Overdose

For the second time in my life, I found someone overdosing while I was working. Tonight it was at Barnes & Noble. We had just closed for the evening. It was about five minutes after nine when I began to do my end-of-day tasks, which consisted of making sure there were no customers left in the store. I strolled over to the bathrooms to see if they were clear.

I squatted down to check under the stalls and saw a man about the same age as myself lying on his side on the filthy tile floor, a small pool of urine at the base of the toilet near his sneakers. His face was a pale blue and his eyes had rolled back into their sockets. After pausing for a moment to see if he was breathing I ran over to my coworker while calling 911. I told the operator what had happened and paged for my manager over the headset slouching off of my right ear.  

I returned to the bathroom where the man was making ferocious grunting and snoring sounds. They were the same sounds I heard emanating from the last person I had discovered having a drug overdose. It was the unmistakable howl of his body gasping for air as the drugs stifled his nervous system and lungs. 

My manager and I got the bathroom stall door open and stepped inside. The man at my feet was still heaving and choking. His pants had fallen down to the bottom of his rear and his sweater was wet. I told my manager to go wait for the cops and fire department to come while I waited to make sure he didn’t stop breathing. 

Just a moment after he left, the room mall security arrived. It was the same two gentlemen that had always worked mall security. A hispanic man in his early 30s and a stout, average looking white man several years younger. As they walked into the stout one said, “Shit. It’s this guy again.” 

“I’m guessing you two know each other?” I asked him. 

“Yea he O.D’d in the mall bathroom last week.”

“Fuck,” I sighed. 

They walked past me and began to roll the man onto his back. The hispanic security guard patted his chest a few times and called to him “You alright man?” He started to open his eyes, but only slightly. In the process of rolling him over they revealed two syringes under him. This made three, including the one that fell into the toilet. 

The scene was uncannily similar to the first man I had found overdosing. He had been in a Walgreens bathroom, also heaving near the toilet, with a syringe floating in the water. An oxycontin bottle sat on the tank of the toilet bowl. That gentleman didn’t make it. 

I stood and watched in pitying silence as they began to pull the man up to a sitting position, leaning him against the faded yellow and green striped wallpaper. It was around then that the police and paramedics entered the room. The color had started to slowly return to the man’s face, and his eyes opened progressively wider, yet he could muster no words, only garbled groans and mumbles. 

The paramedics, police and mall security joked and caught up with one another while they tended to the man. The paramedic sat him up against a wall and began to administer Narcan, the medication used for reversing a drug overdose. They began to ask him the basic cognition test questions. What is your date of birth? What is your full name? 

While the paramedics saw to him and checked his vitals, the mall security and police filled me in on their history with the man. They told me he had either been caught using or overdosed several times in the mall before. He was homeless. He had been banned not only from the mall, but also from Barnes & Noble. He had OD’d once before at the store, before I had begun working there. 

My attention shifted back over to the man as he began to recover. The paramedic asked him to remove his soaking sweater so he could check his blood pressure. As he slowly pulled the sweater over his head it took his dirty white t-shirt with it, exposing his chest and arms. There were track marks all along both of his arms, as well as several on his hip and upper thigh. His hands were inflamed from numerous failed at attempts at injections and were stained with dried blood. Likely an infection. Likely one he’d had for a while.

The crew of paramedics had gotten him to his feet and began slowly walking him to the ambulance waiting outside. The police spoke to him with malice and disgust. Their tone wasn’t totally unwarranted for there is something selfish that can be seen about drug use, but for some reason unbeknownst to myself I felt a strong pity for him. He couldn’t have been much older than me. He was someone’s son. He was probably someone’s best friend at some point. Someone probably loved him in the past. Perhaps someone was wondering where he was at that very moment. 

After the ambulance had left I went back to my work as if nothing had happened. As if I hadn’t just found a man on the brink of death. As if I hadn’t just watched a man nearly kill himself for what may have been his dozenth time. My coworkers expressed their frustrations at having to stay later to accommodate him. I couldn’t be angry. I couldn’t think about the selfishness of his actions or the inconvenience it placed on everyone in that room that night. I could only think of what could have been for this man, and what a crying shame it was that his life had ended up like this. 

I thought only of my friends and former classmates whose wakes I had gone to. I thought of my best friend crying to me as her sister had stolen $7,000 from her parents to pay for heroin. I thought of the news segments showing the facebook pictures of kids I knew of high school that wouldn’t make it to college. I thought about his family. I wondered if anyone would pick him up from the hospital. I hoped that someone would be there for him. I hoped he would be alive this time tomorrow. 

Hiding

There are an infinite amount of indignities that come with being a morbidly obese teenager. The obvious ones are the constant bullying and being gawked at by all of my peers as I walked by, but there was another side of it that wasn’t so obvious that hurt considerably more. You become so embarrassed that you force yourself into hiding. 

To be 300 pounds at the ripe age of 17 means being constantly uncomfortable. Everything that makes high school awkward and terrible is exponentially more torturous. Having to undress in front of a group of boys every day, all at the age where they stop having the slender or puffy bodies and begin to form carved chests and defined shoulders, only to forcefully pull off the sweat-stained XXL shirt that has been stuck to my back since the morning bus ride.

As I took off that moist shirt to unveil the gut spilling over the waistband of my chafing-to-the-bone jeans, I began to feel like a zoo animal locked in a cage. I was no longer a human being, not a peer of these people and certainly not a friend, but a sideshow attraction. What followed would be considered the pubescent, emotional form of waterboarding. There came the slaps, the jokes about my jiggling man-breasts, the stealing of my clothes so that my moments of involuntary near-nudity were prolonged. There’s a part of me that blames those boys for the immense discomfort I feel at being touched by another human being. I apologize profusely to all past and future girlfriends.

By the time I’d managed to get my clothes back and waddle out onto the gym floor, I was too emotionally spent to participate in anything, and I knew that whatever game started was to be just a more well orchestrated version of what had occurred to me in the locker room, but with the added risk of taking a basketball to the glasses. More often than not, I would put my sneakers back into my locker before I came out in my dirty black boots to feign stupidity to my teacher, saying I simply forgot my sneakers at home. He would respond with an angry and heavy sigh, give me a zero for the day, and I would sit along the sidelines next to the girls on their periods.

The cafeteria was the other location where I’d experience most of my indignities and embarrassment. My fat ass looked forward to the opportunity to inhale my school’s horrendous food, so it was excessively bittersweet. I would order more food than most of my classmates, as expected from someone of my particular girth. I would hear snickers and jabs at my expense from behind me as I paid for my two slices of pizza, Snapple and over-sized brownie. 

Then came the process of actually getting somewhere to sit. In the highly competitive world of high-school life, where you sit became a display of power as well as a social experiment. I went to a high school dominated by cliques and social stratum, and I never quite fit in to any of them. That was mostly intentional. It was easier to stay separated than to risk the embarrassment of attempting to make friends.

The tables in my cafeteria were built like picnic tables, with the benches attached to the sides. This presented a problem for me, as my bulbous legs had trouble getting over the bench and into the small gap between the table. Thankfully, there were rows of wooden benches along the side of the cafeteria. Usually, I would sit there and keep my head down as I tried to eat as inconspicuously as possible. It rarely worked, as I once again became a sideshow attraction for the student body. 

As I sat on that bench, unsuccessfully attempting to hide myself, I would inevitably have insults yelled at me throughout the 40 minute period. Fat ass, fat fuck, tubby, etc. By the middle of my sophomore year I had become so used to it that they blended in with the chatter of the crowded cafeteria. They were the sounds of my every day. 

What I never quite got used to was getting food thrown at me. That always hurt more. Physically and emotionally. There is a unique kind of indignity that comes with being pelted with food or garbage. It makes a person feel as though they are less than nothing. Less than the trash that now stained their clothing or gotten in their hair. Not to mention the Scarlet Letter-esque punishment of walking around school the rest of the day with a splotch on your white shirt from the pizza thrown at you or the brown stains on your backpack from the chocolate milk a senior had poured in it. Despite my most valiant efforts at occultation, I was never left alone, not for a single day.  

Those cafeteria experiences are likely the basis for my immense phobia of eating in public that I deal with to this day. I’ve always detested going out to eat, and given the choice I will always go for take-out. The fact that it saves me money is only a happy side effect of my self-loathing and embarrassment, though that has always been my excuse. I’ve always seen people eat by themselves in a cafe or a small restaurant and never thought much of it, but the idea of eating by myself brings me right back to those experiences on the side benches in my high school cafeteria. In my delusional mind I may as well be in the center of the restaurant on a podium with a spotlight blaring over me. I’ve taken many a depressing lunch break in the seat of my car over the years, in the bitter cold or brutal heat, simply to avoid being seen. 

It only got worse as high school went on. By the time I was a senior I had engorged myself so horribly, I had to start shopping in the “big and tall” sections of stores, if I could find anything that fit me at all. I stopped going outside most days, with the exception of my forced paradings around school, and only saw the few friends I had on the rarest of occasions. I didn’t go to the prom because the idea of asking any girl shook me into the core of my being. From time to time, I’d imagine that if I was asked by a girl I might go, but needless to say I never was. 

Throughout all four years of high school, I never had a girlfriend. I had never kissed a girl or had one show any interest in me whatsoever, other than the interest shared between a spectator and an exhibit at Ripley’s Believe It or Not. I was almost 19 years old before I had held a female’s hand in an even somewhat romantic fashion. 

I went through the worst depression of my life during this period, becoming suicidal around my junior year. I never had the nerve to kill myself, but it was a constant thought. For better or worse, I survived my high school years. I filled the frame of my senior photo in an astounding fashion. I made the unfortunate walk at graduation, baking in the heat on a too-small folding chair, surrounded by people I didn’t much care for and whom hated me, my chub rub growing increasingly disastrous. 

After the unfortunate graduation and even more unfortunate photos —which I made sure were wiped from existence later — I went home to begin my life as a high school graduate. A feat which seemed unlikely at best between my suicidal tendencies and my piss poor grades. 

Later that night, I stood in my bathroom and stared at the mirror in a catatonic state. I’d gotten in the habit of doing this over the past year or so due to my heartbroken bewilderment at my size. I would stare, shirtless in front of the mirror, tracing the blue and pink stretch marks that lined my stomach and inner arms like lightning strikes. The way enormous belly flopped down over my belt. How my thighs squished down together down to my knees. 

In that moment I had decided that I was finished with all of the misery and indignities of the past 17 years of my life. I stared myself in the eyes, fighting back tears, and decided that I wasn’t going to do this to myself any longer. I was going to get healthy. None of that January 1st, new-year-new-me bullshit sentiment. This was genuine. 

The next day I told my parents I was signing up for the gym. They were overjoyed; they hadn’t enjoyed seeing my spiral into obesity and self-hatred either. My parents said they would pay for my membership, which was necessary since I had no job at the time and the money from my holiday job the previous winter had long been spent. There was a gym within a ten minute walk from my house, so I walked there and signed up. 

From then on I started walking everywhere. (Part of this was also because I had no driver’s license, but let’s pretend I did it for the good reason.) Every day I would walk to and from the community college near me, about 20-25 minutes each way, change, walk to the gym, work out, then walk back home. It was exhausting, but it didn’t seem as though I had any other option. 

The next five years were filled with stress, varying successes and failures in weight loss, some health issues, flirting with an eating disorder, and many, many pairs of pants in various sizes. Regardless of all the tribulations of those years, I had finally managed to lose what I believe doctors refer to as “a whole shit-ton” of weight. 

I went from approximately 315 pounds to 178 pounds. I went from a size 42 in pants to a size 32. XXL shirts to mediums. It was liberating. I didn’t have high blood pressure anymore. I didn’t have so much trouble breathing. I could even fit into those godforsaken picnic tables that stymied me all those years ago. 

The one thing that remained of my old, fat self was all my mental problems and insecurities. It turns out that if you hate yourself when you’re fat, you’ll probably hate yourself when you’re thin too. Despite all that work, over 100 pounds lost, I was still hiding.

The most surprising effect of my ludicrous weight loss was gaining a form of invisibility. Everyone who lives in a normal suburban town deals with this situation at some point in life; while you’re out doing whatever it is you do every day, maybe at work, maybe out to eat, you’ll see somebody from high school that you haven’t spoken to in years. Sometimes, it’s someone you truly hated back then. Sometimes, it’s someone you simply knew of but never really bothered to get to know. Sometimes, you’re at a bar and the bouncer threw a meatball at you in the 11th grade. 

There is always this gut-wrenching moment when you both realize that you recognize one another. You both question in your head if you should acknowledge it or not. I never even liked them in the first place, why do I have to say hi? Have they noticed me yet? Can I just leave? They’ve made eye contact. That’s it. It’s been acknowledged and now you are both locked in this social quantum where you both know and do not know each other until one of you just leaves the room. 

Thankfully, since I’d lost the average weight of a Rottweiler, I got to sidestep this horrible scenario more often than not. When nobody realizes who you are, you get to hide in plain sight. It’s like wearing a mask at all times. After so much time trying to blend in, I was finally the wallflower I always wanted to be. I could finally be left alone. 

Just the other day, I was working when I saw a girl I had a fling with several years ago. I had gone to high school with her as well, but we had reconnected several years after. It was a slightly uncomfortable situation, as those always are, but we were on good terms so it wasn’t so bad seeing her. After a moment of polite, catching-up chit-chat, a guy I remembered from high school walked up to us. His name was Chris, and I distinctly remember several instances of being berated by him which included him “scooping” my man-boobs to further humiliate me. 

He stirred something in me that was halfway between fury and nausea. I gave him a divisive, side-eyed glance. I remembered from her Twitter that she had been dating him for the past several months. The poor bastard had a pot belly, a bald spot, and a tragic hairline, all by the ripe age of 25. Karma was sweet like honey and smelled like fresh peonies. 

“It was nice talking to you but I really gotta get going, I’m a bit busy today,” I said, trying to dodge any further conversation.

She gave me a hug goodbye, and Chris turned to me and put out his hand. 

“Nice to meet you,” he said. 

Nice to meet you. I was floored. This guy had made me feel subhuman for years of my life and he didn’t even recognize me. It was an uplifting feeling. It reminded me of how much I have changed and how I am no longer tethered to the person I was back then. I smiled a self-satisfied smirk and shook his hand, not saying anything. I parted from the two of them, and shuffled away quickly, keeping up the illusion of a hectic work day. 

As I walked away I heard her say to him, “Chris, we went to school with him.” 

“Really? I didn’t remember him at all,” he replied.

I smiled while I thought about the idea of her showing him a picture from back then, to realize that the fat kid he berated those years ago had actually turned out just fine, or so he thought.

By no means has losing weight made me a perfect person, or even a happy person for that matter, but it has certainly helped ease my constant embarrassment, put behind the indignities of my adolescence, and made my life more tolerable in so many ways. And if nothing else, at least I get out of an awkward situation from time to time. 

In many ways I am still hiding, and I will probably be hiding forever. But I don’t believe I am hiding from shame, or hiding from embarrassment. Not anymore. I’m hiding because I’ve chosen to. And that choice is all that mattered. 

Holidays in the Hospital

I had been in this neurologist’s office far too much the past year. Every few months, whenever I would have an episode, I would find myself right back in this spot. Wooden chair with a puffy seat cushion and a stiff back cushion. Leaning my right elbow on the mahogany arm, where my limp hand supported my quivering chin. Right next to my terrified and teary-eyed mother, often not sure whether she was crying for my sake or for her own. 

My sunken in eyes darted between corners of the room, to the various degrees that lined the back wall, wondering what any of them meant and how much money he had paid for them, to the glass cabinet where he kept some sculptures of the skull and nervous system, probably for decoration more than for reference, to the trio of engraved rocks on his desk, telling me to love, hope, and dream respectively. I could do none of those things in that office. 

The issues with my broken brain began a little over a year before, just as I was finishing my degree at community college. I had been working out, like I did every day for about three hours. I was in the prime of my self-destructive athleticism. I had just finished a set of back exercises when I got up to grab a drink of water. All of a sudden my right arm started lurching and shaking and writhing, and I couldn’t control it. It stuck out from my body like a switch on a wall that would never go back down. No one noticed at first, but after about 15 seconds the rest of my body started to tremor, and I collapsed onto the floor. I tried to yell for help, but the contractions of my body restricted my throat. It was the exact feeling in a nightmare when you’re trying to scream but you can’t make a sound. I learned later on that this wasn’t normal. Most people who experience a seizure have a feeling of unease or what doctors call “an aura” and then simply black out. I was lucky enough to be well aware of the torment my body was experiencing. 

The last thing I saw before I blacked out was someone call for help as they walked over to my body on the floor. The last thing I thought before I blacked out was, “I’m going to die.” I woke up about 15 minutes later in the back of an ambulance. I slowly opened my eyes and looked out the back of the ambulance doors into the orange sunset light. I groaned as I tried to sit up in the stretcher, but I couldn’t move. As I stirred, the paramedics looked at me and asked me the basic questions. 

“What’s your name?”

“Joe.”

“What year is it?”

“2014”

“Ok good.” 

After I groggily answered his questions he went back to fiddling with the IV that I just realized had been placed in both of my arms. The one in my left arm was thick, and I constantly felt its presence under my skin. Through the back doors of the ambulance I saw my mother run up to the doors. 

“Hey,” I said to her, as if nothing had happened. 

“Are you ok?” She asked.

I responded by weakly shrugging my shoulders and closing my eyes again. She turned to the paramedics.

“Where are you bringing him?”

“We’re gonna take him to Stony Brook.”

“Ok, I’ll follow you there. I’ll meet you at the hospital, Joe.”

I nodded my head slowly as she walked back to her car. Halfway to the hospital my awareness began to return. I looked at the paramedic sitting next to me and asked what happened. He said I had a seizure. 

A seizure? Doesn’t that only happen with strobe lights and some sort of stimuli? How could I have had a seizure. I thought to myself, “Well shit at least it wasn’t a heart attack.”

A year later, several neurologists later, several medications later, two more seizures later I was here at the office again, attempting to find out what was wrong with me, for what seemed like the millionth time. 

“So we’re still not really sure what’s causing the seizures,” my neurologist said, flooding me with deja-vu. “But because of your recent issues we think you should go into the hospital for some testing.” 

I looked up at him with a furrowed brow, feeling a mixture of desperation and frustration at the idea of being locked up in a hospital overnight again. I muttered a quick “fuck” under my breath. 

“What would the testing be?” I asked. 

“Well essentially, it would be like some of the brain scan tests you’ve had before but over a longer period of time. You’ll be strapped to electrodes for about seven days and they’ll monitor you during that period. Just so we definitely catch something, what we’ll do is pull you off of your medication while you’re in there and incite a seizure.”

My stomach dropped at not only the thought of having a seizure again, but purposely having one with the intent of being observed. I felt like I was going to be forced to be a lab rat in a clear cage, doctors hovering over me and scribbling down their findings while I writhed and suffered. 

“How am I going to go to the hospital for that long? I have school, and I can’t just give up the semester,” I asked, fighting back against my doctor’s proposal.

“Well don’t you have a break coming up?” My mother asked.

“Yea I do, the week after next. I guess I could go in for the break.”

“Then that’s what we’ll have to do,” my doctor interjected. 

I sighed heavily and said, “Well fuck, I don’t really have a choice do I?”

My doctor looked at me with pitying eyes and said, “No, I’m afraid not”

Two weeks later, after my mid term exams and right on time for Thanksgiving break, I was admitted to St. Charles hospital. I had never been to this hospital before except to visit family members. It was a Christian hospital, as expected from the name, and in almost every room there hung a deeply unsettling crucifix. 

After my initial paperwork had been filled out, they wheeled me to my room — they rarely let patients walk themselves around the hospital, an immense annoyance that made me feel even more broken than I was —an off-white box on the fourth floor with a wonderful view of the parking lot. 

The most disturbing part of that room was the bed. It was the same standard issue hospital bed of which there was a pair in every room. It had light beige guard rails embedded with dark blue buttons for adjusting the back and height, and a remote tethered to the right rail with a bright red button to call the nurse. Tidily-made and sanitized thoroughly, it perfectly matched the one next to it. It seemed that I didn’t have a roommate for the time being, so the window bed was mine for the taking. 

About ten minutes after I got myself settled there a technician came to hook me up to the EEG machine. They rolled in what looked like a mobile supercomputer, with tendrils and wires that overflowed from the chassis of the machine like roots from a tree. The technician came in, a stocky man of about 30 with a thick black beard, and started to place a gel to eighteen different spots on my head equidistant from each other. 

He placed a pad attached to a wire on each dab of adhesive, until I was fully covered. I was like a robotic Medusa with electric snakes growing out of my brain. He wrapped it up with a cloth shower cap and medical tape, and told me that all I had to do was sit here and let the machine do its thing for the next seven days. 

Seven days attached to this monstrosity. Seven days in the hospital. Seven days in the room. Seven days of no showering. Seven days of beeping heart monitors down the hall. Seven days stuck. 

My parents had left a little before dark the day I was admitted. I spent the rest of the night lamenting my situation and slowly beginning to parse through the books my parents had brought for me from home. They included a book of selected Emily Dickinson Poems, Cosmos by Carl Sagan, and a teen book that I had asked for only because it was new. I had no real intentions of reading it. I went to sleep that night after barely touching the inedible dinner the hospital had given me. 

I woke up at about 3:00 in the morning disturbed by the sounds of groaning. I slowly opened my eyes to see nurses wheeling in a wheezing and moaning elderly man. They delicately shimmied him from the stretcher onto the bed next to mine. I hadn’t moved from where I had fallen asleep but one of the nurses made eye contact with me and closed the curtain that separated the two beds. Listening to the nurses adjust and then readjust the man’s position I sat in a fetal position on that bed, staring at the faded pink and blue curtain that now hung between us. Eventually the nurses got him settled in bed, and the sounds of the poor man’s groaning and wheezing had brought me back to sleep. 

The next morning I woke up early, having had a restless night of mediocre sleep. I was sitting in the bed at about 9:30, flipping through the few channels that came with the hospital’s free program. A middle aged woman glided into the room, glanced at my unconscious neighbor, and walked over to the foot of my bed. 

“Hello child,” she said. “Would you like me to pray for you?” 

I stared at her with a certain amount of incredulity and confusion. Was this a thing that happened at hospitals? Then I glanced at the huge crucifix that hung on the wall and realized where I was. Catholic hospitals are unique in that they like to pepper in their own versions of spiritual healing while administering the biological and physical healing. Despite my renouncement of the Catholic Church at the age of 12, I felt bad for this woman. She had a sincerity in her eyes and truly believed that by repeating her words next to my bed while I sat there in a state of near psychosis, she would enhance my “healing” process. 

“Knock yourself out,” I responded. 

She walked over to the left side of my bed and knelt down on the floor so that her praying hands met the edge of the mattress. She recited the lord’s prayer slowly and with emotion as I stared at the painfully blank wall across from me. When she finished she got up and said “God bless you, dear.” 

I nodded at her as she walked out of the room, glancing once more at the unconscious man on the other side of the curtain. This would happen every morning at precisely 9:30 while I was there. 

The next three days blended into each other, confined to my bed, only having enough slack on my wired dreadlocks to reach the bathroom, I had exhausted the paltry selection of terrible movies available on the hospital TV. I read the book of poetry and the teen book I had with me. The teen book turned out to be terrible, and that was the last time I read that author. 

It was during this period that the doctors had begun cutting down on my medication, hoping to incite a seizure while I was attached to the EEG machine. My anxiety had kept me from getting regular sleep for over a year now, but it was truly at a new extreme now. It’s scary enough going to sleep worrying that you may wake up only to have a seizure, but when it becomes an expectation, a completely different kind of anxiety takes over. 

It was Thursday and I had been in the hospital for about five days. It was Thanksgiving. The nurse’s station had been decorated with paper orange leaves and turkeys, but other than the scattered decorations, nothing much had changed in the hospital —not that I was able to leave my room anyway. 

My parents had called earlier that morning to let me know that they would not be able to come and visit me that day. They apparently had begun renovating the living room of the house while I was in the hospital and were far too busy to make it there. It was for the best, because I felt in my sorry state it was best to keep me isolated. I reassured my mother that it was ok, and that Thanksgiving doesn’t mean much to me anyway. It never had meant much to me. I didn’t have much extended family, and the last six or seven Thanksgivings have been spent alone with only my parents, occasionally inviting over one of our neighbors whom we knew had no family of his own. 

That year, I began to think about it somewhat differently. I thought back to my early childhood, when my extended family had still been on speaking terms, or in the cases of some of them, still alive. I remembered my grandfather always sitting at the head of the table, myself in the seat next to him. I remembered cutting his turkey for him and serving him spoonfuls of applesauce. I remembered sitting on the couch after dinner and seeing his eyelids grow heavy as he sat in the puffy recliner he spent much of his time in. 

Sitting alone in that hospital bed, accompanied only by the noises of passersby —my sickly roommate had been taken out the day before— I had an increased fondness for those past days. 

As it grew dark, the nurse brought in my beautiful Thanksgiving dinner of dry and slightly crusty slivers of turkey, a scoop of mashed potatoes, and a small package of apple sauce. She placed the tray down on the bedside table and looked at me the way you look at a dog with a missing leg.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” she said, with a forced smile and heavily bagged eyes. 

I took off the lid of the tray and looked at the depressing meal that was likely being served to hundreds of patients in the hospital at this very moment. They seemed to have forgotten my request for a vegetarian dinner, but I felt guilty bothering the nurses who were inevitably busy at the moment. I ate the chalky potatoes and the package of applesauce and covered the tray back up, before I lied back in bed and continued staring outside the window, watching cars pull in and out of the parking lot, wondering how many of the tiny people were here to visit mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts or uncles. I wondered how many of them wouldn’t make it to see Christmas. 

At 10 pm that night a nurse came around to administer my nightly medication. I had been taking my medication at home in the window of 8:30 and 9:30, so I always had the worry that my nurse had forgotten about me in my sterile prison cell. But, as she always did, she came around with a little paper cup with my medication and a little plastic cup filled with water. Following the nurse into the room was a heavyset, middle aged woman with light brown hair. She carried several fashion magazines and a Danielle Steel book under her arm. 

I said hello to the two women as they walked into the room, and the heavyset woman responded with a warm smile and hello. The nurse handed me the cups and I saw that my seizure medication had been missing from my pills. I shot the nurse a confused glance. 

“We’re cutting off your medication entirely tonight so we can try and instigate a seizure,” she responded to the look on my face. “She’s going to watch you tonight so that if you have a seizure and can’t hit the call button she can do it for you.” 

I looked to my right, and the heavyset woman smiled at me as she settled down in the chair across the room. The thought of being in this hospital had been unsettling enough, but they have graduated from keeping me tethered to machines to being watched in my sleep. 

I nodded in agreement, my mounting anxiety keeping me from responding with words. The nurse left the room as the woman who would be watching me settled in. I never bothered to learn her name. I don’t even think I spoke to her at all while she was there. I was too terrified of my own sleep to utter a word. 

That night, I awoke abruptly at some unknown hour, writhing and contorting just as I had in the gym over a year before. I tried to reach for the call button but I had no control over my limbs. I stared at the woman sitting across from me who had nearly drifted off into sleep as she rose up from the chair to get the nurse. The last thing I saw was her walking out of the room. I faded out in that hospital bed alone, just after my Thanksgiving dinner. 

A colleague of my neurologist who was in charge of my tests had come to see me the next day. My parents had come that morning to speak with him and find out the status of this dragged out and excruciating process. The doctor looked no older than 25, and had the facial structure of an infant. He had curly orange hair and green eyes, and was stick-thin and tall. 

“Well, I looked at your results,” he began. My mother and I both looked at him with desperation. 

“Unfortunately, they showed nothing unusual.” 

I was stunned. I had been in this godforsaken room for over six days and they had forced me into a seizure and they had no new information for me. How was that possible? I let out an agonized and angry “FUCK.” 

“How can that be?” my mother asked him with frustration. 

“Well, I’ll admit it is a bit rare, but it does happen. Usually, the issue in these scenarios is that it’s a frontal lobe seizure, and the electrodes we attach can’t detect the activity through the thicker parts of the skull.”

My parents and I sighed heavily, utterly disappointed. 

“Well now what?” I asked. 

“Well we can keep you in for more testing and try again, or…”

“No fucking way. I’m not staying here another night. No offense to you doctor, but we tried, and it didn’t work. I’ve been attached to this machine for a week now. If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to be rid of it.”

He looked at me with shock at first, not expecting my outburst of frustration, then with pity and sadness. 

“Ok then, that’s what we’ll do,” he said. “It’s still clear though that your old medication didn’t work properly, so I’m prescribing you something new. Hopefully, this one works for you.” 

“Thank you, doctor,” I responded. 

The doctor left with an uncomfortable nod to my family and a “feel better.” About 20 minutes later the same bearded technician that had attached me to the machine detached me from it. It felt as if I was a molting snake, replacing a tarnished and unfitting skin for a new one.

My parents drove me home on that particularly cold November day, and I stared out the window in silence the whole way home. As I watched dead leaves skitter along the pavement, I began to cry silent tears, because this whole week had been for nothing.