The Nine week coma- part one


Third person- It has been almost eight years and I have tried tgo write about this portion of my GBS experience countless times. I discovered that writing in tyhird person made it easier for me to get it on paper. The Dave below is, obviously, me. I wondeer how many others had similar experiences.

The idea of escape was not new. In fact, Dave was certain that many people dreamed of escape from time to time; this was normal, based on what he’d read; his own obsession with escape was constant and he spent years planning escapes, one after the other. Dave was a forty-five year old man who had carried many responsibilities in his life. He had a career, a wife, two children, a home in the suburbs and a penchant for reading. Yes, even then he had thought of escape but it had been merely a dream to him. At one point, as his wife had begun to lose her facilities and had, with no warning at all, insisted that he leave the house for good only to recant the next day, he began to carry his keys and wallet with him twenty-four hours a day. It wasn’t that he was planning an escape at this point; he was protecting himself from ejection. In fact, during those last few years before the illness, he would never have thought to use the word escape at all. And some accidents are invisible.

His first escape occurred shortly after sundown in early autumn was into a coma where the outside world was locked from getting into him and he was disconnected from the outside world. For nine weeks after the Guillain Barre Syndrome hit him he lay in a hospital bed pumped full of medications, breathing through a respirator and his mind’s leash had been dropped, allowing his thoughts and imagination to go free. As a result, his first escape was one that was filled with anxiety and horror. Dave’s family and caregivers, feeling that a comatose person needed to be left with sound on (much like those people who leave NPR on for the dogs while they are at work) left his television on CNN where news of the war in the Middle East and the Hurricane that swallowed the coast of Louisiana and all of New Orleans dominated the sound in his room, along with the clock like suction of the respirator. When someone thought of it, a CD replaced the television- something his loved ones considered a favorite of his- and it spun on repeat until the staff thought to turn it off. The influence of war and flood and Sondheim peppered his hallucinations during his nine week coma. He had no idea what was wrong of him but he was visiting some medical facility in almost each section of his one full length hallucination and all of them involved danger; most of these having to do with protecting his children; his teenage daughters and his boy, still in grammar school. His oldest daughter was in love with a young man a grade above her and his parents were from Jamaica. Where this was generally accepted in Boston, anywhere outside of the city it captured the looks of locals, the way that homosexuality was nothing to Dave’s world, working as he did in music, film and theatre. But forty miles outside of Boston, New York or Los Angeles and the American attitude was different. Many of his hallucinations had to do with gangs of teenagers trying to injure or kill his daughter or her boyfriend. His situation was never fully apparent, but the fact that in reality he was paralyzed from the nose down crept in with subtlety. He remembered sleeping each night on the kitchen table of the charge nurse for a while. The chopper pilot who took him, through war zones, from medical facility to medical facility was a kind man named Vincent. Often his children and wife were with him, and sometimes he was left alone. An old student, Jake, cared for him briefly while he was kept in a tent in a military camp and then moved into a large glass building during the day. He spent some time in a psychiatric hospital where the first floor was glistened within floor swimming pools and walkways between them that led to the receptionist, whom he learned to fear later and the rest of the hospital wove around a central core like a corkscrew- or The New England Aquarium - so that he was able to crawl to the first floor after being in this facility became impossible to stand. From there, with the patients who were barely alive, he was flown to a medical facility in New Jersey. The wife of a surgeon was there with her plethora of adopted children and her Wellesley attitude (she and her husband owned a private medical facility where Dave had spent a great deal of time and had a fond memory of melon ice cream). All of her children were very bright but handicapped or challenged in some way. Several of the boys- age’s six to ten- were tiny but had been trained in medicine so that vitals, phlebotomy and general care was often tended to by these dwarf-like children who managed to get all sort of things done. Dave warmed to the boys.

The most fascinating of these children was a young girl who Mrs. Doctor had to keep in a plastic lined basket, draped with white linen and woven hemp handles. The baby was a sort of mermaid but extremely tiny. Her deformities made her odd to view, but from the neck up was a perfect miniature of Veronica Lake and when she blinked it was almost a shock, for one could barely believe that what was there was alive. Dave’s wife and Mrs. Doctor got into a disagreement about something and as they all traveled from Wellesley to Newark things grew worse. Mrs. Doctor threatened to withhold care for Dave as well as to separate Dave’s daughters and place them in two different waiting buildings. Snow fell outside of this massive room of stone walls and odd chairs- even a hammock-. Dave’s wife took the odd mermaid baby into another room and threatened Mrs. Doctor by saying that she was going to make a soup for all the patients who were waiting, seemingly with absolutely no one ever seeing a doctor, and since we had been locked into this waiting room as the snow clumped before it even hit the ground outside, the room grew hotter and dryer. “A little soup might be nice, yes?” snarled Dave’s wife.

Dave was unable to speak but he cuddled closely with his two girls and boy on the hammock and tried to calm the worried children.

Daves wife, who was by no means the sort of woman to ever threaten murder, let alone of a child to her mother, locked herself in a small anteroom where there was a telephone. Soon Mrs. Doctor began to plead and negotiate. The State Police could be seen trying to get to the hospital, Up the stone steps and hillside through the storm outside. Someone asked Dave if he was hungry but he found he could not speak and despite his dry and sticky mouth he had to go without any food or water for lack of being able to say, “Yes, please.” Across from the hammock was a young girl, no more than seven, who had lost both legs and was lying on a bit of stone that jutted from the ancient wall and managed as a seat in this bizarre waiting room.

And the more it snowed, the hotter and dryer this medieval room became.

Eventually something happened and Dave’s wife and Mrs. Doctor ended up in the small office together and seemed to be in negotiation.


Another helicopter. Vincent told Dave his family would be brought separately by ground but that they needed to move to a temporary military facility in Central New Jersey that was better equipped to handle not only Dave’s needs but Dave’s wife’s needs. Dave thought, What needs? What is wrong with my wife?

“Well, she’s gonna have some simple surgery. Donating an Ovary to the Doc’s wife, ya know.” Dave’s forehead creased in misunderstanding so Vincent continued. “Kidnapping and attempted murder can be pretty heavy. Well the Doc’s wife has been trying to have a healthy baby for many years. So instead of pressing charges she is willing to accept one of your wife’s ovaries. We need to get you out of the snow.”

Dave’s fear of flying and fear of heights had left him. He simply slipped into a sleep and didn’t wake up until he felt the surge of the engines on the chopper as it lowered itself onto an open spot near a large structure that had a large circular center out of which came six long hallways leading to six smaller looking rooms giving the entire facility the look of a spider or insect. The structure was made entirely of some see through plastic, heavy and almost black so that it was hard to make out much inside aside from light and shadow. Four soldiers ran to the chopper and smiled down at Dave as he was taken off and into a very small doorway that was a straight tube leading upward to this elevated center. An elevator rose. A door slid open and he was taken inside.

There were many patients there and they helped themselves to snacks, coffee and water that was readily available at various stations. The central section seemed to be one large waiting area with various stations, desks at which sat people in white jackets in front of computers. Dave was placed in a chair in front of one of these people, a woman with dark skin and too much hair but with a kind smile and a name tag that read Sylvia. Dave slipped a little in the chair and Sylvia failed to notice. She took his right hand and placed it on a glass panel on her desk, tapped quickly about seven keys and then Sylvia’s eye’s locked with Dave’s. “Can you confirm your date of birth?” She asked.

Dave thought, March 13, 1962.

As Sylvia nodded she said, “Place of birth?” tap, tap, pause. Eye contact.

Cleveland, Ohio

Sylvia smiled at Dave. Tap, tap, taptaptaptap, enter. She can hear me answer her in my head, he thought. Then print. She placed a wristband around his left wrist and failed to notice that he was listing further to the right. His left shoe, a Birkenstock sandal, had slipped off. “Someone will be with you very soon.” And then Sylvia got up and began to refill the snacks and cups and condiments at one of the two large eating stations at the center of this circular dome room. Dave realized he was on a stool and was slipping until he found himself lying on the floor, which suited him fine because his spinal cord was screaming in pain and though his face was pressed against a stainless steel drain of sorts that caught water from the drinking fountain about four feet above his head he discovered that when people drank he was able to get water into his mouth as well as feel it’s coolness against his face. Dave’s eyes moved around and he saw that he was on the lowest level of this room, literally on the floor. In two seats across from him were two women, perhaps a mother and daughter but Dave had a very hard time understanding what they were saying to each other and the younger kept getting up to get more snacks. As the time passed Dave could see a pile of Lorna Doone wrappers beneath her chair.

“Janis, has she come back yet,” said the older woman.

“No, and I really need to go to the bathroom,” Janis whined. “I wish I knew what they expect…”

The older woman began to look through a large handbag. Dave could smell tobacco and perfume coming from inside it. Janis got up, crossed to a table a few inches from Dave’s head and started to poke through the magazines on it.

“Your father said he’d be here, “said the older woman. “I ain’t seen nor heard from him. Did he text you?” She finally pulled a cell phone out of her bag and began to dial it. Then frowned. She pushed some more buttons, raised the phone in the air, then grunted as she stood up and walked around a bit, holding the phone up like a radiation counter. “There ain’t no bars here.”

Janis sat back down with an old People Magazine with Jennifer Aniston on the cover and said something that didn’t sound like any language that Dave had ever heard. The other woman sat down and responded in kind and as they continued in this unusual language they faded out, at first in a haze and then completely disappeared. In their place was an elderly gentleman wearing a sport jacket, khakis, tasseled loafers and a bow tie. His glasses had no rims and he was reading The New Yorker.

He looked down at Dave, who now had a blanket over him but still had his face pressed against the drain and said, “My word, you can’t be comfortable. Let me help you.”

Dave said nothing. He was confused as to how two women with no cell reception turned into a collegiate man of kindness. The man came down two steps to the bottom tier and asked, “Are you in pain?”

Yes thought Dave and his eyes connected with the man.

“Yes?” A pause. “No?” Another pause. Yes. Pain. But this man couldn’t hear Dave and Dave’s eyes began to dash left and right to see who was in the room. There were more lights on inside the medical spider and the only thing he could see out was a long dirt driveway lined with streetlights and to the left of the structure he could see lamp post very high up, indicating that they were down in some sort of hole, the ground level was not visible. The man said, “Let me make you more comfortable.” He stood and looked around a bit, then walked briskly up the tiers of the center and down one of the hallways only to return with about three pillows. He lifted Dave by the armpits and moved him to a position on his back with two pillows beneath his head and one beneath his knees. Dave saw the man did not have a hospital bracelet himself and so assumed he was waiting for someone.

“That looks better, “he said. Sometimes they tend to get bogged down here and they use a lot of interns and students, so things get lost in the shuffle. If it‘s paper or blood work that’s one thing, but when it’s a man, well…” The man smiled. “Are you more comfortable?” Dave thought he nodded but the man didn’t seem to respond. “Listen, my name is Albert. If you need anything just make eye contact. I’ll be here another hour or so before they close up for the night.”

Thank you, Albert but again he didn’t hear him. Was the man deaf, Dave wondered? Dave blinked and when he opened his eyes again, Albert was gone and an IV was running into his arm with three bags hanging above him. Dave was still on the floor but with more pillows. His younger child was there beside him. And eighth grade girl, who, he saw, was holding his hand. She looked scared and then relieved to see his eyes open.

“Daddy, I’ve been so scared. Mom Meghan to the hotel. I’m staying here with you. I’ll feel better.” Emily was a comfort, but he was afraid for her. She was a girl who loved so much; her heart broke over the atrocities of the world but she could not learn how to protect herself from these same violations. Dave looked at her with love in his eyes and tears began to fill up. Emily lifted his head and he saw that the place had been shut down for the night. What had been a counter covered with first aid and snacks was now a counter of rough hewn wood completely empty. It was smooth and almost washed of color for many years of washing with bleach. Daytime lights were replaced with softer night lights. There were stools around this counter as though a one hundred fifty year old saloon somewhere in Utah or Northern California. Dave found himself sitting at this “bar” with a glass in front of him. Beside the glass, filled with a clear liquid that had no smell was a small pile of pills: Two orange, two tiny white ones, four yellow capsules and a capsule of green and blue. He couldn’t seem to get them into his mouth but the next time he looked down they were gone and most of the water was too.

Emily joined him there and said, “Daddy, look who I met.”

Holy shit, is it you? How long, man? How many years? And how is it that you’re here? That you met my daughter?

“I heard you were in trouble, Dude,” said Mr. Crosby. I know it’s been a long time, but we made some special music together. And with you feeling out of it, I thought maybe you could use a hand with your daughter here.” He winked at Emily, “She’s got what it takes you know.”

Dave tried to remember the last time he was with his old friend. He looked the same, the long hair, balding in front; slightly roundish and a big handle bar mustache. Against the wall behind him- just as it had always been- were his guitars, cased up but no doubt in good shape. Dave thought Damn, no piano.

“No, Dave there’s a piano just down that hallway there. I’m gonna go get it set up for us. Come on Emily. I’ll teach you how to tune a 12 string.” And they were gone.


Albert was next to him now. “Your old buddy is smoking pot with your daughter. And it hasn’t yet, but it may go too far.” He picked up Dave’s glass and drank the last of his water and when he spoke dribbles of water came out of his mouth. Sondheim’s “More” was suddenly playing in the background but sung poorly and in a ridiculous key. “You have to do something to help her, Dave. I would, but you know I’m the one.”

The one? Which one?

Albert didn’t or couldn’t answer him. Where everyone seemed to understand him, Albert treated him as a mute.

Then his wife was back with Mrs. Doctor. They appeared to be close friends now and they were carrying bags from a low end department store. Mrs. Doctor carried a small children’s swimming pool. They put their things down and Dave moved his eyes toward his wife and thought, Emily. In Trouble; down one of those halls.

Like Albert, she could not hear him and she bustled with her packages. Mrs. Doctor dropped the pool below the drinking fountain below, where Dave had spent hours previously, and began to fill it with water. He watched her hoping to catch her eye and warn her about Emily. Nothing. The fountain required constant pull on the release or the water stopped and she looked at that or the slow flow of water into the plastic pool.

Then his friend was beside him. “Your girl’s gonna be an amazing singer.” You keep your damned hands away from girl.

“All I did was give her a few hits and a cigarette. Nothing more than you’ve done for me over the years.” He said and then he reached toward the empty counter in front of him and suddenly a mug of beer was in his hand. He turned on his stool and he walked away. By now, Dave’s face was on this bar. Exhaustion and pain filled him. He closed his eyes.

As if there had been a transition while he dozed he instantly knew he was at Mt. Auburn hospital in Cambridge. Or a facilty near there. He just knew he was on Mt. Auburn St. His bed had high railings on it, metal, with a ceiling of sorts that appeared to be a tarp. It almost looked like a crib. Tubes and other things ran into it and he could see other beds in this vast ward. Some of the patients’ hollered things to him warned him of various staff members, “Don’t eat breakfast!” an old woman hissed.

In the bed beside him a man’s face was pressed against the bars of his bed, his eyes open but glazed, like the gel of a donut. The man didn’t appear to be breathing and Dave thought that he was dead. Each time he could bear it he would turn his eyes to the man, but each time the man had not moved. There were no windows and not a single clock and since no staff members came by he had no idea of the time. Under the bed on his other side was a Japanese man who listened constantly to a collection of Sondheim songs done in various styles by various groups. “You’ll Never Get Away From me” in a Latin Samba grove, “More” sung in Eb by a nasal belter who was shrill and not at all pouty. This recording circled and circled and the man in that bed smiled at Dave often but he spoke no English and when Dave tried to talk to him he would only smile and nod. After a while of this, Dave would look back at the dead man, then close his eyes.

This went on for Days.

He was alone the entire time. Then his mother in law was there. “Dave,” she said, “I have had a friend of mine praying for you. She has prayed non-stop and this is the reason you are still alive.” She looked down at Dave with the motherly charge look she had always used with him. “In the tradition of her people you must now pray for her. Her daughter is having a baby and there is a traditional prayer ritual which you must fulfill…” and her mouth kept moving but Dave could not hear her. Instead he could see her talking to a man in long ropes, orange, red and yellow with a blue embroidered patch of silk down the front. He was a holy man and
Dave realized that he was not lying in a bed any longer but was perched precariously on something that felt like one or two bicycle seats and the tarp that had been above him was now a tent that draped down around him; it was made of many pieces of fabric, the same colors as the robe of the holy man. From beneath his tent a hand slid a small tape recorder under and the Sondheim disc continued to play.

Time was of no meaning and it was difficult for Dave to measure time. Not even by the recording because at times it repeated the same song over and over and at times would play the the entire recording. Dave longed for Mozart, or Pink Floyd, Simon & Garfunkel- even some Sondheim as Sondheim had written it, but it played and played and he remained inside this tiny tent, tortured and in pain, again alone.

After a period of time he was brought out and placed on a dais and the holy man came out followed by two others completely robed, their faces veiled. He was holding the tray from what looked like a hotel chafing dish. He lowered it to Dave’s face. In the dish was a new born baby boy, sitting atop what looked like cooked, well shredded beef. There were brown juices in the pan. The baby cried and from somewhere it was placed into Daves head that by putting the baby into warm meat it best replicates the mother’s womb until the birth prayers were complete.

Dave had fulfilled his duties; he had reciprocated the prayer chain. In exhaustion, he fell into a deep sleep upon the floor of the Dias.

He awoke to find himself in a half chair/bed machine in which there were many monitors and tubes attached to him. Above him was a hammock with someone in it and from below him he could see the feet and hands of a young child. He turned his eyes to look around. He was nowhere at all near Cambridge. The language that was spoken sounded Asian but it was nothing he’d ever heard before.

There was one middle aged man behind an old desk by a door. The walls, floor and ceiling were all made of stone, like an old castle, a trough ran through the floor beside him, in front of the desk and out a small hole in the side of the room. In the trough were bits of straw, cloudy fluid and other waste. From time to time a river of water would flush its way through, cleaning it out through the hole in the wall. There were a few bare bulbs hanging from above and he saw an electrical box on the wall above the trough escape hole.

Dave was there for days, tubes in his arms, a computer that printed out vitals hummed every twenty minutes or so but they were for the young boy below him, who seemed to be amusing himself with some kind of game-boy of cellular phone. The clothing worn by everyone he could see looked Medieval or earlier and every once in a while someone would come, most often a woman and speak with the man at the desk.

A man came in with a large sack made of linen, burlap mix. The man was dressed as a peasant. He placed the sack on the desk and the man, who Dave had come to think of as the one in charge, rooted through the bag. He nodded and the man left the bag and then walked into the camp of hammocks and cots and selected a young girl. He carried her to the desk and hands were shaken. The peasant left with the girl.

Dave was scared but still couldn’t talk.

The computer hummed and spit out a page. The boy below him looked up at him and smiled. Instead of feeling welcome or safe, Dave felt as though he was the new guy and this boy knew more than he did.

A woman arrived holding the arm of a young man- very young- and she whispered to the charge man. They talked for some time and the young man finally gave him a box. The charge man opened it and it was filled with medical supplies, bags of saline, jars of antibiotics, gloves, drugs. The charge man had the young ,man sit at the desk and he led the woman into another room.

Dave wondered where he was. It wasn’t just the location, but the era. He felt as though this was the Middle Ages but then the computer hummed, the boy’s game boy chimed an irritating melody (“More”? “You’ll Never Get Away From Me?”) and Dave lay silent, facing left toward the room and watched as blood, tissue and mucus ran into the trough. Then it was followed by a few blasts of water. After a time the Head Man came back out and was speaking to the man at the desk. Then the girl came out, tears on her cheeks, eyes dead.

Abortion? Certainly back street. And it was bartered. A burlap sack of grains with a basket of eggs in exchange…

Dave’s chair, surrounded by a shell of medical equipment- the antithesis of his surroundings- began to shift so that he was now facing the other direction. He saw that there were about twenty-five empty folding chairs and a large glass window that overlooked a fast moving river. He could see that he was on the second floor of some building. It was winter outside but the fast moving water was not frozen. (at some ppoint it occuired to him that he may be in Newton Lower Falls)

People began to file in and take their seats in the chairs. Dave’s medical cocoon, as though on a track, moved toward the window and he was now beside a boy of about fourteen who was standing but strapped to a thick rope. Dave wasn’t told, but somehow he knew that this boy had no spine. The rope kept him upright, his organs and nervous system vulnerable. He too was unable to speak. He and Dave locked eyes and Dave became aware that his own breath and heart were controlled by the machines inside his cocoon.

The charge man began to speak to the assembled audience.

“Ladies and Gentleman, money is a serious problem. I see that many of you are dressed with quality clothing: a fur coat. I see three Burberry trench coats tossed over the backs of your chairs. Laura Ashley. Minolo Blaniks on two pair of feet right here. For the price of those shoes we can keep oxygen medication and the heart going in this man here for twenty days.”

Dave’s cocoon shifted and began to move so that he was now on display in front of these people. “What you have seen here today is important. Not just here but all around the world. Is it worth the money to keep him alive?” No one said a word, one Woman opened a Playbill and looked through it. Dave looked up and saw his children and wife standing on a balcony above the whole room with a glasss wall, waist high in front of them. Why hadn’t he seen this before? And why was it smooth with plaster and an oak rail? There were pillars on this balcony and he could make out windows behind them.

“He’s not going to get better, so why spend the money, right?” The charge man walked to his desk picked up a notebook and returned to the people in their seats. “So we can save nine hundred dollars today by turning off the machine that gives this man oxygen.”

He opened the notebook, turned a few pages and then walked over to the electrical box and pulled a lever. Part of Dave’s cocoon went dark and silent and suddenly Dave could barely breathe. His chest refused to rise or fall and he began to choke and sputter. The audience looked at him, and then a few looked down.

“After all, it’s only one life and an expensive one to maintain. He’s probably the most costly patient here and the one who communicates the least. We don’t even know if he’s aware. His oxytgen’s been off for almost two minutes; we’ve saved fourteen dollars or so. What else can we save money on? Cleaning his blood? The heart machine? What about the machine keeping his kidneys working?”

Charge man returned to the electrical box and pulled more switches. Daves anxiety began to rise and he felt a struggle inside his body like none he had known. Foam and spit began to come out of his mouth. One of the patrons stood up and began to leave. Dave tried to plead with his eyes but his chair/cocoon was slowly moving closer to the window as machines and lights within were turned off.

“You guys will forget he was even here by the time you have your cars in the garage.” And then the entire room began to shift forward and slide out through the front window. Dave could see the fast moving water below him, a stone wall at its side and a side walk beneath him from which was a door to the building. A small marquis was over it.

“But I can make you remember a little longer. After all, it’s just money.” The lights changed then, less yellow and calm than before. Now a brilliant white from above and the room was sliding out more and tipping toward the icy river.

“Stop this now!” a man shouted and stood up. Dave began to tilt toward the river as though the part of the room he was in was going to spill through the glass and into the water. It was dark. No stars. He could now see a small hole that looked like the one in which the woman’s aborted fetus traveled. Unwanted life was spilled into the river. Dave tried to gasp and his eyes began to blur. He no longer could see anyone or anything and the floor was tipping, dropping toward the river as though he would spill in any moment. The audience was shouting; some were screaming and crying.

He could still hear the charge man, “A human life needs to be counted in dollar amounts. And you are the ones to decide. Will we pay the money to keep him alive or should we turn of the last of the life support? We can spill him into the water so we don’t have to watch the end.” Fast water. The sound of waves. The dead silence of his cocoon and the voices that merged into crowd sounds. He could hear his daughters shouting from above and the floor continued to tilt while the charge man said, “Who wants to help? Who cares enough? Who has had enough?” The man was shouting now. “It could just as easily be YOU!” Dave couldn’t see the man but could tell from the direction of his voice that he had moved closer to the audience. “Or YOU! YOU! YOU!” The people’s screams reached an apogee.

And then the lights and sounds inside Dave’s cocoon came back to life. He could breathe again and the floor above the river began to rise to re-create a ninety degree angle with the wall. The crowd stood and began to applaud.

Dave gasped in air and tried to regain his thoughts but now the boy with the game boy was bowing and the man returned with the girl; they bowed. The spineless boy bowed and then seven other patients rose from their beds, hammocks and mats and bowed together. Dave’s cocoon was moved from the window so that he faced the people, now standing and clapping in front of their chairs. They were looking at him. This was a fucking curtain call.

Work lights came on and the people began to gather their coats and bags and slowly walk out. Dave remained in his cocoon, scared, confused, shocked and panting.

His wife was in front of him now. “You were wonderful” she said. “Such an amazing performance.”

Using the alphabet and blinking on the correct letters, Dave asked her what this was.

“You sent a resume to this theatre about six months ago as a director or musical director. Well obviously you couldn’t do that but they hired you to do this show because with your illness you were perfect for this part. This was the world premier performance. Dr. Albert wrote the play, owns the theatre and also owns the hospital you’re staying in.”


There was heavy wet snow on the ground and he was very hot; his skin was on fire and he was in his pool, clinging to the edge of the coping while talking to several friends from high school that he hadn’t seen for years. Despite the snow, the air was heavy to him and he was very weak. The cold pool water felt so very good. He closed his eyes, exhausted and listened to his high school friends chat on as he slowly sank beneath the water.

I spent some time drying off in my home, which of course began to shrink smaller and smaller. I was in the kitchen and discovered that it was on a different level from the rest of the house, a small staircase of about five steps leading up to it. The oven was on and open, there were a batch of some packaged muffins (three bites each and 2/ $1 boxes) and one of my old high school friends asked about closing the pool.

I don’t feel well, I thought.

“What’s wrong?” asked the friend.

I don’t know but something’s very wrong.

It may have been at this point that I began to experience awake moments but I would rise to the “surface: for only a brief time and then go back beneath. At one point there was a young woman at the foot of my bed who believed she was massaging my legs (which I would much later discover were tightly wrapped with ace bandages and some sort of white nylons.) I knew that she wasn’t touching my legs as my bed was actually a series of padded cinders all adjacent to each other and could be raised or lowered but at that moment I knew for certain that my feet were on the floor, my knees bent and I had no way to tell her that she wasn’t rubbing my legs at all.

“Does that feel good” she asked. She couldn’t have been more than twenty.

You’re not touching my legs, I thought. My knees are bent.

“Can you feel this?”

Clearly she could not hear me the way that some of these people could. I closed my eyes and decided to ignore her.

When I opened my eyes she was gone and a lot of people were in my room: my mother, one of my brothers and his girlfriend, some others. I said Can you get my briefcase? Inside it was a smallish notebook and a lot of pens and pencils. I could write to them. Somehow with a great deal of eye blinking for yes and no, I ended up with a pencil leaning against the crotch in my hand between the thumb and forefinger. My hand rested on the paper and though I tried to grasp it and write, I could not. I don’t even remember what I wanted to say except that perhaps some warning about one of my hallucinations. It was not just me who was in constant danger but all of my loved ones.

He knew that he was being cared for and the medical facility was a privately owned institution in Newton Lower Falls owned entirely by a Doctor, his wife and their many children; perhaps nine in all. The Doctor’s wife was infertile and though she and the doctor made many attempts- some involving travelling overseas for experimental procedures- they continued to adopt orphaned and disabled children. As these children, of varying colors, heights and disfigurements, grew older Doctor would begin to train them in various procedures. A small boy with golden skin and jet black hair no taller than a physicians stool was quite adept at inserting a butterfly IV. He did not speak English- or rather he did not speak at all, at least not to Dave, and he would smile, do what needed to be done and move on to another room. Dave was moved from room to room- some were clearly pre-school, classrooms with blocks and hand printed paintings on the wall and chaff dust atop rows of children’s book. A single window over there looked out upon a brick wall and a concrete sill. Dave would doze off and another of Doctor’s children would be there with an electric cooling blanket, a clear plastic blanket with cold water that was cooled and this lay upon Dave’s chest as the child would wring out a wash cloth and press it against his forehead. This time Dave was on an avocado Green Lazy-Boy Chair and a television tuned to CNN was suspended above his head from the ceiling. On the floor beside his chair was a fountain of water that worked much the way a cows water would; by pressing against the floor of this bowl water would fill it- ice cold water. At night, the entire hospital folded up, much like an elaborate DVD case and all six floors of it would drive from Lower Falls to Dave’s new home in Framingham- a slab ranch where, Dave discovered, they had removed the front steps to reveal stairs that went below to an entire basement.

It was in this basement where he was placed upon a canvas boy scout cot and was cared for by one of his old students, Jeremy, almost camping out style. Dave was almost mute, just like Doctor’s children, but Jeremy was not and seemed to be able to understand his thoughts. He was aware that he was not the only person below, there were definite canvas coverings and metallic tool drawers painted army green. Jeremy continued to try to keep him cool and would inject into his butterfly IV, the clear plastic cord weaving upwards to a bag of fluid above his head.

The transfer from the basement to the six story trailer/truck in the driveway was unclear; pain tended to cause Dave to lose touch and pass out but he would come to in a bed or a cot and, on one unusual occasion, atop a kitchen table and the trip back to Lower Falls would occur again.

Doctor and Mrs. made cantaloupe ice cream with the children as a means of teaching them a business. A cart similar to the sort one would find in a park was on the sidewalk about one hundred feet from the electric eye door and stepping inside this sort of lobby brought about a change in climate. On this morning, Dave was there with his wife and his two daughters. His oldest daughter, Meg, had her boyfriend with her as well. He was a bright boy of Jamaican descent, short neat hair that required a weekly touch up and good looks that would make anyone smile. Dave wasn’t sure for what he was waiting. The walls of this lobby were plastic and tinted, like sunglasses and all of the equipment was state of the art- or at least appeared to be so. Dave felt as though he was on the set for some science fiction movie.

From inside he could see a large group of kids walking toward the facility. As per school rules, they all wore their student ID’s on strings around their necks. The strings were black. In the distance was another group, perhaps smaller and as Dave watched he could see that their strings were all red. His daughter Emily said, “Oh shit. Trouble.” Within ten minutes the gray plastic bubble was surrounded by these kids. Some had nun-chucks; a few threw stones at the plastic and they were chanting my daughter’s name. An alarm that was a high pitched beep…beep…beep…beep… began to chime and those jumping in front of the electric eye grew angry because the door wouldn’t open. They were there because they didn’t like a white girl being with a black boy; they were there for vengeance since one gang wished to claim Kayon as their own and the other simply wanted him dead. Or both dead.

The staff called 911 and Kayon managed to get Meghan hidden into some compartment above their heads, tears welling in her eyes. Kayon was preparing to go out. I was silent. I wanted to say, “Don’t be ridiculous. Going out there will guarantee they’ll kill you.” But a very tall man in a Security stepped in front of Kayon and said, “Son, I strongly advise that you stay put.”

A crash sounded and then a nurse screamed. A kid wearing a black Tommy Hill jacket had clung to the outside edge and had swung his body hard enough to kick through the glass inside a room two doors behind reception. Instantly the two doors between us slammed shut and I heard a click. A man dressed in scrubs began to tap on a computer while in the back room a very angry boy with no hair and skin the color of coffee began to trash things, screaming vulgarities and threats using both Kayon and Meghan’s names.

It was a whirl. Security moved quickly and one of them took me, my wife, Kayon and the girls off to the side and explained that they were now mixing chemicals into the oxygen that was going into the room that had been invaded. “It includes ammonium sulfide, Butanetiol, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. He won’t be able to tolerate it in there even with the broken glass. This will clear him- and others. The police should be here…”

Beep…beep…beep…beep… louder. And louder. Was this increasing volume something to do with security? Were we in more danger? Meghan stayed where she was, Emily clung to my side and Kayon sat on the chair next to me. Louder still:


I must have fallen asleep or something else because again I was in the basement and there was Jeremy.

“Drink this,” he said as he tipped a tin cup toward my mouth.

What is it?

“It’s just tea; it won’t burn.” He smiled, “Sorry it couldn’t be coffee.” I swallowed and it felt good going down. I let me head fall back onto the cot and noted that it had a musty smell, as though it had been an army cot. Too new for Vietnam. Korea? Maybe Vietnam, hell that was a long time ago now. I had to stop thinking of the Cold War as recent. Jeremy looked at and adjusted the Saline bag and said “You’re going through these fast. Busy day today?”

I wanted so much to tell him- to ask him: was Meghan okay? What about Kayon? This wasn’t the first time Kayon had been jumped. It seemed to me that just as many blacks hated Meghan and Kayon for being together as white’s. The occasional black students I had in Medford who would look at their picture on my desk and say, “You ain’t afraid o’ no mulatto babies?” At least there, there was history. A “Mulatto” child was a product of rape a mere one hundred years ago. Still, I would say to each student, “I’m afraid of any babies; let’s let them grow up first.” As I thought through this Jeremy was still talking.

“The doctor told me to put this in your line every four to six hours, depending on how you sound. Doing okay?” and he plunged into my IV line. I didn’t notice much difference. My arm dropped and Jeremy began to open a can of something. There was a Coleman stove there and I could hear someone else speaking soothingly to another patient, I presumed, and Jeremy set about to doing various small tasks and began to tell me a story about his grandfather. He’d had this story passed down through his mother, it having occurred well before he was born, and I fell asleep to the lull of his gentle voice again.