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On Friday, August 10, 2018, at 5:00 PM I was taken by ambulance to the emergency room of Olathe Medical Center, a hospital in Olathe, Kansas. I was admitted from the ER to the hospital proper and spent the next four nights and days there. The initial diagnosis was a urinary tract infection (UTI), followed by a diagnosis of a rather severe case of septicemia (blood poisoning). The particular bacterium that attacked me is named pseudomonas, so you could look it up.
A normal white blood cell count is in the range of around 4,000 to 11,000, meaning that many white blood cells (leukocytes) per microliter (one one-millionth of a liter) of blood. Physicians become concerned when it reaches as high as 15,000. My white blood cell count was 33,000. I didn’t appreciate it sufficiently in the ER, but apparently if I hadn’t been treated quickly I would have died.
The reason I didn’t care much is that the condition I was in rendered me delusional, and the rest of this little article is a description of the various weird thoughts I had, in case you’ve had similarly weird thoughts and wondered whether you were the only one.
● Sometime early on, when I was at my most delusional, I completely forgot my home address. I remembered that I was still amazed Donald Trump was the president of the United States (as I still am a few months later, now that I’m all better), but for a while there I thought I still lived in Chicago, where I had last lived some 34 years earlier.
● Speaking of losing my bearings, I became quite certain that the hospital was in Atlanta, Georgia. I have never been to Atlanta, yet I was completely sure that’s where we were. I remember thinking that when the various nurses and doctors went home they’d go to somewhere in Atlanta or maybe the suburbs thereof. I never questioned whether we were in Atlanta, and I never mentioned to anyone that we were in Atlanta because it would be like saying, “Water runs downhill” or “The sun rises in the east.” It was so obvious to me and everyone else I encountered that the hospital was in Atlanta that it didn’t need commenting on, despite the fact there was a huge, well-lit sign easily visible to me and everyone else in my room that said, “Olathe Medical Center.”
● Also early on, before the decision was made that I needed to be admitted, I got carted around for X-rays and a brain scan to rule out a heart attack and a brain tumor. What was weird about parts of those trips inside the hospital was that I became convinced the gurney I was on was stationary and that the ceiling was moving backwards above me. I know now that was ridiculous but at the time it seemed perfectly reasonable, as was the case with several of the other weird things I thought.
● The only part I remember about the brain scan was the very end, when the machine was rotating to a stop, and I thought to myself that someone should sell advertising, perhaps a short video or just a placard, on the machine where patients have to look. I never got around to deciding exactly which product or service should be advertised there but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
● For that night and the next day, when I was the most crazy, I couldn’t get my fingers to work right. It wasn’t that they were uncoordinated, it was more that I couldn’t figure out where they were in three-dimensional space. (I told you these are weird.) For example, I remember trying to scratch my nose and not being at all sure where my scratching finger was relative to my nose. Annette, my helpmeet and almost constant companion in the hospital (and the best nurse ever once I got home), said that one time I stopped moving my hand towards my face several inches before I should have. I just simply knew my hand was close enough even though it wasn’t, and I remember being concerned that if I got any closer I would poke myself in the eye or something.
● Another weird thing with my fingers was that I couldn’t figure out how far my index finger was from my thumb when I tried to grasp something. Either I got them too close together, which meant I couldn’t grasp the thing, or they were too far apart, which also meant I couldn’t grasp the thing. Taking hold of the sheet over me to rearrange it, for example, was remarkably difficult. I could see and feel things well enough, I just couldn’t get my fingers to cooperate.
● Another weird thing with my hands was that certain objects didn’t seem to weigh the right amount. A few objects weighed much too little, but most objects weighed much too much. For example, many times I needed to pick up my spectacles to put them on, something I had done without incident several times a day for the last 57 years without any thought, but while I was delusional, when I lifted them off the bedside table they seemed to weigh way more than they should. Once they seemed to weigh so much I had to set them back down and try again. It wasn’t because I was physically weak (although I was), it was that my weight-hefting skills, which we all just take for granted, abandoned me.
● While I was lying in the hospital bed the nurses had me wear these gaiter-like things on my lower legs that vibrated up and down, the true purpose of which was to prevent blood clots and deep vein thrombosis. I kind of liked the sensation, but somehow in my deluded state I became convinced that their purpose was to keep my calves looking healthy so that when it came time to sell them–yes, sell my calves–they’d fetch the prettiest penny possible. I never questioned the idea that the hospital would sell my calves, although I had secretly made plans to make a run for it just as they started to amputate.
● For some reason having to do with my illness-induced craziness, I was unable to remember one or both of two words. I spent what seemed like hours upon hours over a couple of days and nights, when I was supposed to be sleeping, trying to remember the first word. As soon as I finally did remember it I would forget the second word. And as soon as I finally did remember the second word I would be unable to remember the first word. I spent an unreasonably long amount of time struggling to remember those two words at the same time, and when I did remember the first word I’d tell myself, “OK, now lock that word in your brain long enough to remember the second word,” and sure enough, after trying for long enough, I could manage to remember both words at the same time, but a few minutes or an hour later I’d discover that I’d forgotten both words again, so I’d start over trying to remember the first word and then finally I would remember it and then I’d forget the second word, and then finally I’d remember the second word only to realize I’d forgotten the first word. I went through many cycles this way, and it was 99% no fun because I knew that the inability to remember two words at the same time indicated some sort of mental derangement. The two words were conditions I suffered from: “hiccups” and “septicemia.”
● The last weird thing I’ll tell you about is perhaps the weirdest. Like the Atlanta deal, I was so convinced everyone else already knew this that I didn’t mention it to anyone, and for the same reason: It was so patently true that to have mentioned it would have been stating the too obvious.
For some of the time in those first few nights and days I was totally and irretrievably certain that I had multiple, floating, disembodied heads.
When I close my eyes even now, two and a half months later, I can see in my mind’s eye what all those heads looked like. There were perhaps a dozen such heads, and I always “saw” them from behind and to the left, and they had long straight hair and they were oddly shaped and they were identical in every way and they never moved and I was never sure which one was my real head.
This whole delusion was perfectly normal to me, I never told or asked anyone about it, and I just simply never questioned whether I had multiple disembodied heads. Of course I did.
is bad for you but it is interesting.
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