Waking up at Bellevue

by

08/22/2009

Bellevue Hospital, 462 1st Ave, New York, NY 10016

Neighborhood: Midtown

When I woke up that morning, I thought we were in my East Village apartment sleeping in my bed. I thought we had fallen in love. It was the sound of his voice that convinced me, soothing and sexy, masculine and raw. His words were unintelligible as they crept through the dark. I liked the sound of my name on his lips. I assumed we had become lovers and wanted to reach over and touch him but couldn’t, I was sleeping more deeply than I had in years. It was sleep so deep it felt heavy in my bones and through the darkness I sensed the sun. It was invasive and too early. I didn’t want to wake up.

Outside I heard the shudder of buses and men shouting as they always do in Manhattan, the loud beeping of a truck in reverse. I realized that the beeping must be my alarm, but felt so tired I couldn’t get my arms to budge. The sounds were louder now, unrelenting, the brightness of the light hurt my eyes. They were closed tightly as if sewn shut. I’ve missed an appointment, I thought. I really need to get up.

“Look at me,” he said, his words those of a stranger. Something was wrong.

I heard more men yelling and the whop-whopping of a siren, more voices, a baby’s cry. Jonathan kept repeating my name over and over like a mantra. I needed the growing commotion to stop. I wanted to feel the protection of his arms around me, the reassuring warmth of his legs.

But he seemed distant, far away. I wondered for a moment if I had drunk too much and felt a gnawing reluctance to face him though I barely remembered the walk home in the rain. Or was it snowing? Were we laughing? Was I mad? Red wine. Scotch. A crowded restaurant on 1st Avenue. Us kissing. Me taunting him—his whiskers on my neck. His hands drawn to my lower back as I whispered, don’t you have somewhere you need to be?

“Girl, you’ve got to wake up,” he said, hands grasping my shoulders, his voice strangled and odd enough that it forced me to open my eyes. Okay, so he was angry, I thought. I needed him to turn off the alarm, “Make it stop,” I said, “Jonathan, please turn it off, I think I’m late for work.”

He stood over me. The light was brutal. It wasn’t morning sunshine at all. There were white, harsh lights behind him, magnifying my confusion. Why was he was being so strange? It was cold. I hated winter.

“Look at me,” he said, emphasizing each word. “I’ve got to go home,” he said. “I need you to hear what I say.”

I tried to do as he instructed but it was an effort to stay awake. The stubble on his square chin hypnotized me. As I looked at his eyes I searched for connection, for the acknowledgement of some kind of love. I tried to piece together the night before, something that could tell me why he was so upset. I wanted to close my eyes. He spoke quietly, “You’re in the hospital. You fell down the stairs. You hit your head.”

It wasn’t what I expected. I felt the embarrassment work through my spine. I wanted for him to be quiet, for us to go back to last night, for him to make love to me and tell me everything was all right, that I was beautiful, that we’d had a great time.

“You’re at Bellevue Hospital.”

Bellevue. Bellevue. Isn’t that where they sent crazy people? Is that what really happened? Was I imagining this man and our endless night? Had I officially gone crazy and had the nervous breakdown that I had feared was inevitable the last few months? But his words echoed, I had hit my head.

Something like this had happened before. Boys. Junior High. They were teasing me and showing off with their gangly bodies and pimply faces that I ignored. They were throwing rocks at each other to look grown up. I got caught in their boyish crossfire and sat down stunned in the grass, blood pouring from my head as it smoothly covered my glasses and arms. It was warm outside and people swarmed around to watch and wait. Someone put a towel against my head. My mother followed as the ambulance whisked me away. Those same bright lights. A tall doctor. My father arrived, looked white and sickened. Said he couldn’t stay. Couldn’t handle the blood. The needles pricked their way into the wound plunging an anesthetic to the center to numb it out. But first, searing pain. More voices. Are you okay? Are you okay?

“Are you okay?” Jonathan said.

No, I think. I am definitely not. Please don’t leave.

Out loud I said, “I don’t know… I’m cold.”

I shivered. I realized that the hard mattress was a narrow gurney and that I couldn’t turn my head because it was firmly bound in a neck brace. There was only a tiny blanket covering my body. I finally comprehended that the beeping sound that I thought was my alarm was emitting from one of the many machines around me. Nothing made sense. Which stairs? When? There was crackling from a speaker as a doctor was paged. This couldn’t be happening. I had done something wrong. I should never have met my friend Jane. Fragments of memory, “We’ll go have a couple of drinks at the old stomping ground,” she had said, “Jonathan is working, he’ll take care of us.”

I felt like I was suffocating and the rows of white lights around me now only accentuated the frenetic movement of the E.R. I couldn’t focus on anything but his face. I wondered if I was covered in blood. Head wounds. They bleed. My sexy jeans and tight top were constricting. I needed to pee. I wanted to scream, but just swallowed and tried not to blink. Blinking seemed distracting, as if by doing so he would see that I cared. That I was scared. That I was afraid to look around, afraid to be left alone. But I knew if he was leaving it meant he wanted to be somewhere else. I knew he had a girlfriend. In some ways we were friends. Where were the nurses? Wasn’t someone supposed to be doing something?

“I have to go,” he said. “It’s eight o’clock in the morning. I’ve been here all night. I’ve got to get to Brooklyn. They’ll take care of you here. Don’t worry. I’ll get the nurse.” He continued rambling; said there had been tests on my neck and head.

I wondered if his words were supposed to reassure me. I felt unexplainable anger as I took it in, then hate emerged, familiar, from where it must have left off the night before. I remembered some sort of an argument. Somewhere between Little Frankies and the front door of my apartment on St. Marks. Us walking in the dark. Dangling keys in a lock. Me moving toward the stairs.

I felt an unnatural urge to laugh, wondered how he would explain to his girlfriend where he had been. I looked at him unwavering, “It’s okay then, just go. I am sure I will be fine.”

As the words came out I wondered if I was still able to walk, if me being able to talk was just a temporary respite before finding out the severity of my injury that would render me forever brain damaged. Mask firmly in place, I managed a smile as if to thank him for at least getting me here. And like a frame in a movie that holds still while the character walks away I watched him leave, seeing nothing but the blank space he left behind.

It seemed irrational, but all I could think was that I had read everything so wrong. I was still thinking about the sleep and what felt like love. An older woman’s voice from the next bed said loudly—“Oh good, you’re awake.” She paused to make sure I was listening, “I’ve got a blood clot in my leg, you know, I’ve been calling and calling all night for someone to come and help.”

I knew this couldn’t be a good sign, wondered if she thought I could make a difference. I tried to see her but couldn’t get a good view, just the sight of her legs nearby. “I’m sure someone will be there soon,” I said.

She sighed, “Oh, what a great boyfriend you have, you know he really loves you. He stood there all night; he must have been so worried. Poor thing must have been so tired.” She paused for a moment, “Lucky girl…” she trailed off, “You’re a really, lucky girl.” Lucky? I thought. It was so not funny that I wanted to laugh.

I was thirsty; my lips were dry. I couldn’t identify if I felt pain. There was commotion all around me, the sounds of double doors swinging open and shut. People were crying and screaming coming in, swish-swish, going out, swish-swish. I needed to go home. I needed to find a phone. I realized with a start that a nurse was checking a blood pressure cuff on my arm. This was all a mistake, I dialed the wrong number, said the wrong thing. I was going to escape. There was a thermometer in my mouth and staccato orders echoing through a speaker. Another doctor paged. A child screamed for his mom. I needed a phone. Where was my bag? I remembered him saying it was under the bed. I had my memory. Yes. There was that. How did I get here? Was there an ambulance? Did Jonathan carry me in? A needle was piercing the bones on the back of my hand. I could feel that. It hurt. What was wrong with my head? You’ve got to act normal, I thought, it would mean that everything was all right.

“Nurse, could you hand me my bag?”

I didn’t see her pick it up. Just felt it there foreign on my lap as she walked away.”

I worked blindly, my fingers crawled through the silk confines stumbling upon what seemed ancient remnants of my life: a lip gloss, a pack of American Spirits, a wallet from Milan, a cell phone. It was smooth in my hands though I could barely hold it steady above my head as I tried to focus on the numbers. I was shaking. I noticed the battery was low. The phone was ringing and I prayed for my mother to answer the phone. It seemed like there was no time. My time is limited I thought, but what time was I worried about exactly? The battery? The daylight? My life? Where the hell was Bellevue Hospital anyway?

The phone rang steadily and my heart was beating as if I were chased. There was no time. She would be scared. A woman answered.

“Hello,” she said, already alarmed. It was too early for me to be calling. I admonished myself to sound normal, that everything would be fine.

“What’s wrong?” she said. But as soon as I heard her voice I felt the tears. I needed to hold them in.

“I don’t know.”

“You’ve got to talk to me, tell me what’s going on.”

I could barely speak. My throat was tight, but I refused to cry, convinced if I did everything at that point would fall apart, “They said I fell, that I hit my head, I think it could be bad. I’m in the hospital and I don’t know where it is.”

“Do you need to come home?”

“I think you might need to come here.”

“I’ll get the next flight out of Sacramento that I can…”

A new nurse chastised me, “Honey, there are no cell phones allowed here in the emergency room. It puts everyone’s life at risk. You’ve got to hang that thing up right now.”

“It’s my mother,” I told her, as if somehow she would understand how ridiculous her statement sounded, but I couldn’t get further than that.

She looked at me, softening momentarily and muttered, “Just make it quick.”

I couldn’t think of what to say into the phone, “I have to go,” was all could manage. “They’re making me hang up the phone.” I paused, “But yes, I want you to come.”

“Is there anyone with you?”

My answer seemed glaring and hideously wrong, “No mom, I’m here alone.”

 

Shauna Hellewell currently lives in Santa Monica, California but remains a perennial New Yorker in both heart and mind. She is currently working on a memoir and shares musings and inspirations at: thebrunettetimes.com.

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