I don’t know how much of what I remember actually happened. Some of it was clearly a dream; some of it is verifiable. Most of it is probably out of sequence, but let me briefly describe it to you as best I can.
After I passed out, I was driven to Biloxi Regional Hospital. It felt like around twelve hours later, I was placed in an ambulance again. This time the paramedics were demonic, but with human form. The conveyance slowly revealed itself to be massive. It was more the car of a train than an ambulance, having two floors. Like a train, we stopped every couple of miles to let riders get off — except these passengers were patients. I kept waiting to arrive at the gym, so I could pick up my car and drive home. I was frightened of my captors and anxiously awaited my stop.
Soon I realized that I was not going to my stop. Now the scene shifted to a hospital room, where I was confined to a bed. I began hearing the voices of my sisters, god sister, and parents. They were concerned about me, but I couldn’t open my eyes or speak. It was as though there was a veil between me and the outside world. I liken it to being a ghost – fully aware of what was going on around me, but unable to interact with others. As I lay there motionless, two and a half days seemed to pass. I became anxious about the need to get back to work by Friday. Suddenly coworkers began to file in every few hours. My immediate supervisor, her manager, and a coworker all came in. I wanted to apologize for missing so much work. Next, my roommate came in. He beseeched me to speak. I couldn’t. Finally, my friend Tony came in. He begged me to get out of bed. As he stood over me, I tried several times to sit up. I could feel myself strain, as I attempted to lurch forward time and again. Finally, I collapsed, exhausted from the effort. I saw him walk over to a couch and sit between my parents. He put his head in his hands and dug at his eyes with his knuckles, determined not to cry.
At this point, all the visitors stopped coming. As Wednesday night rolled in, I felt that there was cream colored light coming from behind the bed. We seemed to be behind the face of the clock at the top of the hospital. The next two days passed more quickly, as various specialists came in and out of the room. My family left several times to eat and to go about living their own lives. Eventually Friday came, and I had finally missed enough days to be terminated for attendance. Humiliated, I tried not to worry, and I began focusing on the task of recovering.
The doctors ran a plethora of tests on me all day. Then Saturday, all of the medical intervention activity stopped. My father became impatient with all of the waiting and wondering. So, he asked to have me discharged. Two orderlies came in and wheeled me out of the room. Their next task was to wheel me down an external flight of stairs, so my bed could be placed beside the table of a seafood restaurant, where my family could have shellfish, before they would drive me back home to Jackson. The workers tried maneuvering the bed several times before finally getting me out the door.
Outside, the early afternoon noon was sweltering. It was over ninety degrees and the humid air left moisture on your arm as though it had been dabbed by a sponge. The orderlies could barely hold onto my bed as they alternated between mopping their foreheads with their wrists and using both hands to keep me from rolling down the grated metal stairs. They barked at one another while they pushed and pulled at the bed. They cajoled it to cooperate. It remained stubborn. Ultimately, they felt that trying to get me safely down the stairs just wasn’t going to work. So, they wheeled me back into the safe, air-conditioned hospital and deposited me in my room.
From somewhere in the building, the order now came to move me to Jackson. I didn’t hear it given; I just knew somehow that this was the next place to take me. It is a mystery to me how I entered the next vehicle and how it was constructed, but it had three sections – one was submersible, the middle traveled along the road, and the other soared through the cloud like an airplane. I could move between the vehicle components though each was thousands of feet away from the others. It was here that I began episodes of appearing to wake up periodically. I would open my eyes to a squint, hoping that the sinister medical staff wouldn’t detect me, and I would begin suffocating after a few minutes. To prevent myself dying, I would then purposefully pass out, and fall into a dream sequence. This would be a regular thing. I would regain consciousness, conceal the fact that I was awake, almost choke to death, and faint in order to fall back into a peaceful dreamland.
After what seemed like three days, I was brought to a hospital bed. It was here that I began interacting with medical staff. I became aware of the fact that I couldn’t walk, and that people were periodically coming in to do things that would help me breathe and otherwise stay alive. It seemed as though I had something in my mouth that had a powerful adhesive on it. I’d tried to chew through it, but I only managed to clog up my mouth even more. As a result, I couldn’t speak whatsoever. Somehow, I got it into my head that my parents were secretly trying to convert me back to Christianity by taking advantage of my helpless state, and staging a medical intervention. I convinced myself that the providers entering my room were putting on a night of periodic visitations, like a Charles Dickens novel, that would lead me to accept Jesus by dawn.
To thwart this activity, I started lashing out. Unable to speak or move the left side of my body, I would grunt and swipe at the imagined missionaries. My father reappeared in the room, and angry at him for taking part in this charade, I began giving him the two-finger British symbol for “Up yours”. Night turned into day, and a trio of young women came in. They said that they were physical therapist, and they would help me learn to walk again. They began to twist me and pull on me in ways that were supposed to help. But I only ended up feeling exhausted and sore. I was relieved when they finally left the room and let me lie back down.
Over the next few days, I had many more people come through my room. I continued acting out. I finally flipped off an elderly, silver haired lady who must have been someone important, because I was discharged shortly thereafter and moved by ambulance to the fourth hospital of my odyssey. In the ambulance, I started to feel a stabbing pain in my left shoulder. It increased in severity until it was nearly unbearable. I begged to be removed from the ambulance so I could get relief, but the words could go no further than my brain, and I just had to lie there until I was taken from the position I was in.
I came to fully at Select Specialty Hospital in Jackson, Miss. I remember having horrible double vision and not being able to keep my eyes open while all the activity was swirling around me. I now fully realized that I couldn’t get out of bed or speak to the people coming in and out of the room. I was also completely incontinent, and I was embarrassed by how many times per day that the staff had to wash and change me. My father came in to see me, and he ended up talking to a CNA about them both having grown up in the Mississippi Delta. After he left, the speech therapist came to tell me that, although it was Friday, she would be back to see me on Monday. She asked me what month that would be.
I held up five fingers.
She corrected me, telling me that Monday would be June.
Even had I been able to speak, I would have been silent with disbelief. I had thought that I’d been asleep for a week. In fact, I had lost over ten days of my life.
This is another point where my memory can’t be certain of a clear timeline, because I think that I started seeing the speech therapist the following week when I was still incapable of speech. Over the next few days I became aware that my father was coming to see me every day. Since I couldn’t speak to him, I would try to pantomime what I wanted to say. He would turn his head, looking at me askance, then pat me on the head and shake my hand. Although I realized that he simply was at a loss as to what to do in this situation, I was frustrated, because my mental faculties were returning to me, and I could not express myself to the outside world. I felt so alienated from everyone. Yet it was even more frightening being left alone. I would imagine myself wandering the halls of a nearly abandoned hospital, afraid that I would fall or stop breathing. No one would come to my rescue because I could not cry out.
My father continued to visit me daily. While I had always held him in the highest regard, he will always be the hero of my life for how much he was always there. Toward the end of that first week of June, I was attempting to sign to him. One day a nurse told him that she knew some sign language. I closed my hand and brought it to my throat, then I opened it to mimic speech emitting from someone’s trachea. Next, I pointed to him, and I made the spending gesture again. I WAS ASKING HIM TO SPEAK. Finally I pointed to the clock. Somehow the nurse pieced everything together and slowly said, “Tell … me … what happened.”
Dad told me that I had been lifting weights when I had a stroke almost three weeks ago. He told me all of the details – how he had come down to see me, the hospitals I’d been in, and everything that I’d been through. I was very much in denial. I thought, I shave my head. If I reach back and touch the back of my head, and there’s little or no hair, maybe I can go back to sleep and eventually I’ll wake up from this horrible dream. I slowly reached back and slid my hand up my neck. When I got to my skull, I could feel thick hair. My heart sank. I knew that there hadn’t been that much hair there in a year. I knew it was all true.
Then one afternoon, while trying desperately to communicate with me, Dad declared, “I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before.” He took out a scratch pad and wrote a table of the alphabet. Then he said, “Point what you want to say. I’ll figure out where the words and sentences end.” I don’t know what my first words were, but that was how I was finally able to communicate with another human again. I began to release all the thoughts and emotions that had been pent up inside.