When the Universe Calls, Don't Let it Go to Voice Mail
Does anyone really believe the universe is looking out for us? I do, sometimes, but don’t others, so I tend to ignore those loud, clanging (literally, in this case) signs where the universe is telling me, ‘Al, stop right there (wow, is Meatloaf the universe? I mean, he’s pretty big but…) and think about what you are doing’.
Last Friday at work, I went to see the pharmacist at the CVS in our building. Earlier in the day she told me she’d schedule a flu shot for me. I’m hesitant about flu shots; some years I do, some years I don’t. This year, I decided to get one. Standing at the counter, paperwork nearly complete, the fire alarms in the building went off.
“The building doesn’t want me to get a flu shot.” I laughed at the thought.
Returned to my desk to grab my badge to leave, the alarms suddenly stopped. Went back to the CVS, continued the paperwork, was about to go step into the office for a second time when the fire alarms sprang back to life.
“Wow, the building really doesn’t want me to get the shot.”
I turned, walked out, and had a very ordinary weekend (ok, no, obviously I did not do that, or we wouldn’t be here).
Come Saturday, now officially immune to the flu, I started my day. Around four-thirty I called my sister and asked if a side effect of the flu shot is you feel like you have the flu, because, I informed her, I had a flu shot the day before.
“I know,” she replied, “I read about the fire alarms on your Facebook page.”
“What fire alarms?” I asked.
She went on to explain the situation mentioned above, but I had no idea what she was talking about. After she hung up the phone with me, she called my ex-wife, Arlene. After I spoke to Arlene for a few minutes, I assume our dialogue was enough warning to prompt her to tell me to call 9-1-1.
I did. When Arlene called me back and asked if I called, I had no idea, so I called again.
If Saturday were a movie, the memories I have of the day would be a montage. Snapshots floated across the screen, trying to tell a story without filling in the main parts. Sitting on my front step, police car arrives, ambulance arrives, telling the officer to lock my door, but just the top lock; bottom one doesn’t work. Then in the ambulance, but only for a second, because I’ve been transported to the emergency room. Attendant, nice guy, no idea what his name was, but his first year wedding anniversary was the following weekend. A guy handcuffed to a gurney to my left; arrested for DUI, but he appeared happy. I’m in the MRI machine, then magically out and into the CATSCAN. Faces and light flitter across my line of vision, I’m wheeled to the ICU. Linda, the night nurse (German Horror Movie title from the seventies, perhaps?) looks down at me and asks, “And you remember why I told you that, right?” Told me what?
My sister, Diane, boyfriend, Bill along with Arlene and her fiancé, Dennis, all stare at me as the nurse asks me questions.
One plus one? Two. Two plus two? Four. Four plus four? Eight. What is today’s date? I have no idea. What year is this? Two-thousand-eight-teen. Who is the president? I yell Trump without hesitation. They laughed at that.
The nurse asked, “You have any long-term disabilities I should know about?”
I point to Arlene.
“At least he hasn’t lost his sense of humor,” my sister said.
It was funny, then thought perhaps best not to joke with the woman who was trying to determine whether or not I had brain damage.
Interrogation ended, I turn to my sister and ask, “Did you tell the kids?” No, she replied. A few minutes later I asked, “Did you tell the kids?” Her answer did not change then, or the ten or fifteen more times I asked over the course of the night.
“Did I have a stroke?”
“No, the MRI said you did not have a stroke.”
My relief was temporary, “did I have a stroke? Did you tell the kids?”
Somewhere in the middle of this they started to call me Bill Murray (“Groundhog’s Day” – who could blame them?)
The clock in the room showed four-forty-five in the morning.
“It’s quarter to five?”
“No,” my sister told me, “that clock is wrong. It’s ten-thirty at night”.
I made that observation a few more times before I began what would become my mantra for the evening, “I feel like I’m in a dream”.
After I was put away for the evening in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) my small audience felt it safe to leave me alone to get some sleep.
Sleep? It would be four more days before I enjoyed anything even resembling sleep.
There is no night in the ICU. Machine beep to each other, R2D2 providing updates by the second. Patients are moved about, and I’m sure the nurses and aides all talked about me (you inherit a bizarre form of paranoia in the hospital). Tethered to the bed by a blood pressure cuff attached to my left arm (which inhaled / exhaled every fifteen minutes), and IV drip on my right arm (not sure what they were feeding me), wired to a machine that scrolled my vital signs like a stock market report (Al’s blood pressure is pretty high, we should sell).
At some point in the night, a technician wheeled in a monitor and placed it at the foot of my bed. Soon after, a woman in blue scrubs introduced herself. She was there to perform an electroencephalogram (EEG), to monitor brain activity (good luck with that).
We spoke as she shaved small spots on my scalp to attach the electrodes. Like Frankenstein’s hairdresser, we feel into some small talk, eventually landed on a conversation about Star Trek and Orphan Black. Seemed appropriate she was a science fiction fan because when she was done, I felt trapped in a nineteen-fifties ‘B’ movie; part man, part machine.
While imprisoned in my bed, a stream of different doctors, along with their entourages, stopped in to discuss my condition. For each I gave the same response. That I felt fine, memory a bit fuzzy, and that I thought this was a reaction to the flu shot.
“No,” each said, “it’s not that”.
The following morning, my sister and brother arrived to visit. My brother, recently retired, looked at me, afraid that if he asked too many questions, my brain would break.
The strange thing was that, I was fine. All the fogginess, the dream-like state, gone.
Afternoon, of the fourth day, my lead doctor came to visit. After all the tests, he explained, the scans, the readings, the ultra-sound, he could not explain what happened. It was not a stroke, or seizure, or blood clot.
“Maybe it was the flu shot?” I asked for the hundredth time.
“Well,” he reluctantly replied, “I can look into that.”
He never did.
Released soon after that, Arlene came to give me a ride home.
In hindsight, not being a medical professional (it was the flu shot), I can’t say with any certainty what exactly happened (it was the flu shot). But, if I had to make an educated guess (it was the flu shot) it was the flu shot.
To avoid confusion in the future, I have a suggestion for the universe. Next time you have something to say, don’t sound confusing fire alarms and hope I get the message. Just call my cell. I promise to pick up.