And then I woke. To jostling. To voices. To a sterile, white light. To a variety of things plugged into my body. To cables and tubes leading to and from various machines. Even in my alcohol-induced stupor, I knew this was a hospital bed. Haha, I thought, it happened again.
My head hurt. I tried to sit up, but lacked the strength. I felt unbelievably groggy. The ceiling above me seemed to spin slowly about the light fixture in its centre. My unfocussed eyes searched the room for someone to answer my questions, like last time, but there wasn’t anyone around. At the lower edge of my vision, however, I could see an analogue clock. I could only just make out the hands.
Oh no. My stomach twinged in fear. Just to make sure of the time, I looked out the window. Sure enough, the sun was just beginning to rise. It was the morning of D-Day. With great difficulty, I dragged myself into a sitting position. A passing nurse spotted my efforts and offered a hand.
‘Is there anything I can help you with, sir?’ she asked.
‘My Life Clock: what does it say?’
The nurse hummed, taking my wrist in her hand. ‘A touch over 09:00. It’ll ease off as the alcohol leaves your system.’
‘No it won’t.’ The nurse gave me a questioning look, so I reiterated. ‘It won’t.’
‘Sir, it’s normal to display a high value after engaging in risky behaviours. Your reading will fall if you just relax and keep your fluids up. If you need something, just press the buzzer and let someone know, okay?’ She finished up with a professional smile.
‘You don’t understand,’ I insisted. ‘I’ve been charting my readings. They keep increasing. In a few minutes time it’s gonna pass 12:00. Do you know what that means?’
‘Please sir, you have nothing to worry about. Other than last night, your history is completely normal.’
‘Would you just listen to me?’ I couldn’t help raising my voice as panic began to set in. The nurse flinched, taken aback. ‘I don’t know why, but the database isn’t getting my readings. You can talk to my specialist, he has photographic evidence—’
‘Sir, I need you to calm down, now,’ the nurse said, firmly. I could see her ready herself to press the buzzer in case I did something rash.
I felt my stomach twinge again. Please, no. I forced my arm up towards my face to check the digits on my wrist. They were nearer to 10:00 than 09:00 now. I knew it.
‘Just look!’ I demanded, thrusting my arm towards the rattled nurse. Warily, she checked my Life Clock a second time and furrowed her brow. Even as she watched, the value ticked upwards.
‘That’s weird…’ she muttered. Into a wrist-mounted pager, she added, ‘Hi, Doctor Stevens? Could you come back to Room 1143? I’ve got some strange Life Clock readings on the patient here. Thank you.’
Then she turned back towards me. Eyed my body up and down. Checked the charts affixed to my bedside. Examined the drip, electrocardiogram, and other devices connected to me. Reviewed my medical history. Looked at my Life Clock once again. Each time she acted, the frown on her face grew sharper.
‘Nurse Davey?’ inquired a voice from the doorway. It must have been the doctor she paged.
‘Doctor. The patient’s Life Clock value suddenly started increasing. I can’t identify the source of the disturbance; the patient is stable in every sense of the word.’
Doctor Stevens frowned as well, and took his own turn examining me. Hesitantly, the nurse spoke up again. ‘There’s one more thing, Doctor… the patient here said something about predicting his value would start increasing just after sunrise. He said it wouldn’t stop until it hit 12:00.’
‘No, a calculation,’ I responded. When questioned, I explained about my graph. In the back of my mind, I noticed my speech had become unusually fast-paced and terse.
‘And the value has increased this much in only a few minutes…’ the Doctor mused, hand on his chin. He said something else as well, but, strangely, I couldn’t hear him.
My eyes lost focus again. Ugh, so frustrating. I began to feel light-headed as well. Soon after, I felt a pressure building on my chest as if someone was sitting on it. The sensation was bizarre. And suffocating. It became a Herculean effort just to breathe. My sluggish thoughts vaguely became aware of a commotion forming in the room around me. Were I less incapacitated, I might have noticed that three other nurses and another doctor had entered the room and were readying themselves for action.
With all the strength I could muster, I forced my head forward to catch a glimpse of my wrist. The effort made my head pound like it had been struck by an anvil. With my eyes as unfocussed as they were, it was hard to make out the digits on my wrist. But when I did, I felt an immense chill run through my body. Was this what people felt when someone walked over their grave? I blinked heavily—once—twice—and looked again. The numbers were higher still.
Each second stretched out into infinity, and so did my vision. Space warped before my eyes, forming a never ending tunnel whose sides grew increasingly black. The only light was in the ever-increasing distance, shrinking with every passing moment. If that was the supposed light at the end of the tunnel, then how was I supposed to reach it? I had no chance of catching up. I’d just be stuck forever in this sightless, soundless, pointless void; all alone and with no escape.
My blood grew still. It really is happening, huh?
My lungs emptied of all their breath. This is the end.
11:56, 57, 58.
My brain ceased to fire neurons. Fine, then.
My spirit grew unnaturally calm. Nothing left but to accept it.
The electrocardiogram blared a constant tone, indicating my heart rate had flat lined. Were one connected, an electroencephalogram would have indicated the same of my brain activity. Doctors and nurses around me stood stunned, purposeless. They traded sympathetic glances in sequence. They had done all they could and still failed. An air of lamentation weighed heavily in the room. ‘It’s never easy to lose a patient,’ one of them said to another. All they could do now was move on to the next task. The doctors and surgeons would attend some other patient; the nurses would wash, redress and clear my cadaver. The process was kind of robotic, but it had to be; to be in the profession of saving lives meant death had no place among them. I had no place among them.
My body tingled, pins and needles firing from my extremities inward. All of my muscles tensed up, clenching as tight as can be, then relaxing so much that it hurt. Air hitched in my throat, causing me to cough with a hoarse rasp. The light in the room stung my eyes and the beep of the ECG pounded in my ears. The flurry of activity from the hospital staff was an onslaught of stimuli that assaulted my body all at once; a complete sensory overload. For a fraction of a second, I wished I had died. But I hadn’t.
12:01. Not 00:01. That’s what the digits on my wrist said. It was preposterous to think about; it was like saying something was 110% complete. And yet, there it was: I had somehow beaten the system. As my senses returned to their normal function, I finally began to perceive the doctors and nurses that were at my side. They were stunned, but unlike before this wasn’t from a sense of loss; it was pure, unabashed surprise, perplexedness and relief. Time seemed to stand still even as the clock on the wall ticked over into afternoon. Then the tension broke, and each one started checking and rechecking me and all the equipment I was attached to. I complied with their every request out of instinct, the words themselves not reaching my brain. I was too busy thinking about something more important: I was alive.