A collection of published works.
Photography Copyright © 2016 by Alyssa Ahle
I always believed that if death knocked on my door, my life would flash before my eyes. But as I lie in the back of the ambulance, staring at the car headlights that light up the night, it doesn’t.
My eyes are closed now, it’s easier to deal with the pain that way. Opening them hurts. Moving hurts. I keep as still as possible, willing my body to stay motionless until I can’t feel it anymore. I still feel the pain, it’s not going anywhere, but I can’t feel my body. I can’t feel my heartbeat. I can’t feel my breath.
Pain can’t be ignored. Pain is a fact that cannot be disputed. I thought I’d be numb when death whispered in my ear, but it’s the opposite. My body is a magnet, attracting every ounce of pain in the world. Make. It. Stop.
I’m on the floor. I can’t stand up to let the ambulance workers and firefighters into the house. Please don’t break down the door. I roll my body to the side. I reach up with my right arm. I manage to turn the lock. I don’t know how they lift me, but one second my cheek is on the cool hardwood floor, the next I’m secured to an ambulance gurney. I use the last of my strength to ask them to turn off the air conditioner. I’m grateful that I managed to grab my phone and wallet. Someone lays them on my stomach. I see the phone screen light up with my mom’s caller ID. My voice can’t function. A firefighter answers the phone. He stands behind me; I can’t see him. He tells my parents that I’m alright. He reassures them that he’ll lock the front door for me. I try to imagine his face as he talks. He walks away before I can thank him.
It’s quiet in the back of the ambulance. I wonder how many people have died in it. It’s strange, I never thought I’d get to ride in the back of an ambulance at 23. I thought I’d be older. I’ve always wondered what it’d be like. I’ll never wonder again.
An ambulance worker asks me what my name is. “Alyssa,” I whisper. He’s sounds so calm; I can’t tell if he’s worried. I don’t know if I should be worried. I can’t tell.
“Alyssa,” he repeats back. He sounds young. “If I ever have a daughter, that’s what I’d always hoped to name her.”
Despite the situation, it’s nice to have someone acknowledge that my name is worth passing on to someone else. It’s comforting.
“My name’s Collin,” he tells me.
I can’t open my eyes to see what he looks like.
I’ve always questioned whether your life flashes before you when you fear you’re about to lose it. But no. I can’t access past memories. I don’t think about the past. I look to the future. Making new memories is all I can think about. I think about the movie night I’m having with friends and family this Friday. I think about the job I just started this week. I think about my parents. I think about all the moments of happiness I have yet to experience, the unknown path God has laid out for me. I want to live it. I want to experience the life I’m creating.
We reach the hospital; they wheel me in. I can see the fluorescent lights from beneath my eyelids. Collin asks for my medical insurance card. My wallet is still resting on my stomach. I move to reach for it, but I can’t. I can’t move. The only part of my body I can access is my right index finger. That’s it. To feel paralyzed. Helpless. That wasn’t on my agenda today. I move my finger; I flex it towards my wallet. Please understand what I’m saying. I can’t move. I wonder if he thinks I’m being dramatic on purpose. He picks up my wallet, opening it. He finds the card. They get me into a room. They understand now that I can’t move. It takes two men to lift me onto the bed. If I wasn’t in pain, I’d be mortified, but I don’t care. Pain has a way of making you forget superficial things, like your dignity.
I feel myself hit the hospital bed from far away. I sense the hospital staff crowding around me. The ambulance workers leave to make room for them. A thought flickers. I have to see what Collin looks like. I have to match an image to the voice. Please, I beg my body. Open an eyelid, just a crack. My left eye obeys. I catch a glimpse of red hair where Collin’s voice is, but I can’t make out his face. My vision doesn’t work. My eyelid slams shut. The quiet, dark silence of the ambulance is replaced by a wave of new voices. Doctors. Nurses. Their voices are urgent, anxious, worried. I’m frightened. I understand now what they must be seeing. A girl who feels herself slipping away. Bring me back, I plead. Bring me back.
Someone jabs a needle into my arm. Someone puts a hand behind my back and guides me forward. My insides empty into a bag they place over my mouth. I gasp for air. I feel my head set to explode. “You poor thing,” I hear a nurse say gently.
In the medical field, you have to be selective when tapping into your emotional reservoir. You’re exposed to all manner of pain, but you can’t let patients see you react. You have to maintain your composure for the next patient. And the next patient. And the next patient. Why in that moment did she allow herself to feel my pain? Why did she choose to make me feel acknowledged? Explain the reality of my situation with a single sentence? I can’t open my eyes. I can’t put a face to her kindness.
They pump medicine into my body. They hook machines to my chest, fingers, and back. They run tests. They talk in tones that diminish as my heart begins to beat in my ears. I hear it. My chest rises and falls. I feel it. I know I’ll survive this, but it’ll be a while before I can talk about it.
I write this years later, working through the experience, trying to pick out what matters most. When memories of the ordeal flood my chest with anxiety, I push back. I steer my mind away from the enticing void of despair. I focus on the individuals who helped me through the trial. The firefighters, ambulance workers, hospital staff, and the family friends who took me home from the hospital.
I doubt the strangers I encountered that night remember me, but I remember them. Their voices. Their gentleness. The light they offered in the midst of my painful darkness. Yet their faces remain a mystery. I’ll never know what they look like, but I’ll never forget how they made me feel. Perhaps, in hindsight, that’s all that really matters. How we, as individuals, have the power to make others feel heard, acknowledged, and safe. So now, whenever I recall the event, that’s what I choose to remember.
Copyright © 2020 by Alyssa Ahle