Why Painted Thumbs?

For a while after my second heart attack, I was in a medically-induced coma. After I was initially stabilized, my body was placed in a state of hypothermia to help preserve my organs. I was given a powerful paralytic to keep my body from shivering and shaking while hypothermic. I suffered respiratory distress and needed breathing assistance. Weeks of sedation went by.

When I first regained consciousness, I was dazed, confused and disoriented. I was constantly barraged with questions like “Do you know where you are?” or “Do you know how you got here?” Well, some of my initial memories for ending up in the hospital are very, very different from what actually happened.

PaintedThumbsI remember waking up in a dark room with flickering fluorescent lights and the criss-cross of ceiling tiles overhead. Everything looked grainy and was black and white like an old film. The very edges of my vision were dark and clouded. Every once in a while a face would appear from one of the dark edges, staring down at me. The ceiling tiles always stood out, white tiles in stark contrast to the black lines separating them. Everyone’s faces had white hospital masks over their mouths, but they all had large, dark eyes. They’d look back and forth among each other, hovering overhead, and were discussing something. I couldn’t be sure what it was, they kept mumbling, and I strained to focus and listen.

Invariably, my vision would darken and I would drift off. Only to regain consciousness in much the same manner. Ceiling tiles. Fuzzy vision. Strange masked faces. Then one time I woke up and there was a terrible pain in my lower back, running along each side of my spine. The masked people were buzzing around the room hurriedly. I saw masked nurses carrying silver trays and scalpels, and some dark lumpy mass being taken away from me and placed in a cooler.

The pain had helped me fight through the fog, and I was able to finally make out what they were saying. The masked doctors were panicking. One was arguing they should continue to operate and take my liver and pancreas while they had me opened up. The other was arguing that they had run out of time, people would start to get suspicious. He pointed down at my hands and told the other, “He’s got to be some sort of magician, or musician, or artist or something like that. Someone is going to know he’s missing and start asking questions.”

Apparently, the fact that my thumbnails were painted bright blue (which they were in real life) really had them worried. Surely only someone easily recognizable and quirky would paint their thumbnails like that. They were so worried about being caught that I was wheeled out of the room, and down a long corridor, watching rows and rows of ceiling tiles pass by.  After a series of metallic clicks, I felt myself being lifted up, and something loud slamming behind me. I was left in total darkness. I had just been hoisted up and thrown into the back of a van.

The next thing I remember was lying by the side of the road, the world back in Technicolor. I was in Arizona, lying on a patch of cracked, dry desert ground, looking up at a too-bright sun. Buzzards and vultures were circling overhead. I heard a screech, and an unfamiliar voice say, “Oh my god, honey – he’s bleeding! We have to get him to a hospital.”  I blacked out again, and the next time I regained consciousness, I was in the hospital, surrounded by strange people in masks, square ceiling tiles overhead. I initially panicked, but saw that everything was in color, and things weren’t as blurry and grainy as before.

When I was asked if I knew what happened or how I got there, I thought I had been kidnapped by kidney thieves during a business trip of some sort, and dumped by the side of the road in Arizona. Good Samaritans had stopped by to help me and took me to the hospital. As strange as that was, I’m not sure it’s any more unbelievable than what really happened to me.  But I still continue to paint my thumbnails.

Just in case.

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