When I got up Sunday morning, I put my glasses on and went to the loo, making it just so far as the door when the world "turneth it upside down" and I found myself "scattered abroad" on the bathroom floor. I did not fall so much as sink. The floor came up from under me, as the mirror and the lights whirled down. The room rolled, back and forth, even when I'd settled to the floor with my head resting on the bathroom rug. When I closed my eyes, the room reeled. When I opened my eyes, the world rolled. The nausea that followed resolved itself, repeatedly, in the usual way. The sweat ran off me like rain. It went on and on.
The EMTs collected me from the floor of the front hall and put me on a collapsible chair, to get me up the front steps, then onto a gurney. We had to pause, now and again, for me to be sick. I understand they were quite good about this. At least one of them, by all reports, was actually quite handsome. I wouldn't know. It was a long ride to the hospital. The young doctor in the Emergency Room was very kind, though he did ask me to do a "maneuver" that involved leaning back on the examining table, with my head hanging over the edge, then turning my head to the left and then sitting up quickly. This felt very much like the end of the world, to me. I didn't care for that at all. I understand the young doctor was cute. Again, I wouldn't know. Had nice hands, I thought, when I could see them. Eventually, they gave me some drugs. Some hours later, I left the ER and was given a proper bed in a proper hospital room. Stayed overnight. I left the hospital some time the next day, with a prescription, a variety of sticky pads still stuck to me, less chest hair than I'd had going in, and with Charles Dickens under my arm.
After scans of my brain and all manner of other tests, the doctors told me I was suffering from vertigo, like the Hitchcock title. Turns out, there's nothing obviously wrong with my brain, or my heart, or the rest of me. Nothing, at any rate that isn't my own fault or that wasn't wrong before I fell. I hadn't had a stroke, about which there had been some initial concern, or a heart attack, or anything like that. Just vertigo. No reason to think I wouldn't recover, though it might take time to right me altogether, even with the pills, or that I might not have this same unhappy experience again some day.
"It happens," the doctor told me, not unkindly, "sometimes when people get a little older, it just happens."
When the husband was packing me an overnight bag to bring to the hospital, he thought to bring me my clothes, including a clean nightshirt that I did not have occasion to wear as I spent my time in hospital gowns, the shoes I eventually walked out in, on his arm, and a book. "I just grabbed one off your nightstand," he told me, "so I hope it's the one you wanted."
Bless him. Of all the books he might have packed, of all the books he might have grabbed from my nightstand, he chose a book of my Nonesuch edition of Dickens, the volume that includes both Hard Times, which I'd only recently reread for the first time, and Great Expectations. Like all the Nonesuch, this was a fine, big book, with big, bright type and all the original illustrations. When I found myself awakened, repeatedly throughout the night and into the morning hours, though I couldn't find my glasses on the table by my bed, I tried to read a little, or at least look at the pictures. I tried to focus. Maybe I could not quite focus enough to actually read for more than a minute or two without the print spilling off the pages and into my lap, but I tried. Probably not the right thing to do. I did it anyway. When I couldn't, I held the book closed by my head, like a spare in a shipwreck, just to keep me afloat.
Some time around dawn, when a lovely nurse with a lilting island accent came to check my "vitals," she found me with my glasses on, the book on my chest. When she set the book aside in the bed to listen to my heart, I saw her look to see what it was.
"Looks like a Bible," she said, not all together inaccurately. Not though. Just a novel or two.
"It's Charles Dickens," I said, "he wrote great novels. Do you know him?"
She didn't know as she'd ever heard of him. I mentioned A Christmas Carol, which she had heard of, and David Copperfield, who she thought she thought she might have heard mentioned before.
"And so what's in this one, then?" she asked, in a friendly, conversational way while she took my blood pressure.
I closed my eyes and told her:
"My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip."
Or something as like to that as I could manage without reading, and with so many drugs in me. This did not, as it turned out, hold much meaning for my new acquaintance, the good nurse from the islands. So I told her that it was the story of a boy, an orphan, raised by his sister, by the sea, how he came to love a girl who would break his heart, and how he came into his fortune unexpectedly by way of a small act of kindness, a kindness he could only repay in turn by giving up all that he had been given.
"The girl was bad, egh?"
I had to admit that she was, though it was not really her fault, and that in the end, suffering, and love, may have made them both better than they might have been.
"That's alright then," the nurse concluded, seemingly satisfied, or at any rate, finished with her patient, though I don't think I'd justified so big a book having just that bare story in it.
Only just today, for slightly longer spells, have I been able to read a little more, whenever I've been awake long enough to try again. My success continues limited. Nothing in the whole experience, may I tell you, at least from the moment I was put to bed in the hospital with a proper diagnosis, has terrified and depressed me so much as not being able to read. Nothing that might happen to me -- save only separation from those I love best -- terrifies me more, frankly, than the thought of such a disability being permanent.
I did not mean to exaggerate the gravity of my illness, from which I am already much recovered obviously, or to color these few remarks on it with anything like such morbid speculations. I am already, if not altogether well, then much improved.
"'I am ashamed to say it,' I returned, 'and yet it's no worse to say it than to think it. You call me a lucky fellow. Of course, I am.'"
When I get up from my chair tonight, I'll still be as wobbly as a colt, a "fall risk," as one of my hospital bracelets says, so I'm still inclined to go a bit easy. And so I must apologize not only for whatever I might have put down here, on my first night back at my desk, but also for the more general thinness of things here for the past few days. As I improve, I hope things here will as well. No promises, just yet.
But at least I can read a little again tonight, before I put the light out, and that is enough for me, and so it must be for now. That I find, just now, seems to me nearly everything.