Code in Ambulance by Daniel Sundahl
When I woke up, I didn’t know where I was. Actually, I didn’t know who I was. I felt dizzy. Nauseated. Everything was spinning. Where was I? It was a big room with a lot of whirling machines and bright lights. I was freezing cold. I could smell rubbing alcohol and plastic. There was a lot of clanking metal. I could hear people talking. Then the faces of two ladies came into focus as they leaned over my bed. “Mr. Morgan, everything went just fine. We’ll be sending you back to your room in just a minute.” I was in an operating room. They were the anesthesia team who had put me to sleep for the first in a series of electroconvulsive therapy treatments. I was waking up. “Oh God, I’m not still alive am I? I want to die.”
I have bipolar I disorder. Medicines had failed to work on this cycle of depression and the ECTs were a last ditch effort to bring me out of the darkness. I’d rather have both arms and legs cut off than to have to go through this again. Don’t worry though. I’ve lived with bipolar disorder for about 30 years. Hospitals have become a way of life, or should I say a tortured way of life. Everybody knows me in the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit. My art work is hanging on their hallways. The nurse sees my stretcher coming down the hall and yells, “John! You’re back again?” I call it making the most of a bad situation. They roll me into my room. Some of my memory is coming back. I’ve been here before. Hope I have a quiet roommate because I don’t want to deal with anybody. Wait, what year is it? Who are the two old people in my room? The lady bends down and hugs my neck as she wipes away tears. I know that perfume. “Just remember that mama loves you.” Mama? Is that my mother? They walk out of the hospital room and I wipe tears from my eyes. Oh God, why me? The evening wears on and some of the other patient’s gather in the day room to watch T.V. One guy walks in with a guitar. Everybody gets quite. I remember this young man from a previous admission. He’s really sick. Somebody turns the T.V. volume down. He tunes it up a bit and looks up and says, “Would you like to hear a song?” Everybody cheers him on. For about the next hour I listened to a classical guitar performance that I should have paid money to see. The most gifted people I know live in psych units and long term psych facilities.
I wake up the next morning and cannot move. “Time to get up!” the nurse yells through my door. My roommate groans. I drag myself down the hallway to the third door on the left to get in the shaving line. When it comes my turn, I step up to the same little piece of metal bolted to the wall. I always miss a real mirror. I splash water on my face, shave, and then go get in the breakfast line. Many people question whether miracles still happen. I can tell you they do. I’m still alive. I have spent years of my life in hospitals and psych facilities, seen enough doctors to start my own medical clinic, taken enough medicine to start my own pharmacy, and had enough electrical energy passed through my brain to build my own power grid. I’ve been launched into the stratosphere of bipolar mania and buried under the shadow of death. I should have been dead a long time ago.
But wait a second. This is a celibacy blog. People with bipolar disorder have wild sex lives, don’t they? They can’t control themselves and the men rape every woman in site. You probably believe that. Unless you or someone in your family has been affected by mental illness, you’re at the mercy of public ignorance. Just based on my bio, most people would have me pegged as just another free frolicking “John” living the good life as a single dude. Some may even think I know all the girls on the streets by their first names. Chalk my case up to a miracle. I would even say that having bipolar disorder has given me insight into mental illnesses and developmental disorders I otherwise would not have. Most of my best friends live with them – schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, and OCD, etc. I try to keep up to date on the latest research and treatments and am a mental health advocate. I work with NAMI, crisis centers, and speak to classes in high schools about our brains and what can go wrong. What I really miss is my memory.
So if there are still any romanticized ideals out there about people with the gift of celibacy being highly exalted and honored and perfect people, I hope this serves to break that stereotype. I’m not a bright and happy shiny person. If you still have me pictured as a monk floating blissfully over a field of “celibate service” while performing 15th century Gregorian chants, please replace that with reality. Reality is not always pretty.