Welcome to the first episode of my madness recollection series. I didn’t know it was the madness when it started, back in November 2016. I simply thought I was dying. I came from work one evening, late but not much later than usual. The family was hungry so I set to cook some dinner right away. Fillet steaks, to be specific, with fresh guacamole and some leaf salad. Maybe there were tomatoes as well. Easy enough but delicious if the meat is well aged and you don’t push it with the actual cooking.
A nice steak gets even nicer when you wash it down with some beer, of course, so I went to get one from the spare bathroom we use as a cold storage. And that’s when the perfectly normal evening turned rather surreal. The moment I bent down to grab a bottle sitting on the cool, dark tiles, something happened. Pain hit me in the back of my head like a lumbering steam locomotive. I got all dizzy. For a second I thought the surfboard I keep in the bathroom fell on me. But no, it was still propped against the wall in the corner by the toilet. As a matter of fact, nothing was moving at all. It was as if the whole world gagged and stopped.
I straightened up, scared to my bones. Eerie tickles radiated across half my scalp. My eyes hurt, vision all blurry. I started to breathe again, in rasps, shallow and laboured. I leaned on the door frame. My hands were shaking, slick and harsh at the same time, like covered in a mixture of fine sand and icy brine. There were strange sounds deep in my ears, tiny drumsticks about to break. It was my heart, pounding so hard I could feel the arteries in my neck bulging. I checked my pulse. It seemed like over two hundred but I couldn’t focus on counting.
Oh my, what is this? I thought. Nothing I’d experienced before, that much was sure. I’ve been working too much lately, I told myself. It would go away soon. But it didn’t. What could be happening to me? I kept wondering. And then it dawned on me. I was having a stroke.
The calm scientist in me smiled, absurdly relieved. Finally something I could work with, a clear problem to solve. Now, what was the checklist of stroke symptoms? I looked into the mirror and raised my arms. None of them seemed to be any slower or clumsier. Good. The face then. But it looked normal, only a bit panicky. No telltale slanting features. Okay, how about speech? I talked to myself, under my breath so that the family wouldn’t think I went crazy or something. My voice was trembling but normal otherwise. I heard no slurring.
Well, maybe it wasn’t a stroke then. But what was it? I still felt like everything was falling apart. Was I about to pass out? Or perhaps… away? The face in the mirror suddenly looked different, strangely similar to the silent scream in the famous painting featured above. Things started to fade.
My wife called just then. The dinner, of course. I forgot I’d set the steaks aside just a minute ago, to lock the juice in and melt some butter on the lightly charred crust. The mouthwatering smell from the kitchen all but chased away the stench of cold sweat and fear hanging about me.
I went to eat. I didn’t want to scare my wife and kid the way I was. It will get better, I thought, it must. I even managed to talk, the usual dinner chit-chat. In the end I forced the whole meal down as if nothing was happening at all. But all the while I was fighting the urge to run back to the bathroom and lock myself there, vomiting and shitting my gut empty.
Okay, that would be enough. I won’t bore you with the rest of that evening. Let’s just say what followed wasn’t a pleasant night. I kept waiting for the death that wasn’t coming. It was very annoying, and more than a little puzzling. Trying to figure it all out made me so tired that I eventually fell asleep, thinking I was never going to wake up.
But I did, which was even more confusing. Based on the available data, I arrived to a definitive conclusion that whatever had happened to me couldn’t have been a stroke. I wasn’t going to die just yet. It felt good. But I was also afraid I was missing an important fact or two. For no apparent reason, I was sure something was about to kill me some other way. And that didn’t feel so good. But in the end I postponed solving the peculiar puzzle of looming death for whenever it would seem more urgent. Which was the first in a long row of similarly stupid decisions I’ve made since then.
The way I see it now, I was right about something trying to kill me, but I also couldn’t have been more wrong. Back then, I imagined the body was the problem. I did hear of panic attacks, but never really thought those things could happen to me. I’d been such a happy-go-lucky guy after all. Yet that was about to change soon. Many more horrors were to follow after this stroke that was no stroke at all, and I will try to recall them all here. So stay tuned. If you have made it this far, you might appreciate what is to come despite everything.
The feature image is a low-resolution reproduction of The Scream painting by Edward Munch. It originally comes from Wikimedia Commons where more information on the painting, the reproduction and the sharing conditions can be found.