I felt sick. Images swam through my head like trying to watch a hundred TVs all on different channels at the same time. Words, sounds, flashes all flying at me beating me into submission and out of nowhere one-image jumps to the front allowing a brief respite. I am watching a young woman walking down a busy hallway in her white lab coat carrying a tablet. She is coming to see me, I think. Why do I think that? What’s going on? Where am I?
The image is gone, lost in the cacophony of chaos. My head aches, throbbing and pulsing. This time a sound leaps out over all the noise, weak at first but growing in strength.
“Aaron, can you hear me?” the voice said sounding louder and more concerned.
Finally, it overpowered all the others and I opened my eyes.
“Aaron, are you ok? You seemed like you were in pain.” It was the woman I had saw what felt like only seconds ago. Time was lost. She was beautiful by society’s standards. She was average height, shoulder-length auburn hair pulled behind her ears, shiny green eyes, and woodish skin, not too dark and not too light.
As she stared at me, I realized she was patiently waiting for a response. “I have a headache but otherwise I guess I’m ok.”
“I’ll have someone come check on the headache in a bit. Are you well enough to talk for a few minutes.”
“Yes, I think so. Sorry, maybe it’s just my head but what’s your name?”
“My name is Dr. Liz Felton. And to answer your next question, yes we have met. I’m not surprised however, that you don’t remember. You have been through a difficult trauma. I’m a neuropsychiatrist and am here to help you through this.” She pulled up the chair next to my bed and sat down.
“What happened to me? I don’t remember anything about any accident.”
“We will get to that in time Aaron, for now just know it was serious and that to help protect you we are not going to broach that subject. You may call me Liz. Now, were you asleep when I came in or just resting?”
“I don’t know. There was all this noise in my head. I can still feel it but it’s like a fly buzzing around the room just inside my head.”
“Interesting. Did any of it make sense?” she asked typing on her tablet.
“Well…actually I saw what appeared to be you walking down what I am assuming is that hall out there headed to see me, or at least that is what I thought at the time. It doesn’t make any sense.” I felt agitated; my head was pounding like someone was hammering on it. I tried to reach up and hold my head but nothing happened. I panicked. “What the hell! Why can’t I move my arms? Why can’t I move my body? Don’t just sit there, help me damn it!”
The cacophony was back. I don’t know what happened maybe I blacked out. Am I paralyzed, I thought. What has happened to me? Oddly, the mass of things coming at me seemed somewhat more tolerable now. I wonder if they gave me some medicine to help, if so I want some more. I started noticing more individual images and sounds. It was like I could reach out and pluck them. Pull them out of the chaos to look. So, I tried.
The first thing I pulled out appeared to be a news broadcast from Afghanistan. The reporter was talking about American troops sweeping through the mountains still on the search for bin Laden. This seemed odd to me, like déjà vu.
The next one I picked was a web site talking about celebrity gossip. I don’t read celebrity gossip, I don’t think. Why would this be floating around my head?
Next, I get a radio broadcast blasting heavy metal. I couldn’t throw that one back fast enough.
I kept pulling from the threads. Each one had something that was unexpected.
I pulled a video that splashed over my mind like a bucket of ice water. It was a wedding video. My wedding video. How could I have forgotten? Where is James? Why isn’t he by my side? Did something happen to him?
My mind exploded with questions. I panicked again. I’m screaming, I’m sure of it.
I open my eyes and Liz is sitting beside my bed. “Hello Aaron. Did you have a good rest?”
Time is still confusing to my rattled brain. “What time is it?” I ask blinking my eyes.
“It’s about 10am. Is your internal clock still not working?” She smiled.
“No, it’s not. I do know we have been doing this a while now. I can remember that.”
“Very good. That is an improvement. This is day forty-five of your recovery. I’m sure it feels like a lot longer to you.”
“Actually without being able to feel my internal clock it doesn’t feel that long at all.”
“Well that is a blessing then,” she said making some notes in her tablet. “So, how is your head doing? Still having the headaches?”
“Not as often, or again that is my perception of them. I guess you’d need to ask Nurse Ratchet to find out exactly how often.”
“Now Aaron that is no way to talk about Nancy, she is a sweet woman who takes very good care of you. And you are correct, they are much less frequent. I checked on my way in.”
Nancy was just like Liz in she would not tell me anything about how I got here or why I’m unable to move. She did her job but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. “Ok, I’ll try to be nicer.”
“Good. Now what would you like to talk about today?”
This is a surprise, or at least I think it is. Liz never let me pick our topic, at least based on what I recall. “James,” I say baiting her.
“James. Do you mean my brother James? I’m not sure who you are talking about.”
“My husband James.”
“Your husband?” She looked a little worried.
“Yes my husband James. I remembered our wedding. Why is he not here?”
“Oh,” she looked down and made some notes. “Aaron, James is alive and well but…”
“But what? Tell me damn it! Can’t I get a simple answer for any question I ask?”
“Ok…ok…calm down and I’ll see if I can explain.” Liz sat her tablet aside, took a deep breath, and leaned toward me. “Your husband James is my brother. He asked me to come help because the first time you woke up…well let’s just say it was not good. James was here and he could not bear to see you this way. We talk every day about your progress and he would like nothing more to come and see you but he is afraid.”
I stare at her unblinking waiting for her to continue.
“Aaron, I know you don’t understand but I think given time you will. James is also coming to terms with what has happened. I can’t promise that everything will once again be like that video you remembered. I can pretty much guarantee it won’t be, but just because it is different doesn’t mean it won’t be just as good.” She leans back in her chair.
“I still don’t know what happened to me. I don’t understand what I did that made him afraid. Why can he not just come by so I can see him? Please Liz, I’m sure it would help if I could see my husband.”
“Ok Aaron, I’ll talk to James. But I’m not making any promises.”
It has been three days, I think, it is hard to keep track but I am getting better. I just saw on one of the threads James and Liz coming down the hall. Today is the day.
The door opened and Liz came in followed by James. He has wavy brown hair and crisp green eyes like his sister. He was taller, maybe six feet, slight of build, every bit as handsome as I remember. But not as happy. His shoulders are slumped somewhat and there are light circles under his eyes. She was right, I thought. He didn’t want to be here.
“Aaron, James came to see you. I’m going to step into the hall.” She lightly touches her brother’s arm as she leaves and he watches her go.
“James?” I say like I’m talking to a squirrel nibbling an acorn.
James sits and says, “I’m here Aaron and I’m sorry.”
“Baby, don’t be sorry. I’m just glad you’re here. I have missed you so much.”
“Aaron this is all my fault. Well…no really but in a way it is. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“What do you mean? Your sister and the others won’t tell me anything about what happened.”
“I don’t know how to say this. Liz felt it would be easier coming from me but I’m not so sure.” Tears were streaming down his check. His eyes sparked green with wetness as he looked at me. “Aaron…you died.”
“What?! I’m right here. I’m as alive as you are.”
James closed his eyes and waterfalls flowed from the green pools. “Yes and no.” He took a deep breath to steady himself. “You were in an automobile accident. It crushed part of your spine, caused massive head trauma, punctured a lung and kidney, and you lost an arm. By the time they got you to the hospital, your internal bleeding was causing massive hemorrhaging. The doctors temporarily stabilized you in order for surgery but I was told the likelihood of you surviving was less than five percent. They needed my permission to proceed or to wait. I made a selfish call. There was no more chance of it working than the surgery but I could not loose you.”
James reached across me and pulled on a monitor swinging it around so I could see it. That’s not possible. He had told me that the technology wasn’t ready yet. What has he done? Across the top of the monitor read “A.A.R.O.N.N. – Autonomic Artificial Relational Operating Neural Network” and I guess that’s me.