The ICU at night is a terrifying nightmare world. Not even Dean Koontz or Steven King could imagine the nights of terror. It was cold and late at night. I was chained to a bed and I was freezing cold. If felt like an icy underground parking lot. It was industrial with strips of fluorescent lighting. Broken lights were all around and cold metal beds. I was in some of them with a flimsy blanket over me. The cold was bone-deep and biting into me.
It was a hospital. But it was more like a night shelter where the homeless slept. It seemed there was a price to be paid for being there that night. There were so many prices. My first price was that I was chained to the bed. From the icy cold an even colder metal chain was wrapped around me wrists, tying me to the bed. I was not sure how I got here. Did they not know who I was?
But actually, I didn’t even know who I was.
Who was I?
Even writing this, years later, I feel that feeling and I want to just shut down this page. Turn it off. Turn away from the cold and the lights and the chains. Turn away from being a nobody tied to a bed.
I was just a night-dweller lying in a cold bed, alone. I could not talk. I wasn’t sure why yet. But I was silent. There was something blocking my throat.
Then a nurse came up to me through the gloom. She started washing me down with a sponge. It was cold water. Who was she? Who was this freaky bitch from the Twilight Zone washing my pits?
‘Okay, young lady. None of your mischief tonight,’ she said
The slow cogs in my slower brain were turning.
She knows me? Tonight?
Have I been here before?
What was going on? Where was I?
Another nurse came and the two of them held me down. Then a male orderly. They talk about me.
‘She’s at it again.’
‘You wash her.’
They turned me onto my side.
I was naked. Wet with cold water and getting colder by the passing second.
I wanted to talk. Why couldn’t I?
I slip seamlessly between nightmare and reality.
I am in a broken-down hospital wing.
No, I am in a police station being locked in a cell.
No, I am at crazy carnival party with drugs and sex.
No, I am chained to a bed and I am going to die.
No, I am at the party but the police are chasing me. We run and run.
I slip into a sordid club. People are having sex all over.
I had no conscious idea of who I was. No name. No place. I was just a person trapped in a bed against my will.
It is as if I am driven by a deeply primitive impulse. Fight.
Angels come in many shapes and sizes. That night, another one came. A nurse. She sat at my bed and stroked my hair. Then she started to sing softly. Church songs. I knew them. They were in English, then Afrikaans. All the while she stroked my hair and soothed me, like you would a wounded animal or small child.
I turned into her hand, desperate for the touch. Desperate for kindness. Desperate for anyone who could help me.
‘Please,’ I whimpered. ‘Help me get home.’
There are more angels all around me. They are foggy, but I know them. Not close like before. Just there in the room, watching me. They will not let me die, but I must trust.
Daylight. I open my eyes
My sister Jayne is sitting by the bed talking to me. She has a huge smile on her beautiful face, her blue eyes shining.
‘Sarah,’ she says. ‘You are a very, very lucky girl. ‘
In all the weeks it is the first thing I hear.
I was back in advanced mathematics and a problem had been put on the board. A complex word sum. I just had to figure it out. Lucky.
I fall back under.