The teak deck is damp and gritty against my face. The stars above are far away and beautiful. The sound of phaser fire drifts up from the cabin below and I try to imagine I am on the bridge of Enterprise, in the Star Trek episode we’d been watching, and not pinned to the deck of my own vessel, writhing in agony, waiting for the spasms to pass. I lean my head over the caprail and retch all the nothingness in my stomach out again. It feels like someone has ripped a small hole in the left side of me and is methodically pulling my intestines out and winding them tight around a razorwire bar. I hear Captain Archer put on his let’s-be-reasonable voice and wish violently he’d just beam me up already. I imagine that in those few seconds of dematerialization, there would be no pain. But what is pain, anyway? A temporary state. There is no rescue on the way. I focus on imagining myself further down my own timeline. To a time when this has passed.
Because this is not new. It happens again and again. This time, it’s been going on for maybe 5 and a half hours. Naturally, it’s in the middle of the night. In a foreign country. Doctor Phlox’s relentlessly cheerful voice wafts up from belowdecks. I wonder what miracles he’d have in his bag of interstellar tricks to fix a damaged nervous system. It’s been another 15 minutes, time to take stock again. I check my heart rate. Too fast and a little erratic, but still doable. My left side is only kind of functioning at this point. I try to breathe. My diaphragm spasms again. The world begins to go grey and an eternity passes until the spasm loosens for a minute. I sip ragged breaths and bang weakly on the cabintop. It’s time. If this goes much further, I’ll stop breathing. My heart will stop pumping. And that would really throw a monkey wrench in our plans to sail around the world.
At the first sound of my tap, Eli’s cabin door bangs open and he comes rushing through the mid-berth and up the companionway ladder as if he’d been waiting for that sound all night. Who am I kidding? He probably had his ear glued to the door this whole time. I don’t think his feet even touched the pilothouse floor. “We going?” he asks, worry all over his face. I nod and he shoots back down to start grabbing the stuff he’ll need. Steve rolls out of bed and into his clothes in one fluid movement, then starts chucking meds and shoes and doctor info into the backpack. “Still breathing?” he asks, trying to keep the worry off his face. I nod again and say,” Grab the Spanish for Cruisers guide and I’m going to the bathroom. Meet you up there.” His voice follows me as I clamber off the boat, “Stay in the middle of the dock!”
Middle of the dock. Breathe. Middle of the dock. Breathe. I stagger barefoot, like a drunk, down the dock and up onto dry land. Didn’t fall in the water. +10 points for me. Suck on that, stupid espasmo. Breathe. I take a minute and try to reason with the insanity that is my body gone rogue. I calm my mind. I try to calm the spasms in my abdomen. I imagine having control of the left side of my body again. Useless. I shrink my horizons to something that might actually be achievable and hobble into the Women’s restroom. For the next five minutes while we wait for a taxi to take us down the road to Velmar Hospital, I try and pee. Yup. You heard me. I tried to pee.
Alas, the same unauthorized spasm that illegally boarded my gut, my diaphragm, my stomach, and my esophagus, also got it’s filthy hands on my bladder. No peeing. So, the whole way to the hospital, I worry about my bladder bursting and accidentally peeing half a day’s worth of pee all over this nice guy’s cab, instead of concentrating on when the next breath will come. Or if this spasm will work its way higher to my heart. I guess that’s not such a bad thing. Eli says that the best way to deal with this kind of thing is to give steroids to every tiny little sliver of hope or relief….make it huge with neon signs and spotlights, douse it in glitter and put it in a ridiculous tutu, anything….just make it so you have to notice the damn thing. Dig a hole and put the bad stuff in it. Let that sliver of hope dance on top. And whatever you do, don’t let it out of your sight.
He knows the drill…we’ve been dealing with medical emergencies on a regular basis for the last decade and a half. If you want to get through it sane, there’s a protocol you have to follow. In the first place, you have to educate yourself regarding the issues. A lot of the time, you end up teaching the doctors and nurses around you. It happens. Get over it. Next, you prepare for every scenario, every contingency your wildest imagination can dream up to horrify and devastate you. And then you put that crap in a box and don’t think about it until you have to. Because otherwise the crazy comes to get you in your sleep. Also? You never, ever pack an “Away” bag before it’s time to go. So many things wrong with doing that, as in: Item the First…tempting fate–that goes well for no one. Item the Second…it’s absolutely crucial to occupy your mind with trivial things during that ride to the hospital, so you don’t have to worry about whether your wife is going to make it through this spasm ok. Or if this is the time your kid isn’t going to make it. At this point in the emergency, all you can do, is all you have done and now is the time to sit back half a centimeter and start worrying about whether or not you remembered to pack the paperback you were reading.
As for Item the Third…that’ll come tomorrow. After one of these bad attacks, I always like to think I’ll go roaring back to regular life like a dragon, but the truth is a lot closer to something small, and warm blooded, and well…more timid than I like to admit. I was born in the Year of the Rat, after all. So, as long as we’re being honest here…I guess you can say I’m creeping back to what passes as normal on our boat. Don’t much like the pace, but hey, forward momentum, right?
Click here for part two!