“How would you know that your life had ended if you never woke up?”Anon
The voice was familiar, a whisper, barely audible. I commanded my brain to open my eyes. No response. Then silence.
A deep voice.
My eyes opened to a stubbled face.
“Dad, it’s Josh.”
Bikes and riders. Thousands.
A tube torn from inside me.
Silence and darkness.
There had been a typical Melbourne spring day, chilly and soggy.
Our merry little squad, sporting our DonateLife mauve colours, pedalled into the Melbourne hills and along the Great Ocean Road.
Then, a huge plate of ‘Spag bog’, last minute bike-prep and bed.
Race day came.
Coffee. Coffee. Coffee
The room was familiar but perplexing too.
I knew intensive care. It was my life. I had spent so many hours fighting for patients.
Now I was lying flat on my back on a crinkly mattress.
It was either day or night.
Had my son been there?
Why hold my hand?
Had I been asleep?
The room was featureless and dim. Plasticky gases whispered across my face.
A klaxon called thousands to stream uphill, out of the seaside town, away from the beach, and into the hills.
Once on the flats, a scarf of multi-coloured lycra, stretched thinly over many kilometres.
The ‘proper cyclists’ forged ahead as the tempo and gradient increased, back towards the coast.
I came over the final few yards of the climb on my own, separated from the smaller, fitter riders. I knew I’d catch the faint-hearted during the long descent into Apollo Bay. There was just a steep downhill section to come.
I tucked low on the frame and the bike accelerated. I flew past more cautious riders, squeakily feathering their brakes.
My eyes watered, carbon wheels chattered, and the bike’s frame rattled across the pocked tarmac.
Then there was nothing. Life stopped.
No sensations. No time or place.
I had been the boss of a shiny, new ICU with rooms that I helped design.
Not this one though. It was posher than our little place.
Who were all these nurses? I usually recognised colleague’s faces but I was shit with names.
There was a strange staccato rhythm to this day.
“Can you tell me what time it is? What date it is?” someone asked me.
Intensive care shifts are disorientating. You just care for patients. Time marches on the outside. People’s names get forgotten.
We just care for the “septic one” and the “head injury” and the “sweet old lady with that terrible tumour”.
One shift becomes another.
My face was itchy but I couldn’t move my arms from my sides.
There was an i.d. band on my left wrist.
The wristband had a date of birth the same as mine.
I didn’t know that the other numbers signified but there was a bar code, like a bunch of bananas at IGA.
It was morning I think. I could smell coffee.
My left hand throbbed uncomfortably.
I couldn’t find my phone anyway.
A whole bunch of people appeared and wandered in, snapping on gloves and fumbling with plastic aprons.
An exhausted-looking young man spoke about “cyclist vs road-sign”.
Broke his neck and jaw, spine and chest. Brain damage too. Poor bastard.
Everyone looked at me. Wrote stuff on a huge sheet of paper.
Then they all left. Dumping their rubbish in my bedside bin.
Alone again. What the fuck?
“Can you tell me what the date is?”
“You’re doing really well. You hungry yet?”
I sucked slowly on a milk carton. Not milk though. Chalky and fruity.
Anita was there now.
When did she arrive?
Sometimes she insisted on picking me up, if surgery was an especially late finish, or the autumn rain was pouring.
I relished the dark, soggy rides home.
She didn’t. She worried a bit.
Fifty minutes riding home created a space, got me into the moment to be a husband, a dad again.
“Do you know what time it is?” Anita whispered.
“For fuck’s sake. I don’t know what fucking time it is. How am I supposed to know?”
Did she leave?
Where is everyone? Where’s Anita?
Anita was here again.
I needed to tell her something important. What was it?
I stared at my wristband.
I heard myself speak. Hoarse and hesitant.
“I’ve figured this shit out. I’ve cracked it,” I croaked.
Anita slowly raised her head and gazed at me quizzically. Her face was baggy and tearful.
“Cracked what love?” Anita asked, wearily I think.
“Am I a fucking patient?”
She bowed her head and cried for a while, still holding my hand.
She looked up with gentle eyes.
“Love, you’ve been in intensive care for 6 days. You woke up a few hours ago.”