Guernica Magazine

Detonator

“Do you love her?” my wife said at some point. It was maybe three weeks after the surgery, and I was about to be discharged from the hospital. I was walking again, but needed a cane. The post Detonator appeared first on Guernica.
Detail of Robert Longo's UNTITLED, FROM THE SERIES "MEN IN THE CITIES," 1980. Charcoal and Graphite on Paper. 96 X 60 inches (243.8 X 121.9 centimeters). Copyright © 2019 Robert Longo.

The cross-eyed nurse in Cleopatra makeup was amused, and maybe scandalized, by the fact that I’d been admitted to the hospital with coital migraines. She was probably supposed to be impartial, but when she picked up my chart and read my diagnosis, I saw her shaking her head, trying not to laugh at me.

It was Halloween, and about a quarter of the people walking past my room in Harborview’s emergency department were in a costume of some kind. My IV drip included an anti-migraine medicine, which kept shoving me asleep. I’d struggle awake to see a werewolf in scrubs wander past, and then I’d be out again. Waking up yet again, it’d be that Filipina nurse in Cleopatra makeup checking my blood pressure, but I’d conk out before she finished.

The doctor—an affable surfer dude with one of those gag arrows through his head—saw me briefly, ordered various tests, and then left for many hours. When he finally returned, he said that my CT scan seemed to indicate that my brain wasn’t bleeding. A blood vessel in my brain had ballooned from the pressure, yes, but it was probably intact. This was the brain, so there’d be a lot of uncertainty, he said. The headaches were probably harmless; however I should try not to have orgasms for a while, just in case. He could order a spinal tap, he said, but they didn’t typically do that.

My mistress, a public health official who specialized in chronic pulmonary disease, asked the doctor what the “adverse event” would be if I didn’t have a spinal tap.

Apparently harshed by her awareness of medical jargon, he said, “Well, if his brain is bleeding and we don’t detect it, it’d be catastrophic.”

She leaned close to my face and said, “You’re getting a spinal tap, okay?”

I nodded. “Ouch,” I said. I felt like a child, because I was like a child.

“If you’ve got blood in your spinal fluid, you could die,” she said slowly. Her name was Leigh, and I had never loved someone as much as I loved her. She was exactly the person you’d want to accompany you to the hospital when your brain might be hemorrhaging.

“This is from having sex?” I said, dubious.

“No honey,” she said, “it’s from having sex with me.”

Before they’d sent me into the CT scan, someone observed that I was not entirely conscious, and that my next of kin hadn’t been notified of my whereabouts, so they called up my wife, just in case. They told her I’d had a “brain event,” and was undergoing tests. She came in, leaving her mother—who had come to town to support her during the divorce—with our daughter.

I was barely conscious when my wife arrived, but I was very aware that both my mistress and my wife were present. They had not met before. It was not an ideal scenario for introductions.

“What happened?” my wife said to Leigh.

“He experienced a sudden onset migraine and called his GP, who recommended he come here,” she said. That was, strictly speaking, true.

“This is for a headache?” My wife was not prepared to traffic in very much bullshit at the time, understandably enough. Of all the people you might betray, she was not an ideal candidate: lots of moral certainty, with sturdy towers of anger and outrage already in place before I’d begun my affair.

“They’re going to draw some fluid from his spine, and if it’s pink then he probably

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