“Mister Lee, are you awake?”
The thick, long blue curtains are pulled back, and light slips into the tiny room.
It’s enough light. My eyes close reflexively, don’t adjust as fast as my ears have.
“Are you fully awake, Mister Lee?”
“I, well, yes, I think so.”
“You only think so? Then maybe you aren’t.”
I blink at the man staring down at me, I’m guessing. I can only see slight glints off his glasses. The rest of his face is in shadow, the light source behind his head.
“No, I am. I’m definitely awake.”
“Okay, then, can you tell me where you are?”
I have to stop and think about this. Where am I?
“I was having a great dream,” I say.
“Oh, then I’m sorry I woke you up.” Is there the sound of joking in his tone? I can’t quite tell. Is he truly sorry?
“Do you know where you are?” he asks again. I do sense a tone of impatience there.
“I’m at the endoscopy clinic,” I say.
“Very good. I have some good news for you and some not-so-good news. The good news is that I found nothing down your throat or in your stomach. The bad news is that in signing all of the paperwork before the procedure this morning, you missed one page.”
He pauses. Am I supposed to be guessing which one? I signed half a dozen or more. “Oh,” I say to prod him along. “Which one?”
“It’s the one that allows me to deal with any other situations that may arise while I’m conducting the procedure.”
I not a big worrier, but this worries me a little. “Did something arise?”
“Yes, unfortunately, something did, but as I was consulting with the others in the room regarding possible actions, the nurse who was looking through your paperwork pointed out that we could do nothing.”
“Okay, so what was the something that arose?”
“I’ve never seen this before,” he said, “But there are several spiders living in your lungs.”
This has me hitting the panic button. “Say what?”
“There are several spiders with webs in your lungs.”
“Oh my, God,” I say. “It’s because I quit smoking, isn’t it? My lungs haven’t been used for anything since I quit almost ten years ago. I knew I shouldn’t have quit smoking.”
His laugh turns maniacal.
“Wake up, Mister Lee.”
I come to in the waiting room of the endoscopy clinic. “What?”
“Are you all right?” the receptionist asks.
“I, I, I think so.”
“You dozed off,” she says. “You must have been having a bad dream.”
I survey the room. Everyone is staring at me. I wipe drool from my chin and the back of my forearm.
“Oh, sorry about that,” I say to her. I turn up the volume and address the other patients waiting. “Sorry about that, folks.”
The worry does not leave the faces of some of them. They fear, I can see, these procedures more than I do.
The door to the rooms in the back opens. A pleasant voice calls my name. I stand up and walk quickly through.
“And how are we this morning?” asks the 20-something nurse.
“We? Oh, we’re fine,” I say.
“Here you go,” she says, pulling back the thick blue curtain of the tiny cubicle. “Have a seat on the bed and we’ll get started with your prep.”
Between the me “we” and the her “we,” this room seems smaller and smaller. She gives me a black plastic bag for my clothes and personal items, and one of those gowns you tie in the back. T-Rexes would never be able to tie those ties.
“Get changed and push this button,” she says. “Then we can settle you in.”
After changing as quickly as I can, I struggle with the ties behind me. I manage to tie a bow in one pair, then push the button. There’s no sound I can tell of, but there must be some kind of bell or something somewhere. I sit on the bed and wait.
After a few minutes, I stand and go over to push the bell again. I sit. I wait.
This time I stand and slide the thick blue curtains open. All I can see are many, many blue-curtained cubicles up and down the hallway. No people anywhere.
“Hello?” I call out.
There is no response. I hit the button a few more times. Still no one.
I step out into the corridor and begin walking down the middle. It’s tempting to pull back one of the curtains, but who knows what might be going on behind them. After what seems like a long time, I find the door out to the reception area. I push it open.
The room is empty. No one’s around, not even the receptionists.
“Kim Jong-un,” I say aloud.
“Are you awake, Mister Lee?”
It’s a voice from far away.
I open my eyes as light floods into the tiny room.
“Ah, yes, I think so.”
“Great,” says my doctor. “People react differently to the anesthesia.”
“Yeah, man, I was having a horrible dream,” I say.
“Yes,” he says, “that happens. But all the news is good. I found nothing in your throat or stomach. The nurse will be in to get you up and going home.”
I thank him and have to wait only a few seconds before the nurse comes in.
“Here you go,” she says, handing me the black plastic bag with my clothes and personal effects. “You can change right here and come out when you’re done.” She draws the curtains behind her.
I change quickly, have to smile and shake my head over what my head can do to me. Stepping out into the hallway I see patients being shuffled about, doctors and nurses coming and going. It’s a relief to be back in the real world.
“I called your ride,” the nurse says. “He’ll be right up to get you.”
“Okay.” I settle into one of the reception area seats, then reach into my pocket for my phone. But I feel no phone.
I reach into my other pocket. No phone. I stand up and check my back pockets. No phone.
“Excuse me,” I say to one of the receptionists. “I think I left my phone in the back.”
“Oh, okay,” she says, “follow me.”
We head through the back door and I point out my cubicle. The nurse who helped me is coming out with the bed sheets. “Yes?” she says, spotting me.
“He thinks he left his phone in there,” says the receptionist.
The nurse’s brow crinkles. “I don’t think it’s there, but I’ll check.”
She heads back in and comes back out a moment later. “No, there’s no phone.”
“Where was my black plastic bag stored?” I ask.
“Over here in these lockers,” she says. “I think you were in number thirteen.”
The three of us go to the bank of lockers, and she opens 13. “No, it’s empty,” she says.
“We can let you know if we find it,” says the receptionist.
I follow her out, really panicking now in the real world. My phone. It’s become my other brain. I can’t function without it.
Dave is waiting for me. I guess he can see something’s up from the look on my face. “Anything wrong?” he asks.
“I think I lost my phone.”
Dave shakes his head. “Oh man, that’s not good.”
I shake my head too. “No, Dave, that isn’t good,” I snap.
He gives me a startled look. The receptionist, too. I feel instantly ashamed, of course. “Sorry, man,” I say to Dave. “I’ve been having one weird morning.”
“We’ll call you if we find it,” says the receptionist.
I’m quiet most of the way home. How could this day get any worse?
Dave drops me off, and I apologize again. I’m tired. I head in and go straight for my bedroom. Changing, I’m about to toss myself onto my bed when I see my phone plugged into its charging cable on my desk.
I call Dave right away, tell him the good news. Then I call the endoscopy clinic and let them know. It sounds like everyone there is cheering.
Flat on my back and not long for the land of the conscious, I have to smile. I close my eyes ready for a deep, decent sleep.
“Mister Lee, are you awake?”
It’s my doctor’s voice.
“Are you awake, Mister Lee?”
I don’t know if I am.