*Content Warning: Mentions of su*cide
“In, and out. In and out. Breathe. Deep breaths. There you go. Keep going, you’re doing amazing.”
The nurse speaks kindly to me. Her soft brown eyes reflect the harsh light of the room. I hear the noise of machines around me, beep, beeping, whirring and clicking. A familiar harsh sterile smell fills my nostrils and I blink lazily, my vision swimming, the white overheads blinding me slightly and bringing tears to my eyes. I feel something soft and warm in my palm, and glance down to realise I am gripping hold of this lady’s patient hand. As awareness creeps up on me, I feel the pain shooting through my skull and I moan gruffly. My throat is dry and scratchy and as I take a deep breath the air catches halfway down and I begin to cough and splutter, something akin to steel wool seemingly lodged in there. The lady lets go of my reluctant hand and rushes to get a glass of water.
“Here,” she hands me a plastic cup. “You’ve been relying on IV fluids for far too long so sip slowly” she gently warns me.
I do as I’m told, still too delirious to begin to think about what she just said. It is hard not to guzzle the drink as on my arid throat it feels like the most precious liquid on earth, drenching every parched blood vessel and filling my empty stomach with sweet cool relief. It feels so foreign, as if it’s not supposed to be in my body, yet considering I did not throw it back up and how wonderfully nourishing it felt I assume it is supposed to be there, and hasn’t been there for quite a while.
After a few minutes, my blurry vision begins to sharpen. I notice the nurse has moved to the other side of the room yet not leaving for a single moment, giving me time to weakly assess my physical form. I look down at my hand with the empty cup in it, and I feel a sense of panic as it reveals a series of tubes and wires embedded into my veins. My head turns to my other arm and that too has a collection of tubes and wires. The panic begins to rise as I look down and see the white sheets and a hospital gown, and look up following the beep, beep, beeping to see a heart monitor above my head. An oxygen mask is laying on my lap. The sun from the small window highlights the different coloured fluids hanging in the bags next to the heart monitor. I swallow the rising panic forming a lump in my throat. It still feels scratchy. I take another shaky breath and wiggle my fingers and toes, becoming aware of the sensations in my body. I feel frail and weak, little shooting pains fleeting randomly throughout my organs. I try to shift my weight and lift my head and a wave of nausea and pain hits me, my vision dims and I let out a groan as I sink pathetically back into the pillow. My thoughts feel sluggish, too sluggish to comprehend what is happening, or more importantly:
Warmth floods my hand again as I sense the nurse’s presence by my side.
“Hey, take it easy, it’s going to be a while until you’re in any shape to do anything drastic,” her voice fills my muffled ears.
My head lolls towards her, the panic not subsiding if not increasing as I slowly come to my senses. I hear the beep, beep, beeping of the heart monitor pick up pace.
She hands me another cup of water. I drink it, this time a little faster as my stomach gets used to the sensation of fluid in it again. Unease washes over me as I stare at the collection of catheters in my hands and arms once more. I look up at the window. I see an evening sun slowly sinking just below the tops of the city buildings.
The nurse sits in the corner of the room still, watching me cautiously, as if I’m going to suddenly be able to take off and bolt in spite of the fact my body is basically pinned to the bed with absolutely no chance of me going anywhere.
I desperately try to wrack my brains for some form of explanation but whatever drugs they have given me have made thinking feel like a learned skill, one which I have not mastered.
I open my mouth to speak and my words feel like a foreign tongue.
The nurse senses my distress and gets up to walk over and speak to me. Rather than the generic “everything ok?” query, it is almost as if she has heard my thinking – or did I actually say something? – she says, “You have been in a coma for a month, give or take a few days.”
She seems nonchalant, as if that wasn’t shocking news at all. Maybe it wasn’t to her, considering where she is working.
The shock on my face must have registered on hers and she changes her tone slightly. “You were unresponsive for a long time, the doctors didn’t think you’d make it – ” a brief startled look flickers across her face, almost as if she’d said something she wasn’t supposed to “ – er, your body has been through a state of trauma so you will be here for a few more weeks…” she peters off, then swivels to grab me another cup of water, changing the subject. “Here, have another one, we are going to be taking you off fluids today since you have managed your water well.” Then a smile, and a strange knowing look – “I’m Mary-Anne by the way. I’m your ICU nurse.”
As I drink the third cup, she resumes her place in the corner of the room. I feel my sluggish brain slowly start returning, yet my memories considerably hazy , too hazy to recollect whatever has caused this but the effects of whatever coma drugs they gave me to keep me under wearing off a little each minute. I try my speech again.
“Hey, uh…” My tongue feels so dry. I cough a couple of times – a bad idea as shooting pain envelopes my ribcage and lungs. I groan, yet continue. “What happened? I don’t remember anything and I don’t know where I am,” I cough again on the last word, some form of emotion I cannot yet pinpoint bubbling to the surface. Panic? Frustration?
Mary-Anne looks worried. She tucks her dark curls behind her ear, and hesitates, as if she’s trying to think of the exact words to say. After too long a pause, she lets out a staggered sigh. “It might be good to wait until the psychologist comes to see you.”
My mind feels as though under a thick blanket of wool, it is whirring at an uncomfortable speed. Faded images start to surface but they hold no true shape of weight, as if I’m watching them in a dream that I haven’t woken up to yet. We both sit in silence for a long moment.
“Why can’t you tell me?” I finally ask. It is getting annoying seeing her continue to hesitate. Paired with receiving such news she just gave me and my inability to identify my own thoughts, I am beginning to lose my patience.
She looks as if now she is about to bolt, but remains composed. A series of different emotions flash across her deep complexion again, as if she’s debating telling me a secret like we are school children. Frustration continues to build inside me as I pierce her stare with my own. She then sighs again.
“You were very close to death. You had to be resuscitated too many times. The doctors were going to give up but putting you in a coma was the last resort we had. It is amazing to see that you are in such great form, speech intact and swallow reflex still working, considering the trauma your body has suffered–”
“That’s not telling me what happened,” I retort, the frustration bubbling through my lips as I have no other means of properly functioning body to show it apart from my own half-open eyes. Each word hurts. I hope this counts.
Another pause, another thoughtful sigh. She slowly gets up, and moves the chair to my bedside.
“Do you want the truth right now?” she asks, her face suddenly smoothed and gentle again, a trained individual at remaining calm in such situations.
I slowly nod.
“You attempted on your life, Cassandra.”
A pause, she waits, studying me for a moment. A creeping sense of numbness tingles throughout my punctured veins. She continues.
“Your body was found in the forest by a walker and the ambulance was called. You were unresponsive and very injured, internally and externally. We didn’t think you’d make it and if that walker had come a few minutes later you would certainly not have. You are very lucky to be alive right now.”
The last word hung in the room like heavy smoke. The white lights flicker slightly. For a long while it is just us, sat face to face, the machines whirring gently in the background and the beep, beep, beeping of the heart monitor. The light from the window is fading into golden streaks on the white fabric of my bed.
I am feeling nothing and everything at once, and can feel my mind spinning out of control in the cage of the drugs that hold it captive. Silence.
But not for long.
Suddenly anger burst within me. Somebody has lifted the rug enough for the images to slip into consciousness. The pills. The litre bottle of vodka. The muddy sneakers. The running. Tears streaking across my face as the wind tugged at my hair. Screeching tires. Sounding of horns. Coldness enveloping my body. My mind fading, the world spinning. The sensation of the soft earth underneath my freezing fingers. The screaming at the rolling sky above. My throat scratchy, the rain hammering against my exposed skin. Wetness, sadness, desperation, anger… then numbness. Peace, the hands of death grasping me by the throat and suffocating my oxygen as I slid into nothingness.
And then this.
A choked yell emerging from my furry mouth, suddenly I am reaching limply up in an attempt to pull the IV bag off its stand. In an instant, I feel Mary-Anne’s hands on my skin, pulling my stupidly weak body into position again. Not done fighting yet, I grab the heart monitor on my finger and breast and unclip and tear it off my bony chest, the monitor going frantic and then flatlining in a single stable beeeeeeeep. I feel her hands fumble against my struggling painful attempts to writhe against her weight. My throat burns as I shriek, anger pulsing through my feeble body as if it were gas ignited by a single spark. Everything burns. I am seeing red.
I am not supposed to be alive right now. It is what I wanted. And they took that from me. They took it all. They stole me from death. They stole my peace. They stole my ending. They stole my ending. This was the only thing I could control in my miserable life and they took it from me, they took it all.
A series of nurses suddenly burst through the white doors and come to Mary-Anne’s aid, holding me down as my shrieking turns to wailing, hot tears burning my cheeks. I feel the covers come off, the heart monitor being pressed forcefully back onto my skin and clips onto my cold fingers. I see the glint of a needle against the golden light, a series of trained professionals holding me in position ready to tranquilise me, to numb me once again as I scream against their tight hold. I brace myself, hoping in some feeble desperation that it would either not work, or kill me after all.
Mary-Anne suddenly holds a hand up, and everybody pauses – “Stop,” she instructs calmly. The nurses around her comply, giving her a startled look, but she ignores it, and stares me right in the eyes once more, her black hair falling in front of her eyes but not enough to avoid her penetrating gaze. I feel the covers pull back up and the nurses wait in baited breath as I fall still against their tight grip.
“Cassandra,” she holds my arms down firmly on the bed, “I have been sat by your side from the moment I walked up to your lifeless body on the ground. I called the ambulance.”
Her expression remains collected, no tears welling in her eyes, little emotion in her words, yet her voice reverberates in my throbbing head and I stop struggling and cannot help but listen. She continues after a brief break for her speech to register in my spinning thoughts. “If you’re going to be angry, be angry at me. You’d be dead without me.”
I watch all the eyes on me, awaiting my next move like I am some sort of wild animal.
She signals to the other nurses, who hesitantly back off on her command.
“I have been sat by you, because I don’t want to see a precious life taken too soon,” she says above my feeble fading moans. “I could have left it a few more seconds and you’d be dead, and I know that’s what you wanted right there in that forest. I knew it wasn’t a car fatality or an accidental overdose. I knew what you were doing. I was the walker and I am your nurse.
“I know a lot of your history. It is my job to but I also cannot see your soul go to waste like this. You may not feel you have anybody right now, considering people were taken from you in the past and I can only imagine how painful that must feel for you and I know I’m not in your shoes.”
My head feels so unbelievably heavy as I struggle to hear her words. You have no idea. I have no one anymore. No father, a dead mother, a lost love and a job slipping between my fingers. Things keep being taken from me, out of my control, and this was my only chance to gain control.
She cuts through my musing. “But the truth is, Cassandra,” she starts, “I am a firm believer that you can write your own ending to this story.”
She doesn’t risk taking a hand off me to gesture and rather nods to the pad on the bedside table. Then slowly back at me, and braves a warm smile. Despite my anger, it feels nice. A weird sense of appreciation for my existence, something I haven't felt before. “You are very talented.”
I hear the door shut as the nurses back out of the room. I see them hanging behind the doors, confiding in one another worriedly, just waiting for my next outburst to happen.
“You see that book?” My eyes return to her as she attempts to distract me from looking. “It is only half-written. You have so many more chapters yet to write; I want to see it published one day. I want to see it published with an ending, a full stop rather than a semi-colon.”
I hold my breath, my mind continuing to whir with images and vivid thoughts. She read my shit, which I should be angry for, but something inside of me holds the emotion because, well, she read my shit. She knows my story. And nobody else does.
“Don’t keep your words a secret anymore Cassandra.” Her deep voice breaks through my thinking again. “I want to see this book published with a happy ending. I wasn’t prepared to finish it for you.” Her gaze is so intense I can feel myself shrinking under the weight of it.
Tears spill from my eyes again and I relax my muscles, letting my own weight sink into the pillows again and the pain subsides slightly as I do so. I give up against her grasp.
“You have been through some harsh things,” she continues, “but the best writers all have a story to tell.”
I begin to sob quietly, uncontrollably, a myriad of unconscious emotions rising to the surface and spilling out through my tears. She carefully removes her grip from my arms. I can hear the beep, beep, beeping of the monitor start back up again. She adjusts it slightly, not taking her eyes off me.
“In 10 years’ time, I want to see that book on the shelf, my dear. I want to see your name and see you have done great things with the power you have inside of you. Writing novels with that incredible brain of yours.” She smiles again, the golden light brushing her dark skin with honey radiance.
“Life is tough but so are you. Don’t leave your soul to rot. You have plenty more years yet.”
And with that, she turns, leaving me stunned, gesturing for the nurses behind the door to go away.
She then reaches out, and hands me another cup of water.
“It’s time to remove your IV.”