I remembered a bang.
I remembered the car slewing sideways.
I remember another bang, and then it was lights out.
When I opened my eyes again, I saw the sky.
Or I could be under water.
Everything was blurred.
I tried to focus but I couldn’t. My eyes were full of water.
Why was I lying down?
Where was I?
I cast my mind back, trying to remember.
It was a blank.
What, when, who, why and where, questions I should easily be able to answer. Questions any normal person could answer.
I tried to move. Bad, bad mistake.
I did not realise the scream I heard was my own. Just before my body shut down.
“My God! What happened?”
I could hear, not see. I was moving, lying down, looking up.
I was blind. Everything was black.
“Car accident, hit a tree, sent the passenger flying through the windscreen. Pity to poor bastard didn’t get the message that seat belts save lives.”
Was I that poor bastard?
“Report?” A new voice, male, authoritative.
“Multiple lacerations, broken collar bone, broken arm in three places, both legs broken below the knees, one badly. We are not sure of internal injuries, but ruptured spleen, cracked ribs and pierced right lung are fairly evident, x-rays will confirm that and anything else.”
“What isn’t broken?”
“Then I would have to say we are looking at the luckiest man on the planet.”
I heard shuffling of pages.
“Yes. On standby since we were first advised.”
“Good. Let’s see if we can weave some magic.”
It was the first word that popped into my head when I surfaced from the bottom of the lake. That first breath, after holding it for so long, was sublime, and, in reality, agonising.
Magic, because it seemed like I’d spent a long time under water.
I tried to speak, but couldn’t. The words were just in my head.
Was it night or was it day?
Was it hot, or was it cold?
Where was I?
Around me it felt cool.
It was very quiet. No noise except for the hissing of air through an air-conditioning vent. Or perhaps that was the sound of pure silence. And with it the revelation that silence was not silent. It was noisy.
I didn’t try to move.
Instinctively, somehow I knew not to.
A previous bad experience?
I heard what sounded like a door opening, and very quiet footsteps slowly come into the room. They stopped. I could hear breathing, slightly laboured, a sound I’d heard before.
He had smoked all his life, until he was diagnosed with lung cancer. But for years before that he had emphysema. The person in the room was on their way, down the same path. I could smell the smoke.
I wanted to tell whoever it was the hazards of smoking.
I heard a metallic clanging sound from the end of the bed. A moment later the clicking of a pen, then writing.
“You are in a hospital.” A female voice suddenly said. “You’ve been in a very bad accident. You cannot talk, or move, all you can do, for the moment, is listen to me. I am a nurse. You have been here for 45 days, and just come out of a medically induced coma. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
She had a very soothing voice.
I felt her fingers stroke the back of my hand.
“Everything is fine.”
Define fine, I thought. I wanted to ask her what ‘fine’ meant.
“Just count backwards from 10.”
I didn’t reach seven.
Over the next ten days, that voice became my lifeline to sanity. Every morning I longed to hear it, if only for the few moments she was in the room, those few waking moments when I believed she, and someone else who never spoke, were doing tests. I knew it had to be someone else because I could smell the essence of lavender. My grandmother had worn a similar scent.
It rose above the disinfectant.
I also believed she was another doctor, not the one who had been there the day I arrived. Not the one who had used some ‘magic’ and kept me alive.
It was then, in those moments before she put me under again, that I thought, what if I was paralysed? It would explain a lot. A chill went through me.
The next morning she was back.
“My name is Winifred. We don’t know what your name is, not yet. In a few days, you will be better, and you will be able to ask us questions. You were in an accident, and you were very badly injured, but I can assure you there will be no lasting damage.”
More tests, and then, when I expected the lights to go out, they didn’t. Not for a few minutes more. Perhaps this was how I would be integrated back into the world. A little bit at a time.
The next morning, she came later than usual, and I’d been awake for a few minutes. “You have bandages over your eyes and face. You had bad lacerations to your face, and glass in your eyes. We will know more when the bandages come off in a few days. Your face will take longer to heal. It was necessary to do some plastic surgery.”
Lacerations, glass in my eyes, car accident, plastic surgery. By logical deduction, I knew I was the poor bastard thrown through the windscreen. It was a fleeting memory from the day I was admitted.
How could that happen?
That was the first of many startling revelations. The second was the fact I could not remember the crash. Equally shocking, in that same moment was the fact I could not remember before the crash either, and only vague memories after.
But the most shattering of all these revelations was the one where I realised I could not remember my name.
I tried to calm down, sensing a rising panic.
I was just disoriented, I told myself. After 45 days in an induced coma, it had messed with my mind, and it was only a temporary lapse. Yes, that’s what it was, a temporary lapse. I would remember tomorrow. Or the next day.
Sleep was a blessed relief.
The next day I didn’t wake feeling nauseous. Perhaps they’d lowered the pain medication. I’d heard that morphine could have that effect. Then, how could I know that, but not who I am?
I knew now Winifred the nurse was preparing me for something very bad. She was upbeat, and soothing, giving me a new piece of information each morning. This morning, “You do not need to be afraid. Everything is going to be fine. The doctor tells me you are going to recover with very little scarring. You will need some physiotherapy to recover from your physical injuries, but that’s in the future. We need to let you mend a little bit more before then.”
So, I was not going to be able to leap out of bed, and walk out of the hospital any time soon. I don’t suppose I’d ever leapt out of bed, except as a young boy. I suspect I’d sustained a few broken bones. I guess learning to walk again was the least of my problems.
But, there was something else. I picked it up in the timbre of her voice, a hesitation, or reluctance. It sent another chill through me.
This time I was left awake for an hour before she returned.
This time sleep was restless.
There were scenes playing in my mind, nothing I recognised, and nothing lasting longer than a glimpse. Me. Others, people I didn’t know. Or perhaps I knew them and couldn’t remember them.
Until they disappeared, slowly like the glowing dot in the centre of the computer screen, before finally fading to black.
The morning the bandages were to come off she came in bright and early and woken me. I had another restless night, the images becoming clearer, but nothing recognisable.
“This morning the doctor will be removing the bandages over your eyes. Don’t expect an immediate effect. Your sight may come back quickly or it may come back slowly, but we believe it will come back.”
I wanted to believe I was not expecting anything, but I was. It was probably human nature. I did not want to be blind as well as paralysed. I had to have at least one reason to live.
I dozed again until I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. I could smell the lavender, the other doctor was back. And I knew the hand on my shoulder was Winifred’s. She told me not to be frightened.
I was amazed to realise in that moment, I wasn’t.
I heard the scissors cutting the bandages.
I felt the bandage being removed, and the pressure coming off my eyes. I could feel the pads covering both eyes.
Then a moment where nothing happened.
Then the pads being gently lift and removed.
I blinked my eyes, once, twice. Nothing.
“Just hold on a moment,” Winifred said. A few seconds later I could feel a cool towel wiping my face, and then gently wiping my eyes. Perhaps there was ointment, or something else in them.
Then a flash. Well, not a flash, but like when a light is turned on and off. A moment later, it was brighter, not the inky blackness of before, but a shade of grey.
She wiped my eyes again.
I blinked a few more times, and then the light returned, and it was like looking through water, at distorted and blurry objects in the distance.
I blinked again, and she wiped my eyes again.
Blurry objects took shape. A face looking down on me, an elderly lady with a kindly face, surely Winifred, who was smiling. And on the opposite side of the bed, the doctor, a Chinese woman of indescribable beauty.
“You can see?”
I nodded again.
“Very good. We will just draw the curtains now. We don’t want to overdo it. Tomorrow we will be taking off the bandages on your face. Then, it will be the next milestone. Talking.”
I couldn’t wait.
When morning came, I found myself afraid. Winifred had mentioned scarring, there were bandages on my face. I knew, but wasn’t quite sure how I knew, I wasn’t the handsomest of men before the accident, so this might be an improvement.
I was not sure why I didn’t think it would be the case.
They came at mid morning, the nurse, Winifred, and the doctor, the exquisite Chinese. Perhaps she was the distraction, taking my mind of the reality of what I was about to see.
Another doctor came into the room, before the bandages were removed, and he was introduced as the plastic surgeon that had ‘repaired’ the ravages of the accident. It had been no easy job, but, with a degree of egotism, he did say he was one of the best in the world.
I found it hard to believe, if he was, that he would be at a small country hospital.
“Now just remember, what you might see now is not how you will look in a few months time.”
The Chinese doctor started removing the bandages. She did it slowly, and made sure it did not hurt. My skin was very tender, and I suspect still bruised, either from the accident or the surgery, I didn’t know.
Then it was done.
The plastic surgeon gave his work a thorough examination and seemed pleased with his work. “Coming along nicely,” he said to the other doctor. He issued some instructions on how to manage the skin, nodded to me, and I thanked him before he left.
I noticed Winifred had a mirror in her hand, and was somewhat reticent in using it. “As I said,” she said noticing me looking at the mirror, “what you see now will not be the final result. The doctor said it was going to heal with very little scarring. You have been very fortunate he was available. Are you ready?”
She showed me.
I tried not to be reviled at the red and purple mess that used to be my face. At a guess I would have to say he had to put it all back together again, but, not knowing what I looked like before, I had no benchmark. All I had was a snippet of memory that told me I was not the tall, dark, and handsome type.
And I still could not talk. There was a reason, he had worked on that area too. Just breathing hurt. I think I would save up anything I had to say for another day. I could not even smile. Or frown. Or grimace.
“We’ll leave you for a while. Everyone needs a little time to get used to the change. I suspect you are not sure if there has been an improvement on last year’s model. Well, time will tell.”
A new face?
I could not remember the old one.
My memory still hadn’t returned.