My eyes shoot open, at first seeing only blinding light. Sounds break over me like tidal waves, strong and overpowering. I instinctively reach up to clap my hands over my ears and get only pain as intravenous lines are ripped from my skin by the sudden, frantic thrash. The rhythmic hissing of a respirator reaches my tortured ears and my flailing hands find the plastic mask around my nose and mouth. In the background, someone screams for a nurse.
I rip the mask off, ignoring the sting of broken elastic, and take a deep, gasping breath. I am alive. After a moment of squinting, my eyes begin to focus and I take in my surroundings. I take a short, sharp breath. I am in a hospital.
For a moment I fear that I am the old man I witnessed in my vision, but one look at my hands tells me otherwise. They are tanned and strong, and they feel very powerful. Very solid. I flex them, knowing that they must be mine, but they feel strange, alien, even. I think to myself: These…these cannot be my hands. They don’t move right; They don’t respond like I think they should. And yet I am attached to them. They cannot but they must be.
My train of thought is broken when a young nurse bursts into the room with a flustered look on her face, asking “Mr. Baker! Mr. Baker, are you all right?”. I scan the room for Mr. Baker and find that I am the only one there. The nurse comes over to my bedside and begins re-inserting the IV lines. “Mr. Baker, I know that waking up can be a bit of a shock, but you mustn’t thrash about. You might hurt yourself”. It took me a minute to comprehend her words, and once I did I took a handful of her smock and pulled her closer. I looked into her eyes with what must have been a half scared, half crazed expression.
“What did you call me?”
“I don’t understand…” She said pitifully.
“I asked you what you said my name was!”
“B-b-baker” She stammered. “A-arthur Baker. You’ve been in a car accident, Mr. Baker. You n-need to calm d-down”. I could see that she was scared too. Feeling ashamed, I let go of her smock.
“Where am I?” I asked.
“Westbrook Municipal Hospital. You’ve been in a coma for three days” She answered, smoothing her smock as she did so. She bent to retrieve her clipboard from the floor, and I struggled to sit up. I got my elbows behind me and pushed, but a bolt of pain shot up my spine and I flopped back to the bed, moaning. “Mr. Baker, you’ve been in an accident,” The nurse said. “You really must take it easy; you’re hurt very badly.”
“I’m not sure…” she says, flipping through pages on her clipboard. “Ah. Here we are. Various spinal injuries, deep abrasions on your chest and upper body, burns, several broken ribs. And a severe concussion. No offense sir, but it could have been a lot less serious if you had been wearing your seatbelt”. I frowned.
“Am I going to need to go to physical therapy?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Yes, I was scheduled to take you as soon as you were ready. It’ll take a while for you to be able to walk right again, and your insurance doesn’t cover all that much. We want to get you out of here as soon as possible.”
“Can we start now?”
“Certainly”, the nurse said, and minutes later I was in a wheelchair on my way to the physical therapy room. On the way there I got a chill, suddenly remembering the twisted corridors I had seen in my dream; my vision flickered in and out, replacing the stark, sterile hallways with a twisted, dirty, surreal version. I sucked in a sharp breath and rubbed my eyes hard with my hands. The visions went away.
After spending what seemed like years in physical therapy I was finally wheeled back to my room and laid gently in my bed. I was served a cheap meal of microwaved meatloaf and gravy, and I watched the late night news while I nursed a pudding cup. Some local anchorman (Hank Somethingorother) was going on and on about the war in Iraq and I wasn’t really paying attention, I just liked the company of the TV.
Suddenly, however, he put a hand to his ear to receive a breaking news story. I perked up in bed, making an effort to sit up a little farther in the bed.
“This just in,” he said, leaning a little farther towards the camera, “Earlier this evening, Senator Gurewich of Minnesota suffered a violent heart attack during an operation to remove a bad kidney. He was pronounced dead five minutes later, despite numerous attempts to revive him. A memorial service will be held in…”. By this time I had stopped eating, and was simply staring at the screen. Then they showed a picture of the man, all dressed up in his finest. I recognized the gaunt, bony face immediately. It was the very same man I had seen in my vision, thrashing on the operating slab.
I spit my pudding all over the table.