Beep. Beep. Beep. The Allegro tone rings from the monitor beside my bed, counting out a quick paced 130 heartbeats per minute. It has played this same song-like tune for the past several days. The steady tempo pulses into the air, holding the cadence of my internal rhythm. It sounds like a metronome tapping its way through Carmen’s March of the Toreadors. I listen to the operatic cantata patiently, waiting for the slow drift into completion, but the end of the concerto never comes. I lay, eyes closed, listening to the constant thrumming of my own heart. I can’t tell anymore whether the symphonious sound is coming from the machine beside my bed or directly from my chest, all I know, is that it just plays on. In my head, my thoughts are filled with a hazy awareness of how close to death I am. This rhythm, this pace, is not healthy. The quickened beating beneath my ribs signifies crisis, and I wonder how something as beautiful as an orchestral heartbeat can mean I’m dying? I chase the darkness of fatality away by counting the notes played by my drumming heartbeat, 1,2,3,4.. 1,2,3,4.. 1,2,3,4, over and over again. And I slip into a fevered sleep at last.
I wake from a crazed morphine-induced dream but don’t open my eyes. I’m too tired and weak to expend the extra energy of the additional action. I search my brain to recall the details of the fading nightmare. I remember shapes and shadows, and someone calling my name from afar – my previously deceased brother perhaps? I don’t know, but the thought chills me to the bone. I shiver despite the fever that is pounding my brain apart. I slip back into contemplation trying to hear what the spectered figure is saying to me, but the beep of the machine beside my bed and the pounding of my heartbeat as it slams against my chest have invaded my mind trip and crowd my ears with their musical cacophony. The dissonance inside my mind renders me unable to grasp the spectral message, but I pause to wonder, “Am I being called home?”
As the vision fades, forgotten into the recesses of my consciousness, it gets replaced by a ripping pain that sears through my belly. Like white hot lightening, the pain stabs a straight line through my stomach and into my back. I arch my spine, rising to meet the pain, and like a sweet mercy bestowed upon me like a gift, the pain begins to subside. I curl onto my side in a fetal position and press my knees into my chest. I whimper like a small kicked puppy, and suddenly, like an angel through the darkness, I feel a hand press a cold, wet cloth onto my forehead. The hand with the cloth sweeps across my face wicking away the beads of fever formed sweat. There is comfort in the gentleness of the angel’s touch. The softness brings my senses back to reality, and the powerful grip of the dream and the pain leave me. The tenseness of my body lifts and I melt into the hospital bed. I perceive the figure beside me, and without seeing, I feel her as she leans forward. She puts her lips to my ear, and her voice cuts through my internal tumult. “My Emily,” I think. I would recognize that voice anywhere.
The softness of her voice, warm and comforting – like a kiss, stills my pounding heart for the briefest of moments. Her breath tickles my neck as she speaks quietly into my ear. The warmth of her lips as they lightly graze my lobe reminds me of summer days spent in the sunshine. Though the pain and the sickness ravage my body, I forget everything else but the two of us. Here we are standing together as partners, husband and wife, lovers, and friends; serenaded by the beeping orchestra. The journey to this moment began with a couple of kids, a long history ago, where neither of us would have imagined the impact our coming together in solidarity, each fighting this disease in our way, would have on one another. In the metaphorical sense, this battle I am in sees me as I wield the sword, but it sees her, as she carries the shield that protects us both. Her shield is made of love, and it is powerful in comparison to any human-made material. It is evident; she is a warrior and a soldier in my army. It is evident; she fights for love. It is evident; she is in this battle through thick and thin. It is evident; I love her too.
“R.C.,” she whispers, “Can you hear me?” I nod, almost imperceptibly, but, I feel a tenseness leave her body, and so I know she understands that I hear her. “Thank God,” she says aloud, not directly to me, but in this moment of relief, I believe she is genuinely communicating with the ethereal heavenly figure. “We were so scared for you,” she continues. “You’ve been barely conscious and hallucinating for days. We thought you were going to die.” I furrow my brows in confusion and open my mouth to speak. My tongue – dry, sticks to the roof of my mouth, and no words come. “Shhhh,” she says. “Don’t try to talk; you need to rest.” She reaches over to a cup of water on the nightstand and grabs the small green mouth swab soaking within. She carefully brings the sponge to my lips and dabs them lightly with water, the fever and my rapid shallow breathing have left them cracked and parched. The moisture feels cold against my lips; it is a welcome reprieve from the stinging chapped dryness. I poke my sandpaper tongue gently out of my mouth and lick the leftover droplets; even the littlest amount of water has helped to stimulate my salivary glands. I wonder to myself as she dabs my lips again if she has been here the whole time doing this. Carefully, she navigates her way around the tubes and wires attached to every inch of my body. Finally, I open my eyes and watch her as she deftly moves the medical paraphernalia out of the way. Her hands move with confidence in a manner that tells me with absolute certainty that while I have been hovering between life and death, she has been caring for my every need. My rhythmic heart pounds now with the sweetest, and most profound respect one could ever have for another human being.
I close my eyes again, and she continues to chat to me softly. I hear her, but my aching, tired head only registers about half of what she is saying. I drift in and out of sleep, listening while she tells me about how my brothers came to visit, as did Nikole, my kids, and some close friends. She talks about a special phone call from a dear, loved, sweet friend. I hear her, and I take it all in. Overwhelming tiredness washes over me. For now, my pain is comfortably under control. The fever still ravages on, but, I am restored to this world; at least for the time being. We all know that the day will come where I won’t bounce back. We all feel that day looming on the horizon. We all count our blessings for today though, where it appears, for at least this once more, I get to keep on living.
The thickness of sleep begins to cloud my mind. I have a lot of unanswered questions about these past few days, but they will have to wait until another time when I have regained enough stamina to stay awake for longer bursts. I feel sleep closing in around me, and I give in to it. In a nod, I am dreaming. My thoughts filled with the faces of the people I love. I see them standing around my bed, holding my hand, speaking to me in whispered urgency, begging me to get better. I picture them as they touch me, kiss me, hug me, and prepare to say their goodbyes. I feel once more the relief in Emily as I began to pull through. I know her assuage is going to be echoed in each of the others in my life. For now, we got lucky. For now, we escaped the inevitable for just a while longer. For now, we still have each other. For now, I am surrounded by love.