A bottle of champagne beckoned to me from my bedroom. Drinking with a dislocated jaw required some creativity, but I'd spent years honing my skills on that front. There were plenty of times when my hands shook so badly that I couldn't pour a drink into a glass, so I would create elaborate braces and levers out of plywood, golf bags, bicycle wheels and whatever else happened to be lying around in the garage. Countless nights at three or four in the morning, I would lie on my back trembling on the cold concrete floor and pour champagne into my mouth from some stabilizing contraption I'd devised. This time I simply had to sit on the floor and angle my head just right. Swallowing was painful, but that was O.K. Two liters did the trick. The shaking stopped, and I was ready to face my family.
Something wasn't right, though. My body wasn't rebounding the way it usually did from these kinds of episodes. Sure, there was pain, but I'd grown accustomed to pain. This was something different, like something bubbling up inside me. Bobby noticed it first.
"Laura, something's wrong with your head," he said.
"Now what?" I said. When I reached up and felt my scalp, I knew he was right. My head was expanding like a water balloon. Within minutes I had discolored welts popping up all over my body. I looked like some morphing monster from one of the cartoons the kids liked to watch. Then the blood came.
At first I thought I'd simply reopened a wound or that I'd cut myself somewhere without realizing it. Then I noticed that blood was gushing from my nose and mouth. Mom and Bobby got some towels, but we couldn't stop the flow. Blood started oozing from my ears and from the corners of my eyes. It was everywhere, coming faster than we could mop it up. I had blood all over my face, my hands, dripping down my chin and onto my chest. I was bleeding from beneath my fingernails. Within an hour of my release from Sand Lake, we were on our way back to the hospital again, only this time I hadn't walked into anything and hadn't blacked out. This time I was bleeding everywhere, and I had no idea why.
This time, I was afraid.
It's commonly called "bleeding out" by people in the medical profession. Bleeding out is horrifying. Blood flows from every conceivable place, including your toenails, fingernails and eyes. It signals a major internal eruption. Victims of the Ebola virus bleed out as their organs are consumed by the disease. Some end-stage AIDS patients bleed out, but even that is rare. Most bleedouts are alcoholics suffering from malnutrition and cirrhosis. Almost all of them die.
Back at Sand Lake Hospital, I passed straight through the admissions desk and was carted to a bed. A crowd of emergency room doctors and nurses began poking and prodding and mopping up blood. There was a critical tone in the air as various tests were ordered and corresponding results came back. No one would tell me exactly what was wrong. I was leaking like a spigot all over the bed, the floor and on every piece of equipment that came my way. They strapped me to the bed—standard procedure for detoxification under what they considered "dangerous" circumstances.
After they stopped the bleeding, I was moved to intensive care. I could tell from the no-nonsense expressions and clipped chatter that this wasn't an ordinary run-of-the mill detox. The swelling had increased in my head and in my back. My hands looked like inflatable gloves, and dried blood was caked over most of my body.
"I need to see my personal physician," I told one of the nurses.