Short Story - Alive - Cacy Ann Minter
By: Cacy Ann Minter
I didn’t know where I was when I woke up. I was aware of a pressing sensation on my chest, but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I tried to look around and realized my field of vision was limited to the area directly in front of me. I couldn’t move my arms or legs, or even swivel my head from side to side. I heard voices speaking frantically, but it was as if they were off at a long distance, as if they were at least a football field away. Other than the slight pressure on my upper body, I had no sensation or feeling whatsoever, other than a kind of heaviness I figured was just my brain coping with the paralysis I seemed to be experiencing.
I could see an open expanse of sky so I assumed I was lying prone outside of my car. I thought back as far as I could remember, but for the moment was just drawing a blank. Suddenly, the hazy form of a woman flashed into my view, moving just as quickly out of my range of sight as she had entered. Waiting patiently, I saw her hover in my line of vision once more, flashing a penlight into both of my eyes. At the time I didn’t think about why that bright flash of light didn’t blind me or cause me to blink, but I would later come to know why.
Searching through my vast knowledge of medicine, I tried to conjure up the specific types of disorders that might cause the condition I was experiencing at the moment. I immediately ruled out glaucoma and migraine as reasons for the peripheral vision loss. That left about ten or twelve other diseases and conditions as the cause due to the fact that I never before suffered from migraines and the stage of glaucoma at which such vision is lost is such an advanced stage, it would not have happened so immediately. I also ruled out the more rare eye diseases such as retinoschisis and retinal degeneration as those too would have taken too long a time to develop. Most of the other possibilities, such as Usher Syndrome or CAR Syndrome, would not quite explain the other symptoms that were occurring. Thinking back hard on my early medical training at the University of Texas, I decided I must have suffered a stroke. It would explain the heavy feeling in my body (although usually affecting mostly the side of the body, I was grasping at this point), the loss of vision, the loss of hearing, and possibly even the paralysis. Deciding I would rather settle on stroke than the dreaded ‘brain tumor’, I was helpless to do anything besides wait for aid at the hands of the woman whom I was now watching. She was shaking her head at something over her left shoulder. I knew that was not a good sign.
The woman moved again from my field of sight and I saw the sky before above me jerk a bit. Realizing I was probably being lifted onto a stretcher, I searched my brain for any memory that I could find of what events had recently transpired prior to my current semi-comatose state. I looked deeper and deeper into my mind and began to get a clearer picture of what probably had happened.
I had been on my way home from work at the clinic. I remembered waiting patiently for the stoplight at Anderson Mill Rd. to turn green and then proceeding through the intersection in my mind’s eye. I recalled glancing to my left and seeing the headlights of a white Hummer racing towards me. As if in slow motion, I realized I would not make it through the intersection in time and braced myself for the imminent impact. The final memory I could bring forth was the feeling of my heading snapping to the right as I was struck on my driver’s side door by the speeding vehicle.
My sky view soon was traded for the dull interior of an ambulance. I knew the dull throbs I could hear pulsating in the distance must be the warning siren of the rescue vehicle, but it sounded as if it was coming from another side of a long tunnel. I wondered how bad of shape I was in and when the paralysis would wear off, if ever. Hoping for the best, I saw rather than felt the ambulance grind to a halt as IV’s and other medical equipment in the cab shifted and jerked spasmodically. I could tell I was being lifted again and rolled quickly down a long corridor. I silently prayed, although I had never done so before, to whatever God might be listening to guide the surgeon’s hands as they put me back together.
My gurney was finally pushed into a dimly lit corridor after a short ride in what I was sure was an elevator. I wondered which local hospital I had been taken to, Seton Shoal Creek probably, as it was the closest. I had never been inside Seton before and didn’t recognize the area now as I lay awake, wondering what was to become of me and whether I would be given intravenous anesthesia or a local one, depending on just what my injuries were. I knew that the most important thing the doctor’s needed to do right now was deal with any internal injuries and blood loss. My temporary paralysis could wait.
I lay on the stretcher for what seemed like hours and had already grown quite confused by the time I finally saw an elderly gentleman lean over me. I thought that he had possibly already been operating on my distraught body the entire time I had been laying and thinking, I just hadn’t been able to see him due to the loss of my side vision. However, I knew he should have had a small medical staff assisting him throughout the process and couldn’t figure out why I had not seen any of them sliding in and out of my view. I wondered if I had even passed out and not realized it, but soon put that thought to rest as I realized I had been slowly counting, waiting for the sleep inducing drugs to work their magic. They strangely never did lull me to unconsciousness and I now began wondering if I might be comatose and dreaming everything that had been and was now transpiring. I again ruled this scenario out due to the fact that everything felt so real. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined any events as vividly as what I was witnessing now. Besides, if this had all been a dream, parts of it would have appeared jagged and disjointed as all dreams do.
I again saw myself being moved (I say saw because I could still feel nothing other than the ‘heaviness’ I have described to you earlier). Soon, all I was looking at was the briefest glimpse of steel mere inches away from my faces. Then all light left me and I stared into utter darkness.
I knew I was not unconscious because I could see minute flecks of dirt and other matter before me as my vision adjusted to the blackness that surrounded me completely. Panic began to set in. I knew after a few short moments of confusion that I the dimly lit room I had occupied only moments before was not an operating room, or even and ICU unit. It had no doubt been the Seton Shoal Creek morgue. I had been presumed dead and was now to spend my probably last remaining moments on this earth mistakenly locked inside a tiny refrigerated compartment until my wife claimed my body and funeral preparations began. I knew at that time it would be nearly impossible to tell when I had actually died as the cooling box I now occupied would delay decomposition for some time. I could possibly lay awake in the steel cubicle for hours or even days before I finally succumbed to the death sentence that had been passed on to me by incompetent EMT’s. I vowed right then to find that woman who had given up on my limp body so carelessly and haunt her in my afterlife, whatever kind of afterlife was in store for me. As a self-proclaimed agnostic, I had never believed in much of anything other than the medicine I had so put my faith in for all forty-three years of my short life. I realized with horror that such faith had failed me at the most crucial moment. I was surely suffering from some form of inanimate suspension, such as the death-like coma caused by a toxin given off from the puffer fish. Since I knew I had not partaken of any exotic seafood dishes as of late, I could not figure out what exactly had happened, so I instead laid the entirety of the blame of my situation upon the clearly poor trained technicians who must have shown up at the scene of my car accident. I berated the fools over and over in my head for quite some time. I could not help but wonder how I could have been so careless as to be taken unawares by the Hummer in the first place. I wondered what fortune must I have had to be attended to by the world’s two stupidest emergency personnel. What other poor souls had received this same malpractice at their hands? How many more would senselessly die? Would I be the first to somehow finally escape the grasp of death by the skin of my teeth and put an end to the suffering no doubt caused by the lazy offenders? Or would some other poor soul, completely unaware of my plight, suffer the same fate and miraculously awaken in their cold compartment and begin banging on the ceiling and walls of their confine, screaming for relief, begging for assistance and removal from the claustrophobic conditions? I could only wish the medical examiner who finds such a person would not be frightened into a heart attack, thus leaving the poor wretch to continue on to his or her untimely death with no help of rescue.
I lay in that steely box thinking such thoughts as these for what felt like hours. I had no way of telling how much time had passed. Although I heard my wristwatch ticking away unerringly somewhere far off, I was helpless to even simply raise my arm to look at it. Truly, even if my comatose condition had worn off and I had regained the use of my limbs, the tiny chamber in which I was now nestled would not have allowed for the slightest free movement of any sort. When my paralysis passed (and I hoped against all hope it would), I would have to scream and use my head and feet to pound on the interior walls of the cold box in what might be a vain attempt to arouse the notice of an attendant, if one was even still in the vicinity of the autopsy area.
For some unknown reason (although more than likely it was denial), I chose not to think about why I was still alive after spending so much time inside the refrigerated box. I knew there could not have been much oxygen in the minuscule room I was allotted. I at long length allowed my mind to rest on this matter, as if grasping onto a focal point instead of allowing my mind to wander might possibly salvage my sanity, which was already beginning to teeter on the brink of no return. I found myself making arguments about my state of existence, holding complete conversations with my inner voice (perhaps I had already passed the aforementioned brink, but best not to dwell on that).
“How could I possibly still be alive? How am I breathing? “
“The coma state you are in must have slowed down your heartbeat, thus making it possible to slow down your respiration to an infinitesimal amount, which has allowed you to live longer off of less oxygen intake simply because your body does not require a normal amount at this time. Consider it suspended animation.”
“Suspended animation. Hmmmm, if I could market this to NASA somehow I could make millions!”
“You would have to get out of here first. What good is money to a dead man?”
“But what exactly caused this state for me? Was I injected with some sort of experimental drug by the EMT? Are they in fact using me, as they have possibly used others before me, to test this new drug out? Will they return to the morgue in the middle of the night to secretly remove my body and test the effects of this drug? Can I pray for relief at that time?”
“I wouldn’t get my hopes up, buddy. Best to expect the worst and hope for the best in my opinion.”
I assumed nothing at this point of my incarceration of both my body and my mind within my body. Even as far-fetched as the ‘illegal drug experiment conspiracy’ seemed, it was certainly better than facing the alternative silence I knew was awaiting me during every break in my interior discussions. I again commented (to myself of course) on the slight feeling of pressure that was the only sense I could feel. At some point in time I heard, off in the distance, a rapid squeaking noise, and momentarily shuddered inwardly at the thought of mice. Mice in a morgue box! And I had always thought Seton such a fine hospital!
I came to realize I could distinguish colors again and knew instantly that the squeaking I had just heard was not in fact rodents, but was the sound of the drawer door opening. I prayed that my moment of rescue had finally arrived. I wondered if the two criminals who had surely induced this state on my body had finally been found out and captured. Might they have shown some temporary remorse at their actions and enlightened officials to my condition? Was I now to be revived fully to a healthy state?
I saw readily that unfortunately this was not to be. I was again moved, that much I could tell. Back into the dimly lit room and again waiting in anticipation for whatever would come next. I looked and waited and watched directly above me as hard as I could. The lighting was soon amplified and I realized I was staring up into a set of fluorescent tubes. Every once in a while, the elderly man (who I correctly took for the ME) would come into focus for brief moments, only to sway out of sight again, then return some moments later. This went on for quite some time. I don’t know how long it took me to realize what was happening. When I did, the last tiny fiber that had been holding my sanity intact finally snapped completely and irreparably.
He was performing an autopsy. On me.
I knew I had been in a car accident, but I hadn’t been drinking, there was no reason for this! A thousand thoughts flew through my mind and no matter how hard I tried to silence them and pull myself together to work towards creating some sign of life for the morgue practitioner, I could not keep my brain focused on any one thought in particular. I began willing my finger to move, willing my chest to rise, even minutely, searching for any sign of surprise in the ME’s eyes.
“I am not a cadaver!!!!! Look at me!!!!! Look at me breathing!!!! Look at my EYES!!!!!,” I screamed silently. “Please, for God’s sake, DON’T DO THIS!!!!! STOP AT ONCE!!!!!”
It was pointless. The man continued his grim work completely unaware of me. I remained conscious throughout the entire ordeal. I wondered how I could still be alive once he finally stood back and stripped the latex gloves off of his hands. I knew that if an autopsy had indeed been performed, my organs would have been removed. How could I now be possibly still alive?
And then I realized this: I was not. I had not been since the first time I had awoken from the accident. It was the only thing that made sense. It explained all of my symptoms. It explained why two well trained emergency technicians and a Morgue Examiner had not been able to sense the life flowing in me. There no longer was any life flowing in me. I was now locked with my thoughts, and my thoughts only, inside of a fleshy shell that would soon begin to deteriorate. I was locked with my own thoughts for perhaps all of eternity.
I somehow managed to make it through the entire embalming process without losing my mind completely and turning into a complete lunatic. I noticed with some pride that I was not singing songs to myself over and over again, or even ranting any longer. It was as if a sense of peace had come over my mind, not necessarily replacing the feeling of weight I had felt earlier, but instead I came to the realization that that was exactly what the pressure had been the entire time. It was my own mind battling against the calm that death had brought already to my body. My mind had refused this calm, up until the moment it was utterly impossible to deny the facts any longer. After finally accepting my fate, I began to steadily grow more and more serene.
The memorial service was quite lovely, or at least what I could make out of it seemed so. I recognized many faces leaning over my coffin and counted at least two hundred mourners in attendance. I never knew I had been so well regarded by so many of my colleagues and family.
As I now lay entombed in utter silence, I find myself thinking on why I never discussed with my wife the possibility of cremation prior to my passing. I lay in a vat of utter darkness save for the occasional worm or spider creeping over my line of vision. I know that my left eye has now been eaten away as my sight has faltered to a two-dimensional stare, and I am sure the right is soon to follow. I can’t help but wonder if this is the Hell I have been condemned to suffer due to my lack of belief in God. I have had many years to wonder about this and have begun in the most recent times to accept that possibly I lived my life in error. I know now that I am at least not alone in my doom – some time back I heard distant thuds surrounding me and rested in the knowledge that my wife has finally joined me and more than likely now occupies the plot next door. I wonder whether my neighbors to the left, above, and below me are also sharing my fate. I have time now to ponder such thoughts and pray fervently to God that eternity comes with swiftness.