A hospital can be a frightening place.
When I boarded, right after Christmas, a plane bound for Asia, I had felt sick already for a couple of days. My resistance to sudden temperature shifts is quite low, and I caught the so-called common cold, yet another time. And here I was, coughing and sneezing, sleepless since three nights, queuing up to board an aging, dusty jumbo jet, booked down to the last seat, as always. I knew this wasn’t going to be a pleasant trip, but hoped somehow things would turn out well. It didn’t. The economy seat was narrow, and with the pressure changes I first lost the sounds and than my voice. Without voice I couldn’t make myself understood, and remained quite thirsty for the next twelve hours.
The stopover in Kuala Lumpur was a blessing, as it gave me a chance to get a few drinks and a bit of medicine. I felt better for a while. During the last flight to Borneo, however, I started to feel quite strange. My face had yellow-brown streaks. Something was wrong as I arrived in Miri, Sarawak around midnight. My trusted cabdriver, who was there to pick me up, told me: ‘you better go and see a doctor.’
That’s what I did. Arriving home, Maureen called our cab driver back. He drove us to the only large modern private clinic in town. The duty doctor, a young Indian with a mustache, looked tired. He stood up and asked me to follow him for a check-up.
‘This sounds very, very bad,’ he said, listening to his stethoscope. ‘Let’s make an X-ray right now.’ A sleepy lady radiologist guided me to the other side of the floor, and said: ‘take off your shirt, arms up, chin against the metal.’ Ten minutes later, the picture was ready. I had a look at my X-ray. It looked quite worrying, I must admit. It only confirmed the doctor’s view: my lungs looked thoroughly infected. Bad fluid had filled up already more than 60% of the available lung space.
‘We have to keep you here, and treat you for abnormal pneumonia,’ he said. One hour later I found myself in a hospital room, with the infusion bottle stripped to my right arm. I tried to sleep, but was prevented to do so by continuous coughing. Drop after drop of salty water formed at the infusion valve, and gave me a strange feeling that my life was dripping away, too. Eerie thoughts appeared, as my mind gradually fell into some kind of a parallel world. Songs of the sixties chanted in my ear drums, and strangely enough these were songs I never liked.
Whenever I closed my eyes for a moment, I delved into the realm of nightmares. There was nothing I could do about it. It was the same nightmare. I saw a naughty boy-spirit who tried to dig holes into my chest with a pike. It was an agressive, red-haired and pale-skinned little bastard, who really tried to ruin me. It felt like this spirit-entity wanted to take over this part of my body.
The nightmare repeated itself for so many times, that I became conscious about it. I gave the bad boy-spirit the name ‘Alph.’ I tried to chase him away, but I felt too week. The bloody bastard always came back. I was dead-tired, couldn’t sleep, and lacked the spiritual power to find back to my realm of inner peace . When the sun rose, the naughty Alph finally quit and disappeared.
The day consisted essentially of efforts to clean out my lungs by coughing and spitting, interrupted by several injections, checks and the occasional meal. I managed to discharge more than one pint of salty fluid from my hurting lungs. Being admitted to hospital meant a few restrictions and some adaptation. Suddenly, everything felt so strange, and normal life wasn’t just a few miles away, but seemed instead to belong to a different planet. Getting in to hospital depends on your medical insurance, and credit card. Getting out off it, and back to normal life, is a major struggle. I also had to learn to walk around with an iron rag plus infusion bottle, and to wash myself with the polyester hose at my arm.
When dusk fell I feared last night’s dreams might catch up with me. That’s when the velvet moth appeared. It was about 7 pm when I saw it first. It was huge, larger than the palm of my hand. It must have entered through the washroom window, and was fluttering around and above my head. At least it provided some form of entertainment. After a while, it sat down on the infusion bottle, and covered it almost entirely with its velvet wings. I observed the huge insect, and wondered about its beauty, and fragility. By doing so, it gave me comfort and I fell into sleep at last, for a couple of hours. No nightmares disturbed me and I woke up somewhat refreshed at 4 a.m. The moth was sitting on the same spot, and seemed to watch me. Green light shone in through the window, from the empty Petronas gas station under swaying palm trees, smoldering under a massive downpour of rain. Emerald light shone back from the moth’s velvet wings. Somehow I was happy about the animal's presence. I slept a little bit, until the morning light woke me up.
Finally, after breakfast, Maureen came over and brought me radio, camera, and a couple of books. I was so happy to see her. I showed her the moth, and we studied the animal together. Its velvet wings looked like hazel brown, with a large white stripe in the middle. On the belly it sported a pelt of fine white hair.
‘This moth was sent by my brother, the healer magician,’ she said. ‘It came to chase the evil spirits away from you. It will be your friend, your guardian. As long as this moth is around you, no bad spirit can get close to you.’
Indeed, the moth stayed with me for the next couple of days and nights, sitting on the infusion bottle, the oxygen tank, or on the curtain above my head. No nightmares bothered me any longer. Then, at last, I felt better and got released. With thankfulness I pondered the fact that I could return to a normal life after having straddled the borderlands of death.
After packing my stuff I had a look at the moth. I felt grateful to the large insect, my guardian-pet for a couple of days. When I located it behind a curtain, I realized that the animal was dying. It had fulfilled its journey, perhaps.
© 2006 by Franz L Kessler