It’s becoming clearer, so I can probably write about it now. Not for any particular reason, other perhaps than to get it straight in my own mind and to bring some sort of mental order to what is still a confusing nine days.
It all began with what was to have been routine laparoscopic surgery. After months of going round the houses, a specialist had diagnosed a bad case of gallstones – a diagnosis confirmed by an ultrasound examination – and I was booked into our local hospital to have my gall bladder removed. All well and good; I’m no stranger to surgery, having undergone my fair share of procedures over the years including the removal of a damaged kidney, so I wasn’t in the least bit apprehensive.
So there I was. It’s 8.30 am on a Friday in late October, and I’m staring at the hospital ceiling as I’m trundled into one of the operating theaters (do they still call them that?). Then it got weird – weird and terrifying.
* * * *
My mind surfaces briefly into a black, black somewhere, standing alongside a body that seems to be fighting against restraints and gesticulating wildly at a group of shadowy figures it obviously doesn’t know, all the while yelling soundlessly and incoherently in fearful bewilderment and confusion. In a moment of awful clarity, I know that the body is mine. I slip back to hide in the dark for a while longer. An eternity passes in that black nothingness until I regain semi-consciousness and fall into a world of utter confusion.
I’m in another country – a cacophony of voices from an invisible source yields barely one word recognizable as English – but where? Then I hear snatches of what is unmistakably a teevee broadcast of an American football game; that, and the babble of voices tell me I’m in a sports bar somewhere. I hate sports bars, why am I here? “Come on,” I chide myself, “you’re a reasonably intelligent cove. Lie doggo and work it out.” Not wanting to betray my return to consciousness, I lie still and quiet inside my giant black and orange soccer ball, turning the sounds over in my mind. Then it all begins to make sense.
I’ve been kidnapped, that much is obvious. I can’t move and though I can’t see the restraints, or feel them… perhaps they’ve used an immobilising drug – yeh, that’s it – look: hiding in that corner (how can soccer balls have corners?) is the blue-ringed octopus they’ve bloody well taken it from. So we’ve got that much sorted out. I’ve been kidnapped, drugged, and I’m in a sports bar in another country somewhere. But why are they watching American football? I’ll need to listen a bit more.
I slip out of the soccer ball and find myself inside a building that seems to be a melding of Singapore’s Guan Yin temple and the Hindu temple that is its neighbour. The building is crowded, like those in that other existence, but I am invisible and ignored. Perhaps the answer is here; I certainly trust Guan Yin and her enigmatic almost smile is at least calming, and though I’m not too sure about Ganesha – now sitting there blocking my path, he is supposed to remove obstacles.
No answer, but at least I’m somewhat reassured and my mind’s a little quieter. More non-time drifts by. My kidnapping theory becomes confirmed fact when a shadowy stranger brings in a woman, telling me my wife has come to sit with me for a while. I’m not fooled. At first glance she bears more than a passing resemblance to my wife, but she would never be caught dead in those huge sunglasses with the wide, garish yellow, Eltonjohnesque frames. Nice try, but I play it cagey, drifting in and out of the boat’s cabin while the impostor attempts with polite conversation to extract information.
I pack in trying to work out why I’ve been kidnapped. I know the sports bar is a front for the intelligence arm of some right-wing something, but I’ll leave it for now.
More time passes. I’m still scared, but when it gets too much I find I can change the glass front of the sports bar into a screen decorated with papa-tjula paintings and other familiar symbols. A Yuurii man appears briefly and banishes for a while the strange animals lurking at the periphery of my vision.
My mind slips away and I find enough peace to compose a saga in four Polynesian languages, an epic retelling of the entire history of the migrations of all the tribes of all the world’s birds. I set it to music, design all the costumes and sets and watch it unfold in real time.
The darkness begins to lift and I hear someone say: “We’re going to move you today.” The birds have repaid me by getting me out of the sports bar.
* * * *
It’s dark, but I know that I’m in a hospital, lying under sweat-soaked sheets on an uncomfortable bed. Why am I here? I was supposed to go home a couple of hours after the gall bladder surgery and yet here I am hooked up to all sorts of gear and for the second time in my life festooned with drainage tubes and oxygen lines and who knows what else. What in the name of the livin’ Harry is going on, and where am I?
It gets lighter. A doctor whom I don’t recognize materializes at the foot of my bed to tell me I’ve had a lucky escape. Well I knew that. He lifts the sheet to look at tubes and wiring, tells me I’m doing fine and leaves. Where the hell am I?
I wake to see my wife sitting in the room. At last, someone I recognize, and I feel the beginnings of a connection to some sort of reality. In response to my question she tells me that I’m in a major hospital in the big city; that it’s Tuesday afternoon and I’ve been in intensive care for three days.
“There was some sort of complication after the gall-bladder surgery. They had finished the op and your blood pressure went haywire and they had to put you on a breathing thingy. There was no cardio specialist available so they called here and at five in the afternoon there was a gap or something and they rushed you up here in an ambulance. I had to follow it through peak-hour traffic and it’s all a blank. You were being operated on until three on Saturday morning.”
“You’ve had a quadruple bypass. There was something wrong with your arteries that didn’t show up in all those other tests. They said they were expecting you wouldn’t make it but I refused to accept that as a possibility. I just wouldn’t.”
And that’s why I’m still alive a bit over a month later – my wife wouldn’t accept my death as a possibility. I feel better than I have done for at least three years and I’m doing a mile a day on the treadmill with no problem. I’m also going to a rehab center where I do a program of exercises three days a week and feel all the better for it.
But that’s insurance. I’m alive because my wife, my wonderful, determined-sometimes-to-the-point-of obstinacy wife, knew I would make it.