I’m sitting alone in a white-walled hospital room.
My forearm (decorated with the greenish-yellow smudge of bruises
from implanted IVs) dangles limply over the edge of the hospital
bed, as if grasping there for some invisible human touch. I want
to become a fossil, I think, as I observe my hands. Blood
occupies the space beneath my fingernails, the idiosyncratic
curvature of my fingerprints traced in crimson red. Nobody asks me
about this. I should write, but I can’t. The wound is still tender
and characterized by a hollow aching, like an echo. &
The first thing my nurse, Mohammad, tells me upon my arrival in
psychiatry: You know, they saved your life, Elliot.
I know what he means. Most suicide attempts are either fatal (such
as a gunshot to the head) or have very low lethality (such as an
overdose on the vast majority of drugs). Relatively few fall
somewhere in between. A battle for my life was fought in an
operating room at UCLA Medical Center. My lithium levels rose to
double the toxic limit — twice. Three rounds of dialysis were done
in total. I was intubated. Both of my lungs collapsed. And then, I
went into a coma.
But two days later, I wake up. I’m hooked up to a bunch of machines.
No obvious sign of brain damage, and both of my kidneys have been
I feel very little about this. It was cold. Maybe that coldness was
the dialysis running its course through my veins, my blood cooling
as it sloshed through the machine. Somehow, I think of it as death’s
touch on my forehead — an inversion, the blank spaces, the whiteness
of a page — and in its grasp, every warm thing seemed incredibly
distant. I was somewhere far away. Then I was pulled out of the
water. My tongue hasn’t fit right in my mouth ever since.
I’ve only been seeing my psychiatrist, Dr. Cook, for a month. She
sits at my bedside in the ICU. Without my glasses, I don’t recognize
her at first. She has dark hair and smiles and me with pink cheeks.
She says she’s really glad I’m alive. I was watching your
lithium levels as they were posted in your file. They went down
after dialysis, but then they went up again, and they just kept
going up, she recounts. Dr. Cook returns the next day, too.
She says it again: I’m so glad you’re alive, Elliot,
inviting me to say I feel the same way. My heartbeat monitor ticks
away in a steady metronome.