When I came out of the coma I lie strapped to a treatment table in the intensive care unit of an urban hospital, unable to move or speak. I possessed a vague instinctual understanding of my condition and surroundings, but my perceptions were filtered through a haze of dream-like subjectivity. Any grounded impressions flickered in and out like the light from a bulb being screwed into a live socket.
I also felt like I’d been clobbered at length by a sizeable army of frenzied baseball bat-wielding yahoos.
Well-meaning but clearly stupid nurse’s lackeys kept me covered up to my neck with multiple blankets though spring had begun weeks prior. I lie marinating in sweat and couldn’t complain. Occasionally one of the toadies noticed perspiration streaming from my face onto the pillow. Their brows wrinkled and they frowned in genuine concern, then they scurried out of room to unquestioningly follow more orders.
An intercom had been built into the table next to my bed. By pressing a button below the speaker grill I could summon the nurse on duty, a feat I managed only once after a half hour of tremendous effort. The snippy nurse on the other end sighed, informed me that she was busy performing her duties and would I please not bother her. All my life I’d been led to believe that tending to patients was a nurse’s primary task. I guess I was misinformed.
During the day a radio station that played “light rock” ditties intruded from the intercom speaker. I assumed the doctors intended that the almost constant aural stimulus lure me back into some semblance of reality. The station featured the then-popular young love anthem “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” warbled by Jennifer Warnes and some faceless schmoe, broadcast in heavy rotation. I consider myself lucky to have escaped with my testicles attached and functioning.
A towering fat guy that proudly claimed to represent a city-affiliated rehabilitation program visited me several times. The crude India ink tattoos embedded in his arm betrayed a checkered past. Apparently he had turned his life around and now worked as a counselor to give back to the community.
He reminded me that I couldn’t “hang around” the intensive care unit forever and assured me that he strove to place me in an “exclusive” rehabilitation hospital. My frazzled physical and mental conditions had temporarily loosened my grip on the real world; I listened with interest. The fat guy explained that this particular rehabilitation hospital demanded hard work from their patients in order to maintain high standards. When he asked if I’d be willing to “do [my] bestes” I answered with a weak grunt. He acknowledged my grunt with a smile that showcased a few rotting teeth.
He returned three days later and announced that he had pled my case to the hospital Pooh-Bahs. Based on the strength of his presentation they’d “accepted” me as a patient. In exchange for his efforts, he cordially demanded that I make him proud. He pointed out that this was the least I could do for him after his hard work.
After I’d spent less than a day there it became evident that the administration wasn’t even remotely as discerning as the fat guy had insisted. I’d been “accepted” into a public facility that routinely admitted anyone with the means to pay.