We pulled into the hospital parking lot without further incident. We’d not sideswiped anyone or been pulled over in our mad dash. Again, certain details are difficult for me to recall, but I have sense impressions of entering the emergency room area of the facility, slightly befuddled by layers of cool blue glass which gave the area the illusion of perfect depopulation.
Somehow, I found myself at my sister’s bedside. She was unconscious, blood-and-iodine stained, and in a room by herself. There were curious clicking, booping, and whirring noises all around. Large and small tubes hastily festooned her face and body, sloppy, hurried tape holding them in place around her mouth and nose. I saw some bruises on her face, but she was not hideously swollen or obviously hurt in any way that I could see.
I took her hand and shakingly spoke to her.
“Suzy? It’s Mike. I don’t know if you can hear me but… I uh I I love you very much, and uh”
I felt her hand squeeze mine.
“Oh god, you do what you have to, Suze. Please get better, you get to work and concentrate on getting back in shape. You know you look pretty good – I mean for someone with tubes taped to their face and funny yellow disinfectant stains and all. Mom and Dad are here, and I’m sure you’ve spent time with them.
Seth drove me up. Did you know he found you – he went to look for you, and he saw you being loaded into the ambulance and he found our parents and he drove me here and he’s really not doing well.
I haven’t really talked to anyone about your accident, yet, so I don’t know much about how you are from a medical perspective or anything, you know? I mean I talked to Seth but he’s really upset and hasn’t had time to talk to anyone in detail yet either.
I love you and I know you’re going to be fine. I probably will need to go back to Bloomington – geez, did you even know you’re in Indy? – tonight because we have that art opening on Friday to get ready for. The works look really good! I’m really looking forward to it. Hey, maybe you’ll be there, huh? Well, I’m sure you will in spirit, anyway.
Hurm, uh, we’re going to call the show, uh, Humours, you know, like the medieval system of medicine? And, unh, um, that poster of you I made when you were living in Belgium, you know, that says ‘Miss this Woman’ and hung up all over town? The one I made from that picture of you looking all cool under the Golden Gate? Well, that’s in the show; Matt and Nathaniel and Bill all have photos to show, and I have some lithos and a painting or two and some street posters.
Geez, it’s weird about the choice of title and that poster. Really.
You know what, I bet I need to give people an opportunity to express their love and concern for you at the show. I – um. I could ask everyone to bring something that means something to them to the opening. Plus it can’t hurt, right? I mean, we can mock superstition and practice it at the same time, right? Oh, I guess I’m talking to myself now.
Well, I’m sure folks will appreciate the chance to express their concern. Holy geez, I have a ton of more stuff to do now. I really have to get back.
I love you so much, little sister. You hang on, and get better, and I’ll be back up here as soon as I can after the opening – probably over the weekend, Suzy.
I love you! Get better!”
I reluctantly left – I backed out of the room, adoring my little sister, certain that her wild strength would see her through.
I found my parents and Seth sitting in the waiting area, among the other stressed and frightened families awaiting the latest word on the puissance of science or the hand of god. The hushed ambience of the room, freighted with it’s cargo of mortal uncertainty, was, naturally, disrespectfully molested by the soulless warbling of easy-listening adaptations of popular hits. The presence of this pallid audio garbage in the context of the public space where we conduct our most intimate human dramas – reunions, deathwatches, and the like – has added uncounted layers of suffocating misery to the world. It’s as though persons at the height of stress and tragedy in their lives were also forced to endure being physically wrapped in cold, transparent plastic tarpaulins in order to emphasize the degree of isolation each of us can experience.
I sat and strongly encouraged Seth to go in and visit with Suzy. I don’t recall if he had to have one of us with him in order for him to be permitted in the room – I don’t believe that was the case, however. At any rate, I was able to discuss my sister’s accident and her condition for the first time with my parents. She had been struck from the side by a person driving a station wagon, possibly a missed stop sign being the cause. Her bike had been trapped under the car and dragged for a few feet, while she had been flung up over the car’s hood, striking and shattering the windshield of the car with her head. She, as with the great majority of bicyclists as recently as 1988, was not wearing a helmet.
The paramedics had arrived with great speed and apparently performed well, especially considering that Seth had become concerned quite quickly about her absence and thus it seems likely that my sister began receiving treatment within five minutes of her injury.
This was information I had, more or less, sorted out from my ride with Seth.
Seeing her had been good for my spirits. She’d responded to my voice; I’d been able to contextualize her accident within the framework of activity I was committed to, and she showed no obvious sign of severe injury.
I asked my parents both why she’d been flown here and why they had that damn tube down her throat. I believe I must have expressed this inappropriately, and I recall receiving an admonitory look from my mother.
My parents then began to both take heart from my relatively good spirits, and to tell me things that began to dampen them. The tube I’d so casually damned was a respirator, which in conjunction with certain other items, were what was actually allowing my sister to breathe. Her auotnomic nervous system was not functioning, and according to my parents’ understanding, that meant that it was not possible for voluntary or reactive muscle movement to take place.
At this news, I exclaimed, “But she squeezed my hand!”
This outburst stunned my parents, slightly, but they quickly recovered, discounting my perceptions, unfortunately for the rest of the conversation. I stubbornly, and then somewhat angrily, insisted that her hand had closed firmly on mine as I spoke her name and identified myself to her. My mother just as strongly insisted that according to what she’d been told by the doctors involved with my sister’s care, such a thing was not possible, although some sort of reflex response might still be possible (although no-one had yet broached this with a health-care professional).
I very strongly resented this dismissal, but realized that arguing about it would prevent my folks from telling me more about my sister’s condition and course of projected treatment.
Briefly, the impact of my sister’s head with the car had happened at such a velocity that the tissues of her brain had been, essentially, bruised. I don’t believe it’s called that, but the effect is similar: a bruise swells. So does a brain that has experienced this kind of trauma. However, brains already occupy all the available space in the cranium. Therefore, as the tissues swell, the pressure they experience increases, and the worse the swelling, the greater the pressure.
The result of this pressure? Ruptured and destroyed brain cells. The worse the pressure, the greater the brain damage. At the time, the only treatment was to open a hole in the skull to allow the excess material (which I recall hearing described as “water”, although to this day I do not know what it was) to drain. For all I know, that’s still the case. However, operating on the skull creates more trauma for the braincase and can cause the already high interior pressure to spike, which carries with it the very real possibility of immediate brain death.
Therefore, treatment teams prefer to wait a day or to see if the pressure subsides or stabilizes. It was this course of action which was to be pursued with Suzy. Shortly, possibly by the next day, she’d be transferred out of the ER and into the ICU.
At that point I began to insist that my experience with my sister regarding her hand be conveyed to her caregivers, which we were able to do with relative immediacy. I recall being disappointed in what I still regard as a dismissive reaction; however it was clear that it was emotionally important to my parents to support the decisions that the care team was making. Rather than add to an already unpleasant experience with my desire to argue the point, I began to press Seth for a ride back to Bloomington.
Over the next three or so days (I believe her accident was on the 8th or the 9th) I worked my ass off preparing for the art opening. I added a line to the invitations and flyers reading “please bring an object of personal significance” and bought cloth and candles to define the space where my sisters’s portrait – the flyer reading “MISS THIS WOMAN” – was to hang in the tiny, second floor gallery space.
A stream of well wishers began to pay calls on my sister and parents in the ICU in Indy. My parents had taken to spending the night in the waiting area in Indianapolis. Some of their visitors decided to join them as well. Soon, my parents had an honor guard of five to ten punk rock kids huddling with them through the muzak-stained nights.
Matt, Bill, Nathaniel and I hung the show on Thursday night, sweating in the unseasonably warm and muggy night to the Ramones End of the Century; “Danny Says”, their ode to the isolation and absurdity of the road (with a few beer-inspired lyrical adaptations), became our anthem for the evening.
Danny sez we gotta go – gotta go to hang the show
but we can’t go see ya cuz we gotta hang the show, o-oh aoh
Art’s hung including you – all your friends are missing you
Oh, but I can’t wait to be with you tomorrow.
Oho-ho-ho, we got nowhere to go and it may sound
Funny, but’s true. Hangin’ out in the gallery watching
Get Smart on TV. Thinkin’ about.
You and me and you and me.
Sometime in the very early morning hours of September 11, 1988, the show was up, and all that remained was prepping the opening with food and beer for the evening. We lit the candles on the green-clad table beneath my sister’s portrait, one for each humour:
Green – Phlegm
Red – Blood
Black – Black Bile
Yellow – Yellow Bile
There are many resources on the significance of this belief system and the traces it’s left in our culture. It’s fascinating, and well worth reading up on. We’d selected it because our works all turned, we thought, on issues of faith and humor, in the sense of satires, pranks, and silliness. The humor of Raven and Coyote, of Punch and Harlequin.
Harlequin’s motley, no doubt, is colored red, black, green, and yellow. We made the works and hung the show with no sympathy for Pierrot and his bloodless, moonlit sorrow. Harlequin’s lustful joy was to carry the day and provide us, and our dear circle of friends, a tool with which we might pry the clutches of the Reaper away from my dearest beloved, my sister, myself, and chase Death beyond the fire with the light of the bright sun of Reason.
And so, sweaty, girded for battle, ready to bind our love to one another in the glory of our youth, we retired for the night.