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Old 12-05-2017, 08:14 AM
Rob Wright Rob Wright is offline
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Default Time and the ICU

This is, of course, the opening of a much longer story. Thanks for the read. —R


Something was stuck in my throat, something smooth and rigid which thrust my head back onto the pillow, gagging me and pumping spit from my lips onto my cheeks and neck. Some part of me, some automatic part, was forcing the long fat thing up against my tongue, banging teeth, and tearing tissue. A group of women — nurses I’d supposed — were on the other side of the room grouped in a circle. Their voices were muted in the way people speak around sick people or open graves. If this was because of me, they needn’t have bothered. The last place I’d been — really no place at all — had been such absolute blankness that I’d ceased to be anything at all; they could have shouted and beat tambourines and I would not have stirred. This gap in time seemed like seconds, but later I found it was twelve hours. It was as if two black doors had swung over me on the operating table and those hours snipped out, as if an editor had cut scenes from my life and dropped them on the floor. There was no evidence that drama. That singular moment in my life which had been written in blood and metal might not have happened at all except for the eighteen-inch stitch in my chest, the dripping tubes into my arms, and the conference of nurses on the other side of the room.

Back now. The big nurse, the one who was giving orders while others nodded, looked powerful; an athlete, I thought. Not basketball or soccer, maybe baseball. My best friend in high school’s main girl, his only girl, Kim, was the daughter of a major league pitcher and was a fireballer herself. Her batting average was 400 or 420. And this big nurse, the one in command, was much like Kim, had the same arms and shoulders and the same serious face. There were differences though: Kim was a blond and this woman’s hair was black with a sheen like floodlights on a lake. Then it occurred to me. I’m alive, alive and out of pain. Praise be to God; to the team of surgeons who shaved and cut and stitched, who put these tubes in my arms; to every Saint and even, so help me, Big Pharma. Alive.

I tried to get the attention of the ballplayer and the others as I chocked on the tube, but she talked on —still speaking low and serious to her nodding cohorts. I made comical sounds (unintentionally) and waved my arms, rattling the IVs against the bed rails. Finally a nurse with a ponytail signaled to the others — even to me my noises were funny, and Big Nurse walked over and pulled the tube out with even pressure. I watched, fascinated, as it emerged, like a magician’s scarf drawn from a silk sleeve. Then it was out with a flourish and I drew my first breath, gasping and trying to thank the ballplayer, but gagging on a ball of mucus that had traveled up with the outgoing air. The 400 hitter thrust a vacuum sucker into my throat and it flew out with a pop.

Then there was more blackness. It was not the absolute blackness I’d been imbedded in for twelve hours after the doors shut, but milder, dreamy. I was aware of the sounds of the ICU: the constant sloshing which I was to become familiar with in the next week. Later would I fill idle hours in a morphine haze, thinking of what it resembled. I decided it was a recording of a horn concerto by some modern composer performed by a marching band submerged under waves which moved up and back.

Night. Across the room I could see a small nurse, the one who’d signaled Big Nurse to pull out the breathing tube. She was doing some housekeeping, pouring water into a pan, squeezing in thick green liquid, then stirring it with a fingers covered in a nitrile glove. A blue light above her made a small field of light around the bench where she worked, setting her off theatrically from the room like a play before the dialogue begins. My legs felt hot and the bedding beneath was damp. She must have heard me rustling in the bunched-up sheets, for she came over with a phone — not mine — and held it out. “Your wife’s on the line,” she said.

I slept for the first time in two days, in real unmediated sleep, but woke to the greeting of a new friend, one of a group flippantly referred to as pain. They were to become friendly, these visitors. This one was feminine. She wanted to stay the night, to be there for breakfast, to get kisses and be caressed. As the days passed I was to learn that she was capricious and came randomly and without warning. There were others — I’d never thought of how many sorts of pain existed. There was a whole menagerie of them in the ICU. Sometimes I heard one visit another patient down the hall. These visits were never boisterous. There was never any shouting. I’d know they’d come by a sound of a sharp intake of breath followed by a sound of useless pleading. This didn’t interest the guests, being boorish and poor conversationalists. The friend that came that first night was not only feminine but feline, silently pawing my left shoulder. On other nights I’d be visited by something more dog-like which jumped on my chest without warning. But that first night’s guest became more and more familiar until she gripped me from shoulder to shoulder, making my back arch. The little nurse’s instincts were sharp, or possibly I cried out, because she was right there, needle in hand, inserting it into the arterial line that I watched a surgical assistant craft into my wrist. The morphine washed through me and the pain jumped down and left, looking for someone else to paw. A feeling of warmth flowed through me, like a bath beneath the skin and I became relaxed — predictably — but I also didn’t care about what pain remained. I could smile now at my earlier seizure as I gripped the bed rails, and despite the weight of the drug, become surprisingly capable of clear thought (or so I believed). I thought of my wife and how joyful I’d been hearing her voice, but there was also a feeling of sadness, as if irreplaceable had passed. I could trace the outlines of the clever box under the skin above my left nipple. This hard object, this pacemaker, was sending pulses to my heart: Beat. Stop. Beat. Stop. I could not feel it working but my fingers could trace its outline, like a zippo lighter tucked in a fleshy raised pouch of skin. Beat. Stop. Beat. The man who’d originally put it in — in the first surgery — had managed to poke a hole in my heart while doing so, and I was to discover the hard way that given enough time, hours really, this would make the beating stop. But the pain that came on as the heart began to slow had driven me here, to different hospital, where the staff was less flippant about events like a patient fainting from pain and stress, and they’d fixed me. Beat. Stop. Beat.

I’ve never like the idea of extra-dimensions. It seems to me that with the twin forces of gravity and aging on our bodies, four dimensions were plenty to deal with. And I’ve never understood this imbecilic enthusiasm for them in pop culture, even as metaphors. But in this cube — my corner of the ICU anyway —BANNED POSTtime had become elastic. Even before I’d arrived, there were events that appeared in my memory to be quite long — a cab ride of only seven minutes from door to hospital was, in the ambulance that brought me here while I was slipping away, seemed hours. Later that day, the time being prepped for surgery had been compressed into minutes, though it was really half the morning. And here, in this room where I lay recovering, time had just such an elasticity, and not only as I now think back on it. Night was very much like day. I was bathed each night by a nurse around Four AM. I don’t know why; perhaps it was the change in the their rotation. And this crazy hour of was no hardship for me. I didn’t really need to be awakened because I was never really slept, not profoundly. Day and night blurred into a soup of the sharp and commonplace. I could not see the face of the clock at night, because the only light was a single blue bulb above the nurses workbench. I could just perceive the reflection of the luminous gages on the bank of machines chugging behind me on the chrome of machines and the window glass, but that was fine, because they illuminated nothing. I was careful to never ask the nurses or my wife when she visited what time it was. I know for a fact that I lay flat-out on the bed for five days, a night, and part of one morning, but there’s an inner being that smiles at that idea. The cube with its chugging machines and kind women was someplace out of time. I’d been pulled into a Fairy circle and could have been in there, like Thomas Rhymer, for a century which had passed in a long afternoon.

Last edited by Rob Wright; 12-09-2017 at 04:36 PM. Reason: Typos
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  #2  
Old 12-07-2017, 08:49 PM
johanna donovan johanna donovan is offline
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Location: Massachusetts, USA
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Hi Rob,

It held my interest which at my stage of life is very important. I only
have so much time to read!

If this happened to you, you have my sympathy, if not, I admire your
imagination. Either way, I found it a very vivid description of a difficult
hospital stay. The way you personified the different pains was interesting
too.

In the first paragraph, I don't think you need the 2nd "long fat" and
could find something else to use in its place. Aside from that, I found only
two things that jarred a bit in the final line. The "but" which I didn't find
necessary to the thought and the "an" before "long" which should be an a.

Hope I've helped a little bit,
Johanna
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  #3  
Old 12-09-2017, 04:41 PM
Rob Wright Rob Wright is offline
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Johanna,

First welcome to the Sphere. I hope you have an enjoyable and long relationship with this little community of writers and critics, most of whom I trust you'll find to be of great assistance and support.

And a special thanks for looking in to this one. And for your recommendations, which you'll notice, I've adopted without hesitation. I'm especially happy that the story held your interest, and yes, it's all based on first hand experiences that are quite recent. (It's been quite a year).

Once again, I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

Cheers,

—R
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Old 12-10-2017, 09:59 AM
johanna donovan johanna donovan is offline
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Hi Rob,

Thank you for the welcome. I'm glad I was able to provide a couple of very
small suggestions and hope that you are in complete recovery mode. I also
wish you more visitors on this thread. I can see you have put a lot of work
into this.

As you can see, that was my 15th comment. I don't mean to clutter your
thread with personal stuff but what do I do now please? I have tried a
couple of e-mails to Moderators but have never heard back. Am I ok to
post poems now?

Thank you,
Johanna
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  #5  
Old 12-12-2017, 11:06 AM
Rob Wright Rob Wright is offline
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Thanks so much, Johanna. I hope to see you here often. Glad to have you aboard. And thanks for your well-wishes on my recovery. It's slow but sure. And as I said in the narrative, I'm glad to be above here.

—R
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  #6  
Old 12-12-2017, 01:32 PM
Felicity Teague's Avatar
Felicity Teague Felicity Teague is offline
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Hi Rob,

I don't think we've met yet. I'm Fliss. Season's greetings!

This is just a quick message for now, to let you know that I've read this, I like it, and I'll be back with a proper comment as soon as my work schedule is less hectic!

Best wishes,
Fliss
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Old 12-13-2017, 10:29 AM
Rob Wright Rob Wright is offline
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Thanks for looking in, Fliss. Nice to be aquatinted, and I'm looking forward to your review.

—R
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  #8  
Old Yesterday, 01:40 PM
Felicity Teague's Avatar
Felicity Teague Felicity Teague is offline
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You're welcome, Rob :-)

Unfortunately, work is still keeping me from the sphere. I'm a bit tired at the moment, so I thought I'd make a start with just a few small suggestions for changes. Please see paragraph 1 below; changes are underlined. I'm happy to continue through the rest of the story in this manner, but it's fine if you'd rather I didn't – just let me know. It's all take or toss, of course.

~

Something was stuck in my throat, something smooth and rigid that thrust my head back onto the pillow, gagging me and pumping spit from my lips across my cheeks and neck. Some part of me, some automatic part, was forcing the long fat thing up against my tongue, banging teeth and tearing tissue. A group of womennurses, I’d supposedwere on the other side of the room grouped in a circle. Their voices were muted in the way people speak around sick people or open graves. If this was because of me, they needn’t have bothered. The last place I’d beenreally no place at allhad comprised such absolute blankness that I’d ceased to be anything at all; they could have shouted and beat tambourines, and I would not have stirred. This gap in time had seemed like seconds, but later I found out it had been twelve hours. It was as if two black doors had swung over me on the operating table and those hours snipped out, as if an editor had cut scenes from my life and dropped them on the floor. There was no evidence of that drama. That singular moment in my life, written in blood and metal, might not have happened at all except for the eighteen-inch stitch in my chest, the IV tubes lodged in my arms, and the conference of nurses on the other side of the room.

~

I'm mindful that you're from the USA, so I haven't made a couple of changes I would have made to a UK text. (I have copyediting experience in both UK and USA writing.)

With 'comprised', I'm attempting to resolve the repetition of 'been'; I don't think it's quite right, likewise the 'IV tubes lodged' (I might be using too much of my own experience here).

It's a strong opening! I'm working all weekend, but I'll try to pop back to comment on content soon.

Best wishes,
Fliss

Last edited by Felicity Teague; Yesterday at 01:41 PM. Reason: Added a '~' for clarity :-)
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