AAO x 3
by Arjun Nanda, MSIV
I emerge from an ocean of sleep to a man rubbing the middle of my chest. No, a boy, really. He is saying something, something basal and with meaning. I begin to drift but am brought promptly back into sentience with another one of those annoyingly painful rubs. He repeats my name and my eyes open wider. The light enters my eye and is scattered across my retina, while most of my brain creates an image of what the eye is telling me. The rest of it stays asleep; forgotten, resting in its tomb. The boy is leaning over me; he asks me if I know my name. Of course I do; what an idiot! I nod and drift once more until he asks if I can say my name for him. I scavenge my empty energy stores to produce a slurred version of my name. There we go, he looks happier now. Another question from him: "What year is it?" This one is tougher. I reach back for a memory, at last grasping Marissa's wedding.
What a beautiful time. Everything was perfect that day; my daughter was in bliss and the rest of my kids were around me. Paradise was on the horizon, and a satisfied smile took over my soul. I can now look toward upcoming retirement with my husband.
I move forward to a more recent memory, this one was tinged with something dark. I'm in an emergency room. My husband's chest buckles under the weight and strength of a doctor's hands. My world crashes over and over with each compression like an angry storm. A flurry of activity surrounds his body while a cloud of terror surrounds mine. I collapse into my son's arms as the doctor steps back and glances at the clock.
I jump forward again, this time into a cozier place. Janice steps out of the kitchen with a cake in her hands, a large eight-zero plastered on top. As the familiar song erupts around me, I look around into the eyes of my children and grandchildren, scattered between the carpet and the couches. These beautiful kids are my greatest achievement, my legacy, to carry on the love that I have showered them with. Even with my husband gone, I was with him all the time through these gifts. And now, I remember.
"2016," I splutter, rather sure of myself. The boy's lips turn up and he nods.
"Good," he probably thinks. "I've annoyed her."
I had hoped he would be done with his interrogation but he persists like a pestering fly. Where am I, he wants to know.
I wouldn't mind an answer to that question myself. I take a stab at logic and assume that I'm at home. That's usually where I am, aren't I?
No. Not at home. I was driving. I was driving back after picking up my grandson from soccer practice. My head had felt numb after I had fallen a few hours before. When I touched the back of my head, it felt a bit swollen. I remember the looks of concern and stifled anger on my daughters' faces when I admitted to them that I had fallen; the kind of looks that had made me embarrassed to tell them in the first place. I remember the commotion becoming hazier and hazier, and then I was in the emergency room. It was the same emergency room my late husband had been in when he died, and my previously-acquainted cloud of terror enveloped me anew until I emerged from a haze of anesthesia. The doctors told me that I had some bleeding in my brain and they're glad I came to the hospital. They got the blood out but there may be some lasting damage.
The younger doctor gets me to squeeze his fingers, then asks me again while I'm already squeezing them. I hear him say something about my left side; I look down at my limbs spread over the bed, placed there by someone else, and try to move all of them. Only the right side moves. The angry storm rages on.
The boy asks his question again.
My brain was a cup filled to the brim with liquid experience. I have lived a full life. I have felt all the emotions that a human can and should feel. Now, I feel less.
But at least I know where I am.
Supplemental Note from the author: "AAO x3 means Awake, Alert, and Oriented to time, person, and place. This is a common abbreviation used in brief neurological exams to report the patient's level of consciousness. My goal in writing this selection was to show how even simple questions like asking the patient if they know their name can give us insight into who they really are."