I remember when I was four years old and I almost died. It is the earliest clear recollection from my life. There are earlier memories – fuzzy, incomplete images. Like the first day we moved into the new house. I remember a sunny day, getting out of the car, skipping along a dirt road, in part excitement, and part apprehension, as I approached the house. I remember loving my Dad so much that I would cry when he would leave for work. There was the day that I followed him to work. I didn’t make it very far. Some stranger found this little boy walking all alone on the road. They took me back home. I guess it wasn’t too hard to figure out where I lived.
I didn’t go to the crèche that day because I was sick. I had a cold. I used to get colds all the time. Actually, as an adult, I’ve been accused of being sickly. I bristle at these suggestions since I view myself as a strong, healthy man. I mean, I take care of myself. I get regular exercise. I try to eat right. But I digress. The truth is I’ve gotten a lot of colds over the years!
My mother would touch my forehead. “Ooh you are hot!” she would exclaim. “Let me see your eyes!” She would pull one of my lower eyelids downward and examine closely. In a disapproving tone, she would announce her diagnosis: “You are anemic! This is because you don’t eat your vegetables! Now get dressed so I can take you to see Sister Mary.”
Sister Mary was the nurse who worked at the clinic located at the college where my mother taught. With my mother hovering behind, Sister Mary would perform her examination. She would take my temperature and poke my chest with her stethoscope. I had been through the drill many times. At the end, she would prescribe two bottles of medicine. One tasted awful. The other was horribly thick and sickly sweet. I loved the sweet medicine. Which gets back to how I almost died.
My mother brought me back home. She changed me into my pajamas. Then she gave me my first dose. With the maid standing by, she left strict instructions: “I want him to stay in bed all day. Give him his medicine after lunch and again at four o’clock.” She placed the two bottles on her dresser and left for work.
Now I don’t remember what happened at lunch. My mother’s instructions were probably followed: I probably slept and had lunch, and then got my medicine. But I do remember waiting in great anticipation for my next dose. I don’t know how I was able to tell it was four because surely I couldn’t tell time. But somehow I knew, jumped out of bed, and ran to the maid. “Its time for my medicine!” I suppose it is possible that this sequence had been repeated every fifteen minutes since lunch.
The maid looked at me, looked at the clock and in a resigned manner said: “Well, go take it!” Armed with a teaspoon, I ran to my parent’s bedroom. There on the dresser were the two bottles. I knew which bottle had the good stuff. I certainly wasn’t going to touch the awful medicine if no one was going to make me! The sweet medicine was just inside my reach. I eyed it for a moment, only hesitating to contemplate a child’s logic: “If I take all of it now, I’ll get better faster!” Tossing the spoon aside, I grabbed the bottle, removed the cap and chugged it in four or five quick gulps. Ah, that was good! I hope Mama will be proud of me for being such a smart boy and remembering to take my medicine!
I remember there was a commotion. I remember my mother yelling. I guess she had just discovered the empty bottle. Then she was in my room. Demanding to know why I drank all the medicine. What could I have been thinking? But then, the room was spinning. Round and round and round. My mother was also spinning. As my world began to fade, I could still hear her yelling. I remember waking up in a very strange place in a strange bed. It was the children’s ward of the hospital.
I’ve later found out that the overdose had caused my kidneys to stop functioning. By the time my mother came home, my body was convulsing in seizures. I wasn’t responsive. My mother denies that she yelled at me. Why would she blame a little boy who didn’t know any better? Besides, she says, I was already unconscious by the time she got home. There’s no way I’d be able to recall anything that happened.
Yet I do remember.
©1999 Hugh Molotsi