“In the Blink of an Eye” by Peter Coghlan – Sample chapter
Six o’clock in the afternoon, 21st March 2011. Another summer’s day in Perth. Another barbecue with family and friends. Me and my stepfather Ted on the terrace downing a couple of ciders, talking, laughing, enjoying a smoke, then me a bit tired, feeling fuzzy, going for a nap….
Awake confused and agitated, slurring my words, remembering the fuzziness earlier in the day, the temporary blindness when my eyes went fuzzy with stars: “Think I’ve had a stroke.” Everyone sitting by the bar – Jade, Dave, Ted, Sean, Julia, my sister Vicky – are really concerned, trying to get me walking, to walk a straight line down the garden. Then comes the vomiting and my mind starts whizzing – but, hey, it’s cool, it’s cool: “I’ll be okay, just a piece of toast and a cup of tea, I’ll be okay,” hoping it’ll pass over me like it did before, but my words are slurring badly, the old ticker’s racing and Jade and Vicky are on the internet, seeing what’s wrong….”Better get you to hospital!” says Jade, trying not to sound worried. “Just in case.”
Now things really kick off! I’m in the car and it’s dicing down the freeway and all I see is lights, lights, flashing lights, and Jade is saying “Stay with me! Stay with me, Pete!” Dave’s driving, foot on the floor, holding me upright in the front while Jade tries to steady me from the back, holding my shoulders while I’m throwing up all over the place, and she’s pleading, “Stay with me! Stay with me!” Racing, racing down the freeway, over a ton, 150 kilometres per hour but it’s too late, I’m losing it, going limp, and Jade’s still yelling, but louder now: “Stay with me, Pete! We’re nearly there! Stay with me!”
Jondaloop Hospital – Emergency Department
We’ve stopped now, at the hospital. I’m being pulled out of the car, then I imagine that two big blokes are lifting me up, talking about what’s happened, “It’s genetics, mate,” and suddenly they disappear and I’m being wheeled along a corridor, must be hospital, but just don’t know anymore, don’t know anything anymore….God please help me!
Sitting upright in a chair in a big open room with a needle stuck in my arm. Lungs bursting, fighting for breathe, retching, puking, heart going nineteen to the dozen with loud, heavy, ominous thuds. Helpless, lifeless, witless with fear. “He’s not had anything!” cries Jade, frustration and sheer panic rising in her voice. Three times they ask, wasting time and oxygen; three times she answers; “He’s not had ANYthing!” Wish I HAD taken something, then at least I’d know what’s wrong, but no one ends up this bad after two halves of cider. Jade’s been given a form to fill in while my sister Vicky starts banging on the window, frantically yelling for a doctor. Nurse walks off, people passing by, ignoring me. Maybe they’re embarrassed because now I’m going into spasm, arms twisting in ways they were never meant to go, shaking like an egg-whisk on full speed. Maybe I’m not here at all; maybe it’s just a bad dream – yes, that’s it, that must be why I’m slipping into the blackness…..
Sir Charles Gardener – Intensive Care Unit
Vicky really kicked off – so, no doubt realising I’ve not got DTs or OD-ed on ecstasy, the doctors finally arrive, but now I’m shuddering, shaking so violently the only thing they can do is put me into a coma.
Weird place, coma. Dark room filled with smoke, me on a bed, helpless, limp and my head feels so, so heavy, I can’t lift it from the pillow, not even a millimetre. Jade, Mum, Vicky and Maria, they’re here but, hey, something’s not right. THEY’RE not right, not looking at me, expressionless, soundless, weird. A voice telling them to join in – some kind of ‘entertainment’ it says. Middle of the room, an enormous ottoman-type sofa, bright blue and circular and the voice is now telling the girls to take their clothes off…..What? Here? Funny kind of hospital, this. Can’t believe what I’m hearing, can’t bear what I’m seeing….is this really happening? Now blokes, loads of them, all standing round, waiting for their turn with the girls on the ottoman, and me – karate brown belt and ju-jitsu enthusiast, ex-soldier – just lying here not able to move, not able to make them stop! Wanting to shout, scream out loud yet powerless to speak, crying inside with pain because these zombies are having an orgy, pleasuring themselves with women I care about, and one of them is Jade…..
Jade. The one. The only. I knew it from the first. Tumbling, dark-brown hair, a smile to split your heart open, a smile to put the sun to shame – that’s if you ever saw the sun in Derbyshire. Move over Mills & Boon.
Trying not to look. Trying to blot it out. It’s not real, can’t be real, I know my Jade! Suddenly the girls have gone and I’m in this purple room, some kind of brothel, with 8 other people and it’s my turn to be a slave, to lie back and take it. I’m desperate to get out, but I just can’t move, my head is so very, very heavy…
Vaguely, I’m aware of my friend Dan d’ Silver arriving while I’m still in ICU. He’s come straight from the airport to see me but they won’t let him in. “Carry me out of here, Dan! Please, please get me out of here!” But they won’t let him in! I’m a prisoner! What I need’s distraction, yes, to take myself away, far away from tubes and hospitals and doctors and the rancid stench of vomit and fear. Back to reality, back to the familiar, back to the known…..If only I could lift my head off the pillow.
Just like the cobbler’s children with holes in their shoes, being the son of a copper was no guarantee of good behaviour. From the moment I burst into the world on the 5th July 1977, sucking in huge lungfuls of oxygen to fuel my ear-piercing shrieks for attention, I’ve been a bit of a tearaway. Actually, I’ve been a lot of a tearaway, so much so, it’s a wonder I didn’t end up in jail – can’t even make the usual excuse of a miserable childhood, having never been bullied, abandoned or abused in any way.
On the contrary, I was given the best upbringing ever by my loving parents Phil Coghlan, a policeman, and his wife Anne, a qualified nurse, in the pleasant rurals of Stockport, near Manchester. My childhood was idyllic with sunshine holidays, family celebrations and all the usual mischief small boys get up to. When I was 4 years old, our family was increased by a new arrival, Victoria, my little sister and the closest family member I’ve ever had.
Vicky and I grew up not just as siblings but as real friends, sharing each other’s problems and secrets; you know, the ones no teenage kid ever wants parents to find out about. But Vicky and I – we were close – I felt it was my duty and privilege to protect her for the whole of our lives.
I wasn’t perfect, of course. Especially at school where, as far as I was concerned, reading and writing were the pits! I couldn’t wait to leave the education system and get into the big, wide world to do all the things I enjoyed, such as sport. As soon as I was tall enough to stare Stallone in the kneecap, I took up martial arts, graduating seamlessly through the coloured belt system with surprisingly little bruising in the process. My first love was Shotokan Karate, a very demanding form of self-defence, calling for intense discipline and high levels of physical fitness. Even then, I wasn’t satisfied. After achieving my brown belt, I took up yet another challenge – Jiu-jitsu, which I stuck at for three to four years.
In common with most teenage lads, girls were never far from my mind and me and my two closest pals, Dan Hodson and Matt Storey, made a formidable trio, sneaking the odd pint of beer and tarting ourselves up for nights spent chatting up the local talent. All in all, we didn’t do a bad job of it either, considering none of us were what you’d call street-wise, having never ventured far from our rural village surroundings.
I seem to be in some kind of hell and there’s something really, really disturbing going on. I’m being raped, at least I think I am – but no, no, it’s just an enema, a tube full of water, and it’s being pumped into my rear until I foul myself while Dad and Vicky are watching, laughing at me and pointing at the mess. Of course, it isn’t really happening, they’re not here, not really, only in my mind. Reality is Auntie May, shaking her head with a pained, sad look on her face: “Such a shame, so young, so young.” But then, she can’t see those other people, strange people with no bodies, just massive heads on sticks. Seriously! Human heads on plastic lollipop sticks. They terrify me! Far nicer are the miniature men, two of them, barely three inches tall in tiny black suits and matching blue shirts. I don’t mind them. I think they may be brothers, two kindly little souls who tuck me in, wipe my brow and pull my covers up around my neck to keep me warm. Daft, maybe, but in this half-lit, nightmare world, I’ll take any comfort I can get – however small. Wish I was a kid again, a cheeky kid running wild…
Me and my mates were bound to get into trouble some day. Only with us it was every day, especially in the summer. On one of our treks through the bracken strewn hills and rich green forests of Derbyshire’s High Peak we came across a caravan. You know the sort – dumped in the corner of a field, exterior moulded over green, with windows blackened with age? But for young kids like us, this was a real find, a den, our own special hideaway.
“Best clean it up a bit first,” suggested Carl. Carl Farrell, whose Dad was also a policeman, was a local lad I hung out with occasionally. He was particular like that. So we got started, me with a ragged old hankie, Carl blowing the dust off surfaces and choking himself in the process, although neither of us tackled the cobwebs; that’s ‘cos we were both terrified of spiders but too macho to admit it. Then I had a brilliant idea.
“Let’s try this,” I suggested eagerly.
Rooting through my backpack I eventually found what I was looking for – a full can of Easy Start and a box of matches, packed away for just such an occasion. This was a stunt I’d been dying to try, ever since seeing it in a James Bond movie. After shaking the can vigorously, I lit a match with one hand and with my other hand pressed the spray button on the Easy Start can. Hey Presto! The moisture burst into flames, which in turn ignited the cobwebs along with all their resident creepy-crawlies. Unfortunately, they ignited the curtains too.
“Ooops!” I said, looking sheepishly at Carl, and paused to consider the effects.
“Know what I think?” Carl nodded understandingly – I’d swear the lad was psychic but come to think of it, there was only one thing TO do.
”GET-OUT-OF-HERE!” I yelled, and we hurled ourselves out of the caravan, now engulfed in flames, and managed to sprint a few yards distance before the whole vehicle morphed into an enormous fireball. Had we any sense, we’d have legged it there and then before the fire engines arrived, but were so fascinated by our home-made inferno, didn’t think to run until the farmer grabbed us each by the ear….
It won’t move. My head won’t move. It’s like a massive demolition ball, a dead weight dropped from a great height, smashed into the pillow where it now slumps helplessly, too heavy to move. I try to raise it, even an inch, but no. It won’t budge. Nothing will budge. The only thing moving in my body is saliva, drools of it, dribbling freely down my chin, my neck, my sheets, everywhere, litres and litres and litres of the stuff….
The caravan escapade cost me a packet – a year’s pocket-money in compensation…plus I had to help out at the farm to make amends! Make the punishment fit the crime, my Dad always said, but it didn’t put me off. Some folk never learn do they? My next trick was more ambitious – setting fire to a whole row of ‘House for Sale’ signs, an act of vandalism everyone blamed on turf wars between rival estate agents, a mythical feud which many locals believe in to this day.
On another occasion, I almost combusted my best friend, Dan, by placing lighted tapers between his fingers as he lay unconscious in a barn after a particularly heavy acid session. No malice intended, of course. Thanks to his sense of humour and amazing tolerance, our friendship has remained inflammable. Looking back, this not-so-latent pyromania no doubt influenced my decision to live in Australia – all those Barbecues!
Jade’s here. Not sure how, not sure when, just know she’s here. But that’s Jade, always with me, from the beginning. And she knows that I’m here too. Bends over to whisper in my ear, voice kind and gentle: “Pete? Can you hear me? If you can hear me, blink.” And I blink. Afraid she’ll think it’s just a natural tic, I blink again, harder this time, hard as I can. That’s done the trick, now Jade knows I can hear, she can talk to me and I can answer her! Thank God! I’m not alone anymore! Jade’s with me, stepping in, sharing the nightmare.
My Dad never knew the half of it! When I wasn’t blowing up caravans, me and Carl were crawling through sewage pipes underground, exploring empty buildings, whatever mischief we could find that we had a fair chance of getting away with. In all honesty, I was verging on criminal at times, like when stealing chocolate from the local newsagents. This was a regular practice until being caught red-handed with the ‘loot’ – over 200 Mars Bars in one summer! Don’t ask me why, as I never ate them, maybe it was just to irritate my Dad, being the rebellious little so’n’so I was!
Head still heavy, still glued to the pillow by my own mucus and spit dripping remorselessly from my ever-drooling mouth. My mouth and jaw seem to sag to one side, drooped in a permanent downward sneer.
Whether it was coincidental or a subconscious act of rebellion, I can’t say, but when Dad was with the Drug Squad for a spell, I rolled home delirious after eating magic mushrooms, freshly picked from Disley Golf Course. One of their effects was to dilate my pupils, turning my eyes coal black, giving me a demonised look which I tried to blame on beer. Of course there was the usual lecture but, as usual, I wasn’t listening. All I could see was Dad creating trails of technicolour rainbows as he waved his hands about and me enjoying the light show while he ranted and raved. Boy, he was mad that night! I must have been nuts but, back then, a mushroom tea and the strains of Black Sabbath on a Saturday afternoon were my idea of heaven!
Getting arrested, of course, was purely a matter of time. Yet, when it did happen, it wasn’t for arson but for mooning at staff at a MacDonald’s take-away! Police officers on duty were not amused, even less so on learning my father was a cop. “You should know better then, shouldn’t you?” was their only retort, refusing to make any allowances for my family connections as they bunged me and my mates into a squad car.
Locked-in for the very first time.
(For further information: http://jacybrean.blogspot.com/2013/07/locked-in-syndrome-brain-stem-stroke.html)
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