Why I had writer's block (or: Comas aren't for everyone)

I've been writing all my life, usually humorous stuff. If there's anything that writing has taught me, it's that writer's block can strike at any time for no good reason. In fact, I recently suffered a six-month bout of writer's block.

This time I think I have a pretty good excuse. I was in a coma.

I have to admit, my coma was a lot shorter than six months. Only six days, in fact — a mere blink compared to real top-of-the-line comas. It just took me six months to get a handle on it.

I came by my coma purely by luck. My appointment that Friday morning in early March was for a cardiac stent or two or three. I'd had them before, so I knew it would be, at worst, just an overnight stay for a strapping (if maturing) specimen such as myself.

This is where I draw a blank. I'm told things got complicated and I was hooked up to a pump. Doctors told me to hold still for three days. Sure. Imagine me holding still for three minutes. Someone offered me a KO cocktail enriched with propofol, the very same stuff that killed Michael Jackson. (Hey, if it's good enough for Michael Jackson...) They promised they'd wake me on Monday.

*****

I open my eyes. I don't know it yet, but it is Thursday, St. Patrick's Day. Full sleep, no dreams. Not happy, though. Not at all. Utter despair. Nothing is right. All is wrong — direction, balance, time. Can't move. Can't turn my eyes from the antiseptic art along the top of the wall. A smell hangs at my nose — vinyl glove, institutional soap, drywall. My senses compound my despair.

I seem to be fighting with intensive care unit staffers every once in a while. I have no clue if they are trying to tie me down or stab me with a six-inch needle or, worst of all, make me watch daytime TV, but I am certain I'm fighting for my life. I'm not quite sure, on the other hand, I am fighting my own species. Everybody's skin seems unnaturally smooth. Heads look inflated, like balloons with faces drawn on them. I wish I had a mirror but dread what I would see.

*****

Mid-afternoon. I'm feeling fairly normal for a guy who hasn't eaten in six days. People come and go, but no one I recognize, no one I trust. Now a woman with neat red hair and Kelly green sweater and friendly face with upturned nose and deep black eyes comes into my room and sits beside the bed. It occurs to me, just for a flash, that she's a leprechaun, too good to be real. I find her very attractive and, as any married man would, feel a little guilty for it.

"My name's Kent," I say.

"I'm Tina," she says.

"That's funny. My wife's name is Tina. Could you call my wife for me?"

"I am your wife."

At that instant, the sun breaks through my window and the birds lift their sweet spring voices and a warm breeze slips in and embraces us. It is a glorious St. Patrick's Day, not that I care a fig about saints.

*****

This would be a good place to stop, but the story doesn't end there. I still had four days of bloodletting and bland food to endure. Images of death and dancing skulls stalked me whenever I closed my eyes. I could hardly control or even move my muscles, so weak and alienated from my brain had they become. Even if I'd been able to walk, I was tethered to blinking boxes and computer screens and feeder tubes, a marionette of modern medicine. These four days after the coma — and, though I don't remember it, I'm sure the coma itself — left me haunted and depressed. Every time I talked about it, I nearly broke down in tears.

****

About a month after I was released from the hospital, I mentioned my intention to write about the experience to a friend. I told him it was hard to put some of the sensations into words.

"Don't worry," he said. "I'm sure you'll make it funny."

So for six months I've been trying to make this story funny. That's why I had writer's block. The story isn't about humor at all.

It's got irony, for sure. And there's definitely plenty of horror.

But mostly it's about a breeze through a window on a St. Patrick's afternoon.

Kent Spottswood worked for 20 years in New England newspapers. When not in a coma, he scouts the woods and libraries of eastern Connecticut for folklore, history and photographic opportunities.

About this series

Grace welcomes personal essays from our readers, 500-1000 words in length. We offer modest compensation for the entries we choose to publish. Email f.trafford@theday.com or call 860-701-4375 for more information. You can also look through the other essays under the "Life Stories" tab to get an idea of what we're looking for.

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