Dreams often feel like a frightening reality, but the most frightening reality feels like a dream.
My eyes open. Don’t know where I am. It is cool. The lights are dim. I’m on a narrow bed with the back raised into almost a sitting position. But I’m not sitting, I’m lying down. Pipes all over. All over the bed, all over me. I’m facing the door, it’s made of glass, a double-wide door made of glass. The glass door is open, but nobody enters. They just walk past, without glancing in. Men and women, walking past, oblivious to me. I watch. Time passes. How to count the time? A green dot plots a graph I don’t understand. Rhythmic pulses of green leaving fading lines that disappear, then come again. I need to pee. I try to stand up. I cannot. Pipes in my way. Clear plastic pipes. One plastic pipe ends in my arm. I trace it with my eyes. It hurts to move my head. A bag, suspended from a silver pole. Drip… drip… drip. Two ways to keep the time. Pulses of green, or clear drops dripping into a pipe that feeds my arm. More pipes, these lead to my legs. Legs strapped in socks that have no feet. A gargantuan struggle. I overcome. Now I’m sitting up. Pounding pain in my skull. Three ways to keep the time. Clear drops that drip. A bouncing green dot that fades, then comes again. A drummer in my head. I reach toward my calves. Not enough strength to tug the pipes free. Pain, arching through my brain. Eyes squeeze shut. I don’t give up. Time counted three ways passes. Another fruitless tug. Coarse tearing rip. I force my eyes open. Not socks. A Velcro seam. It opens slowly. Uncovered leg is bare. A man walks past. He doesn’t see me. A few hundred drips of pounding green agony. Both my legs are bare. I swing them off the bed. As if on cue, a woman walks in. “What are you doing?” No threat in her tone. Just a question. What am I doing? “I need to pee.” Reassuring tone, “You don’t need to get up for that.” I struggle to make sense of that, but cannot. “I can see the bathroom. I need to go there.” I nod toward the bathroom door. My skull tries to explode. “Do you know where you are?” Where am I? Can’t shake my head. I meet her eyes. Gentle, reassuring eyes. “No.” She nods, as if no is the right answer. Is this place a secret? “Do you know your name?” I look down. Who am I? I must have a name. Doesn’t everyone have a name? I don’t have a name. “No.” She nods again. So, another right answer. A nameless man, in a secret place he doesn’t know. Urgency. “I have to pee.” I manage to stand. Why are my legs so weak? A single, jarring step. The pipe ending in my arm tugs taut. Got to pee. Irritation. My free hand reaches for the pipe. Tug. Rip it out! Got to pee! The woman calls for help. Reaches for my arm, holds it tight against another tug. “I’ve got to pee!” A man and another woman rush in. The man is much stronger than me. “He doesn’t know his name, or where he is.” The man’s face softens, “Calm down, bud. You’re in a hospital and your name is Charles.” A pause to let this sink in. It doesn’t. I know what a hospital is, but I don’t know Charles. He points at one of the pipes. “That’s a catheter. You don’t need to go to the bathroom to pee, you just pee. It won’t make a mess.” I know what a catheter is. I had one before. My first memory of me. I know what a catheter is. I had one before.
Though you may think this is a poorly written story full of partial thoughts framed in badly written fragmentary sentences, it is not. It is an episode I remember while still in the ICU, written exactly as I remember it. A solid week of memory gone, apart from this dream like recollection. When we’ve lost everything even pain becomes precious.