I looked like a starfish. Hovering inches above the pool floor. Not moving. Not breathing. My wife and friends pulled me out of the water and gave me CPR. I coughed up pool water and my pulse returned. An ambulance arrived at the house and rushed me to the hospital. I woke up four days later tethered to a hospital bed by all manner of devices measuring and supplying, a tube down my throat connected to a ventilator. It was all there to keep me alive. I have no memory of those four days and if that is what death is like, then death feels like nothing. You don’t exist. Nothing does.
How it began — we were swimming and it was 102 degrees that day. I remember that. I was tired, but the kids were still in the pool, and I didn’t want to miss out on spending time with them and friends. So, I went back in the water and laid on a float. That is the last moment I can recall.
In the hospital, I hallucinated from the medication. Demons in the bed, at my feet within the folds of the blanket. Faces of smoke emerging from the curtains. I’d close my eyes and it would be dolphins and other strange ocean creatures, bulbous heads twisting through the black water. These visions stay with you. Dolphins in smoke, afloat in shadows. It wasn’t frightening or comforting, just there.
I knew as I recovered and time passed this experience would fade, at least the harsh emotional thrust of it all would disperse into just a story. An event to recall at parties and barbecues to a chorus of, “Wow, that sucks.” I want to remember the feeling of the hospital and the recovery — the wash of my drug-soaked head and the unstoppable visions it gave me. My first thought was of artist Randy Ortiz and his charcoal drawings. His world of darkened places and figures was exactly what I lived in during my time in the ICU. I told Randy the story and asked if I could commission a piece from him based on my accident, my near-drowning. He delivered Caesura, a charcoal drawing of a dolphin exactly as I had seen it in the hospital.
I still don’t know if what I saw was based on being a collector of his work — an unconscious recall of his visions of darkness and near-death, or if Randy has a natural connection to the mid-world between life and death and what I experienced will be seen in moments of drug-fueled mental pause for all of us. What he delivered is uniquely his, but also a personal commentary of my own life at that moment, forever captured in charcoal — exactly as it was mid-float in my head.