Out of the blue one late-winter morning I collapse on my way to work. In the moments following I think it was merely a diabetic sugar crash -- just me pulling a very public Sunny Von Bulow. But in the ambulance, where I awake in agony -- in my fall I’ve dislocated and fractured my right shoulder -- the EMS hunks say it was more than just that. Turns out I’ve had a seizure, likely unrelated to having HIV or diabetes and, based on three EEGs, not indicative of epilepsy.
In the blind ecstasy of my seizure I flew into traffic on Eighth Avenue, and were it not for the random New York angels who prevent me from being run over and hold my head so that it doesn’t hit the pavement again, I would almost certainly be dead. My neurologist says he’s never seen such severe bruising in the brain except in people involved in car accidents. Indeed, he tells me -- as I wonder when my sense of smell might return, or my ability to taste -- that I am lucky not to be in a coma.
Lucky? My memory is hot. All of a sudden, this overly verbal queen stammers and searches for words, and I don’t even know what my sweet, funny and handsome new boyfriend smells like, as we met a mere nine days after the seizure. The boyfriend, my dearest Mer, assures me he smells fine, and of course he must. But oh how I yearn to know this particular definition of fine.
There are apparently well over 150 causes for random seizures. Three and a half weeks after this shattering event, on the very day that my father is going under the knife for a massive brain tumor, I have seizure No. 2 right in front of my office. This time I awake in the ER puking my guts out, in pain because of three broken ribs and renewed damage to my head. Through the mist I see Mer standing there, beyond worried. I say, between upchucks: “You look gorgeous.”
They keep me in the hospital for four days and I lose 13 pounds. The anti-seizure medication, Dilantin, is rougher than any of the seven antiretrovirals I’ve taken. Weeks later, I still cannot walk at my normal speed. I cannot get up, sit or lie down or move too quickly lest I get so dizzy I’ll fall. Suddenly, I truly have to rely on my friends as I never have before. And they have to see me -- the jester, the glamourpuss, the sparkling bon vivant -- reduced to a quivering, wasted old man with a hollow voice, little hope and vast bitterness. Not fun in the slightest.
But the miracle to come from all this is that in being forced to rely on my friends, I am given a gift unlike any I’ve ever received. These darlings call. They send endless bouquets or white roses. They come by the hospital. They listen. They pray. They do my laundry. They carry groceries up to my apartment. It has always been easier for me to cook for others, make them laugh, and tell them they are loved, than to let others do that for me.
And by my side through it all has been this charming and delightful surprise of a man, the first to introduce me as his boyfriend in well over 10 years. And no, I cannot know what scent he wears, but I’ve seen his dark mahogany-colored eyes filled with tears, first thing upon my waking in the hospital after the second seizure, and he was saying, “I love you, I love you.”