I lay on a metal surface, unable to move, in a dark room except for a single light bulb swinging in a far corner. But it put out enough light for me to see a shadowy figure nearby, swaying around me, like smoke from a pipe or cigarette. Breathing was difficult, for the air was heavy and dank. What is this place? How did I get here? Then I heard a voice behind me, and I panicked.
“Are you sure she’s the one?” a male voice asked. I tried very hard to see him, but all efforts to move were stymied, as if a great force pressed down on me, holding me rigid as a corpse. The same voice spoke again.
“I understand, but you’ve been wrong before. What’s different this time?”
No one answered, but the voice resumed talking. “I know that. But you yourself said she’s never done it. What makes you so certain she can?”
The unknown speaker paused, as if it listening to someone or something I couldn’t hear. Is he talking to that shadow? I wondered. I still struggled to free myself, but without success. Then the temperature in the room dropped. Afraid, my heart raced faster and faster.
“Yes, I trust you.”
His words now reverberated off unseen walls, in a basso profondo tone so low, it vibrated the metal slab that held my body in its grip, vibrations that passed into my bones until I felt like a living tuning fork.
“I would never suggest that. But you must understand, after the last time…”
But I never heard the rest, for my eyes flooded with lights of every color, and with the light came tremendous pain, like a bomb exploding in my brain. My lungs stopped taking in air.
I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! Oh God, don’t let me–
* * *
A stinging sensation on my cheek woke me from my nightmare. Hovering above, I saw a large male face with a rough beard. For uncounted seconds, I stared at him, disoriented. My head ached something fierce. I tasted bile in my mouth. The man talked, but it took forever before I understood he was speaking to me, and more time to grasp I lay slumped over a park bench. The left side of my face felt numb.
“I'm sorry," he said, "I saw you having convulsions. They told me to wake you.” He held up a bottle of Poland Spring, the one from my purse. Why is there a bottle of water in my purse? I asked myself. Then I remembered. I planned to meet some friends at the park before going to the Summer Jazz festival. The day was hot, so I brought water to drink while waiting. I got tired, so tired and a little dizzy. The bench was there, and I sat down. I didn’t remember falling asleep, though. And the man was a complete stranger. Still, I let him dribble a few drops into my open mouth. “I called 911 with your phone,” he added, appearing sheepish. “An ambulance is on its way. Don’t worry.”
His clothes were shabby; washed-out, ripped jeans and a plaid shirt several sizes too big for him. He kept speaking, but I couldn’t follow a word he said. I think he intended to reassure me, but the urgent tone in his voice, and the rapid way he spoke, made me anxious. I tried to sit up, but found it hard to move, and that scared me more than anything.
Two paramedics, a man and a woman, appeared and began to do things to my body. They acted in a hurried, but practiced manner. One stuck an IV needle into a large vein in my left arm, while the other placed a pressure cuff around my right, and shone a light in my eyes. “What’s your name?” he said.
“Watashi wa jēn desu.”
The paramedic looked at his partner. “Do you know what language that was?
“Damn. We need a translator.”
The bearded man interrupted them. “No, she speaks English. I heard her talking on her phone before she sat on the bench and fell asleep. I think her ID’s in here.” He handed them my purse. The EMT dug around until he found my wallet with my driver’s license.
“Jane Takako Wolfsheim,” he read aloud. He kept glancing at me and then back at the license, a bemused look in his eyes. “Jane. Is that your name?”
“Hai,” I said. Only then did I realize I was speaking Japanese. I coughed, and tried again, but speaking English proved difficult. “Ye-esss. I’m Jane. Jane Wolfsheim.”
“Okay, Jane,” he said, while the female EMT opened my blouse and placed a cold stethoscope between my breasts. “I need to ask you some questions. Answer them the best you can. What day it is?”
“The weekend? Saturday?” It was strange I wasn’t sure.
He asked a few more, simple things like the date and the year, my birthday, but I didn’t know the answers to any of them. Then he took out a pen-shaped implement and, pushing it into the skin of my forearm, ran it down to my hand, where he used the point to prick at my palm and fingertips. “Do you feel that?
“A little,” I said. “I felt some pressure.”
“Any pain? A sting or a scratch, maybe?”
I shook my head.
“BP’s dropping,” said the other EMT.
“Okay, call it in,” he said to her, his tone more urgent than before. “Jane, we’re taking you to the hospital. From what your friend told us, you need to see a doctor to determine what’s going on. You had a seizure. Do you understand?”
Seizure? I tried to sit up again, but flailed about like a fish out of water. A weird noise came out of me, eerie and unintelligible, which reminded me of the time I startled a screech owl on a camping trip as a girl.
“Jane, stay with me! You’ll be fine. Take it easy.”
But I couldn’t. I panicked, afraid of dying. As the two paramedics wrestled my body onto a stretcher, I gasped for air, unable to take in a breath. A bright light burned from inside my head, straight into my eyes, blinding me. Then, I felt a cool hand touch my forehead.
“Breathe, Jane Takako. Just breathe. You will not die.” My vision cleared. The bearded man was kneeling by my head, his hand gently stroking my hair. “These people know what to do. Let them help you.” Then he got up and started to amble away.
"Wait," I shouted after him, fearful for reasons I could not discern, convinced his presence was necessary, though why I thought that was a mystery. "Make him wait!" I shouted at the paramedics as they strapped me to the wheeled stretcher. As if by miracle, his face reappeared, and my anxiety lessened. He walked by my side, and I grasped his hand with as much strength as I could muster. He said nothing until they lifted the stretcher to place me into the ambulance. Then, with an odd, but graceful motion, he bent down and kissed my hand before releasing my fingers. I shot him a look of desperation. "Stay," I pleaded.
"I'm sorry, but I can’t go with you. I’m not a relative." He stood and watched as the paramedics secured me in the back of the ambulance, stuffed to the gills with an assortment of medical gear I did not recognize. The female EMT was about to close the door when I shouted at him, my unknown savior.
“Who are you?”
"Jorge Luis Borges," he replied. Then the ambulance doors slammed shut, and the siren erupted.
* * *
I awoke to a loud beeping noise. Eyes heavy, I wanted to drift back to sleep, but the damn beeping wouldn’t let me. My eyelids fluttered as I tried to open them. Then I heard a voice I didn’t expect.
“So, doctor, you’re telling me you don’t know why this happened?” It was my father.
“As I said, Mr. Wolfsheim, your daughter had a grand mal seizure in the ambulance. She also had one at the park, according to the paramedics. They administered a sedative, and we gave her another dose upon her arrival. At present, we’re still pushing IV fluids as she was dehydrated when admitted.”
“That’s not an answer, doctor,” my father said.
“Sir, I explained that we need more information before we can give a proper diagnosis. Her medical records show no prior history of any neurological disorders, other than a concussion at age sixteen.”
“She was unconscious for eight hours. It was terrible.” Oh god! I thought. Mom’s here, too?
“I understand your concern,” replied the doctor, “but I doubt that had anything to do with this incident. I spoke to Dr. Geronosky, head of Neurology. He ordered a number of tests to help us determine what caused these episodes. Until then…”
“Until then,” I interrupted her, “could someone please turn off that damn noise.”
“You’re awake!” my mom shouted, which was so out of character for my proper Japanese mother. “Jane, you gave us such a fright.” I felt her breath on my face.
“Give her some air, dear,” my father said, pulling her away. “How are you feeling, daughter?” Dad sounded calm, but he called me daughter only when upset.
“My head hurts,” I said. “It would help if the noise would stop. Why is it so loud, anyway? Where am I?”
“Is that normal, her head hurting?” Mom said.
“It’s not uncommon after a seizure,” responded the doctor, a brown-skinned woman wearing a lab coat. A black scarf covered her entire head. I knew it had a name, but I couldn’t remember it. “Excuse me, but now that she’s awake, I need to examine her.” She moved closer to my bed. “Jane,” she said, “My name is Dr. Ajmal Choudhury.” Reaching over my bed, she pushed a button on a machine with many colored lights, and the noise stopped. “There, is that better? Now let me look at you.” She flashed a penlight at my eyes. “Do you know where you are?”
“Yes. Do you remember why you came here?”
“There was an ambulance.”
“Is there anything else you can tell us?”
“I was at a park. And there was this man. He woke me up.”
“Yes, Jane, a man found you on a park bench. Do you remember what you were doing there?”
“I was dreaming, I think. Then I woke up. My face hurt. He talked to me.”
“What’s wrong with her?” Mother, again. “She’s never like this!”
“There’s no cause for alarm, Mrs. Wolfsheim. Confusion and memory loss are not unusual after a seizure. It should resolve over the next day or so. Long term ill effects are rare.”
“Please, Hanako,” my father said. “Let Dr. Choudhury do what she needs to do.”
“Choudhury?” I said. “That’s an Indian name, right? Are you from India?”
“Close,” she said, with a tight-lipped smile. “I’m from Bangladesh. But, Jane, you were telling us what you remembered before the ambulance brought you here.”
“Yes, Jane. You said you were at a park. That you were having a dream, and a man woke you…”
“Oh! Oh! I remember now!”
“The man who saved me,” I said, “was Jorge Luis Borges. Jorge Luis Borges saved my life! Isn’t that amazing?”
All three of them – Dr. Chaudhury, Dad and Mom – looked at me like I was a crazy lady.