“How are you feeling today?” the nurse asks. She sits back in her chair. You think about it for a minute.
You want to say: “Like hell froze over” or “like death” or even “like someone walked over my grave”, because in your day these would have been funny. They would have gotten you a chuckle and a shake of the head, a reaction somewhere between a pity laugh and amusement. But you don’t.
You already know the nurse won’t laugh at that. She won’t even give you a pity smile. She’d lean in a bit, rest her hand on her chin, and purse her lips thoughtfully. Her brow would furrow with concern over this sepulchral response. The fountain pen in her hand, still capped and devoid of an ink cartridge, would tap against her cheek while she wrapped the hand holding a paper-deprived clipboard across her stomach.
She doesn’t hold these things for her use but for yours. Somehow, her pen and empty clipboard are supposed to make you feel comforted, at ease, safe. As though, when you were alive—the first time you were alive, every medical professional kept their pockets full of fountain pens instead of the cheap pens from drug reps and carried naked clipboards instead of your fatigued manila chart that sighed every time someone searched through the inches of paperwork to find your most recent lab work.
Your eyes are caught on her scrubs, like a fish caught on a hook. They’ve changed from mauve to scarlet and are currently transitioning to a bright candy color. Every hour long appointment they flit through hundreds of colors which are all variations of red. The clothing is something you still can’t get used to. She clears her throat with intention, and you meet her eyes. When her shirt is just outside your line of vision, it seems red in an opalescent way instead of a chaos of indecisive colors.
“Cold,” you say, because it’s true. You knew it would be cold. The whole point was cold. But you didn’t know you would stay cold.
Her head turns to the two way mirror as she takes in the results of your bio scans. Another thing that has changed. You used to be hooked up to machines by the dozen. They pierced your veins, adhered to your skin, or swallowed you whole. They beeped with incessant reminders of your failing health. Now, this room scans you automatically, and you imagine you’re a marshmallow peep in a microwave.
She watches your chart scroll across the screen. “You aren’t though. All your vitals are registering in the normal range. You’re core temperature is fine. Actually, running a little hot.”
You nod, unsurprised. If they’d tried to hook you up to a machine, you could relax. You’d feel at home. You knew what each jagged line meant and the chirps and beeps of an MRI. You knew what to look for in a PET scan. But no, instead they gave you a woman with an empty clipboard and a room that unobtrusively preforms every scan.
“I know. But you asked how I feel.”
She sighs. The room is already ten degrees hotter than the rest of the hospital, and your clothes have been synthesized to keep your skin warmer still. It doesn’t help. That’s all surface warmth. It doesn’t reach deep enough.
You used to think bone cold was the worst kind of cold. It ran deep into your body, settled in your skeleton, and radiated into your blood. But this is a different cold.
Your fingers don’t feel like ice when you touch someone. Your body doesn’t shiver. There’s no food you can eat to shake it. If there was an opposite of a volcano, it would be you, hot on the outside, nearly burning, but ready to erupt from the pressure of this cold.
It’s caught in your soul. Sunk into your body the first time you died but before you were really dead. It settled in while you spent centuries in a frozen coma. Vitrification keeping your cells from frostbite. The cold of death denied by the miracle of science.
She looks at you, and you know that expression. You’ve known it for years. You got it when you were first diagnosed with your, then terminal now curable, cancer. It’s a look of sympathy all health care professionals have. You’re in pain. They can’t help.
“You’ve been warming up for months,” she says as though this is news. Her eyes dance to the window. A sheen of sweat covers her brow. “It’s perfectly normal to feel cold after what you’ve been through.”
You nod. They all say that, but there’s no way to know. Normal is hard to define when only a hundred have been successfully revived.
“Have you been eating?”
Again, you nod. “Had chicken with rice this afternoon and a side of mac ’n’ cheese.” Your mother would have said that kind of food sticks to your ribs. It filled your stomach with a weight that reminded you of warmth.
She smiles, leans forward, and pats your leg. “That’s good,” she says. “Keep up your appetite, and you’ll be back to your old self in no time.”
The touch of her hand is too hot on your skin, but you don’t want her to stop. Maybe you just haven’t tried hard enough. Besides, you crave the comfort. The therapy dog they gave you spends most of the day leaning into your legs. His hairs tickle and scratch, but it helps.
You know he’d do anything to make you feel warm again. They all would.
But you know nothing they can do will help. Death came knocking, and you didn’t answer the door. He was bound to break in eventually.