Losing February

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By Chip Grimshaw

I am prone to losing things. I have misplaced keys, files, articles of clothing, and some would argue my mind at times. But hands down, the biggest and strangest thing I have lost was the month of February 2001.

At the beginning of 2001, things were going pretty well for me. Yes, I was disappointed by the fact astronauts had not discovered a monolith on the Moon, but I think that was the case for pretty much everyone. But instead of a space station and a deranged sentient computer, I had a pretty good life. I lived in a better than average apartment within walking distance of a better than average bar, housed alongside a better than average convenience store. I had some good friends from high school living across the hall from me and my roommate was a good friend from college. I had a good paying job doing tech support for an ISP and was about a week away from getting full benefits. My love life was practically nil, but I was out every weekend as a crewmember for Rocky Horror. On top of that, I was out every Wednesday for the local Goth night (even though I couldn't really see myself getting into that subculture, no matter how much I enjoyed girls in fishnets). 

Come February, I pretty much had everything worked out.  Or at least as much as you can have worked nearing the age of 24.

I was convinced that I was this close to wearing down the Friend Zone barrier with a girl I was hanging out with, and my birthday was rapidly approaching. I was a bit disappointed when I found out most of my college friends would not be able to make the party I had planned, but that was okay. I'd be visiting them soon enough, I knew.

Now, if I could just get over this niggling chest cold, I'd be golden.

As we age, everyone has fading bits of memory.  But the entire month of February is just flashes for me, many of which are put together by stories told to me after the fact. Yes, even the previous narrative is mostly compiled from vague memories and shared anecdotes. Of course, I did spend five days of that month in a coma, so excuses for not quite remembering everything can be made, I suppose.

The coma, you see, was the result of getting bacterial meningitis, a disease that keeps on giving. It's the reason why I lost February as well as my hearing. The way it went was almost elegant in its simplicity: my birthday was Monday, and the party was going to be Saturday. Wednesday, a college friend came into town to join us for Goth night. Thursday, I called off work due to the aforementioned cold.  Friday, more of the same. Saturday, my friend and roommate found me unconscious on the floor of my bedroom and called 911.  Off to the hospital I went.

I was comatose for five days total, making that Monday a front-runner for Lamest Birthday Ever. On the plus side, all of the people who weren't planning on coming to my party ended up seeing me anyway, though truth be told, I'd rather they didn't have to.

A scientific aside, courtesy of Wikipedia: "Meningitis is inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges. The inflammation may be caused by infection with viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms, and less commonly by certain drugs. Meningitis can be life-threatening because of the inflammation's proximity to the brain and spinal cord; therefore, the condition is classified as a medical emergency."  There are a few different types of bacterial meningitis, but I got the hardcore type, which indicated to my doctors I had a 50/50 chance to live. 

As stands the infection and subsequent fever destroyed my auditory nerves. When I finally woke up, my ears didn't. Again, this isn't one of those things I actually remember. In my little flashes of time at the hospital, I always knew I was deaf, but I have no recollection of being diagnosed or told.  As much as I’d hoped for some kind of super power compensation like Daredevil or Echo, all I got in the months and years after that coma was spotty memory and less fine motor control.  And about half-a-dozen flashes of recollection:

*FLASH* Waking up, seeing it was 3:00, and wondering why nobody was around. I got into my wheelchair and moved out towards the common room, surprised to find the hospital halls so empty. Turned out it was 3 AM, not PM like I’d thought, but the nurses were very patient in explaining.

*FLASH* Getting my hair cut as my dog watched; my parents had brought her to visit. One more time I was wheeled out somewhere, not quite sure what the destination would be, until we got to a hospital room with a barber's chair in it.  Maddie, my dog, sat to the side.  My parents held her leash.

*FLASH* Sitting in the common room with some friends, playing euchre. I knew they were my friends, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember their names.

*FLASH* Loading up Bionic Commando on a Game Boy Color, feeling rather old school, and not knowing I was about four months away from becoming a cyborg myself, once they installed the cochlear implant.

*FLASH* Being loaded up onto a bus.  I hadn’t been released yet, but I was part of a trip to the nearby Kroger. I'm not sure if this was a "time off for good behavior" trip, but I know I was getting a wee bit stir crazy.

Five days in a coma and various infections to my joints had made walking a difficult process, and one I was still relearning. I was, however, developing some decent upper body strength. I'm not sure what the entire point of this Kroger trip was, but I wasn't about to complain. It was a hop, skip, and a jump (so to speak) from the hospital to the store, so a few minutes after riding the little bus elevator that raised and lowered my wheelchair I was on my way inside. I had never really been in this particular Kroger, but there's a certain universal layout to them. So I started moving towards the magazines section. I was a bit surprised to find a decent number of comic books next to issues of Entertainment Weekly and Oprah. 

I still knew my X-Men stuff, and still picked up a few things on occasion, but at this point in life most of my comic reading fell under the category of “Anything With The Vertigo Imprint On It.” Suffice it to say, there weren't any issues of Transmetropolitan in the magazine rack. But there was Cyclops staring out at the world, more pissed off than usual. Maybe my frustration in what was going on and my lack of day-to-day control found something in that cover. Or maybe it was a feeling of solidarity with a character who also had a sense-related disability, even if his did come with a greater benefit. But three bucks later that issue came back with me, to my home away from home.

Storywise, there wasn't much I caught on to. It was the end of a long run dealing with Apocalypse, and the references to past events went right over my head. But it was a comic, and that made it a small taste of normality. I may not have been able to shower without help during that month, or get most of anywhere unless someone pushed me, but there I was again, comic in hand.  Bit by bit, I started to feel like me again.

It's been more than 12 years since I lost that February. I had to quit the tech support job, as phones and me don’t get along any more. And I had to stop DJing for Rocky Horror (for obvious reasons). I moved out of that apartment and back in with my parents for a few years.

I drive past that hospital nearly every day now, because I live in the area. I rarely talk to the people I lived with before, nor do I frequent that bar or convenience store. (The latter mostly due to not smoking anymore; it seems 5 days of being unconscious will just flush the nicotine right out of your system.)

On the comics side of things, Cyclops is now even more pissed off than he was when I read that issue. But I, on the other hand, am starting to find a lot more peace in life. Would I prefer to hear things? Sure. Do I wish for super powers? Who doesn't? But I've found a new life, a new house, a new bar, new friends, a new job and new hobbies. And as a whole, I think I like the ones I have now a lot more than the ones I had before. And I am very glad to have the chance to have them in the first place.

Chip Grimshaw inadvertently discovered a way to quit smoking, but doesn't really recommend it to anyone as it also made him quit hearing.