Does It Remember?

This evening, at a relatively “normal” time, I found myself contemplating going to bed. Now, what’s unique about this, is not that I contemplated going to bed, but rather that both my body, and my usually troublesome mind, seemed to be in agreement – that it was bed time. I capitalized on this chance at slumber by heading into my room, changed into my comfy sweats, and collapsed onto my mattress. After a couple of deep and relaxing breaths, my heavy eyes, and tired bones drifted away. That was until my eyes shot open as if to be spring loaded. I managed to accumulate an astounding 45-minutes of uninterrupted and blissful rest. In case it does not translate well via text, I am saying this rather disparagingly…


However, still feeling the weighted fog of fatigue, I rolled over and found another welcoming section of my mattress, and once again felt my eyelids melt into one another, I was sleeping once more. That was of course, until I wasn’t… and that was about 25-minutes later… This is a cycle that repeated itself with my stubborn English and Irish pride until I begrudgingly conceded to defeat, and rolled my now aching body from the bed. My footsteps slammed their way into the living room, and I free-fell onto the couch. The swoosh of frustrated air that followed the thud of my body let me know that this was going to be a long night… another long night…


It was made somewhat less burdensome by the fact that my brother, who lives across the country, was online and up for a chat. We bantered back and forth as we usually do, vying for opportunities to speak our minds and make points about the world. Essentially, each time we speak, we have basically sorted out the world’s problems, and each time we speak again, there are new or lingering ones to discuss. This interaction helped me feel a little less lonely and bitter about being awake while late into the night after my failed attempt at normality and rest.


When the conversation drew its way to a close, I found myself fighting from introducing just one more topic. A topic that festooned the forefront of my mind with agonizing perplexity. A topic that I am still entrenched in: do our bodies have the capacity to remember? I mean, I know our mind’s do, but, what about our bodies, do they remember things too? I think the short answer is, yes, yes, of course they do. But as most things are with me, or with PTSD, it’s a little more complicated than that.


As he was saying goodnight to me, I felt the words of this question rest atop the tip of my tongue, only to remain there and stand aside so as to allow for “goodnight brother” to release instead. He was now gone. All that remained was an unanswered query, and the kindling of rumination that fueled its potency. Do our bodies have memory?


You see, what I did not mention earlier, about my troubles sleeping, was that not only were my eyes in defiance to my intentions at rest, but my body seemed to be having flashbacks of its own. Even though I was not dreaming, my body was…


As a paramedic, or any first responder I would imagine, we are grabbed a lot, and for a multitude of different reasons. Sometimes it is for someone seeking compassion or empathy. Other times it can be because they are simply too weak to do something on their own, and they need you in order to accomplish an otherwise menial task. There are times though, that it is neither of those things. They are instead vengeful grasps of anger, or spiteful attempts at causing harm. My hands, forearms, shoulders and legs, have felt the full range of all these different clutches. As I write this, I can still feel the clammy grasp that woke me, on my forearm. My-left-forearm, if I’m being precise…


It was the grasp of an old man. He has been dead for some time now. I met him when he was still alive but, as many things we experience on the road, it was to be short lived. The old man was at home enjoying his breakfast when his loving wife, a woman well into her latter years as well, noticed that something just wasn’t right about her husband’s disposition. She said he was acting ‘peculiar’ and ‘strange’, this prompted her to pick up their phone, and dial 911.


When we arrived on scene, the old man was still seated at the kitchen table, his jam coated toast sat in front of him, only a single bite missing from one of its corners. His arms hung lazily to his sides, and his head, although wobbly, followed us as we neared him. It was obvious by glance alone that something was not right about this old man, we’ll call him Bob, for stories sake. Bob was indeed acting peculiar and strange, Bob was having a stroke. Right in front of our eyes, Bob’s brain was betraying him. The right side of his face was losing muscle tone and tightness with an alarming rate, I mean you could almost watch its iniquitous progression.


My partner and I acted quickly in getting on the radio and letting dispatch know that we needed to go to a stroke centre, while simultaneously attempting to sooth and calm both Bob and his loving wife. His wife, the old lady, stood just off to the left and just in-behind Bob, her grey, age riddled hands raised up to her mouth, with worry. I wanted to say or do something more but sadly, she was last with regards to sequence of priority now.


I was in the back of the ambulance with Bob, his wife was in the front with my partner, who was attempting to navigate around the mindless droves of ignorant or, oblivious commuters, while keeping thought of me and Bob in the back. I was readying the IV line when all of a sudden, I felt the cool clasp of an old, arthritic hand, wrap its skeletal bones around my forearm. It was Bob, he was using the arm he still had control over, to reach out for me in an attempt at getting my attention. By this time, Bob was unable to speak, not even moan his way through a sentence. He could groan, sure, but it was unrecognizable nor coherent. Although Bob was unable to speak, I knew in an instant what he wanted – comfort. He was scared. I know that seems obvious to most and perhaps presumptuous to others, but if you have ever looked into the face of someone who is dying, or near death, or in a life-altering state, fear is the most recognizable feature to recognize, even if their face isn’t working right…


I knew that I did not have time to sit down and ‘hand-hold’ Bob, there was a lot of other things I needed to get done before arriving at the hospital. So, in lieu of being able to provide Bob with what he was so desperately seeking, I did my best to work with one hand, so as to allow his grasp to remain, and spoke aloud on everything I was doing as I was doing it.


We would get to hospital and hand over care. I would assist Bob’s wife into the secure seating area, and let her know someone would be out to speak with her just as soon as they could. Bob would die several hours later. I know this because I went to check on his status with the unit nurse.


I never told my partner. I just went down to the truck after handing in the paper-work from another call, climbed into the passenger side of the ambulance, hit the clear button on the centre screen of our MDT, and went on to the next one…


Later that night, something else that I never mentioned to my wife of the time, was that while I was sitting in the bath, soaking my aching knees that are much older than I am, was that I could feel on my arm, where Bob had been grabbing at me. I could still feel where he wanted comfort. I still can…


So, does the body have memory? Well, if you ask my arm, the answer is unequivocally yes! If you ask me, then my answer to you is this: yes. To me, there are not many things that don’t house memory in my life right now…


I guess the reason I wanted to pose the answer to a question that I already knew the answer to, to my brother was so that I could hear him say ‘yes’ and maybe, just maybe, even if just for a fleeting moment, not feel so fucked up by it all. But I am fucked up. I am fucked by it all, and I suppose, just like Bob, my brain is to blame…


Cheers folks.

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