I picked up two lifelong friends in downtown Salt Lake City. One was Patrick, the owner of an art gallery. The other was a drag queen who goes by the name Misha Rockafeller. In 1997, Misha won La Femme Magnifique, which apparently is the Olympics for drag queens. In that contest, a life-size version of a music box, complete with working parts, was rolled onstage; when the lid opened, Misha was the ballerina inside.
Patrick bragged about his friend. No one before, or since, has attempted to be a music box ballerina. Their easy rapport and sharp ribbing told me they’d been friends for a long time. I asked how they had become so close. Misha said, “He tried to pull the plug on me. Twice.”
Their banter continued, but I had to interrupt. “What do you mean ‘tried to pull the plug on you’?”
“Oh, well, that’s a long story,” Misha said. “I had a bad tooth. That led to a six-month coma.”
Again, they returned to their conversation. Due to my stubbornly inquisitive mind, I had to put my foot down and say, “If you don’t tell me how a toothache led to a coma, so help me, I’m going to pull this car over and y’all can walk.”
I didn’t really say that. I was a little less forthright, because I value my job. But they still got the point.
It turns out Misha had a bad mercury filling that had damaged his nerve endings. The filling became infected, leading to an abscess, but he didn’t notice because he didn’t feel any pain. The infection spread quickly, traveling up through his sinuses and then down his neck and chest, eventually finding his heart and sending him into a coma. Doctors call this a silent killer.
Patrick was one of many friends at his side. For more than half a year, he watched over his friend. Doctors were not optimistic, especially as days dragged into weeks and then months. Twice, he and Misha’s other loved ones made the difficult decision to unhook the machines.
But Misha refused to die.
They laugh about this now and remark how Misha is unusually stubborn and refuses to follow rules.
Six and a half months later, Misha woke up. He had lost the ability to walk, talk or swallow. He even had amnesia.
He didn’t know his name. He didn’t know who he was. He describes the moment when he looked around his hospital room in confusion, grasping at strands of memories, and one of his friends leaned down to inform him he was a drag queen, and a successful one at that.
This momentarily led to even more confusion. He was thinking, “I’m a man, who dresses like a woman, for trophies?”
I asked Patrick if he was ever tempted to say anything like, “Dude, you are a straight businessman who likes to research teas from all around the world and you may have written a manual on the proper ways to manscape.”
Patrick raised an eyebrow. “That sounds a bit too unbelievable.”
The recovery was long and painful, but always the optimist, Misha tells me to never underestimate the power of a good pair of high heels to rebuild atrophied muscle.
He is now back to competing in pageants, and his friends are happy, although they wish he would retire the phrase “I came out of a coma for this?”
This is one of the few columns for which I’ve actually had to research the passenger, because the story of a guy who went into a six-month coma because of a bad filling felt like it needed to be checked.
Reader, it checked out.
So, unless you want to own the phrase “I came out of a coma for this?,” please remove those mercury fillings. Or you could wake up in a hospital room six months later and learn that you are a successful drag queen.
Brodi Ashton is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in the Salt Lake City area. She’s also an Uber and Lyft driver who shares stories from the road in this occasional column.