The first question everyone asks when they find out I was in a coma for four days is: “Do you remember anything?” Yeah. I remember everything. It’s crystal clear even now, six months later. Everything that happened to me during the coma is as real to me as this keyboard under my fingertips.
NOTE: It’s now 7 years later. Still crystal clear.
You know the setup: we had been living in Costa Rica for almost 5 years. I’d been sick in bed since Sunday afternoon. It’s now Thursday noon, 8 April. Hal is downstairs teaching English to Martin, a tico friend who happens to work in the medical supply business. Martin suggests that his doctor friend, Roy, come over and have a look at me.
At first we said, “Nah, Sally’s got dengue, it should be over soon.”
Yeah. Like ALL over.
Martin persists. This time we say, “Why not?” So blasé. Martin gets Roy and brings him to the house. Roy does the usual doctor-type things (temp, blood pressure, etc) and decides to test my blood. They drive to the lab to get a kit, come back, draw blood, then Roy drives back to the lab for the results. It takes an hour and a half. Talk about a house call.
When he comes back, he shines a flashlight on my face. Whaddya know, my lips are blue. He says I need to go to the hospital now. My white blood cell count was 5,000. It’s supposed to be like 70,000.
Our car is in the shop, so Martin drives Dr. Roy, me and Hal to the hospital. We choose Clinica Biblica over CIMA because we all like it better. No facts, just feeling. CB is a 45 minute drive in the rain during rush hour.
When we get to the hospital, I stagger from the car to a wheelchair. Here’s the odd (well, one of the odd) things: I feel great. I’m like tipsy, a little drunk, cheerful, having a good ole’ time.
“Sheesh, coudjew guys not look so worried? Yer scarin’ me.” Giggle, giggle.
As soon as I roll into the ER, three doctors and a bunch of nurses surround me, doing all the stuff Roy just did, and more. They hook me up to machines, then stare at the screen above my head, shaking their heads. I’m still drunk, cracking jokes and giggling. They are not laughing.
Finally, they get test results back and nobody but me is happy. Later, I find out my pee was the color of coke. This is not a good sign, in case you were wondering.
The head doctor kindly tells me he is going to do two things I’m not going to like. First, I’m getting a catheter, which, frankly, I can’t wait to have because every time I cough, which is frequent, I pee. Not that I care.
Second, I’m getting a catheter in my chest for drugs. “Sure,” I said. “Why not?” Everything sounds like fun.
The doctor tells me he will anesthetize the area, then make a small incision which I won’t feel, then insert the catheter, which I also won’t feel. Okey dokey, dock. He anesthetizes. Five minutes later, he cuts, like a quarter inch, which I don’t feel.
As soon as the cut is done, I guess he inserts the catheter, I can’t feel anything.
Then, just before the lights go out, he leans down to me and whispers in my ear: “We are sending you down to the basement for our secret weapon. You’ll spend the next few days with Salomé, our witch. Salomé will heal you.”
I shake my head yeah because I can’t open my eyes right now, the lights are SO bright! But I’m anxious to get to the basement. I’m hoping it’s dark there.
My husband swears the doctor never said this to me, but what does he know? He was in much worse shape then me at that point. Besides, the doctor was whispering in MY ear. Nobody else could hear. Sheesh.
Sure enough, seconds later I arrive in the basement and meet Salomé. She looks like Inara from Firefly: beautiful, long dark hair, a long, flowing red skirt with gold trimmings, a top to match. Scarves, barefoot, the real deal. Perfectly manicured, well-spoken and dead-serious about getting me well.
While she’s healing me, Salomé teaches me about witchcraft. That all witches can be wicked or good by choice. Some may focus on one component, like Glinda, but a witch can have good girl days and bad girl days. Salomé uses her powers as the need arises, but she only uses her wicked powers for eventual good.
That’s what she told me and I believe her.
Being in Salomé’s presence was awesome. She’s powerful, compelling, loving. No nonsense, no mamby pamby, straight confidence. And she had workers. A guy named Keith gave me water. He’d set up a zen staircase waterfall thingie over my mouth and let the water trickle in. It sounded lovely falling down over the stairs, and tasted so good.
Funny, Keith’s water tasted like it came from a stream, whereas hospital water tastes like it comes from a chlorox bottle. I guess there’s my proof this really happened.
While I was down there, I slept a lot. I remember the sounds, mostly: running water like a river, the whoosh of wind blowing. And rocks tumbling, lots of rocks. At times, I felt like I was in a big comfy pan. The pan would tilt and I’d hear rocks rolling from one end to the other. Then gently tilt the other way and the rocks would roll past again. The sounds were amazing, not annoying at all. Encouraging, life-affirming sounds.
Salomé told me that whenever I hear the whoosh of wind, even if it were a person blowing — then she blew, making a whooshing sound to demonstrate — that meant she was with me, healing me. Even today, when Hal goes “shew!” across the room, I think, “Salomé.”
Hal swears I never left ICU, but I guess they brought me up from the basement for visiting hours. They had to keep up the ruse because, see, Clinica Biblica is a Catholic hospital. Chock full of nuns. Hal says a nun came in and prayed over me for a very long time and that she was a real expert. He was very impressed.
But the Catholic connection explains why Salomé works tucked away in the basement. If word got out that a Catholic hospital had a witch in the basement doing the real work… well, you can see how this might be bad for business. Please keep it between us. I owe CB big time. Big, big, big time.
After the 4 days, I woke up in ICU: harsh, bright lights, a respirator, my hands tied to the bed so I wouldn’t pull the tubes out. I couldn’t talk, was really really thirsty, wondering where in the heck was Keith? Everything was so blurry. It’s a rude, rude awakening.
Then I heard Hal’s voice. My heart hurts when I think of Hal spending four days looking at me in those conditions. How he stood it, I don’t know.
The next few days are a nightmare, the opposite of being with Salomé. Bright lights, harsh sounds. The first night awake, there was a party in the next room with at least 100 Chinese people, no kidding. ICU is like in an open room off a kitchen/dining area. They were cooking, eating, laughing, talking. It was too weird. I slept off and on even though I wanted some of that food. It smelled so good. I still remember this vividly, too…
When the tubes came out, about a week later, I tried to tell Hal about Salomé and see if he got to meet her. A puzzled, kinda worried look crossed his face as he asked, “Salomé?” I tried explaining but was too tired, the words too hard to form and I could barely even whisper anyway… I decided I’d explain later. I wondered about that look on his face as I drifted off…
It began to dawn on me in the third week, that maybe the whole Salomé experience was an hallucination brought on by some very fine drugs. Even now, my brain is certain I wasn’t in the basement, no rocks, no zen staircase.
But everything else about my being knows it happened just like I remember.
I haven’t seen Salomé since. I am sure grateful for her gifts, her healing, and for making my coma such a wonderful, healing miracle. Whoosh!