Like Brian and Alan, I came face to face with violence, the violence of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. I felt like I was in a war zone, and the other patients in the ICU were my fellow combatants. Although we had different injuries resulting from combat, we were fighting the same enemy: death. As my pacemaker, the dopamine drip, the steroids, the antibiotics, the feeding tube, the ventilator, the cooling bed, and the medical staff kept me alive, I listened as nurses and doctors visited the other wounded soldiers.
Sometime after I was admitted, another soldier came in, a young man who had been in a motorcycle accident. When the nurses happened to angle me just right on my bed, I could see into his room on occasion—my eyesight had returned by then. He was smashed up pretty badly with an apparent head injury, his head almost completely taped up. Like me, he was “tubed up.” I could overhear that he had tubes in his chest to drain blood and fluid from his lungs. Sometimes he would yell out something incomprehensible. I wasn’t sure he even knew he was doing it.
I began to root for him. Whenever I came to, I hoped that I could see him or, if I couldn’t, at least hear staff attending to him. “Stay alive!” I shouted at him from inside myself. I quickly realized that I needed him to make it because if he could do it, I could, too. We could survive the brutal war zone together. “We can do it! Just hang on! Stay with me!”
But one afternoon, I saw nurses and doctors rushing in and out of his room.
It seemed like just moments later his family flooded into his room.
They closed the door.
Then he coded.
The shrieks and wails of shock and loss pierced every corner of the ward.
“You fuck, you sorry-ass fuck, why couldn’t you hold on?? Why??”
At that moment, I felt so alone.
And so frightened that I wouldn’t make it out of the war zone.