Tuesday, August 07, 2012

who was he?

The lightening sky is fragile as old silk. It stretches above us, lustrous, silver-blue, backlighting the dark terraces and the cars. It’s about half past four and I’m feeling better. The night-shift sickness is easing, the grey sweat I draw in the early hours. I’m sure if you shone a light on me around three o’clock you’d see it happening beneath the skin, the blood cells jellying-up in the veins, the heart backfiring, the lungs two dusty yawn pumps. I work stupid and slow, a diver at depth, sucking pure helium whilst he stares at the bolt in his hand.

A street lamp switches off just as we pull into the road, like I blinked and made it happen. It disorients me for a second, but then I carry on looking for the number. In the end the house we want is easy to spot, a police car parked outside.

‘I don’t know if you know the story or not,’ says the police woman, waiting in the hallway. ‘Charlie woke up around three and found his wife Vera missing and the front door open. He called us, we did a quick recce of the area and found her in her nightdress about four streets away, crouching behind a van. She wasn’t distressed or anything – in fact, it was really weird. It was like the most natural thing in the world for her to be out and about in the early hours barefoot in her nightdress. Anyway, we brought her home, warmed her up and called you guys. There just through here in the sitting room. The daughter’s here with them. She only lives down the road.’

We follow her into the sitting room.

‘Hello! Hello! It’s the ambulance!’ I say, overly brightly, like a party entertainer. I nod at Charlie, a frail old man of eighty, hugging his knees through his dressing gown, rocking backwards and forwards and sucking his teeth; his daughter Suzie, jangling a bunch of keys, and Vera, her long grey hair wild about her shoulders. She is sitting on the edge of her armchair, cradling a mug of tea and looking around with the kind of benign confusion you might see on someone who woke up to find themselves on stage.
‘So – Vera? What’s been going on this morning? I’ve heard a little bit from the police. It’s all a bit strange isn’t it? How are you feeling?’
‘I feel fine, absolutely fine. I can’t explain it. It’s just one of those things. When I woke up there was a strange man in the room and I didn’t like it so I had to get out. I didn’t have time to put anything on, so I just went.’
‘A strange man?’
‘I’ve never seen him before. But I didn’t like him and I just had to go.’
‘Has this happened before?’
I look across at her husband and he shakes his head.
‘This is what I don’t understand,’ he says. ‘It’s completely out of character.’
I look back to Vera, quietly sipping her tea.
‘Do you mind if we check you over?’
She puts the mug aside.
‘Honestly, I feel fine,’ she says.
‘No pain anywhere? Headaches, blurred vision, dizziness?’
‘Nothing at all.’
‘Shortness of breath? Sick? Anything unusual at all?’
‘I was a bit shivery, you know, but I expect that’s because I’ve been running around in my nightie.’
‘I expect so.’
Whilst Rae runs through the observations, I take some notes. Vera is as old as her husband but the two of them enjoy perfect health. Nothing in her past medical history, nothing recently.
‘Have you noticed any discomfort going to the toilet just lately? When you pass water, for instance? Does it sting?’
‘No. And I’m very good about drinking, aren’t I, Charlie?’
He nods, and bites his lip anxiously.
‘What do you think it could be? he says.
‘I don’t know. It’s all very odd. Have you ever had any lucid dreams before, Vera? Sleep-walking? That sort of thing?’
She shakes her head.
‘I’m a good sleeper,’ she says. ‘I can drop off anywhere.’
‘She could sleep on a rope,’ says Charlie. ‘Me - I’m hopeless’
‘Is it all right if we stand down now, guys? says the police woman. ‘I don’t think there’s much more we can add.’
‘Thank you so much for what you did,’ says Suzie, getting up to show them out.
‘Our pleasure,’ says the police woman. ‘I’m glad it had a happy ending. Night all.’
Charlie shakes her hand, then looks back at me.
‘What do you think?’ he says.
‘I don’t know. The strange thing is all your observations are completely normal, Vera. It could be the start of a urinary tract infection. They’ve been known to make you a bit confused sometimes. Or maybe it was some form of mini-stroke. I’ve not heard of that particular symptom, but you never know. From our point of view, the safest thing would be to take you down the hospital for a check-up and maybe a blood test...’
‘I’m not going to hospital,’ says Vera. ‘Absolutely out of the question.’
‘She’s got a fear of hospitals,’ says Charlie.
‘Okay. Well – I suppose it’s not so far off that your surgery will be open. At the very least you’re going to need a chat to your doctor, to see what they have to say. How about that?’
She nods and picks up her tea again.
‘And don’t forget – the slightest thing happening between then and now – anything out of the ordinary, anything that you’re worried about – call us back. Okay?’
I finish writing the paperwork.
‘Any questions?’
Vera studies me for a moment, then Charlie, and finally Suzie, who's come back to stand in the doorway.
‘Well, just one,’ she says at last. ‘Who was he?’


~BB~ said...

Oh - you can't stop there! Who was who?? Was that the reason she was outside wandering around? Very curious indeed!

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey BB
Yep - it was curious. Almost as if I dreamed it (which wouldn't surprise me, given the extent of my dreaminess at that time of the morning). But Vera had experienced a hallucination, for whatever reason. Some kind of infection maybe, but none of her obs supported that. Sometimes it's an imbalance of medications that does it, but she was hardly on any! It could've been sleepwalking, but that's unlikely, given the persistence of the hallucination (even though she was perfectly rational, she still thought the stranger in the room had been real). They were a lovely family, though. A horrible shock for all of them.
Sorry it's a bit of a frustrating story, BB.
Thanks v much for the comment :)

Sabine said...

But what if... there really was someone in the room? Could she not have surprised an intruder?
But then again, my granny once saw the bogey man. She "really" did and she was not someone you wouldn't believe, no way.
Thanks for another good story, Spence!

jacksofbuxton said...

Mrs Jack has often complained about a strange wierdo in her bedroom.

I'm used to being called that now though.

Spence Kennedy said...

Sabine - Of course that is another explanation! And that would be enough to drive you mad in itself - everyone thinking you were mad. It's all beginning to sound like an episode from a murder mystery or something.

Did your granny describe the bogey man? I love that name. I'm guessing green, maybe...?

Jacks - Poor Mrs J. How often does she have to run down the street, then?

Eileen said...

There are two options - one is a TGA, a transient global amnesia but that is less likely than the other which is characterised by this strange aspect of going out into public inappropriately clad. Now I may be suffering from one or other - because although I remember all about the phenomenon I'm darned if I can remember the name of it. I'm not claiming I dx'd it myself - another blog talked about it several months ago - I think it was one of the US ER blogs. Now it will drive me mad until I remember what it was ;-)

Daniel Rutter said...

Yes, this sounds like a hypnopompic (coming out of sleep) hallucination, and those can indeed happen for no obvious reason. The brain just fails to change gears properly between dream-state and awake-state - frankly, I find it surprising that this happens so SELDOM - so you can be in the real world but with the same disorders of perception and thought that are normal in dreams. You see someone who isn't there (or you see your husband and think he's a stranger), and the obvious solution is to wander out of the house in your nightie; if that were a dream, it'd be quite unremarkable.

Oh, and there are also people who seriously think that they DO have the power to make street lights turn off as they pass!

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Eileen.
I must admit I'd not heard of TGA before. Another acronym to try and remember!
I've just Google it, though, I'm not sure it really does apply in this case. Vera had good recall of the events - she knew she'd been out in the street and she could describe everything that happened. It was just that she'd had that hallucination, and had responded to it in a bizarre way. The other thing was that she wasn't agitated at all.

If you remember what the other syndrome was, let me know!

Hey Daniel
Well I just Googled that one, as well! I'd heard of hypnogogic states before, but the hypnopompic description was a new one one. Either way it's a fascinating phenomenon. Our eldest daughter went through a phase of night terrors when she was five or six, and they sound as if they might be related to the same thing. It was quite terrifying - for her and us. On the face of it she'd be awake, but she'd be responding to things in the room that were'nt there, having strange conversations.
It would've been very interesting to see the results of the GP's consultation with Vera, and whether there was some kind of underlying infection. That still gets my vote, but it's just a guess.

Thanks very much for your comments!

Eileen said...

No, I didn't think the TGA bit quite fitted, people with that behave normally in certain situations (driving a familiar route and other similar activites) but there is no short-term memory, longer than a few minutes usually. Lasts a few hours usually and then sort of back to normal suddenly but with retrograde memory loss which is patchy, improves over time but always a chunk stays missing.
However - Spence, remember it, you may get called to one!

Spence Kennedy said...

Cheers E. I've added it to my collection of differential diagnoses; will let you know if I ever come across it!

Unknown said...

You know what, whether it was just a realistic dream, a hallucination, a urinary tract infection, a ghost, or an intruder...I agree with Vera. I want to know who he was also?

Someone should be able to come up with an entertaining answer. An interesting tale for sure or a good creative writing project, at the least.

Spence Kennedy said...

You're right, N - v intriguing. It would def make a good story. I find the whole idea of hallucinations fascinating and scary in equal measure!

Blogging to Bless said...

Ack! Creepy! Reading this at 9 o'clock at night and husband not home. Guess I will just have to keep reading all of your other entries until the eerie feeling leaves me.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi B2B! Hope I didn't creep you out too much. I know what you mean, though - it's a bit too much like a ghost story for my liking! :/