Lucky* Man memoir of injury, coma, rehabilitation (injury)
Updated: Nov 3, 2021
Michael K Laidlaw About 65 000 words
#406 3524 31st NW Calgary, Canada, T2L 2A5 firstname.lastname@example.org
Injury pg 3
Day Before . Write . Fall . Night . Event . Argument . Did he fall or was he pushed . Some Charting . Once . Light . Probably . Photos. Empty . Fiction . Opera . Positive . Details . Medical . Natural Order . Incident Reports
Coma pg 66
Tend . First Person . Forty-Nine Days
Coherent General Propositions
Rehabilitation pg 132
Qualification . Difficult Shit . Hemi . I think of Women . Deadpan . Fine . Where are you from . Noise . Demolished . Sunroom . Variability . Winter . Display . Library . Christmas . Warning . Quoting . Impersonation . Tara . Travel . Chapel . Her Name . Concentrate . Contemporary . MJ . Most Important . Guest . Progress . Most Important . Fine . Stonehead . Ancestors . Touch . Vox . Birthday . Reunion . Count Backwards . Debra . Vacation . Freedom . Olympian . Eve . Count Backwards . Mistake . Drawing Hands
* pg 224
Bad Day . Loss . Gain . History . Rush . Luck
– 18 000 words
#- 750 words
I do not remember the injury that sends me into the coma.
I am in the coma forty-nine days.
I am then twenty-five years ten months.
I do not remember the event, the night, or the day before.
Doctors and nurses and therapists tell me that any lack of recall around that traumatic time is usual, for this was only my brain protecting itself by purging or refusing to allow any memories. There is no therapy and no way to recover and revive memories of the event, the night, or the day before. I had been proud of my memory, I was never a studious student but wrote some notes and relied on my memory, but that is not the case now, there are no memories of that time. I am my body and so there is no test, no recall, no need to remember. My body controls making memories, each moment now overlaid each moment past, as there is no future there is no reason to remember. I believe this is what is death, but I do not know any more than anyone if this is death because after all I survive. I believe this is painful if I was aware of it but does that ever matter if that I is no longer there. I do not want to remember, then. I want to remember, now. I do not.
My last memory is of conducting two young sons of an English scientist who is visiting to work with my father, down to Bearspaw Reservoir two kilometres west and down from our house. I live then in the city not far from riverside parks and the island where there is a summer folk music festival, but as pleasant it is there are people and people and people and it feels more somewhere to walk through than walk in. I walk to a video rental place on the edge of Chinatown but otherwise never go south of the river to downtown. I never go into any towers. Here I have returned to my youth and the trek is friendly and familiar, following the narrow path from years of deer and coyotes and other animals. I will never walk this path again but I do not know this. I do not know to inhale the scent of trees and grass and think of how simple but remarkable it is to walk down hillsides, walk up narrow paths, walk without cane. I am playing my usual role as an uncle of these boys, for though I am the younger brother of our family there are the children of my cousin with whom I have enjoyed that role. I have insisted on the reality of a lake monster we might see. After the coma I see pictures of the boys, both sandy-blond, brown-eyed, awkwardly smiling, a year apart in age, but I do not recognize them. They leave before the injury. It is overcast afternoon two days prior to my injury. I remember how similar it is to previous walks with our dog. I see the distant face of mountains along the western horizon, nearer late summer grasslands and slopes from this plateau down to river flats, a scarp above the narrow reservoir, the green tan of prairie and the pale green of poplars and darker green of the conifers in the gully, and the ditch below that I mistakenly name a creek.
I do not remember the injury that sends me into the coma.
I do not remember the day before.
I write down this true narrative in the way it comes to me, many years after the injury, many years after the coma, many years into the rehabilitation. This is the fourth memoir I have attempted. Immediately after the coma, some nurses and therapists suggest I simply find someone to tell this story to, and have them shape it into my autobiography. I decide this story is too personal and, as I have wanted to be writer, here is narrative already given for me. I need to understand the injury, coma, and rehabilitation. I am a slow writer. The first version is too much journal of this happens then this happens then this happens. The second version is unedited rambling without shape. The third version is deliberately artistically restrained and conceptual. I have no editorial guidance but some literary goals. I want this to be concise. I hope this fourth version is most emotional but retains the best of previous versions. I am subjective and correct and detailed as is possible. I do not invent facts of my experience that are derived from notes around that time. I do necessarily invent the experience of my parents and brother and others and doctors and nurses and therapists while I am injured and in the coma. In one way this is therefore nonfiction and in another way fiction. I hope this is true in both genres. I live through both, I have no arguments, I am alive. I am a lucky man.
#- 1 000 words
On that night- or very early morning- I am probably not ready to see the police, to try to explain my current anger and fear possibly plays a role in what happens next. I do not know the police. I do not know well enough even that I am presently what is called 'noise complaint'. I do not remember the event of the injury but through interrogating my father I learn the high probability of what has happened. I fall down the stairs exactly the moment the police arrive and begin to mount the stairs and bruise my skull by contusion leading to a ruptured blood vessel in my left brainstem causing the coma. Or I have a ruptured blood vessel in my left brainstem causing the falland the coma exactly after the moment the police arrive and begin to mount the stairs. Fall first then contusion or aneurysm then fall. I can vividly imagine the first probability which shapes it in dramatic and intense event, I can think this is what happens but have no memories. I can vividly imagine the second probability which shapes it in dramatic and intense event, I can think this is what happens but have no memories. Doctors and nurses and therapists will tell me later that whether the first or the second probability is true or false or beyond that distinction it does not matter. True or false there is no difference for it is rather the result and not the cause of my coma and whether I will survive. Doctors and nurses and therapists will tell me later, after the coma during the rehabilitation and in the years since it could have been either first probability or second probability but there is no way to tell. And as this is something no one was there to see not even the summoned police, no one was witness but myself and of course I do not remember, but just fell, no one else was there, no one pushed me, but I was certainly not drunk and I was certainly not high and I was certainly not at fault. I do not want it to be in any way my fault. Years later, my mother will say they never knew if I had stopped my antidepressants and reacted or coversely I had overdosed. I feel guilty. I want to know it was only an accident. I did not then and I do not now and I never will want to cause my mother and father and brother to cry. I ask then and during my rehabilitation and in the years since, more than one doctor who works on my case, whether my brain is now susceptible, whether my brain will have another aneurysm, and the answer is always kind but dismissive and I am told simply that I should not fall down any stairs again. I do not know what would have happened if the police hear only a noise complaint, as I have no familiarity with the police, but in the event I am found on the landing halfway down the stairs. I think of how I could have slipped, how my feet would have tripped on descent, how my hand would have missed grip, how I would have fell backwards up the stairs with my back landing first but momentum carrying my head back and catching the next riser. I do not know but imagine this. I could not have fallen backward down the stairs, as this would surely have been fatal more than high probability of the coma, and of course forward I would have protected myself with my hands out and there might have been no more than bruises or sprains or broken arm. After the coma, during the rehabilitation, I find small blood stains on the front of my denim shirt but this is the only evidence, and perhaps it is no more than from a bleeding nose. After the coma, during the rehabilitation, I seem to have a vivid image of my body out and on the half-story landing, as seen from some point above, but the detail seems excessive and improbable in various sensory impressions. I see the tan carpet with individual coils of fabric and flattened by traffic but new and clean. I see the beige paint almost melting on the concrete blocks of the walls, wet as if new and not yet dried. I see the handrail plastic upper slick as if also liquid. I see the black window, the stairwell reflection trembling as if alive, probably only to west wind shaking the glass, the white ceiling, the lights, the tan doors, but these are all more than color and seem essential and primary, not secondary qualities. I see my tan body in pale blue denim shirt and pale blue jeans, and somehow this seems wrong, seems unrecognizable, because of course this is not the reversed image I know from looking in a mirror but correctly as another sees me. I see one policeman arrive and look down to the body, and the other policeman calling out ahead as he comes up to my empty apartment. I see him returning with a brief shake of his head and then they radio for paramedics, for though there are no marks of wounds, the body is immobile, the body is breathing raggedly, the body is unconscious and perhaps already entering the coma.
After the coma, during the rehabilitation, in imagination I watch in obsessive fascination, I see everything, then I see nothing.
#- 750 words
Our hectare lot at Bearspaw had been without trees when my father bought the barren triangle of land, narrow at the crescent road and wide to the north and west, without trees but for this northern side that slopes into a gully that is considered natural reserve, a gully that continues west to the river flats to the reservoir, a gully that insures there will be no structures interrupting our hundred-kilometre panorama west to the face of the Rocky Mountains. I come from the city house where we faced to the west several hectares of field and a distant drive-in cinema, not more than a block north of the same river, but there below the reservoir dam, there flood plain if the river was not held, there only city street across from our house, though we do not see the mountains. I do not realize this new place so remarkable and so beautiful when we move out from the city. I am young. I remember time freed from school for my brother and me to help contractors building. I remember gardening chores that would seem like nothing to my farmboy father, but do not interest me, do not in the act engage me, though I do design a series of wide planting steps down the gully between two sides of the slope, wide planting shapes that could be used as lawn or garden, but we never do this. Me and my brother and my father and my mother tend instead the barren upper parts of our lot. I do not know the logic of our planning the landscape, only that we have three gardens, one for raspberry and gooseberry and nanking cherry bushes, one for the usual vegetables, the beans, the peas, the carrots, the lettuce, and one a nursery for trees we will later plant about our lot. I remember planting trees and seeing the thin loam above the harder soil, and the richer soil and fertilizers we put under the roots. I remember weeding gardens and the smell of garden earth crumbling in my hands and permeating my jeans and my hands and trying to decide which plant to keep and which plant to pull out. I remember cutting grass on our little ride-on mower and the noise of the engine and driving it around tree ditches as if racing. I remember sinking posts into holes to create a dog yard north of the north wing of the house. I remember standing out on the deck watching entire weather systems come off the mountains with thunderstorms born, rain enveloping, then dying or drifting through the city to the east, leaving evening summer rainbows bright against dark skies. I live there for nine years until at twenty-one I live with Lynn in a city two-bedroom apartment when she is studying Geology at University, when we would often yet come out for weekends to visit, to cook, to use the laundry. Lynn is tall, slim, blue-eyed, blonde. Even before my injury I am a lucky man, though I might not have known this. My father, in particular, likes and is impressed by Lynn, for she has come from a similarly impoverished background and knows how to work hard.
I remember Bearspaw.
Taking the dog for runs down the gully to the reservoir.
Skating on a rink someone clears of snow on the reservoir.
Canoeing across and swimming.
Sleeping under the stars in a sleeping bag on the lawn with Lynn.
I do not remember the injury that sends me into the coma.
I do not remember the night.
#- 1 250 words
On that night my friend Ellen says we confer alone outside on the deck where we had watched sunset over the mountains, in the warm summer darkening evening. I attend a dinner party my mother organizes for my father, for several people with whom he works on this project or that project at the University. Derek and Ellen, who live in the same city neighborhood as me, have driven us out to the now closely tended hectare of trees and lawn and shrubs and gardens of Bearspaw. Derek is a Post-Doc Physicist, who works with my father, his fiancée Ellen is a lawyer who has declined practice to become instead a radio producer for CBC Calgary. Stars are coming out in an empty summer sky, the full moon has risen, the trees and house shadows the citylight glow then only a few kilometres away, and the sliding glass doors mute jovial noise of the party inside. I am dressed cleanly and presentably and shaved and short haircut and in fact on first encounter come across polite and calm and friendly. Once met or if you know me well you might notice something beyond immediate look. I am very animated and very intense and possibly not consistently or logically connecting subjects of my talking. I am fervent and certain in recounting what I plan to do that coming fall and in following years. I have plans. I have always had plans. I do not ever imagine being radically diverted in this my chosen life. I am talking in a most positive way. I am talking openly to a good friend whose patience is implicit and expected. Details are details and of course soon forgotten and are not then or now important but only the general trend to my words. I pronounce assertions intended to lead me towards goals I may have never previously voiced or only voiced privately to myself, that I will then imagine similar to those of any sort of young man, any fortunate man, to become Something- in my case an Architect like my mother's father then an Author like my father's elder sister- and through this minimal expected achievement become like I imagine everyone else already is. Husband, Father, Worthwhile Person. I am not aware before and not aware then and not aware for many years, even despite my injury, my coma, my rehabilitation, that I have grown up in an environment of high-achieving and fortunate people. My father is a University professor in Theoretical Chemistry who loves his research and loves his teaching. My mother is a teacher-librarian who loves her work and through her income has made it possible for our family to visit her home island every year. My brother is a lawyer who is married and soon father. I may not have voiced such elevated goals openly to either my parents or brother or self, but rather think of these goals I tell Ellen as minimal expectations. It is not enough that I become an Architect but that I would design remarkable buildings and not simply houses. It is not enough to become an Author but that my work be read and enjoyed and valued as art. I am familiar with such ambitions, I am desperate to prove myself somehow, and such aspirations are typical for me, not exceptional, though so much have so far been dreams more than goals and not any clear path to achieving them. I am angry. I am twenty-five years old. I think of women. I am a lucky man. I come genetically from intelligent parents, I have lived a materially comfortable life, I have no physical deficits but for easily corrected myopia, I have been found attractive but never offensively so, I have no history of illnesses or syndromes, I have an observant nature and probably have an artistic gift, I have skill with words, I have only the memory of psychological trauma from my childhood- but this must be absorbed and no longer affecting my life. I am no longer defined by what has happened to me but rather by what I will make happen. I will extend from or transcend over my situation, however little I understand Existentialism. I am going to do this or become that, if some weakness of character can be overcome. I can guess what I spoke of then, mostly about attending University trying to reconnect with their world of dismally intelligent people of brilliance and purpose and value. I have decided I still have time, but it is time past the starting pistol, it is time to do this or that valuable and useful thing that will lead to make such goals real in my life. I can hear myself on these goals and condemning my current inaction. Ellen will only later, after my injury and during the coma, recall that I am speaking loudly and far too quickly, and this is possibly sign that I have failed to take my anti-depressant medications. I had forgotten to do so once earlier that year and had gone to family friends the Clarkes', and stayed awake through the companion shifts of their three boys a full twenty-four hours until the pharmacy is open again. I have been afraid of crashing, for after the first positive bounce of no medication, the hours of excited and energetic happiness, always comes the sudden emotional crash to suicidal despair. I have possibly gone somewhere beyond the med’s usefulness. I remember days before the injury arguing with myself not to try to live without necesary antidepressant meds. And now, after the injury, the coma, the rehabilitation, and all the other unexpected and unplanned events shape my life in many ways, there is only desire to write this story. I had then a desire to write stories but this is not the story I thought to write. At first, I think of directly following my mind as I come to understand the coma, but this will quite possibly confuse any readers and this is not a task to suffer but a gift to read. I decide to divide by not dividing, and allow the unbroken experience from injured state to somewhat healthy, emerge through the several perspectives the story of the brain injury described as medical, as neurology, as philosophy, as well my own story. Writing this story is both the easiest thing to do and the most difficult thing to do. I need only create my pen name out of my given Canadian and Hawai’ian names, chosen by my parents and given by my mother’s paternal grandmother. I need only follow what happens at what time, I need only listen to those memories that claim truth, I need only write out this event and that event. This is the easiest thing to do. I need imagine what is not recalled or cannot be known, I need decide how to order these memories, I need also discover but not invent some dramatic arc out of this and that event. This is the most difficult thing to do.
I do not remember the injury that sends me into the coma.
I do not remember the event.
#- 1 250 words
On that evening- or very early morning- I have an argument of some sort with Derek or Ellen or both, about something never clarified and never damaging but after the coma is simply something from which to go on, something to forget, though it is unanswered whether now past or to a forgotten premise or just the usual dispute between friends. I have rebuffed their honest concerns on the drive in when they return me to my apartment now insisting I am home and calm and fine and nothing to worry about. I think of women but this is not unusual for my age in desires and loneliness. I live on the fourth floor of a cube-shaped building made of beige rows of typical concrete blocks, with no balconies on any units, with no elevators for four floors, with parking behind and underneath, with bicycle storage in the basement, with a laundry room I do not recall ever using. I visit my parents at Bearspaw often enough and use their laundry. I live on the top floor on the northwest corner I have what limited view is offered out chest-high sliding-glass windows and as this is a valley only a few blocks from the river and across the river to downtown towers, I do not see the mountains. I see the gravel parkinglot and gravel alley and backyard summer gardens of houses and gravel parkinglot of other apartment buildings, and West above the houses and trees a clear view to the distant high hill with television broadcast towers. I have cable.
Of my studio apartment there is not much else to remember. There is only darker beige carpets and lighter beige walls of gypsum here on the inside and in the bathroom and concrete blocks there on the outer wall, a large old usual family TV here, a beige futon on pine slat-bed there, a large round black dining table from when I lived with Lynn, now without legs so low and sat in front on futon pillows. I have a beige Apple Lisa computer on blocks towards the crowded built-in wooden bookshelves that mark the edge of the kitchen linoleum and carpeted living area that includes the sleeping area. I have here many books of varied vintage and genre and format and here a few videotape movies I own but never have radio or stereo. I have no legged tables because I am living as if in a Japanese way, sitting directly on the floor or on futon pillows, find this borrowed strategy makes my studio seem larger, and it is no difficulty for a healthy young man to sit so low and to rise from so low. I have read some interior design books enough to realize that I want clarity and openness and only a few objects in any room. Ellen will always see my apartment as very clean, a judgment my mother may not share, but I do not have clutter of knick-knacks or comfort of chairs for guests. I also have no budget.
I cannot sleep. I think of women but this is not unusual for my age in desires and loneliness. I am angry. I do not know what writing I am working on at that time but there is some great anxiety that drives me to scribble on my High School yearbook and over photos of classmates. After the coma and during the rehabilitation and in the years since, I can see in the size and expressive marks how quickly I have written and it certainly resembles my notation when I am off the antidepressant medication. I have created symbols and patterns that must have meant something that I use and reuse in my notes but after the coma, during the rehabilitation and in the years since, exactly what each meaning is I have forgotten and there is no key. I am absorbed in some search. Such energy cannot fail to be frustrated at one o’clock on a weekday morning, but as I do not remember that night during the rehabilitation and in the years since, there are only the physical results and inferred psychology of the tenant, to give some plot beyond the minimal recount of the live-in manager who lives across the hall. I can imagine what happens but it is only much later that I can admit there are just some things I will never recall, much I do not remember during my rehabilitation and in the years since, and this is as any usual result from a brain-injury.
I leave my apartment and the claims of my memories. I think of women.
I stand on the top landing of the stairs.
I see reflections on the black picture window to the right, on the other to the left, as stairs descend on both sides. I am floating without support over darkened yards, my western image trembling, but it is probably only summer wind shaking the glass.
I see the rows of concrete blocks and begin to count them.
I step over to the live-in manager’s door and knock loudly, but she is awake and looks out immediately. She is puzzled for mostly I am a polite tenant who is never up so late and certainly never wakes her at this hour.
Please let me in, I say to her. Please you could help me.
She hears something in my voice. She fears me. She is too aware of the hour and too worried by my rapid speech. She does not unchain the door and I return to the apartment and begin to tear it apart. I am angry. I am violently addressing myself in one voice, answering in another voice, and make so much noise she thinks there is another in my apartment with me and I am fighting them so she calls the police. I am scattering my hardcopy of writing projects across the floor, for I could not then as I still do not organize my work when it is only scrolling on computer, and there is possibly a logic in dispersal of papers there but by the time my father and Derek came to clean up the apartment after the injury, even I might not have found one. I am angry. I am self-conscious when I feel any strong emotion, but there is great excitement when I allow myself to act out. I am elated that I express my inner turmoil to the indifferent world. I am happy to loose my fury and my self-hate and my despair with no daytime rational bounds. I perhaps consciously shed that usual image of myself as polite calmness and logical restraint and replace it with something like possessed artist. After the coma and during the rehabilitation in years since, I learn this is called ‘venting’. I do not know what time it is but probably very early morning, and I do not know for how long I am home and awake making so much noise. I do not look at the bedside digital clock but revel in this time I create around myself. I do not often ‘vent’. I must have been very happy.
Did he fall or was he pushed
#- 2 500 words
My parents would have been pleasantly asleep with dishes piled in the sink or in the dishwasher. They are pleased at the warmth of companionship and success of the party. This is the way my father has always and will always enjoy friendships with colleagues with summer barbecues and evening parties easily given at Bearspaw, though it is always my mother who organizes these events and manages to discover ways to encourage social engagement. She writes notes and plans menus and shopping lists and plans order and time for this food and that drink but there is always something more she discovers for the party. This time it is a toy for children my mother has found, a toy for playful constructing of colourful plastic tubes and troughs and cups and zigzags and jumps and funnel catches and wheels all designed to guide marbles from the top a metre high on plastic uprights to the bottom in perhaps a race, a toy for children that allows adult joy for these serious Scientists in designing yet further and more elaborate structures. Engineering as play. Who wins which marble race on which path is always less interesting than the downward path designed all the turns all the tubes all the leaps all the swirling plastic drains. After this serious play for my father there is perhaps a bit of shared whisky and shining blue eyes and flushed red friendliness when parting. Guests have all gone by midnight. Another scientist and his wife visiting from Hawai’i are asleep in the guestroom. My father is perhaps worried about me but not especially anxious that night. There is only a persistent and frustrating and confusing dull pain in seeing me spiraling into depressive behavior and sudden manic intensity that seems not apparently inconsistent with my being artistic. He is disturbed by the drama artists seem to require in their lives, or at least as he has seen through lives of his elder sister the author and his younger sister the visual artist. After the coma and during the rehabilitation and in the years since he will think back at how he is fortunate it had been only this muted psychological way he was concerned for my welfare and not my survival. Mother will sometimes comfort him in emotional ways and suggest he is worrying to no purpose for there seems nothing more they can do. Mother knows as Father must admit that I am a drain on the usual reserves of familial love is not a new situation, that there are others, there are professionals, to whom they have already sent me. Or maybe this night she does not need repeat these phrases, maybe she has as little foreknowledge as he of the injury that puts me in the coma, and were he to talk about and worry about me maybe she could hold him and kiss him and keep her opinions of me silent as she allows him to toss and turn to worry himself to sleep.
The phone rings.
My father wakes bleary and momentarily disoriented and confused, then alert enough to wonder who would call at this ominous early morning hour, perhaps wondering if it is about me, perhaps wondering if it is about my brother. And if it is me have I foolishly stopped my medication, have I done something, have I got in a serious situation where he is my first or my final appeal for help. He does not know and never imagines but only fears in the usual range of probabilities. He is so tired and disoriented he does not hear the first calm and serious phrases of the night nurse at Emergency Admissions. She addresses him in polite understanding and professional courtesy and starts again. She hears him gasp in waking. Understanding now, this news generates a sudden seizure in his mind like no shock he can remember, a kind of trembling chill seems to well up from inside, as the nurse repeats the news with measured calm. Mother wakes also for the phone is on the shelf headboard and there is now something frightening in how quiet and deliberate her husband becomes when he replaces the receiver and relays details of the call.
Michael. Neuro Critical Care Unit, floor eleven, Foothills Hospital. Comatose. Brainstem Injury.
My father turns on the lamps above the headboard and firms his voice as he speaks, already rolling out of bed and dressing, repeating his explanation of the call, his field of view narrowing and only rendering immediacy in practical concerns, in taking off his pajamas, in pulling on his underwear, his socks, his jeans, his shirt, his glasses. Blinking in fear there is even a momentary anger that he has to repeat details of the call for his wife- he does not want to say it again because it only becomes more real and more upsetting- but Mother moves swiftly when she understands. Father is deliberate and careful and concentrates on exactly what he must do. Though it is somewhat difficult for me to imagine my father those moments, somehow it would only be an extension or exaggeration or amplification of how to others he would seem angry when he is intent or thinking or explaining or dismissing, it is harder for me to accept any visions of Mother in such terror. My father must have seen her then and perhaps other times in that way I refuse to imagine and it does not matter to me that this is an accident. I did not, I do not, I will never want to see my mother in pain or fear or sorrow and definitely not when I am in any way the cause.
Michael. Neuro Critical Care Unit, floor eleven, Foothills Hospital. Comatose. Brainstem Injury.
My father and Mother dress without any extra words but urgent silence. They walk down the hallway and wake their guests the scientist and his wife from Hawai’i, who will stay unable to sleep at Bearspaw. My father works with a number of international scientists and in my youth this convinced me he uses his skills not in mercenary application for this company or that company but as part of noble and proud and necessary Grand International Project. I am always proud he applies his knowledge and his skills to teach and research in something Pure or Theoretical Science and not in Applied Science or simply to make himself money. I learn this international collaboration of scientists is somewhat common practice, though not as extensively as my father using the early form of the Internet to work with his distant collaborators.
I imagine now my parents putting on their shoes at the door then go into the garage for the Saab. It is a warm night but it feels very cold. My father starts the car. My father drives quickly down the empty rural road to the 1-A highway that enters the city from the northwest. They are not so very far from the hospital, but every minute seems too long.
The elevator pings quietly on arrival in the main lobby of the hospital.
I am not there there at the hospital. My body is there, of my heart of my nerves of even my damaged brain, but that consciousness named I is not there but asleep or something like it so close to death and who knows where that is. I only have some imagination and some inferred sense of the natures of my parents from which I can guess, but such is not a situation I have ever seen them in, so suppositions I play with may be completely wrong. I show my mother an early draft of this narrative and she says it makes her cry, that it is just like that, that she is ‘blubbering all over’, though there are more people there later that morning, of course not on their arrival, but my father is more circumspect though refuses to critique. I have always thought of him as trying to support my mother and perhaps diminish his own true pain.
I have reached that point for which there are no words, that point where it is only speculation, for neither my father or my mother will since revisit those moments merely to help me clarify details. Details are details. I think in some way such early drafts wound my father by not recognizing how severely upset and afraid and helpless he feels. My father does not like to ever feel helpless. While it is true my parents always share their concerns for me by themselves, surely I should have known how disturbing my wandering and troubled life is to them and yet how I am deeply loved. I imagine them coming to the hospital, walking down the corridor on the eleventh floor, the hospital smell, the hospital hush, the briefly glimpsed nurses. I will see this hallway during my recovery, then much later when researching for an earlier draft of this book, but it is not the hallway my parents see. I do not know what they see. I imagine what I now see. I imagine my father wearing black and brown in work jeans and work shirt, none similar to or even referring to his natural paleness, his balding silver hair or his calm blue eyes. I see my mother in blue jeans and white shirt and wearing a vivid red jacket, all bright intense colors that go well with black hair and brown eyes of her Hawai’ian heritage. Mother looks afraid now as she gazes into rooms where clusters of machines take over bodily functions patients can no longer do for themselves. My father looks angry but this is perhaps just intensity over unvoiced fear, this is just shock fading to fear, for he looks also supplicant and eager.
My parents come to the unit desk of the NCCU, where my mother waits while my father strides to a room where two other men wait, one uniformed police officer and the other tired green-clad doctor. An abortive conversation falls to silence when the men greet my father and his willingness to answer their questions is only equaled by his desire to ask his own questions.
Yes, by himself. No, no enemies. A dinner party, friends took him home. No, no drugs or alcohol. Alone. Yes, anti-depressants from a psychiatrist at the General Hospital. Also a psychotherapist, we paid for him. Montreal for a year, with a girlfriend for two years before that. Nothing- student, writer. No, no enemies.
Stairs. Looks like he just fell.
Did he fall or was he pushed, my father says.
No one else there. Fell.
My father soon relays their answers to my mother, the logic that I probably fell, though no one is certain and she will then and since then always note there are no marks on my body, so continues to call it an aneurysm. Mother sees her reflection in a darkened window, her body suspended without support several metres into the night over suburban streetlight patterns. She is dark-skinned but highlights of ward lighting shine her shape and, always, she can see staring whites of her eyes. She would like this to be a very bad dream from which she can wake up from- now. Nothing happens. She sees her reflection in buffeted windows and a whimper of dismay is gathered and she sets herself firm, she will speak with a kind of petulance to cover her fear, her pain. She listens distractedly to her husband. She looks around at the machines with tired confusion- she will rely on him to explain their purposes- he will know how they work. No one will say how serious the injury is beyond inducing a coma, and this is serious enough, but the contusion or aneurysm is to the brainstem and if he survives his cognitive functions are hoped to be not severely injured, they will know later that day, when the MRI is done.
Coma. Stable now. Would you like to rest, some coffee, anything?
Mother stands beside the bed where I am tended by so many machines, the breathing devices clearly seen by the rising and falling bellows, the heart rate monitor beeping, and looks at me carefully. I am asleep. Still herhandsome boy, her baby, how in some way he is forgiven for all the troubles he causes, all the worries, all the puzzling passivity. No, he cannot die- there are no marks on his body- he will wake up soon, wake up and ask why he is connected to all these machines, ask why he is even in the hospital, he will wake up and be fine. Mother thinks these things, or something similar for I do not take her back in questions, then she looks up to my father on his return from talking to the policeman and doctor, but his answers are never enough, she wants certainty, she wants me or her to wake up soon. Nothing happens.
Stairs. Looks like he just fell.
Did he fall or was he pushed, my mother says.
No one else there. Fell.
And now I see them alone, for even in the comfort of others who can pretend to truly feel what you parent feels over your child- your pain is yours but not yours in a way no other pain can be. Even as my father embraces my mother wailing rises, her cry of such naked pain, her wordless cry, whimper of dismay and howl of rejection of this apparent truth, No, she says inside, No. And so my father holds her, I hope some measure of his own pain is comforted in comforting her. I do not know what they are thinking, I do not ask them to recall, I do not even want to imagine, for it is enough that I see them at this quiet NCCU hospital ward but I do not see what they see. Details are details. And even though he knows the phrase is too weak to be effective, the phrase is so little, so helpless, the phrase only hope that he cannot guarantee, he closes his eyes on his own tears and repeats it over and over.
It will be all right, he says, it will be all right.
#- 500 words
A Filipina nurse hears the crying dismay of my mother as she comes out of the other room where she is tending another patient. She has heard similar pains voiced over years of her work. She notices the anguished portrait of emotions rising in conflict on the face of a young, blonde, first year nurse, who works at a desk, works on the papers that refer only to numbers, that give patients no more name than impersonal description. She is a research source later as I write this story, and this imagination is no invention. She is pleasant. She is blonde. She is tired. She is sad. She knows here for the patients there are only numbers and quick nicknames, always referring to the sort or cause of the injury, the Car Accident, the Brain Injury, the Cyclist Accident, but here is their son so loved that she must struggle to deny joining in their weeping. The Filipina nurse, a veteran not yet burnt out of years of compassion, looks at the blonde nurse and receives shared evident pain of the patient's mother in wordless sympathy. In this quiet moment she raises within a silent, fervent prayer, sighs, nods, but feels this is not enough communication so answers one primary aspect of this sadness.
So young, she agrees, and then relays an appropriate response by expressing their ultimate nursing powerlessness. Here and now it is a only question of the patient, his will to survive, and the luck of the injury, nothing more and nothing less. She correctly assures the young, blonde, first year nurse, that there is nothing more that they can do, nothing now, nothing but their jobs, their care offered with sincerity, promise and hopeful preparation. She offers her a break.
Some charting, the young nurse says.
#- 500 words
I am ten years old alone at home. I am happy to have the house all to myself. I am happy playing at being an adult. I happily agree and receive a long-distance phone call from my father’s younger sister Aunt Sheila. My father’s father has just been in heart surgery and has not survived, will I tell my father, she says. I agree. In our family's manic play around making supper that night I forget to mention or remember this call. I am happy. I laugh at the stupid TV comedy. I play with the dog. I talk eagerly with my brother about this movie coming out that will be like Star Trek. We enjoy that evening spaghetti before it would be named Pasta and tomato and meatball sauce and powdered garlic-salt toast, the only way I know this meal comes, when suddenly I remember this long-distance phone call. I speak automatically, I speak casually, I speak without recognizing what I say until it is too late. I wish then desperately to take my words back, I wish to never speak again, I wish that this news came from someone else, but even then any adult tears came from my father to my mother in privacy of their bedroom and all I know is that confused then devastated first look. I will feel forever guilty, and it is not until many years later a girlfriend mentions that perhaps my aunt should have asked me simply to ask my father to call her. I will hear this absence and try to imagine how he heard news of my injury. I am again the source for his pain. I remember then a solid silence when I broke the news. Well, my father had said after a shaky pause, life goes on.
#- 1 250 words
I remember the jacket of the book my father wrote, when it is newly published and I am six years old. Of course, I cannot then read it but also since I never have, for it is a collection of seminar notes from a Chemistry course he teaches at University. ‘Introduction to Quantum Concepts in Spectroscopy’ is the title, and beyond the introduction and acknowledgements I never understand any of the math and symbols of thought that his students must master. The red Japanese translation is no clearer. My father will insist he wrote this book simply because there is no such text available at this level and that since publication there are better works by others. I never do read it. I see the quietly hidden jacket of my father’s book. On the back of the hardcover book is a studio photograph of my father, his youthful pale and unlined face smiling hesitantly or ironically in a way that might seem arrogant, remaining hair cut short, striped tie, rare dark sport jacket, heavy studio curtains behind him. Not much different from a family portrait by the same photo studio. I am eagerly prompted to science from earliest age when it is merely the cover images that catch my interest. On the front of the book is the title pure white on shiny black, over a line of white angled down to the triangle of a prism then giving birth to a trapezoidal spectrum. I find this cover beautiful even though I do not understand it. Later I will buy a record from Pink Floyd not because of the music that I do not know but because the album jacket art is similar. I am convinced art can express science. I certainly never can. Later I will learn that spectroscopy is the study of light to discover the chemical composition of an object, and the quantum concepts are at the time a resolution of waves and particles of photons into manageable packets, useful abstractions, but I never then or now in relevant math understand much of this. Concepts are fine for me but math is not. I decide I am not a scientist. I am sad. I am an artist. Light into spectrum is a private metaphor for my artistic projects. Light is Art. Light is everywhere revealing what is real but we do not see this illumination of nothingness until disrupted by objects. Light is clarity with no rest mass, with no time but now, substance revealed by resolution of light waves into light particles, moving through vacuum with refraction from gravity alone. Light is what I want from my art, though gravity of my words is emotion and who will measure that, who will claim this is past or future embedded in the present. Light is questions, Art is questions. Light is answers, Art is answers. Light is immediate, Art is immediate. Light is timeless, Art is timeless. Art is the atmospheric sensitivity of canary in a coalmine, ready to die to give warning of methane seeping into the air of miners, in time for their escape. This is art as predictive of the future. Art is seismographic readings of usually solid rock, finding the focus of the tremor and describing faults and movement. This is art as descriptive of the moments past. Art is spectrum cast by prism, the light that illuminates everything against absolute darkness, of which nothing travels faster in a perfect vacuum, the universal constant, the absolute certainty, the rock of reality perched on a dragonfly’s wing. This is art as the indefinite present that unifies as it separates, that transforms future into past. Art is timeless. I decide this proud claim removes me from expectations and so guilt of never truly understanding either Math or any Science. For my father’s artist sisters I am an artist lost in an oppressive household of Science, lost and perhaps trapped in this hostile other way of thinking, lost and bewildered and damaged by rational and logical and thereby dead science rather than living art. In fact I am inspired by science, I compulsively read Science Fiction, I decide Science is the ultimate rational explanation for everything explainable in the world, and what it does not explain is by definition neither rational nor explainable. I decide Science is universal truth and essentially objective and somehow real and rational from all perspectives, and what is not universally true and essentially objective is by definition neither true nor essential. I decide at an early age that the fact I do not understand math and therefore science is entirely consistent with being artistic though from this earliest age I venture even some Science Fiction stories from my limited knowledge primarily because I like images of rocket ships and robots and aliens. For my father there is voiced frustration thst the doctors who look at my case are unable to „know“ anything, for he has somewhat materialist concept of the mind in the brain, in that if it is injured here surely this aspect of mind is likely affected. In the many years since I start with the same predjudice, after all if insubstantial light can be understood surely physico-chemical parts of the brain can be understood. I only begin to change my beliefs in reading certain philosophers in the Continental tradition, but I cannot say I fully understand all opposing arguments. I come to the belief that perhaps Scientific thought is not the entire way to understand the mind in the brain, no matter how it illuminates ceretain natural science aspects, no matter how its light is essential to full understanding of the injury. Light is that most common way by which we humans understand the universe through our eyes, yet can have no role when when we are sleeping or sleeping that is not sleep of the coma. Light is something my father can understand far better than I can imagine, but there are no answers in the darkness of the coma. I am my mind always more than my brain, as light is always more than its electromagnetic spectrum, but how to know this I do not know. I read. I do not understand any more than I will ever understand science. I am sad. My father will comfort me by saying that when someone says they understand Quantum Physics, this is a good indication that they do not. Of course this is an error to say I learn these concepts for to the extent I follow them involves no necessary math, but I have learned there is something so beautiful and abstract when it is light itself that answers your questions. For there is almost always light, except perhaps in death and its near cousin the coma.
#- 1 750 words
I sleep that is not sleep. I am not there. In this portrayal of the event and the night and early morning of the injury as much as the day before, obviously there are neither immediate memories nor later questions answered, for who knows what details are details and what details are not details and what details are important, what details might suggest an entire emotional landscape, and what details are superfluous if not simply forgotten. Although my coma will of course persist brightest day and shorter night for forty-nine days, I see those waiting through the coma in my writing imagination only at night, only in quiet early morning hours when there are no others but staff and sometimes family and sometimes friends, only when there is no weather to notice outside in clouds and rain and summer hail storms or unbroken sunshine and gusting breezes. I will return to the NCCU later. I will know that the ward walls are institutional pale tan, that the windows at night are black reflecting with no curtains or blinds, that the industrial linoleum is flecked with kinds of brown on beige. I will want to tell this story in vivid images that capture all meaning, that require no comment, but there are always some things for which an image is not enough. I have no memories, I have no researched idea of which machine does what and how and what macine details of their uses, but I take this all on faith. I have faith in the designed applications of theoretical science. I imagine the odd scultural constellation of caring machines in pale smooth gray metal, in brushed gray metal, in black plastic, in beige plastic, in chrome aluminum railings beside the bed usually raised for security and rarely lowered for medical attention, in hospital green or blue sheets flat or distressed in wrinkles beneath my body and tightly folded over top. I imagine the blind screens of monitors beeping and beeping as they describe my heart rate in pulsing dots in jagged lines that by their brightness seem to be moving from side to side, an ordinary and typical motion illusion generated by our eyes, then and then resolving its wave function into a dreaded flat line of dots so familiar of all those visual media that pretend to describe moments of life-threatening trauma and possible death, then beeping and returning to jagged lines or urgent life. I will not say there is no parallel between this occurrence and that occurrence, this line or that line described, and the amorphous and fleeting or persistent feelings of others while I am in the coma. I sleep that is not sleep. I am not there. I see doctors and nurses and therapists, but I do not see what they see. I imagine the usual trauma nurses reading and adjusting this machine and this other machine, only I do not see them as humans or as individuals but as physical extensions of the machines, no matter how beautiful they seem from my wounded perspective, for someone who cares for my life cannot fail to be beautiful. Or so I tell myself. I will explain to curious enquiries that I was asleep for forty-nine Days, only near the end of these weeks having any memories, and these are simply of a very bad dream. I sleep. I have no idea and no dreams and no sense anywhere near lucid consciousness that I am on that fragile declining edge towards death.
My father has no intellectual way to apprehend this injury, as no one has any certainty- this is a brain injury- everyone is different. My father is only somewhat comforted by a CAT-scan done later that first day, that morning he has obviously not slept, but it is not nerves or tiredness that dampens his alertness. It is fear. A neurology Resident, by coincidence once a pre-med Chemistry student of my father, willingly but conservatively interprets resulting images on transparencies clipped to light boxes on the wall.
Tiny dark mark in this area- injury, the neurology Resident says. Ghosting area through and below- brainstem. No longer bleeding now- these are from his arrival, we’ll have new ones in an hour... All these images suggest the place of the bruise- or stroke- or aneurysm, is mostly in the brainstem and his higher level functions of forebrain, intellect and language and personality are probably undamaged...
Hopeful or fearful and usually voiced so conservatively virtually any news can be thought positive, from doctors or nurses or therapists these words will offer a range of possibility accompanying the term ‘Brain Injury’. These assertions come no closer to certainty while I am in the coma, indeed reasonable understanding is only offered when I emerge from that sleep, when I myself may answer the cognitive and sensory deficits, when I myself may answer somewhere in the usual survey range between always agree to always disagree to propositions that characterize my injury and so my loss. In the years since this survey there has been no improvement in diagniostic skill. And maybe it is enough to simply survive. This is a brain injury- everyone is different.
I die at least once but as this is not permanent and all memories are no memories, I do not know if I see a misty tunnel or a beckoning light or hear heavenly choirs- and I live- so my knowledge of death is not an experience to recount but remains as it is for anyone, finally the end of all experiences. I will read that such descriptions of near-death experience are simply the effects of any loss of consciousness, such as fainting, where lack of oxygen narrows the usual visual field, and retinal perception increases brightness in response. I do not know. Details are details. I die. I survive. For my parents in full waking life this trauma is no doubt more emotional and though he never reveals details which in this case would not be details, my father admits that this is the first and only time in his life that he has ever cried uncontrollably. As I have never seen my father cry or indeed express any emotions forcefully, this admission is enough to get some idea of turbulence of his emotions that night. My father is faced with the essential intransigent reality of death, of how there is no useful source, of how there is no light,of how there is no knowledge, of how there is nothing that he can do or learn or know that will make a difference in my death or in my survival, and this naked unknowable is more certain than anything else he has lived through. If my father ever makes a bargain with God I never learn, it would have been at this moment, but the most I can imagine is that he promises to Try to Believe and to this end will on occasion go to Church.
I die. I survive.
My father cries.
A nurse in the quiet room comforts my father.
I imagine the quiet room as the room I later see in research, in intense detail- the magic room- but there is nothing special in any ordinary visual sense. Floor of brown-flecked beige linoleum, here butterscotch yellow sofa, thin blankets beside it, one wool of dark gray stripes on pale gray ground, another satiny-bordered yellow and white, there chair of Swedish modern design, of narrow teak legs and side panels, vinyl seat and back, low table between this sofa and that chair, covered in pile of magazines, months or years out of date, and boxes of white tissue. In My father’s thoughts perhaps there is music- Opera- that evades all attempts to intellectualize, that speaks directly to his heart and summons an unavoidable emotional responsethat characterizes this moment of great pain. My father can cry uncontrollably here for that is the purpose of this room. My father sits on this sofa or that chair perhaps collapsed back or perhaps leaning then rocking forward. An emotional resonance of others before in a residual texture in the paint, the cushions, the floor, the walls and the curtains. And here in its simple fact, there is persistent memory, provoking an invisible tension, of those who have cried, who will cry, who cry now, survivors and those waiting to discover whether they will be mourning or quietly celebrating, all those brothers and sisters and children and grandchildren and mothers and fathers.
Your father became much more open, Jane Clarke will tell me. After your coma he became more emotional.
My father will not neglect to thank all the nurses by after my coma, creating a jumble of all the nurse’s names on a thank you printout. My father does this. My father finds the apparently persisting kindness of these professionals here so close to death in the NCCU a matter of great courage.
#- 750 words
I imagine my mother looking at photo albums. She is alone at Bearspaw in the living room with large albums and small albums and some unplaced photos lying on the sofa cushion beside her and the coffee table before. She is turning the large plastic-wrapped pages where photos are arranged and named on sticky cardboard with clear plastic pages sealed to horizontal lines of adhesive. She is looking at developed prints in these typical physical forms so many years before digital photographs arranged with clicks and arrows and saved on computers and organized with added music and motion. She is looking at plastic envelopes opposite paragraphs or tickets or maps in newer albums. She sits beside the sleeping cat, stroking him quietly, listening for the sound of my father returning and the garage door rising and whatever news he can offer. She is looking at these pages for sympathetic magic. I see my mother looking, but I do not see what she sees. I may have always had some artistic sense of images, but photography had only ever been memories caught and not attempts at art and when I belatedly discover girls loved to be photographed it is too late to take it up. I am sad. I recognize that such technology, to actually capture time past, is not merely craft, but emotions seen in each moment. Emotions lead to memory to now to emotions all described in images, perhaps why photo albums can be so interesting to those intimately connected to people within or shared places, yet often boring as vacation slides of strangers or even people known but not more than occasional friends. Photo albums of my mother are collections of years and years that she has organized with typical librarian clarity and in this photographic past I see myself as a baby, I see myself as a child, I see myself as a adolescent, I see myself as a young adult. I see all these images of me but of course I do not see what my mother sees. I do not think that during the coma she ever examines these photos with my father, for unscientific superstition insures he will not look, that he will not dare to imagine that these photos are the last photos taken of me or the last time he will see me. Mother remembers me yet but in her deliberate faith refuses to imagine those will be the last pictures or the last time she will see me. Mother will later insist my father would have loved me had I emerged from the coma mentally challenged- he would, though it would have been hard for him, because she sees my intellectual way so similar to my father and something we shared and how hard it would be to lose that connection, he would have loved me mentally challenged but she never wants to see his love so tested. Mother has previously tried to see evidence of the traumas I had suffered as a child but she had not sensed it at those moments so it is a question how can she think to sense it now. I am twenty-five years old. It does not seem possible. I am the year younger brother and always her baby, yet harder for her to understand for my tendency to intellectual absorption is much more typical of my father’s family, even if I always hope to look like and already sometimes act more like her father than my own father. Mother remembers me as a child dancing to the music of Charlie Brown“s Christmas animated TV show. Mother looks at me and prays silently that I will emerge whole or nearly so.
#- 750 words
I see my empty studio apartment some days after my injury. I see my father and family friend Anne arriving to clean it up. I see it now silent however disrupted by violent noise several nights past but of course I do not see what they see. There is no one with them and no one welcoming them and there is no apparent sense of what has happened or that who it happened to is in a coma near death. There is no yellow crime ribbon prohibiting entrance to my father and Derek, to live-in management, because there was no crime here, only an injury from a fall, no one else was there, just a fall. In this quiet silence my apartment is visually very loud for my apartment is disastrous mess, or at least the disordered papers of some curent project, some forgotten project, some artistic project, and I am not there to reveal any logic to placement of anything, are a mess, the futon bed unmade, the books of various vintage and genre and format scattered, are a mess. I have neither radio nor stereo, but the music would have been in my head. I remember I would disperse my printed papers before the injury as if an action-painter like Jackson Pollock, and then fully coordinated, I would have leaped and capered and placed each hardcopy in some meaningful overlapping pattern, I would have given the papers layered order, but to my father it looks simply a mess. And perhaps it is a mess now, it was so that night of the injury, perhaps I had lost track of the thread of placement logic, perhaps I had slid this pile into that pile, perhaps there is only anger and futility and despair expressed and not any sort of meaning. I do not know. I see my father and Anne look around in sad tentative confusion. I do not remember either anger or meaning or perhaps both. I see my father gathering my clean clothes, my plastic hangers, my wooden chest of drawers, my dented futon, my wooden bedside table, my books, my writing, my drawing, my lamp, my kitchen, stripping what few images I had taped to the walls, gathering computer and TV and VCR and a tape which will go back to the rental in Chinatown, tape late but fine forgiven when the man who works there, the man whom I talk only serious movies from time to time, hears what has happened. I see my father and Anne only minimally aware of what they gather, for it is not details that matter, details are details. I see them gathering flotsam of my life without pausing to question each object. I see this cleaning done this evening some days after the injury, done when they have time, done when schedule is least affected, and late evening summer light is too beautiful against the pain felt, the sunset so late, so golden, so cerulean with the evening star alone in the darkening blue sky. I see my father wander the studio, I see him check the bathroom, I see my father telling Anne how he wishes he could cry, to release all the tension, all the pressure, all the stress and helplessness he feels. My father will confess this much later, after the coma, with a shy smile and shy nod of his head as though momentarily ashamed, but what matters is how Derek responds, how Father himself has no idea. Anne tells my father he is at that moment weeping soundlessly, tears streaking down his face, unnoticed and silent.
#- 750 words
I try to describe what I cannot know, of how my injury affects this person or that person, but it is all fiction and who knows how accurate. I do not know what happens for my brother. We never speak of this. We were very close as children only about a year apart, he the elder, and I remember him as always there. I see him standing in the shadows of the NCCU, watching the machines, dressed as for work in suit and tie and large dark coat. He is also as tan, heavier, about as tall, with dark curly hair, brown eyes, features more Hawai’ian-Chinese. I see my brother looking, but I do not see what he sees. I remember how seriously careful he explains how to cross the big road en route to our elementary school, how to use the crosswalk, how to put your hand out and wait for cars to stop, how to walk straight across, and ever since he had always been there. I remember that as children we had this idea we were going to marry sisters and never be apart, that we would travel together in a sort of big trailer home built out of a semi-trailer truck. I remember the soft houses we built out of bed sheets and blankets and square pillows. I remember the snow forts and tunnels we dug in drifts from snow fences in the field opposite our old house in the city, and how we would play there with each other and the dog until it was darkening winter afternoons or later summer evenings. I remember how everything began to change when we moved to Bearspaw, how fortunate we were to discover two brothers just nearby with whom we learned to play Role-playing games, with my brother as ruler and creator, then how our interests grew apart, how we both read, how I would not read books he liked because I did not want to not like it, how we did not argue, how we did not fight, how in many ways we were protective of each other. I was dismissive of other boys who defined their worth according to intellect or according to strategy or according to school marks. I remember good marks were something expected and we never compared. I remember High School afternoon party he diverts drunken me and the other from fighting. I remember how he refuses to let me jump off a bridge although my friends do. I remember how he gets me one job working on night crew at a supermarket where he had worked, where we mostly students stacked and restocked shelves, and later another job as a waiter through a friend of a friend of my brother. I remember how skeptical I am of his friends, my brother deserves loyalty, my brother deserves respect, my brother deserves love. One boy suggests I win fights with my brother, and I am horrified at the thought that we would ever physically fight, even how we will evade any sort of confrontation. My brother had prayed I would survive the coma close to who I had been. I do survive and this is enough for him to believe in God, but does not insist I do as well. We never speak of this. We do not speak of then. I am beyond any protection of my big brother. I sleep. My favorite picture of us is me as a baby in a chair on the floor, looking up to my brother dressed up, smiling, and proudly holding a milk bottle to me.
#- 1 000 words
I see my father at work at the University. He sets his own hours but has decided that he will distract or at least occupy himself with his work between those hours he visits me, but this strategy is of variable use. I see him sorting his papers in a much more reasoned catalogue than I ever have. I see him pause in blankness looking not at his papers or computer or even the wall, but somewhere inside himself so hard to focus. I see him scratch new notes on unlined paper, with that particular backwards slant to the letters and symbols he had learned in childhood to compensate for his left-handedness. I see him pause again and maybe allow a grunt of displeasure at some thought, some writing, some work before him. I see him detach his glasses and set them on the desk, and close his eyes with grunt becoming sigh. I see him massage his temples. I see him slowly shake his head and begin variations of this entire gestural routine again and again, on the third day, the fourth day, the fifteenth day of my coma. My father has piercing migraines sometimes with causes he does not know, though this one seems clearly caused by his worries of me, and though from outside his body and mind it is not possible to see thinking or writing or reading but this is his work. He loves his work. He often will bring home papers to read and work on when some fathers might prefer virtually anything on TV. I see my father but I do not see what he sees. His office fluorescent lights hum but this is the only sound, unlike his desk at Bearspaw, where he accesses his small stereo on headphones to listen to Opera while he works. His office is on the third floor near the northwest corner of the Science B building, and I know the office neighbors who are also Theoretical Chemistry or Physical Chemistry or Chemical Physics professors, from England and Germany and India and the Netherlands. I am always proud to see that Grand International Project at work. His office has many metal shelves and huge block of filing cabinets, where once I ask to safely store some of my hardcopy original drawings. My father’s office is safe for me, and perhaps also for him. The entire thesis that he has always lived, the idea that knowledge is a good he should strive to acquire, now spurs my father to research brain injuries and comas beyond what limited papers are offered by counselors at the NCCU. This research can only frustrate him for the relevant authorities the scientists and the neurologists and the doctors, are united only in educated ignorance, in cautious judgement, and this is a source of helpless undirected anger. This is a brain injury- everyone is different. I see him sorting his papers, I see him pause, I see him scratch notes on unlined paper, I see him pause again. The filing cabinets are black metal and rise to my chest, the shelves are buried in texts, the walls are gray fabric and black plastic molding, the blackboards are never clean and empty though I do not recognize symbols or read often illegible handwriting, the floors are gray and white linoleum, there is a large palm-type plant in one window, and there are many pictures arranged on one board above his desk. I see this office entirely unchanged except for the evolution of whatever Apple computer and printer he uses. I see a full-page photo from Life magazine above his desk, a portrait of the Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back character Yoda, which certain students had given to my father with playful gratitude to his way of teaching. My father is bald, his ears large if not pointed, and when excited by ideas the creases of his forehead also unite with his smile to embrace sparkling eyes. I hope to look more like my mother’s father than he, though perhaps our eyebrows are similar, as are certainly intellectual tendency and sense of humor. I see the original felt-pen drawing from when I was fourteen, of the head-on silhouette of a man walking his dog, inside the form a representational attempt at an urban street. I look away when I look at it, I see only the errors, I remember even at the time being frustrated at lack of skill, I think of how it is not a remarkable idea but could be easier effected by using some current computer design program. I can read, I can remember, I can use words more than lines or notation of visual art. I now will be extremely frustrated in losing coordination of my right hand to draw. I see my father look at his favorite photograph of my brother and me, grainy and pale enlargement, on his cluttered desk. I see him looking, but I do not see what he sees. The photograph is taken by my mother, in a campground in Northern Ontario, summer 1967, en route to his father, with My father in his softened cowboy hat and boots watching my brother catching water from a pump I am pulling down. My father will later claim he does not remember details of raising my brother and me, but this finds him smiling and very much there.
#- 750 words
During the coma, my mother talks with the mother of the bicycle accident patient, Jeff, a young white man, who persists in his coma then comes out some weeks before me. She is deliberately positive, as my mother will be. Her eyes are green, her hair russet, and her posture athletic. She defies sorrow or fear. She suggests my mother keep a diary of the time I am in a coma, with the hope I will want to read it after my awakening. She is someone with whom my mother can share that unique fear and pain of any mother whose child is beyond her protection. Implicit in her recommended process is the hope I will emerge and be yet able to read. This is all my mother can do. As much as this other mother, my mother will refuse despair. She does not know exactly what is done, what is injured, what these machines and those doctors and nurses can do, nothing certain, but as the coma progresses she learns what little aid and great hope she can offer. Details are not details for my mother. She learns all that she can do, everything she can do, and this is mostly giving my sleeping body constant sensory stimulation in hopes mybrain will wake to it, my mind return lucid and awake, and finds desperate hope in the smallest signs of hopeful aspects of extreme diagnosis. She can hope. Abstraction is not enough. My father may be frustrated by the sense that nobody knows with any certainty and how it is a brain injury and every brain injury is different, but my mother sees room through this for miraculous recovery. Here, when my father might have superstitious doubt about the efficacy of hoping too much, my mother perhaps believes the opposite, believes that it is better to hope, better to expect only the best outcome, and save emotional energy for whatever will be the case. My father does not like to ever feel helpless, and this lack of definite knowledge is a kind of helplessness. My mother refuses to imagine she is truly helpless and decides on her faith and miracles and what I will rather than blessing call luck. I am not a religious person so do not imagine any sort of deity or other supernatural force that can bless me. I believe in luck. However I am injured by contusion or by aneurysm, what tiny difference of site of bruise or rupture of blood vessel, by microns this way or microns that way, could have had fatal implications beyond the very high probability to the resulting coma. I am lucky. However I am found late that night or early morning, that I am found directly after the injury, that police are investigating a noise complaint, that the paramedics arrive swiftly and training and technology is able to deliver me to the NCCU, I am fortunate in these events. I am lucky. Later, after the coma and during the rehabilitation and in years since, I may not understand the abbreviations or words or meanings in the transcription of my mother's diary but the fact of the diary, however brief, however opaque, is useful in my later research because it reveals status of those outside my coma and how it was for them in complete waking and lucid consciousness, how it was for my father and how it was for my mother and others, and in my later research I do not hesitate to read this diary. I am asleep for forty-nine days. Others may have been too much awake.
#- 1 000 words
Details are not details for my mother, details are not forgotten, details I must be told later, after the coma and during the rehabilitation, and this is firstly in recognition of how many of their friends and mine are concerned and supportive during the coma. On the other hand, this is not something that I should research or bother others or otherwise expect to investigate even then so close to the facts or later to the facts or now so long after the facts. I have even then and ever only limited allowance to interrogate her or my father, as this was, as these memories are of, my mother will understate firmly, not a happy time. I can describe all these people, I can imagine all their superficial emotions, but I cannot resolve all more particular qualities. Is it not enough to know so many people care, is it not enough to simply have survived, is it something I must truly wrestle into a work of some art, my mother will ask me various times over the years. I have no answer. I think I can make this into a work of art, but truly it is perhaps plot and not poetics that will achieve this state, and maybe it is a mistaken aspiration, maybe I do not have a true idea of how to make this true autobiography of such unique events, actually worth reading once let alone twice. My father will understand my urge to know this and know that medical or scientific or philosophical interpretation of the brain injury, the coma, the rehabilitation, as apparently I do not have the idea my personal experience is true enough. I do not then nor later nor even now have access to any equivalent memoirs. My father will allow in telling me his own technical knowledge of the coma, and this is little enough, because as always it is a brain injury and every brain injury is different, so he is also rendered intellectually helpless, and together my parents gather what little solace possible through understanding what this nurse and that nurse and other nurses and doctors and therapists will say at the NCCU. My parents friends, my friends also, come to visit and comfort and pronounce injustice of my severe misfortune, for sorrow shared is sorrow reduced, and there is nothing else for anyone to do. There are the Clarke’s, Canadians of English and Scot descent, the boys, Jane the mother, James the father who knows My father through a former undergraduate roommate from when in the University of Western Ontario then forty years past. There are Derek and Ellen, a white farm boy from Minnesota and a Jewish girl from Winnipeg. There are relatives from my father’s side, the Worthys, also Canadians of English and Scot descent, a cousin and cousin’s husband and kids, young children I had entertained, the mother also a nurse from another hospital. There is my brother David, working as a lawyer, and his wife Mary and their daughter Leilani, who is yet only crawling about the floor of the hospital quiet room. There is a man who speaks of my father sincerely as his ‘guru’, a Tamil from Madras, a city in southern India, who had once been an undergraduate student, who comes to visit me every morning, reading and discussing the sports pages of the newspaper, and his wife, with his son. Lynn, who is of Russian and Swedish descent, learns of this coma in Vancouver and cries. I will be later surprised at this news- it has been two years since we lived together- I had thought that she might not want to remember our time together, I had thought she might remain unaffected, I remember it as she initiating the breakup no matter how amicable, for I fail to recognize how my life is a significant part of her emotional history. I am fortunate that it seems an entire world cares for me, this world of my parents and my friends. I will come to realize that not everything before the coma had been rendered meaningless against the insistent meaning of the coma. There are other family friends such as the ex-wife of that same former roommate from UWO, and her daughters. During my coma all anyone can do is share in waiting, first in person on the days immediately after, next in occasional visits and persistent inquiry, for many finally only by phone when their own lives would give them time, as days, as weeks will pass, then a month, and details only change rather than this unknowable sleep here with skilled professionals, a place, a hospital bed, machines designed and nurses educated for this constant care. The Clarke’s come many times over many days and James and Jane are always there to listen to the anxious fear and sorrow my parents offer, the boys come later when I am again waking, and my father will say how pleased he has always been that he and mother shared also in the growth of these other children. The Worthy’s come often, the mother arriving every few days to wash and turn my body as a volunteering nurse, the children draw pictures of felt pens on white paper and these are mounted on the cabinet by my head, some of these are childish portraits of me and some are of Bearspaw.
#- 1 250 words
These are selected direct transcriptions of the coma diary my mother keeps, though she does not claim artistry and wonders how this can be integrated to the section on the injury, wonders if she has recorded the right things, wonders if the medical details are relevant, wonders if details are details. My mother keeps this diary at first often days apart, at first dated and detailed, always impresionistic and hopeful, always independent of my father. It is through this diary and rare conversations with my mother that I develop some sense of which I can create no better than fiction, how my coma passes for those others, for however close they are, for this experience is essentially private, this experience is subjective by definition, this experience can never be assessed or described or known in any way except by the coma survivor in retrospect, if there are any memories. This requires that the coma is survived, and no one at any point during the coma is certain. There are no memories of the injury, the night, the day before. There are no memories that describing these early days and nights of the coma. There is hope. And as nurses and doctors and therapists caution, this is a brain injury and every brain injury is different. There is hope that this will be a chronicle of triumph that later I will read and marvel. There is hope. There is little recognition of my usual mild response to any significant event, but then my mother might be hopeful I will come out of the coma recognizable but different. This story is no tragedy, for I do survive. This story is only an unusual kind of comedy, not a marriage plot, for no one gets married. And Bill is my father.
Friday, 3 August 1990.
Michael you were lying in bed attached to a respirator breathing for you at 16 breaths per minute. An IV of 2/3- 1/3 with 20 meq. KCL is attached to your right wrist, also an arterial line is in place with which BP, resp, pulse could be monitored. ECG leads were on your chest attached to a monitor reading your heart rate. A Foley catheter is in place draining clear amber urine to a catheter bag. A nurse is in attendance and is monitoring your neurological signs frequently, eg. checking pupil response, your response to painful stimulI on your toes, hands and neck. You were very restless at times and nurses were having to give you large amounts of fentanyl (a narcotic/analgesic) to help keep you quiet so swelling in your brain would not increase any further and also so you would not buck the respirator. Michael you were able to grasp my hand with your left hand and also to move your left leg. Suctioning is required frequently through your ET tube and of your mouth as a lot of secretions were being produced and also because you were developing aspiration pneumonia.
Wednesday, 8 August 1990.
1 week. Lucy visits. CAT scan again. No change, which is good news. Chest X-ray shows lungs clearing.
Thursday, 16 August 1990.
Well today Michael you are two weeks into your recovery. Today you have a tracheotomy but they are weaning you from the respirator and so far you are doing well. You now do not have a catheter but you are unable to void yet so the nurses catheterize you q. 6 hours. You are moving much more now so for your own protection they have tied your left hand down so that you cannot pull out your trachea tube or IV. You appear to be responding to me Michael when I talk to you. You will turn your head and look at me now, also your right hand is now moving more.
Monday, 20 August 1990.
Michael you are now off the respirator and they are giving you 28% oxygen through tubes to your trachea. You are breathing well on your own as your blood gasses are coming back to normal. You are very much more alert tonight. Tonight when I arrived and told you I was there, and who I was, I also told you to open both your eyes and turn your head, and look at me and you did. This was a very thrilling moment for me because I knew for the first time that you were with me. You also tried to say something to me but your mouth would not co-operate to form a word for you. We had a good talk and you appeared to be listening to what I was saying. We talked about how frustrating in your body now when it does not co-operate and how sick you must be of being in bed all the time and how good a back rub must feel. I also told you why you were here in the hospital and that we must be patient for the healing process in your head to take place and most important of all that you must keep fighting. You were very active with your left hand tonight but we found the position you wanted your hand in and that was with our palms facing each other and our fingers locked through each other’s. Once I found that position you were content with your hand and calmed down so that you were able to look at me and listen to what I was saying.
Friday, 24 August 1990
Bill in early. Michael had a good night. Awoke when put on Hawai’ian music. Noon. Sat up when male nurse changed his shirt, helped to push self up in chair. Bladder infection- sulfur drug prescribed by Dr K---. Pink eye- will not use drugs, just keep clear. PM NikkI nurse- Michael reaches for nose plug, moves head purposefully. Tries to speak. Oxygen down to 24%- room air is 23%- a possibility of removing trachea.
Tuesday, 11 September 1990
Michael talking. Nurse said Michael grabbed pen so gave him papers to write on: ‘Help me’ continuously. Seems to be a common thing. Michael had his glasses on when Bill took him for a wheelchair-ride, could hardly hold his head up.
Sunday, 16 September 1990.
AM Bill went in and asked if Michael could see large clock in the hallway and he nodded.
PM Went in wearing old shirt and asked ‘recognize your shirt?’ and Michael nodded. Understood line in nose is for food, nodded but still tried to grab it when hand released.
Thursday, 20 September 1990.
AM Major step. Michael is able to sleep without ventilator/moist oxygen. Lungs cleared and Bill and I relieved. Voice getting stronger. Michael thoroughly enjoyed food as solids at last, even if no flavor. Bill fed him Jell-O, toast and jam for breakfast and I fed him mushroom soup, ice cream and some stew. Nurses kept him on Ensure to curb his appetite and prevent him from eating too fast.
PM Gulped lots of air and ended up burping. Spat out peas when he was tired eating- then apologized! Later Ellen and Derek visited. Bill took him for a wheelchair-ride and then Michael said he was tired and he wanted to go to bed.
#- 305 words
I am not now and never was a religious person. I am philosophical person. I am interested in Buddhism because I like the idea that doctrine or discipline must be understood in itself and not simply understood as a given assertion from a supernatural source such as a god. I like the idea that metaphysics involved does not require beliefs in sins or souls or a cosmology of heaven and earth and hell. I like the idea that mental discipline could save me or anyone in life troubles of death. I had about the same real actions of Buddhism as I had reading existentialism. I liked the idea that idealism was stronger than materialism in living correctly. I became interested in Philosophy starting at the more complex and known modern end with Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, with Existentialism. I become interested in Buddhism starting at the more complex and known modern end, with Allen Watts, with Zen. I had read once an iconic Zen Buddhist story, the variant I remember with two people, a wandering artist-monk and an Emperor who has offered him food and shelter. This potentate wants the artist to write in typical Chinese calligraphy, a scroll that brings good luck, much as an indigent artist might pay for drinks at a café with original paintings. After a moment’s thought the artist dashes off the characters. The Emperor is furious, I ask for good luck and all you can offer me are these three phrases all about death! I read the first and it says Grandfather Dies, I read the second and it says Father Dies, I read the last and it says Son Dies! The artist protests, but Sire, this is the natural order and you are a lucky man if it happens this way!
#- 1 750 words
I recount here then current medical perspective.
Later, after the coma, after the rehabilitation, in the years since, I review all the papers of my coma and early rehabilitation from Foothills Hospital Medical Records, nine years later, after an Information Request satisfied in six weeks. I do not trust my experience but wish to see it from outside my mind, from professionals who know so much more about this brain injury that is always different, from some objective perspective of my limited subjective perspective. I am not confident in my subjectivity. I do not trust what I do have of my memories because they are only my memories. After all, these memories do not include the event, the night, the day before my injury. Despite what the nurses and doctors and therapists tell me, I wonder what important experiences are forgotten, I wonder how the accident occurred, I wonder how I was rescued and in the coma brought to the hospital, I wonder of many details that are details and details that are not details. I want to remember, now. I do not. I have the hopeful idea that if I just look at the actual medical records, the actual objective account, the actual physical description of this event or action and this other event and other action, I will know what to write, I will know how to write, I will know all I need to know to finally write out a definitive Final Draft. I am wrong.
I read all the various papers that are photocopied from paramedics’ reports and graphs and computer lists and nurses’ readings and logs and incidence reports and brief Neurologist apprehensions and understandings and diagnosis and orders and results. There are over 800 photocopied pages. I am unable to read some handwriting and some are incompletely photocopied from poor originals and some are burdened with technical terms beyond my interest to research and explicate even to myself or perhaps are just boring as many pages are simply repetitive readings from support machines taken every half-hour then every shift and listed then graphed.
I read the few hand-written forms that admit me to care through Emergency Admissions: the quick outline paramedics note- the height of stairs the patient is found below (eight steps), the police who are investigating a noise complaint, the cause is assigned to the patient, the ‘wrecked’ apartment, then the patient mental/physical states (unconscious and unresponsive), the heart rate of that moment (110) and the blood pressure of that moment (160/80), the use of a ‘scoop’ stretcher to bring the injured patient down, the blood in the nostrils, that there are no apparent bruises and that there are no apparent exterior marks on body, the skin firm and dry, the right and the left eyes dilations, the patient breathing but paralyzed. The patient is transferred from Emergency to NCCU (Neuro Critical Care Unit) at Foothills Hospital.
I read the computer papers of the NCCU. The patient is entered at 2: 24 AM Thursday 2 August 1990. The patient is 183 centimetres long, and weighs 77.55 kilograms. The patient's heart rate paramedics find at 110 beats per minute, but NCCU records the patient at 92 bpm. The patient's blood pressure is 154 over 88. The patient's temperature is 39.5 Celsius. Oxygen mask saturation is 100 per-cent. At 06:00 the patient Neurological Vital Signs are again recorded: coma scale- eye opening: none- 1 (Glasgow Coma Scale: 0= dead, 1= severe… 6= mild) Best Verbal Response: none- 1 (silent) Flexion Withdrawal- 4 Decorticate/ABD flexion - 3 RT/LT Arm Abnormal Posture RT/LT Leg Abnormal Posture (Glasgow Coma Scale: 0= dead, 1= severe… 6= mild). Pupil Size: Right Dilated .5mm, Left Dilated .8mm. Pupil Response: R/L Fixed (no unconscious pupil closing to pointed bright light). Medications prescribed, rates of IV are this way determined with accuracy, consistent and repeated. These papers are continually updated: skin pink and dry; agitation, restlessness; regular chest expansion, symmetrical, diminished breathing sounds LT anterior upper lower lobe, coarse, ‘crackling’ on inspiration; spontaneous movement of LT, sluggish on RT. these papers register the minutest changes of the patient's physical state for hours, for days, for weeks.
In care logs doctors write assessments, narrative histories in medical terminology, of the patient’s ‘obvious trauma’, of the patient’s ‘a rather severe head injury’, of the patient’s ‘intracerebral hemorrhage’, of the patient’s ‘hematoma’; that ‘at best, his prognosis (is) guarded’; summarize results of emergency CAT scans showing a tiny clot of blood in brainstem, how this resolves over the following days; subsequent scans, consistent with ‘a degree of cerebral atrophy post-traumatic’; that the patient is ‘treated medically aggressively’; and then concerns listings of drugs prescribed, blood work assessed; constant care from nurses’ logs, hours and days. These logs may duplicate information that the computer had recorded, but the observation of the nurses is immediate and directed and essential, to answer questions from, or search out data for the neurologists who are working on the case. The patient's heart rate jumps around, probably from the various medications, and graphs follow this restless tendency: 99 beats per minute up to 107, 105 down to 80 bpm, up to 100, down to 85, up to 100, down to 98, down to 78, down to 69, 68, up to 72, up to 95, down to 75, down to 61. When the patient's heart rate levels off it is usually in the high 60s. The patient's temperature reads 37 up to 38.3. Degrees Celsius, a slight fever. The patient's blood pressure range remains 120 over 70- sometimes lower, rarely higher- lowest at 112 over 65, peaking at 176 over104. As hours become days, days become weeks, and weeks become a month there is some stability and doctors decide to wean the patient off a ventilator- the patient has been ‘bucking’ it off- down from 100 per-cent oxygen, down to 99, down to 80, down to 68, down down down to room oxygen at 23 per-cent oxygen. (As I write this, age 37, my Blood Pressure is 124 over 80, and my Heart Rate is 67 bpm- and as far as I know room oxygen is 23%)
There is analysis of the area of the injury, a reading from 17 September, that goes beyond what limited medical, anatomical knowledge I know, and concerns the doctors enough to underline and discuss this physical anomaly. The patient has ‘for a person of 25 years of age, the ventricles (that) appear to be generous in size’, then compared to examination of 8 August, notes how these and ‘sylvan fissures’ had been widened, how this ‘most likely represent(s) diffuse post traumatic atrophy’ but ‘in view of the significant increase in the size of the left lateral ventricles, the possibility of hydrocephalous (swelling of brain) cannot be excluded’. I learn later that ‘ventricles’ are chambers inside the cortex where cerebrospinal fluid is created and stored, this fluid cushions and flows around the brain, replenishing itself every four to six hours. This fluid protects the grey matter.
There is medical description of tracheostomy performed, August 16- which is without incidence- to assure medicine is safely introduced, various tubes entered, then later the weaning off, the re-establishment of gag reflex as the trachea is later removed. I would be offered cosmetic surgery to reduce the scar, months later, but I never pursue this possibility.
There are a series of papers noting potential beginning of pneumonia, a very dangerous infection for a coma body, and the close attention, the new drugs brought in against this possibility. Fortunately this does not develop into full pneumonia and no other infections or viruses lodge, noted in the constant fluid secretions, the ‘sputum’ that comes from my lungs: white-yellow, ‘creamy’, translucent white, clear...
There are nurses’ ‘incident reports', for as soon as the patient begins to move again- 17 August- later, just before full recovery to consciousness, the patient starts ripping out tubes and trying to stand and crashing to the floor and nurses must enter and lift me back onto the bed. My memories are here put on a timetable.
There are numbers, numbers that characterize vital signs, numbers that measure the constant medications, the varied attempts, successes and failures of alterations in care. In the first twelve days of the coma these listings and the nurses’ care logs are updated every time a new shift came on. In the long following weeks the patient remains unconscious, and when I finally wake for fragments of times some days or nights, I am not lucid, rational, or show any understanding of this place or the injury I have suffered. I am now unable to recall how I am then, though perhaps this is at the moment real and vividly strange. Psychotic episodes, like these memories, create an opacity for protection of that self I call myself, a person I would rather be, a person who continues and lives in that generally shared world of most people.
I am alive. I am a lucky man.