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Dying was the best thing that ever happened to me. The worst was waking up again.
Consciousness swells up within my head like a malignant tumor. Dripping with spite, it scratches along the inside of my skull, scraping its jagged claws through my flesh with the delicacy of a cactus passing through a urethra.
I gasp in pain, only to choke on sterilized tubes running down my throat. A gagging cough sends my head swinging back against the pillow. The tubes taste foul, I realize as my tongue awakes before my eyes. I try to focus on the sensations in my mouth, but the synthetic flavors leave me feeling ill. All I can taste are the sickeningly bland rubber tubes.
Vision and hearing sheepishly re-approach my mind, having finally decided it’s finally safe to return. I greet them as warmly as possible, blinking a few times and observing the room around me.
A stale white room fades in, partially concealed by half-blurred spots floating in my sight. High-pitched but muffled tones buzz around my eardrums. For a brief moment, I imagine flies whirring feverishly around my head biting out pieces from my skin. I can feel them.
The biting turns to pin-prickling sensations scattering through my nerves. With no further apprehension, the sense of touch fully returns, leading the sense of pain along with it.
It first comes from my lower half but leaks out across my whole body. The veins burst and the muscles liquefy, melting down over my skeleton. I can feel a chemical burn spilling over me, wrapping around me, and cutting into me.
My breathing becomes labored as the acid pours out into my bloodstream. My heart pumps it up into my brain and through my very being. Pain is everywhere, screaming from every nerve in my body.
Consciousness collapses in on itself again.
Dreams wash over me, surreal and unhelpful. A leech attaches to my neck. The thing looks massive and repulsive, with dry beige skin hanging loosely over its thick veins. It squirms with life and becomes agitated when I touch it. For the most part, I leave it alone and let it feed off of me. The dream ends when a butcher approaches me and slices the parasite clean off. Blood sprays over us both. I scream out in horror, but I fail to wake up. The dream starts over or transitions clumsily into another, never allowing me back into the reality. You would think from the dream that I might have some kind of aversion to butchers, but I most certainly do not. In fact, my father was a butcher.
A voice drips down into my secluded dream-scape.
“Can you hear me?”
Everything moves sluggishly, a lag in my perception. After a struggle, I manage to flick my eyelids open. No feeling and no pain comes. Thinking through a haze, I realize I've been heavily medicated. A low ache pulls back against what I can feel, the neurons exhausted and tired.
“You've slept plenty. Come on, time to wake up,” the voice says more hopefully. My eyes drift around aimlessly, my pupils marbles rolling in a fishbowl. Eventually they manage to track onto a darkened figure sitting in front of me. The light strains my tired eyes and I’m only left with the shadow of a humanoid. Have I seen it before?
“You've been through a lot, just take your time,” the voice continues, female I think. Her comment seems to contradict the first one, but I don’t immediately catch it.
"Can you speak?”
“Yes,” I groan through my dried vocal cords.
“You've had an operation. Can you tell me what for?”
“Testicular cancer,” I manage after some thought. My speech devolves into a fit of coughs.
“Good, very good,” she pauses for a moment in thought; “Do you recall anything else?”
She looks at me expectantly. I say nothing, fighting off another bout of weariness.
“We woke you up before, do you remember that?” she asks slowly.
“No,” I drone, lightly blinking a few times.
“Maybe?” I add, thinking of the last time I came to.
“Your operation had complications, we told you that. You had to be resuscitated. Do you remember any of this?”
Sudden as a bee sting, the memories of the event flash back and I faint again, crumpling back onto my pillow.
My time in the hospital wore on for a long time, much in this fashion. I drifted in and out of reality, an ongoing struggle to maintain any intelligent thought.
Eventually, I managed to heal up and was able to return home for rest, but even then, I've had a difficult time recalling all of the details of what happened to me. I've never been able to talk about it; every time I try, I become too frightened and disturbed to speak articulately.
I've tried writing it down and that seems to help quite a bit. Every time I think of something new, I add it, and I've compiled what I believe is a fairly accurate account of what happened to me.
I've considered informing the authorities about what happened or talking to someone about it, but now I just want it to be over with. I don’t really care about justice or what’s right. It’s not my problem anymore.
I know that it’s selfish and irresponsible to keep something like this to myself, that I should contact somebody to do something about it, but I can’t. I just can’t. So here is what I've written, what happened to me. Maybe getting it out to the public will relieve some of my guilt. Who knows?
For obvious reasons, I've decided not to include any actual names or locations. And I apologize in advance for the odd word-choice; I've been struggling to express as accurately as possible how I felt and the words just aren't there. Sorry if you wanted a more literal account, but it just wouldn't do my experience justice.
Earlier I stated that dying was the greatest moment of my life, and that waking up was the worst. I meant that. You see, dying didn't last long for me, but surviving lasts a lifetime. That’s a full lifetime of suffering compared to just a few short moments of pain. Trauma can’t persist past your own demise after all. Death erases all memories of pain. Death delivers, ever so gently, the perfect anesthesia.
So let’s talk about my death.
The day had never really begun; it just flowed over from the night before. I had surgery in the morning and was told to stay up the entire night. My stomach growled and my nerves danced while I sat in the waiting room.
I've never had surgery before. Not that I can remember anyways; I've been told I had a few when I was an infant. That hardly counts.
A clock ticks on the wall across from me, mocking my impatience. I glance nervously at my cellphone a few times, trying to find something to distract myself. I’m scared. A few family members have accompanied me, but they don’t know what they say to me.
“It’ll be fine,” one says.
“I know the doctor's scary, but you’ll feel better when it’s done.”
“Nothing to worry about.”
“I remember when they removed my appendix; it really wasn't bad at all.”
To each comment I nod politely, hiding the shivers racing up and down my spine. Old magazines pile on the coffee table before me. I try reading a few articles, but my mind never manages to attach itself to the words my eyes process.
What if I don’t wake up again? That seems to be the prevailing fear wedged in my psyche. What if they put me under and can’t pull me above again?
The thoughts echo around without answer in my head. Discomfort blooms and any peaceful ideas that occur to me wilt quickly under my daunting anxiety.
My heart stops for a moment when they call my name.
A few smiles and happy comments accompany me while I balance my weight up over my shaking legs. I walk like a newborn, finding my way to the nurse who summoned me. I don’t make eye contact, looking down at my feet. What if I don’t wake up again?
After a final wave back to my loved ones and a long walk down the labyrinthine halls, I meet my anesthesiologist in the operating room. She’s a thin elderly woman, who gives off warm friendly air. For a while we talk about the procedure, but my heart is racing along too quickly and I miss practically all of the information.
After what feels like years, the surgeon enters the room. He looks around twenty or thirty years older than me, with a graying goatee and sparse hair over his scalp. He stands perfectly erect and projects authority with his very presence. My nervousness dims ever so slightly upon witnessing his utter confidence.
I speak to him for a moment while others attach me to the machines. A soft beep from the heart monitor reveals me calming down.
Once everything’s ready, the anesthesiologist starts to put me under. The clock on the far wall flickers as my focus dwindles. My muscles relax throughout my entire body and I lay relaxed as a rag doll. My thoughts grow chaotic and weak, fading out in a mass of gray. One last coherent thought torments me:
What if I don’t wake up again?
Unfortunately for me, I do. My eyes never shut when I left, just glossed over. I notice this when my vision washes back in. My eyelids are entirely unresponsive and I’m unable to blink or move them. I stare straight ahead, stuck.
Then my mind loosens and I begin to comprehend exactly what it is that I’m looking at:
He’s cutting away at my genitals. I can see the blade slicing cleanly through my own flesh; I can hear the light chatter of doctors and the warm squishing slashing of my being. The numb feeling eludes me and I find myself capable of feeling everything that they do. I can feel the blade with flawless clarity, lacerating my testicle.
Pain comes next, the anesthesia clearly failing me. My normal reaction to wince and scream is suppressed by paralysis; I lay still while they crudely dissect me.
Precision. Everything is so precise. I can feel the exactness of every action, the righteous justification of every violent stroke through my defenseless organs. I can feel the organization, the mechanical operator, perfectly inflicting such pain upon me.
Why can’t I move? Why can’t I talk? How am I awake if I’m not in control?
I try to communicate with them any way that I can, but I’m isolated. I try controlling my breath to catch their attention, but my breathing functions autonomously.
The surgeon wobbles slightly over his feet. Something’s wrong.
His scalpel betrays him, cutting away from my testes and into my penis. I can feel the thin slices, fine as a paper-cut, through the central shaft. The surgeon wipes off blood and continues his shoddy work.
My sensory neurons grow bolder as my motor neurons continue to doze. There’s nothing I can do. I struggle to move an arm, a leg, or even just a finger, but I’m trapped within myself.
Agony blasts through my abdomen and up through my torso, radiating from the area of attack. The precision fails and the pain violates me from every angle. If it weren’t for what my eyes are telling me, I would think that I had been set on fire.
Still he cuts. Shamelessly raping my being. He pulls out pieces of the tumor with a thin forceps. Pulls out pieces of me. What can I do?
He chops the meat carefully, severing the fat from the bone. He finds himself a nice cutlet and removes it from the suffering animal. Ignorant of his cruelty, he makes more of his finely aimed cuts into my groin.
Then he misses.
His cleaver slashes through my penis, severing the entire mass of flesh. I can see it fall to the floor with a splat, taking so much with it. Uncorked. Fluid sprays outwards, my life pouring from me out into the room. My insides flow free so smoothly, so easily. They had never meant to be contained within my skin, and go mad at the prospect of escape, gleefully dumping themselves out onto the floor.
The leech squirms below, spewing out its diet for all to see. Naked. Exposed.
My vision blurs with the pain spreading from the parasite’s bite-wound and fails to correct itself. A distant screaming wails through my ear canals, an unholy cacophony of demons.
Where am I?
The angelic beings around me attempt to correct their fatal mistake, hastily working over the new cavity in my body. Their white clothes stained to my internal color. Their calm demeanor completely devolved to a frenzied panic.
Where am I?
My parasite gone, crucified, and left to die on display.
The blood loss helps as suffocation soothes my brain into an undeserved calm. The panic dies before I do, and a sharp metallic sensation forces itself through my thoughts. My vision devolves into a mass of scattered stars. Cold. So damn cold. Before the last of my consciousness runs dry, I think a final desperate thought to whoever will listen: Will anybody ever know that I was awake?
Death comes next, and like the anesthesia before it, if fails to numb the pain.