by Moira Brennan
His first thought when he awoke was that if he didn't move soon, he was going to be violently sick all over the garish orange blanket that covered him. He tried to sit up, only to discover that his throbbing head didn't like that at all. Suddenly, his vision blurred and darkened… When he opened his eyes, a woman in a white uniform was stripping the orange blanket off him while another approached the head of the bed with a glass of water and a bucket.
"Here, love. Wash your mouth out. There you go. Drink a little… not too much now! There."
Simply raising his head a few inches to gargle the sweet, fresh water made his now empty stomach turn again and he collapsed back onto the pillow with a grimace. The nurse watched her patient a moment and then bustled off to make sure the soiled blanket was replaced after she checked his vital signs.
His stomach had stopped its wild flopping for the moment and settled for an indignant gurgle as he lay there, refusing to black out again. To keep his mind on other things he observed the room around him and was unsettled to realize that he didn't recognise some of the things in it. Where am I? Quickly he scanned the walls and his heart gave a relived lurch as he mentally named things he recognised: clock, picture, bed, blanket, floor, curtain, lavatory…. But what was the beeping monstrosity beside his head? And there was something wrong with the people in the picture hanging on the wall… He turned his head and frowned at the clock on the bedside cabinet. He knew what it was but he knew that he wasn't used to seeing bold red numbers on a black background. He stared hard at the empty spot in front of the clock, disconcerted for some reason. Something was tugging at his memory… something important should be on the bedside cabinet… he never slept without it close by… His head started to throb again so he abandoned the elusive memory and eventually nodded off to sleep.
When he next awoke, his head didn't hurt quite so much as before but his mouth tasted abominable. He also noticed, as he became more fully awake, that his left forearm was in heavy white plaster up to the elbow and he had general aches and pains all over his body. And he had to use the loo. Badly. Experimentally, he raised himself up on his good elbow and was pleased to note that his vision did not blacken at the edges like before. Cautiously, he sat the rest of the way up, gritting his teeth against bruised muscles that cried out in protest. After ten minutes of painful, slow movement, he managed to set his bare feet on the cool tiled floor.
After breathing deeply for a few moments' rest, he grasped the edge of the bedside cabinet and stood on legs shaking from exertion. The open door of his goal swam a bit in his vision and he clenched his jaw tightly, willing himself not to black out. It was another ten minutes before he dared to shuffle forward, using the wall as support. Twenty more minutes had allowed him to reach his goal and he was in the painful process of hobbling back to the bed when he saw a movement out of the corner of his eye.
It was a mirror. Reflexively he looked at himself…
The alarmed nurse discovered her patient next to the toilet, his shoulders heaving with the effort of his stomach to reject its contents. But he had already emptied his stomach earlier; all he had left were dry lurches that soured his mouth. When the nurse asked him what he was doing there, he simply shuddered and leaned back over the bowl.