"What I Saw After the Crash"

(c) 2005

(This is the true story of one man's adventure within the US medical care system following an airplane crash. Additional chapters will be posted weekly. Special thanks to the author for permission to post. Names have been changed. Everything else is dead-on true.)

The ground is misbehaving badly. It’s pin-wheeling as it races toward me. Leaves, green, brown, red, orange, spin as the trees rush up. I am strangling the yoke with my right hand, the throttle with my left, but I can’t stop the pinwheel. The seatbelt digs in. Blood rushes to my head. “I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” I shout ...

But I don’t.

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I find myself walking down a street along a river, crossed by a rusting metal bridge and bordered by a stone walkway. I come to a strange-looking low, metal and glass building -- it looks much like a diner along a turnpike. I enter the building and find it is a combination diner and hospital, but a very strange hospital. The wall behind the counter is bright tile, trimmed with neon lights and lots of chrome. Prominent along the wall behind the counter is a large glass pipe. A naked man has been stuffed, head-first, into this pipe, and he is slowly being forced along, submerged in a clear fluid. Seeing this, I become anxious to leave, but discover I have become trapped in the place, and have been put into a hospital bed in a back room. For an indeterminate period of time I am kept in bed in this back room, growing ever more apprehensive. No matter how much I plead and try to reason, I am held there, terrified. Staff people come and go, doing strange medical experiments on other people in nearby beds. I am told repeatedly, “your nurse will be here soon...”

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My arms and legs are pinned and I can’t move. Everything is tilted. I feel pressure in my face. I hear creaking noises, and in the distance, what sounds like people running through brush. Someone is yelling, but I know it isn’t me because I can’t catch my breath. My body feels numb, except for my chest, which is burning and stabbing me. I can’t breathe. I can see light through an opening. There is more shouting, more feet running, other sounds, machine noises. I try to breathe through my nose, but that doesn’t work. Something is running into my face. It tastes like gasoline. No breath. I can’t yell back. I’m suffocating.

Blackness.

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I have managed to escape from the “diner.” As I try to put some distance between me and the diner, I am captured by half a dozen armed people who take me to a small room on top of the bridge and tell me I am their prisoner. I am then held there for several days, tied up, and no matter how I reason with my captors, they refuse to let me go. Then, without explanation, they decide to move me to another place...

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Light and sounds. A newscaster. TV? I am lying on my back. I try to move but I can’t. My arms and legs don’t work and they feel strange. Then, pain. A lot of pain; my arms and my legs, my chest, my face. Hurting and numb at the same time. Strange. My lips are stiff. Where am I? I should know where I am; I should _want_ to know where I am, but it’s hard to concentrate. I try to say something, but my mouth is clamped shut. My nose is full of something. Too much trouble.

Gone.

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I find myself below decks on a ship, tied to a bunk and surrounded by armed guards. By now, I am tired of pleading and switch to trying to bluff my way out of captivity by threatening retaliation unless I am released. I decide to give only my name, rank, serial number, and date of birth. I then try to break free of the ropes tying me, and start kicking at the steel hatch over head, all in vain. This goes on for some time, until my guards point their rifles at me and threaten to kill me unless I stop...

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Light again. I am very sleepy. I turn my head and my neck is stiff. There is someone nearby. He says, “Hi, buddy. How are you feeling?”

“Tired,” I croak. Voice is filled with rust. Sound like a machine. I still can’t move my arms or legs, but that doesn’t seem very important at the moment.

“What happened?”

“You were in an accident. Remember anything?”

I try to think. It’s like trying to see through wax paper. “No.”

“Well, that’s probably for the best.”

“Where am I?”

“In (---------),” he tells me, but the name slips out of my grasp as soon as he says it. He does something behind me, where I can’t see. I need my glasses, I think.

“Want the TV on?”

“Sure,” I reply. I try to focus on the TV, but the images are blurred and don’t seem to make any sense.

“I think I’ll get some sleep.”

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I am being held in a dilapidated basement by armed Viet Cong. I am tied to a chair and water is being poured down my throat, drowning me. They are laughing at me. They hold AK-47s and lots of sharpened bamboo spikes. They tell me that my previous captors have been Viet Cong sympathizers who have passed me along to them. Just as I start to pass out, most of the guards leave me with one ranking interrogator. He questions me for a long time and I refuse to answer. He finally leaves, telling me, “We can hold you forever.”

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I’m back in the room with the bed. The TV is on and it is showing something to do with flying. My friend is also back, and he sees I am awake.

“Welcome back,” he says.

“Where am I?”

You’re at (---------------------),” but once again, the name slips easily through the cracks that have appeared in my brain.

“Who are you?”

“I’m (----). How are you feeling?” Damn names are really tough, for some reason.

“I don’t know.” I try various body parts and find that my arms and right leg are restrained.

When I try to move them, I get zaps of pain all over. I can’t close my hands. I can’t move my right foot. My left leg moves, but when I move it, a spike goes into the knee. I jump from the pain. That produces _more_ pain. My jaw is stiff, my nose is full of something. My voice sounds terrible, even to me; like my throat is full of syrup. It hurts to talk. It hurts to move. It just hurts everywhere. I get a sense that it hurts a lot more than I know, but that I can’t feel it because someone has made me sleepy.

“Is my wife here?”

“She’s here a couple of times every day; she left a little while ago. She’ll be back.”

“What happened?”

“You were in an accident. Do you remember any of it?”

“No.” Still.

“Want to watch TV?”

“What’s on?” This is the first time I can remember being interested in anything happening in the room with the bed.

“‘Wings.’ It’s about Army helicopters.”

“Really? I was in the Navy.” Somehow this is clearer than anything else at the moment.

“Oh, yah? I’m retired Army Reserve. I was a crewman on a medivac helicopter.”

I turn my attention to the TV, but after a few moments the images stop making sense.

Gone.

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Part 2