From Book 3: Why Is He Like This?

            The explosion of health in Artaud over the near-year subsided as toward autumn he again began to experience the headaches and the spinal pain, and most alarming to me the facial cramps which also affected his tongue, a droning in his ears that made him deaf to me, and an extreme intolerance to stimuli than surpassed even my worst migraines. Pressing on his scalp did not help him as it helped me, for it was a crushing pain that plagued him and not at all like the pressure from within which caused my headaches. He developed fevers as well and could be immobilized for days. Never before had I seen the full range of symptoms Artaud had always complained about and I stood by in terror and compassion as he twisted on the bed or pulled himself into a tense knot, awake but uncommunicative, unable to stand any light or sound, not wanting even to be touched.

Dr. Bernard was on holiday in Nice. A doctor recommended by a colleague prescribed a barbiturate which did not work. I was able to talk Artaud through some rhythmic breathing exercises that helped soothe my migraines enough for me to sleep. These techniques paralleled his ideas on the breath of the actor, but while they helped his headaches somewhat they did nothing against the other symptoms. When the doctor refused to take my word that the sleeping draught was not working, I summoned our friends for backup. Desnos, reaching into the memory of his distant pharmaceutical past, argued with the doctor over the now-paralyzed man in my bed while Louis sat next to him and Youki stood close to me with both her hands on mine.

The doctor shook his head. “This is not arthritis. I see no reason to take this avenue… I do not have his full medical history. The family is not involved—I cannot—”

“He does not want his family involved!” insisted Desnos. “I know much of his history. He’s had the injection before and it’s not only for arthritis. Do it.” I realized I did not know the extent of Artaud’s treatment in Switzerland and with Dr. Toulouse in Paris, but Desnos knew much of it. However, my father had known a man back in Berlin who suffered from inflammation and required a similar colloidal injection into the muscle; the procedure was extremely painful.

The doctor rubbed his head. He was weedy and impatient with a misshaped head like a bulbous root. I had consulted him after a discreet inquiry at work and now I questioned my choice. “I need a signature.” He opened his bag and took out a piece of paper that he threw down on my small table. “Not in front of me!” He went into the kitchen and stood with his back to us. Swearing beneath his breath, Desnos seized a pen and signed it Germaine de Fernand Artaud, and I realized I had never known Fernand’s full name. Its connection to their dead sister gave me a feeling of dread. When the doctor came back in, Louis stood up and Desnos tried to pull me away but I resisted, looking down at the thin body about to be invaded. If Artaud could take it, I could.

“Why is he like this!” Louis said to us and his face was almost grey in pain. Louis and Desnos, his longtime friends, gaped at each other helplessly. I pulled Louis into my embrace. Everyone thought I was being so calm, but it was Louis who was expressing the sorrow I pushed down. Because I stayed, everyone stayed. The doctor was not an idiot, however; he administered a local anesthetic first. Apparently, medicine had made a little progress at least. Since we remained in the room the doctor instructed Desnos and me to hold Artaud’s leg still and we did. “I’m sorry,” I murmured to him and one long, white hand reached down to touch mine. Artaud bore the injection bravely and slept. Poor Desnos—I almost hated to involve him, for after we released that leg he burst into a great flow of tears and sank onto the edge of the mattress, and now Youki flew to him. She was being very steady and reassuring and I was grateful she was here. The doctor gathered his bag and hat, then hesitated, looking down at the prone figure now lying relaxed. “I see traces of morphine use, perhaps oxycodone, cocaine…perhaps also codeine and other, more benign elixirs but as a practice I would not mix… He must not eat at all for at least four hours. And watch him the next few days for any adverse reaction.” He turned to me. My mouth was open. The doctor set down his bag again and stepped sternly up to me. He looked briefly into my eyes, examined my face, asked to see the inside of my mouth, then rolled up my sleeves and turned my arms and my hands in his. “You are not a user and he kept it from your door,” he proclaimed. “That is uncommon.” I stood there shocked and the doctor left quickly with an air of escape.

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