- “No, no! It’s not over! I want to live and keep playing music, painting, being myself. Do you hear me, folks?”
Since I arrived in the ER, the white coats had been talking by my side and taken no precaution. I heard everything.
I found about my second stroke I’ve just had and my cerebral bleeding causing a hemiplegia. I didn’t know what they meant exactly. The neurologist didn’t know my case: he found out on the MRI. It wasn’t my first stroke. My sudden tiredness in Angoulême was already a stroke!
My blood pressure had always been particularly high since my teenage years. It has made my veins thicker ad some of my arteries have become more fragile over the years at different places. Doctors found new white patches in my brain and my kidneys and some in-progress aneurysms which had to be cured. Actually, I was living in fatal danger for years!
In the MRI machine scanning my brain, like in a sarcophage, I could not still talk. But I did know my prayers had been heard. I had the impression to be lucid. My brain couldn’t communicate with the outside world but was totally clear. It was so close to death – according to the inventory of the neurologists – and it brought me to my first 3 years of life and to mysteries surrounded them.
Chaumont? Langres? Was it the name which incessantly came into my mind? Or was it a barracks yard in front of me? This huge area where men in rows made exercices? I was like a lost, wandering runaway person. The truth of everything happening in my mind was quick. I wanted to seize it. But it ran away from me. No! Once again, I was not dead. But my life was only hung by a thread. I was sure. As if since noon, I was slipping on the floor towards the abyss and I could not see the end. I hung on. Like a cat on a window, I showed my claws but I kept on falling.
My body let go for good. My heart beat so hard and so fast my chest hurt. I was gonna to blow up, to turn into a shapeless flesh. I was convinced my soul freed from my body. However, I had the impression to float as lightly as a feather. Weird feelings: my body was giving up, my mind was rising as if it turned away, far from the disaster and the piece of life I couldn’t even define. It was like a flame on an ember, ready to light off. I heard scream:
“ Good Lord, allow me to continue my life on Earth a little more!” A curious lucidity told me this prayer had no sense. God’s will was supreme. For a Christian, death is not an end but a passing through Life.
After the MRI, the scans and other exams, several doctors proceeded in my “inventory”. They listed all my disabilities, especially right-side paralysis without any precaution. I couln’t either react or answer but I listened to them. At the last moment, I mad few signs, tiny “Yes and No”, move my head. I felt by my left side numerous very strong nurses were lifting my foot, my body and put me on white support stockings… like dancer socks!
How much time had been spending? A few minutes? A couple of hours? I didn’t know. Nevertheless, I was sure I won’t die this time again! The ordeal was rough but I knew I’ld go through this one as I had done before.
Hypertention is the cause of my strokes. I have become aware of that this chronic sickness was a legacy from my biological parents like my neurovegetative excesses and malfunctions. But who were they? Did I even know them one day?
Until now, I had never looked for “my origins”. I didn’t want to hurt or upset my dear adoptive parents, Denise and Claude Hilger, and their close friend, my dear god mother, Michelle Pocholle, called “Manet”. Each time I had wanted to talk about the question, the there of them answered me sadly:
“But Michel, we are your true family! You’re not in a foster home!”
They were very upset. And it is so true. I DO love them so much! They have done everything for me: to “rebuilt” me when I arrived in their home when I was three. However, I sometimes feel like a person no one understand, someone with no biological link with the people who had created me. When I would be able to do research, I’d do it. I own it for my four boys and my future descendants!
I want to stop my childish reactions, my panic crisis when I’m watching some movies, which let other people completely indifferent. I have to erase what prevents me from fully living “the present”. Banning everything which pollutes my life and indirectly my family life.
Since I was adopted, I has been sure of one thing: I’m the child of a great love which turned tragic. Why do I think that? I can’t tell. Today, I have the proof “Number 2206666” has been torn from terror in his first years and has been taken care of by the French Army. Unbelievable! The Army entrusted me to the Social Services from 1967 to 1969. But why? Where was I before? Since April 28th, 1966? I only have some vague memories haunting my nightmares. My flashbacks assurely explains my insomnia. What about this small truck driving through the night? I’m I and unknown people are surrounding and hiding me. AN awful smell of burnt oil is coming from the open tarp. I’m terrified, anxious.
Florence came out of my room. I was still in the ICU. All day, machines monitored my body and revealed my state thanks to blinking lights. I heard non-stop bips, I was not able to talk but I Knew I was not going to die. This conviction filled my mind while I was sinking in a deep sleep… due to the doctors probably. I was so restless by moment the medical staff tied me to the bed bars. I was given on injections of drugs. The doctors even proceeded in a spinal tab I had no memory of. I stayed tied to my bed three days and three nights.
When I regained consciousness, Florence was there. She smiled at me and held my hand. Feeing her fingers made me feel myself again, in the world which was mine since my second stroke. The stroke of inativity, sickness, dependence on the others. I was still on the Earth but cut into two! I saw so badly. I tried to raise an arm towards my wife. But my arm was heavy and unsensitive on my sheet. Big time was arrived. I couldn’t talk too much. Florence told me everything was gonna be alright. She stood up, took her hand off from mine and went to the door. When she went by the nurse urging her to leave the room for me not to be too tired, she turned to me one last time. I saw tears in her eyes. I could never forget this brighting look.
For Florence, for my boys, I had to get back on my feet and thumb the nose at sickness. It was an ordeal – a little heavier than the others – but I’ll win. My names chosen by my parents were “Michel” like the archangel and “Vincent”. Both were symbols of “victory”, didn’t they?
Door closed. I flet lost for a moment. I was conscious of my deep distress, the efforts waiting for me. But letting go would be to disavow my faith.
Several days later, I was every now and then waking up, screaming, terrifying by the Devil. I had mystical hallucinations. I felt snakes sliding on me. Little by little, I came to my senses again. I talked with the medical staff spending days and nights by my side.
Thanks to these people, I learnt something very curious: the nurses who were there when I was half in a coma or very fitful told me I never kept on hallucinating, singing, talking of the Virgin Mary, God and sometimes in language one of them recognized as Hebrew or Yiddish.
Or would it be “glossolalia”?
This episode only enhanced my absolute certainty, hidden deep inside me that I was “Slav” from Jewish origins. Since I had been nominated as a violinist to the “Israeli Consistory of Paris” at 19 (right after I met Olivier Messiaen in Paris Opera with Maurice Benhamou during a rehearsal where I was a part in creating the “Saint François D’Assise Oratorio”), I witnessed how fast I got accustomed to the rites and especially the so particular and typical styles of Jewish music. I was told that when I arrived at my parents’ home at 3, I talked an inexplicable language. Was it Polish? “An impossible language”. My Grand Pa, Robert, used to say. Anyway, it was very difficult to understand me and I spoke a very bad French.
After 5 days, I was settled in another single medicalized room. It was cool. My room had a huge window. So I could see the sky, the life. Finally, I followed with my eyes the clouds running in the blue sky. The night, I saw the stars or the moon.
I was finally able to talk with Florence. I put her mind at ease when she came to see me at the end of the day after she had worked all day in La Defense. However, my pain was always so intense. I still had headache and my flesh was irradiated by pricks. My heart hurt badly. I thought of my parents, my brother Benoit, my godson, Paul a lot. I was so surprised they didn’t come to visit me! I’ll learn later Florence refused them to come in order me not to be too tired. Mom came even so. She didn’t stay for long but she stroked my hand. I also thought of all my students, my colleagues, my choristers and my societies. “Don’t worry, I’ll be home soon!”.
People talked about me, about sending me to a specialized institution for hemiplegic people or road casualties. I didn’t like this idea. Like an hare chasing by hunters, I always came back to my lair. I couldn’t wait to go back home, find my music and my pencils, go back to my usual life I have built.
I convinced myself I was feeling better and better every day despite my persistent pain. But I will get out this with a lot of damage. All the left side of my body didn’t obey me anymore! A thought was obsessing me: “How will I be able to hold a bow? How will I play the piano or the organ at church?” All these questions worried me. I didn’t tell anyone, especially not Florence who hid her own anxiety. She knew me and feared I didn’t accept my disabilities. “Be sure, Florence, I’m not gonna sink into depression. I’m gonna fight tirelessly. Finally, I have found an enemy who is as large as my will. And I’ll fight back.”
After five days, one of the neurologists who took care of me at first, came into my room. I recognized his voice and his footsteps, his way of opening the door vividly. The nurses and all the medical staff were with him. He was not completely a tyrant. His authority was spontaneous despite his young age. He spoke a few and only told the most important.
He came closer to the window, turned round and told me:
“You make a spectacular recovery. According to me, you’re a miracle man! And I’m not used to using these words!”
Did he talk to me like that because he he had been told I spoke Hebraic crazily?
“Your right side insensibility is real. You might not be like you were before. You’ll be able to make some progress but you have to forget about playing music. I’m sorry.”
I protested, I showed my whole energy. The doctor was stunned. But he remained stone-faced surrounding by nurses and two interns.
“Your right arm and fingers won’t be as mobile as before. Your nervous system is affected. Obviously, it’s non-reversible.”
I sighed. He estimated my confusion. He added with an accommodating-like voice:
“You’ll still be a music theory teacher!”
I retorted quickly:
“Beethoven was deaf and he composed awesome music! Gaston Litaize was blind! This great organist and instructor, who was a family friend and a friend of Dad, often thanked God for having given him his disability.”
“Yes, but they are not paralyzed!”
He only wanted me to have big disillusions. If only he knew how he made me suffer. Nevertheless, he was right. I knew it. Even if I didn’t understand that way:
“I’ll be a professional musician, an instrumentalist, a “Violin-Painter” again! I’m sure!”
He glanced at me. He was cautious, skeptical. He was used to seeing sick people who were so happy to be alive they were not demanding about their future activities. So he told ma:
“You’re going to be moved to a center where you’ll do physiotherapy. You’ll be able to find some sensations. But don’t delude yourself.”
I sharply answered:
“No way! I want to go home. My rehabilitee, it’s my business. I don’t need anyone!”
He seemed to take his assistants as witnesses. It was the first time in his career he met someone like me. He knew hemiplegic people were weakened, their will was often affected. But my will was undamaged, as hars as steel. HE told me as he was going to the door:
“As you like!”
The day after, my brother Benoit and my wife came to bring me home. But a very long ordeal has begun.