By Melissa Williams

Midway through my second week in the ICU, I spiked a fever. My heart rate soared, and my chest felt like it might burst. Ice packs were placed under my neck, and when they thawed, I asked for more.  I sucked on cotton swabs frozen in a layer of ice, convinced in my delirium that they were popsicles, and asked for grape, lemon, and pineapple, certain I could taste their flavours. The blades of the fan, a foot away from my face, whipped a steady breeze of cool air over my eyes, encouraging them shut. My limbs jerked in painful shudders. My family came and went. We shared space in silence. 

Drawing blood had become more difficult, my veins impenetrable, collapsing with each prick of a needle, the lines clotting. After what felt like endless attempts, a vein in my foot cooperated, providing enough blood for a single vial, before it failed too. It was sent off to the lab. 

I’m not sure what came first, the fever or the news that the most recent MRI showed the inflammation in my spinal cord had intensified, antibodies infiltrating what life remained in my cervical spine, obstructing the few remaining open roads to my organs and lower limbs. 

The gadolinium enhancement agent injected during the MRI showed the inflammation had spread downward and outward, white matter where grey was supposed to be. It appeared as fluffy balls of cotton on the diagnostic screen, stretched and pulled in every direction, concealing the healthy, magnificent structure of the grey––the bearer of blood, oxygen, cell memory, voluntary movement, sensation, the carrier of neurons necessary for healthy, spontaneous, purposeful life. When my parents and husband heard the news, they huddled together and cried, then looked to me to see my reaction, to see if I had understood, to prepare to offer me comfort. Perhaps the lack of my own tears signalled I hadn’t comprehended the neurologist’s news.

But the fever subdued me, stripped me of emotion, sadness or even anger, of having any reaction about what was happening to my body. I closed my eyes and settled into the hum of the ventilator. The next twenty-four hours smudged together, an ashen blur of light and darkness, of day and night, of the comings and goings of my loved ones and the team of nurses by my bedside.

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