Elijah nervously glanced at Vivian as he followed the nurse down the hospital corridor.
“I’m beginning to have reservations about this ECT,” he grumbled.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You’ll lie down and wake up feeling better than ever.”
“I’m dead. Why can’t you accept that?”
“Haven’t you ever prescribed an ECT for someone before? It’s helpful for depression, bipolar, and a whole host of disorders like Cotard’s.”
“How do you know this is going to help me? Who’s to say this won’t make me feel worse?”
“If you don’t trust in the procedure, trust in me. Will that be enough?”
Elijah was fully prepared to utter a final “no,” but the words never quite made it past the lump in his throat. Instead, they gnashed between his teeth and came out in a begrudging, “Yes. Maybe.”
“Perfect.”A faint jolt of adrenaline kicked in and Elijah felt like dashing. Yes, as they rounded the corner to the left, he could splinter free of his entourage, double back and make a run for the exit he spotted a few halls back—He jerked as Vivian’s hand touched his. He peered down at the tattoo-laden fingers entwined around his and looked up into the Red Widow’s eyes.
“It’s going to be okay.”
Elijah nodded, taking comfort in her touch.
“Well, yes, I know. Why wouldn’t it be? Did you think I was going to try to escape this ill-conceived attempt to fix me?”
“You wouldn’t make it very far.”
Elijah settled into the in-patient unit, where the first of several consent forms were awaiting him. He scrutinized the paperwork asking him to describe his pain and depression in intervals of smiling and frowning faces.
“Can you tell me which face best sums up your pain level?”Elijah’s eyebrows pinched inquisitively above his eyes.
“Do I look like the kind of person who sums up his pain level in clown faces? I’m a distinguished doctor!”
“Ah, well, that’s sweet, but right now I need you to tell me which of the clown faces relates to you.”
“I’ve given lectures about agoraphobia all over Southeast Asia! I’ve spoken at countless universities about the importance of intermittent explosive disorder and—”
“Just pick a face and we’ll be done with this.”
Elijah jabbed his finger at the most ferocious looking face.
“Okay, so your pain level is 10. Thank you, dear. Now I need you to hold onto this.” The nurse handed him a plastic cup and indicated the private bathroom.
“That’s not possible. I’ve told you, I don’t have liquids left in my body. That includes blood, urine, and—”
Quickly losing her patience, the nurse patted him on the shoulder and said, “That’s okay, I understand. Why don’t you take this cup into the bathroom and try to non-pee with your non-liquids?”
“I changed my mind. My pain level has suddenly shot off the chart! Where are those goddamned consent forms?”
“Sir, we cannot continue your procedure until we get a blood and urine sample from you.”
Vivian decisively stepped in between the nurse and Elijah’s imposing stance.
“Can you give me a moment with my boyfriend?”
Vivian guided Elijah into the bathroom and slammed the door shut. She sighed and regarded her stubborn companion.
“Boyfriend?” Elijah said. “I didn’t think you cared that much about me.”
“I don’t. But it was the only way I could join you in here. Take this.” Vivian practically thrust the cup in Elijah’s face. “Looks like you could use a little therapy of your own. Try to break down some of these beliefs about your body.”
“They aren’t beliefs, these are facts. Why don’t you pee in it for me? Yes, that’s an idea.”
“You’re a special kind of pervert, aren’t you?”
“No, no, no, that’s not what I meant. For the love of God, fine.” A few minutes later, a stony-faced Elijah emerged from the bathroom with a smug Vivian. He was ruefully silent as the nurse proceeded to check his blood pressure. Upon changing into shorts and hospital gown, an IV was threaded into his hand. His chest and forehead were swabbed with glue in preparation for applying the leads. These leads, metal nipples, and cables would soon channel a current into him that would rectify his mind and make him compatible with society once more.
Vivian’s throat dried as the nurse wheeled him away to the operating room. She scarcely had a chance to utter good-bye or leave him with a few parting words of comfort. Elijah felt absurdly naked without Vivian as he met the rest of the team in the operating ward.
“You might notice a funny smell just before you fall asleep,” the doctor said as Elijah laid down. “Many of the patients say it smells like a beach ball.” Elijah visited his share of beaches during his years as an expat in Thailand. He was fairly certain none of them smelled like the inside of an oxygen mask.
“Are you ready to go to the beach?” Elijah dipped his chin in the faintest of nods. With that acquiescing gesture, chemicals sluiced through the IV in his arm. The anesthesiologist held the oxygen mask near the side of his mouth. The first sensation of tunnel vision wasn’t immediately alarming. Whatever they were pumping in him felt like liquid ice flowing into his arm. Elijah tried to cling to a shred of consciousness despite the onslaught of anesthesia.
Stop. Please stop. Stop trying to save me. I’m not even alive.
He briefly opened one eye to look accusingly at the doctor and nurses surrounding him. It felt like a force in his head was holding him down, sitting on his chest. Making him suffocate.
The voice in his head whimpered to silence. Darkness descended.
Three words echoed in his head before the electric current was applied to his brain.
Damn. You. All.