Monday, 14 May 2018

Anoxic Insult


by Iris Green 
hot toddy


I’m a small girl of 25 years. Small being one way to describe me, boyish another. I have a hard time staying above one hundred pounds and stand all of four foot and nine inches. I’m easy for a man of medium build to pick up, and even to carry. If that man is of medium build, a smoker, in bad health, and has to get me through a blizzard, I’m not sure he would survive. But miracles happen every day. Why not for us too? 

“Zach did a lot of dying after that adventure,” the neurologist explained. “While he was being revived his brain was not getting oxygen. When oxygen levels are significantly low for four minutes or longer, brain cells begin to die and after five minutes permanent brain injury can occur. This is called an anoxic insult. The results are random. There’s no sequence of what dies first and the condition could be fatal. In Zach’s case it wasn’t, but many of his short term memories were destroyed. Since his last couple of years were very busy, it meant he lost the memories of many newly formed relationships.

“Longstanding relationships remained intact, causing little emotional distress for Zach. The loss of a couple year’s work and those who worked with him though, doesn’t come without its own acute anxiety. The comfort of long established support systems keeps the event from being disabling. He doesn’t remember you Iris. To him, you’ve never met.”

“It’s important he remembers doctor. There’s a large financial price tag attached to our working relationship.”

The doctor eyed me silently. She tapped her fingers on the table next to my hospital bed while I held back tears. “We can wait and see. That’s all we can do. I can’t promise anything. There are other types of memory. There’s sensory memory, muscle memory, and emotional memory. His body may remember things that certain parts of his brain does not. He may feel a certain way in your presence that he can’t explain. But we can’t know. We have to wait until he is emotionally stable. And we need to get you some rest. Your inability to fall asleep is becoming worrisome.”

“I have to see him.”

“I forbid you to. As his doctor I need to protect his emotional wellbeing. It’s important to his recovery.”

“He’s in this hospital though?” I asked.

“What do you think? There’s no medical unit of this caliber for hundreds of miles. I’m not breaking any rules telling you so, since you can logically deduce the answer.”

“Is he warm?” I don’t know why I asked that. It just seemed very important in that moment.

“All of the patients in this hospital are kept warm and comfortable.”

“I’m not…”

“I’ll check in on you again later.”

“I’ve logically deduced you’re a bitch,” I said aloud to the empty room after she left. Sleep or no, they don’t know how imperative it is that I see Zach. My emotional wellbeing is important too.
I didn’t wait to be “checked on later”. My limp was severe but I could walk. I took this logical deduction the doctor talked about to its conclusion that Zach was on the same floor as me. The nurse’s station was probably alerted to keep us apart. My plan was to wander the halls on a covert recognizance mission, peeking into rooms until I saw him. Astonishingly, he was in the room next to mine.

“Hi Zach. My name is Iris. You don’t remember me. I’m not supposed to be here.” He was in bed and the room empty; an IV line was attached to his arm.

“You being sneaky?”

“Very. Took me forever to steal a walking pole for my IV. They told me not to talk to you.”

“A rebel…”

“Do you know why you’re in a hospital bed?”

“I was told about the plane crash. And a young girl. The pilot died. You must be the girl.”

“I am, and that’s all true. I’m still in trouble though. High anxiety and all, haven’t slept for three days. They’ve tried everything from sleeping pills to the date rape drug. If I don’t get natural sleep soon I’m going to die. The last ditch effort is going to be a chemical coma. They think they can keep me alive that way for some time.”

I tried to stare him down. Take him in with my eyes. He seemed drugged. Probably benzos.

“Don’t you have pajamas?” he asked. 

I only had the gown given to me by the hospital. Out of habit I didn’t check to see if I was appropriately covered.

“We kinda have a clothing optional type of relationship. Our people haven’t figured out where we are yet to bring us clothes.”

“I worry,” Zach started, with his eyes closed. “I worry a lot about the truth. I have no memory of ever meeting you. I don’t see why you would lie though. Maybe I’m delusional.”

“You’re not supposed to know this, but I’m desperate, so I need to tell you. My femur artery was severed during the emergency landing and I was losing a lot of blood fast. You found vise grips in the plane’s toolbox and stopped the bleeding. Packed the wound with gauze and duct taped everything so it was solid. You took two of the plane seats apart and made a sled to pull me behind you through the storm and down the mountain. You pulled me for four hours until we were clear of the blizzard. Then the sled fell apart. You used the straps from the sled to tie me to your back and carried me for two more hours. If you hadn’t I would be dead. I wasn’t going to last in the plane until we could be rescued. They said over the radio my only hope was to get down the mountain below the storm ASAP.”

“Seems reasonable to me. We did what we had to do. Together. We must have made a great team. I don’t completely understand what we were working on together other than survival, or why I’m on the west coast instead of home. I’m a writer, so it must have something to do with that?”

“I begged you not to go out. When you first opened the door to the plane, and I saw how strong the wind was, I knew you wouldn’t make it. And you didn’t. You died several times after the snowmobiles showed up to rescue us. I watched as they revived you, in the snow at the bottom of the mountain. They put me on a snowmobile and drove me the rest of the way down. They had to helicopter you off the mountain. You died again in the helicopter, and again at the hospital. You obviously were revived, but now you don’t remember.”

I wanted that to sink in, for him to ask questions. He just stared at me awestruck.

“It was so cold Zach. The snow blew horizontally. They say the wind gusts were sometimes eighty miles per hour. There was just no way for us to survive in that. I have no idea how we did. You kept going. Stopping only to throw up, often. They had our GPS coordinates the whole time. We had reception but never talked on the phone. You hoarded every breath. You didn’t waste a step. 

“Actually it’s a blessing you can’t remember. I can’t get warm. They put heated blankets on me and all I do is shiver and cry. My body is incapable of feeling warmth. My mind and emotions are stuck in that storm. I haven’t felt safe since we were separated. I only feel safe here, right now.”

“So we must know each other pretty well.”

“The day we got on that plane was our three hundred and sixty sixth day together.”

“A whole year.”

“A year and a day. I remember the first three words you said to me when we met.”

“That’s impressive. It must have been memorable.”

“I love you. That’s what you said. I introduced myself, and you simply said I love you.”

“How forward. I’m a cad!”

“Every day following, you told me you loved me.”

Zach didn’t answer. 

“You told me you loved me three hundred and sixty six times. And on that three hundred and sixty sixth day you decided that my existence was more important than your life.”

Zach remained silent.

“I just know that I can lose my fears in your arms. I know this because I’ve done it before. You don’t remember and I have no idea what to do about that, but I’m not going to survive this. We’re not out of the storm yet. You’re not finished with me. So I’m here and I’m not really asking. This just has to happen.”

“You’re not alone,” Zach said softly after a few contemplative moments. “I may not remember, but I feel it's important to believe you. I think you won’t feel warm and safe until you’re sure we are both warm and safe. Keeping us separated may have been a mistake on the part of the doctors.”

“Then scoot the hell over.”

Zach obliged. I grabbed his hand and wrapped his arm around myself. I immediately relaxed against his skin. In the following seconds my eyes became heavy. My core felt warmth. “I love you,” I barely said before falling into a deep slumber.

About the author

Iris' history of publications includes Slice Magazine, Downstate Story, Bluffs Literary Magazine, and SciPhi Journal. Her novel “The Rules” releases August 2018 from Ninestar Press. She studies English/Literature at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois and hopes to use those learned skills to enhance her writing ability.

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