I am trying to open my eyes. My eyeballs roll up to my hairline under the lids with the effort of it. Nothing. OK, stop that for now. Try something else. My finger. Let’s move that – just a little bit. I feel a bead of sweat form on my forehead as I concentrate my whole being on the index finger of my left hand. It remains motionless, resting on the rough cotton of the sheet. The cotton – I can feel that – so coolly lifeless.
I can hear a door opening and the rustle of clothing. Almost silent feet pad in my direction. I can feel a scream forming in my throat – but the silence is tangible. The footsteps stop and my brain flashes as a voice fills the room.
“Can you hear me, Elizabeth?”
“Yes, I can hear you,” my brain replies. “I can hear you, I CAN HEAR YOU…HELP ME!”
With a supreme effort, born of desperation, I feel my eyelids twitch. I try again and they twitch once more. My right eye opens just a slit and the light is blinding. It is enough.
“Oh, there you are. I’m Susan, the duty staff nurse. I’m just waiting for my colleague and we’re going to turn you.”
Turn me? What are you talking about? Duty nurse? I must be in hospital…and this is real. I feel a tsunami of panic begin to swell in my head. I try again to move my tongue and hear a high pitched squeal – like a dying animal. It comes again and I realise the sound is my own voice. The tsunami breaks.
“Hello, Elizabeth.” This is a new voice – male, resonant, too cheerful. “OK Susan, before we turn her, did you explain?”
“No – do you think I should?”
“Of course. It’s early days, but she’s locked in – for now anyway. She probably has no memory of what happened on Thursday.”
Thursday? So what day is it now, then? Locked in? LOCKED IN? The tsunami has formed a whirlpool, the words swirling down in a spiral of fear.
Susan’s voice assumes a measured calm.
“Elizabeth, you’ve had a stroke. You’re in hospital now and you’ve been here for a couple of days. Your son will be back very soon – he’s barely left you…”
The male voice interrupted, “The doctor thinks you may be locked in, which means you are unable to move or communicate at the moment…”
“Too much information!” hisses Susan in an aggressive whisper.
“She deserves to know the whole position.” The man is obviously affronted at the criticism.
“She’s not deaf! And it’s too soon.” The forced calmness returns to her voice. “Locked in syndrome is often temporary, Elizabeth. We’ll do everything we can to stimulate movement.”
I’m falling into the whirlpool. I am swirling round and round and the eyelid closes as another silent scream rises to my throat. The sound of roaring water fills my ears and etched against my eyeballs, I see a pageant of pictures – the field at the back of our house, the long grass rippling as I watch my son running towards me; laughing faces round the barbecue in the garden; Christmas paper strewn all over the carpet as the cat tries to climb the Christmas tree and the baubles fall to the floor; my husband, young again, and well. Then nothing. I recognise that I have seen my past, and the future I had imagined has vanished without trace – snatched by my body’s own treachery. I am left only with this fading consciousness…sliding…dissolving…gone.