy and I can’t wait till my dad gets here. The nurse comes in with a wheel chair.
“I don’t want to ride in that.”
“It is hospital policy everyone gets to ride out of here.”
My sister insists on pushing me and we are on our way to my dad’s house.
I walk into my dads place and it is all I can do to have him help me into the guest room where I can take a nap. My legs ache and I ask for some aspirin.
Three days I have been here and I can’t wait to leave. I lost my apartment while I was gone. My dad and sister moved my stuff out and I call Becky.
“I need to get out of here, I am going crazy with boredom.”
“My friend Michelle is looking for a roommate would you like to live with her?” Becky says.
As for the man with the cigarette, I will never know what happened to him. I could have done something for that man, but I chose to merely give him a cigarette. I hope he went to the place I went and beyond. After my experience I started looking at people. I started to pay attention.