The doctor’s appointment at the Hospital scheduled for Monday, May 10, was supposed to be nothing more than a routine one. Over the prior five months, I had gradually lost my appetite and could eat nothing more than an ounce of food a day. My weight had declined from one hundred ninety pounds to one hundred forty. My clothes were falling off me, and my neck and joints were in so much pain that it was extremely difficult to stand, sit, walk, or drive. I had little stamina, but I had no idea what was wrong. Having received little help from the doctors in England, I returned at the end of March.
I didn’t know how sick I really was as I waited in the Doctor’s waiting room at the Hospital for a routine appointment. I never got to that appointment. As I entered the examination room, I started to lose consciousness and fell into a coma. When I came to, I found myself sitting in a wheelchair in a hallway for a very long time with an incredibly sharp pain in the back of my head. I was eventually taken into a room and moved to a bed. I tried to sleep through the blistering headache, and eventually lost consciousness.
I had not been asleep long when I was unaccountably transported to a completely different place, with the searing pain in my head miraculously gone. I appeared to be in a large tunnel that led somewhere. The tunnel was in the shape of a large Roman arch and was constructed of a completely smooth material in an off-white color. Running through the tunnel was a wide path of the same material in the same color that disappeared into the distance. Although no lamps were visible, the tunnel and the pathway were brightly illuminated.
For some reason, my mind was aware that this was the entrance to heaven. As I tried to proceed upon the path, I found that I could not move forward, as if an invisible barrier blocked the way. Puzzled, I looked around, but could see nothing but the tunnel and the path. Then, from above and to my right, came a voice that was unmistakably ethereal. I said, in a clear, resonant voice. ‘It is not yet time.’
The path suddenly vanished, and I found myself back in my hospital room with the same crushing headache that continued for many hours. Much later, I learned that the headache had been a stroke, a blood clot in the brain. To my alarm, the first thing that I noticed after the stroke was that I could not read any of the words that appeared on my hospital room’s television screen. Everything appeared to be written in a Klingon script. The loss of the ability to read is apparently a common outcome of a stroke. The next thing that I noticed was that I could not remember anything had happened within the last few minutes, hours or days. I did not know what day, month or year it was. I could not remember my daughters’ names or birthdays. Over the next few days, I noticed more things, like the refusal of my right leg to walk. I could only get to the restroom by dragging my right leg along behind me. Nor could I speak clearly. My speech was slurred and indistinct. My handwriting was an illegible scrawl. The doctors eventually informed that the stroke had affected the connections to my brain of everything on the right side of my body, including my right foot, leg, arm, hand, eye, and mouth. I had to relearn again how to walk, talk, handwrite, and read. Handwriting, because it involves the coordination of many arm and hand muscles, was especially slow to relearn.
While I was becoming aware of these developments, several doctors were furiously trying to determine what had caused the stroke and how to treat it. Finally, on the third day, a visiting doctor, who was a truly unusual character, triumphantly announced that he had figured it out. I had infectious endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the heart valve. The infection, which was still raging, had caused a portion of the heart valve to break off and proceed up the blood stream to lodge in the brain. He said that I had probably had this infection for some time, which explained why I had lost so much weight and eventually collapsed at the doctor’s office.
An intensive regimen of antibiotics was required. Antibiotics were continuously pumped into my blood stream intravenously for two and a half weeks. Five different areas on my arms were used and the puncture marks persisted for weeks. The experience was exhausting.
To keep me company, I had an array of interesting roommates during my extended hospital stay. The first one was a local looking man who was having his toe amputated due to insufficient blood flow to his feet. His feet were black up to above his ankles. His head was permanently tilted downwards, which led me to wonder how he could watch his television, which was high up on the ceiling. My next roommate was a victim of stab wounds that he had received in a fight. He had two long lines of stitches on his chest. He also had no toes on one foot due to leprosy. After a couple of days, he took a turn for the worse, which, at one point, attracted the attention of seven nurses, who moved him to intensive care. I never heard about him again.
My third roommate had breathing difficulties and was attached to an oxygen bottle. He told anyone who would listen that he had been stuck in a traffic jam for many hours. He inhaled car exhaust fumes for such a long time that he could not breathe. He complained to his doctor that his breathing disorder had been tested and retested so many times that he would not allow any more testing. He complained that his nurse was unsympathetic and got his nurse replaced. Because he refused treatment, he left the hospital the next day. My last roommate appeared very late at night after a long session on the dialysis machine. What was remarkable about him was the large quantity of clothes and possessions that accompanied him, as if the hospital was his second home. The nurses were all very nice and worked very hard as each took care of many patients. Some patients were in such distress that they yelled or cried out all night. The nurses coped extremely well with such difficulties.
Three times a week, nuns visited each patient. I looked forward to their visits as they were positive and comforting and each patient got his or her own personal prayer.
The experience was exhausting, yet very engrossing. My roommates and their afflictions were fascinating and a little scary. Serious problems from diabetes were more prevalent than I imagined. The doctor who had probably saved my life by diagnosing the endocarditis was an animated character who exuberantly exclaimed to me more than once that I had ‘almost died’. I may have been fortunate to have keeled over in a hospital but I was even more fortunate that this doctor had come by and taken an interest in my ailment that defied diagnosis. The visits by the nuns were refreshing and uplifting. And my visit to the entrance to Heaven will not soon be forgotten.