When I came out of the coma I lie strapped to a gurney in the intensive care unit of an urban hospital, literally 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.
Nurses casually conferred with one another regarding my situation as if I weren’t lying in the same room. When one of them bothered to speak directly to me, they cooed baby talk point blank at my face (I could tell which of them didn’t brush their teeth). Invariably a nurse “familiar” with my case would shake her head, smugly snort and advise the one trying to communicate with me: “Don’t bother. He can’t understand anyway.” (They always spat the pronoun “he.”)
My blanket and bottom sheet would daily slip a few inches toward my feet. Since I lie motionless and strapped to an ICU bed leveled at 45°, I can only assume that nurses making adjustments caused the slippage. A graveyard-shift cleaning lady regularly took it upon herself to straighten my bedclothes. She often informed me in a sing-song voice: “Y’know, they don’t be payin’ me to do this. But them nurses, sometime they don’t be doin’ their job. Lawd have mercy.” Then she would sigh and gently scold me for “mussing up [my] nice beddy-by.” For some reason her reprimands grew harsher each time she visited.
One night she glared down at me and uncharacteristically raised her voice: “How come you always be mussin’ up your bed?” She asked like I had control. “Every night I gotta do this, then do my own work. What be the matter with you?” She underscored most syllables in her tirade by smacking my temple with the flat of her hand, hard enough that each blow jarred my entire body.
A sub-bush league nurse started work at the ICU right around the time I became a patient. She used esoteric professional lingo and asked veteran nurses dumb questions—I gathered that she was a jewel short of a tiara. She treated me with unprovoked and astounding contempt. Once after she’d angrily fiddled with my straps, I heard her trudge out of my room and remark to someone in the hall: “That boy can really walk and talk. He just be puttin’ on a act to get attention. A lot of peoples around here, they don’t see it. But I do.”
Early one afternoon only two or three days after I’d woken from the coma, several nurses dragged my limp body from the bed and propped it upright in a chair. Then they led some guy decked out in an elaborate surgical outfit into my room—a respirator mask and goggles obscured his face. He sat down in a chair across from mine and started sketching me like I was a fucking bowl of fruit. I guess he figured he had the right to invade my privacy; I’d heard doctors and nurses spewing words like “suicide”, “overdose”, and “vegetable”, then clucking their tongues.