There were more, and odder, dreams. There were some which are still particularly disturbing, including one in which it felt like I was being sexually abused. I have never ever spoken about this. It’s hard to talk about something that probably didn’t happen because I was sedated at the time, but that feels like it possibly might have. I will never know whether this was a dream based on reality or entirely invented. For my sanity, I choose to believe the latter.
There were dreams in which my husband was sitting by my side and his face melted away, skin and flesh and blood dripping off his skull, eyeballs melting into runny jelly. There were others in which I was placed into an old fashioned style iron lung, except off the ground, sort of filed away in a kind of respiratory filing cabinet. A rather amusing one in which I was an actor playing the part of someone in a coma in Casualty (a UK hospital drama), of all things. One notable one in which I heard my daughter’s voice, and thought I saw her sitting at the nurses’ station, surrounded by fairies who were glowing with an incandescent gold light. I imagined the ventilator, which by now was attached via a tracheotomy – this is what I believe I felt performed when I hallucinated being in the doctor’s office – as a baby’s arm, reaching out to strangle me. I heard its rhythmic, whooshing hiss as the baby’s voice whispering, ‘but it is you’.
They continued for what feels like months upon reflection, although I know it was only weeks. Surreal and horrific. However, writing and thinking about them, I can see where films I have watched, books I have read, and simply what my limited awareness was picking up from my own surroundings influenced the direction of the dreams. I have always had a vivid imagination and dreamt similar things when just in a normal sleeping state, so I’m not surprised.
There is one moment, however, that I cannot attribute to merely hallucination. I will attempt to describe it. I was in the middle of a dream (argh, the lyrics and tune to Manic Monday just popped into my head whilst typing that), and it was an odd one about taking the place of a patient who was taking the place of another patient who was taking the place of another patient in a sort of musical beds situation. My mother was talking faintly in the background, and I think I was seeing her as a sort of quacking duck mask (sorry, Mum). Suddenly -and bear with me here, as I’m trying to explain this but words don’t really exist to sufficiently portray it- my ‘me’ was separate from my ‘mind’. The dream was still happening but it felt like I’d separated into two and was looking at my own consciousness from afar. Around me was nothing, a sort of void. My dream and my own mind were far away, over or ‘down’ ‘there’. All sound had gone quiet. The sense of distance was tangible. I was connected to the consciousness still by a sort of cord that I sensed rather than saw. I could see the dream in my mind running like a movie on a far away screen. I remember thinking, ‘Damn. This is serious. I need to get back down there.’ I then exerted what, had it been physical, would have been a tremendous effort akin to hauling oneself hand over hand over monkey bars, bodyweight dragging me down. That’s how it felt. I wasn’t using hands to pull myself along the cord but will. It was so difficult. Not painful, just an effort, a fight. This carried on for an interminable time, until suddenly, without warning, the dream surrounded me again. I was back in my head.
I’ve tried to rationalise this as another drug-induced hallucination but I can’t. It feels to me as though I was experiencing the beginning of death, the first stage. There was also a sense of clarity during that moment which I did not feel during the dreams before or afterwards. I was always agnostic and I suppose I still am but this experience has convinced me that the soul is separate from the physical self. I felt both at the same time, both me but split. I didn’t have any heavenly revelations or terrifying hellish experiences though. In a way I am quite disappointed, as I feel I was on the verge of discovering truth, but was thwarted. At the same time, I had panic attacks for some years when recalling this experience and the effort it took to get ‘back’.
After the experience, I was still comatose, but as I slowly improved, the dreams were much more frequently based within the hospital. I also remember floating out of my body a few times and seeing myself being attended to.I felt as though I was sort of hovering on top of it sometimes. At others, I remember looking around the ward and seeing various older people leaving their bodies. I will never be certain whether I actually watched people’s spirits passing whilst in spirit for myself, or whether I was inventing that at this point. It was much less clear and more fuzzy and hazy than the aforementioned ‘split’.
Upon waking, I had no idea who I was. I was convinced that I was an old woman. I didn’t understand why my husband and parents were talking to me ‘as though I was Zoë’; couldn’t they clearly see she’d gone and I was someone else? I apparently kept shaking my head at them and trying to draw away when they leaned near me to show affection. I cannot imagine how hurtful this must have been for them. I was so confused but couldn’t speak, as a tracheostomy (a hole in your trachea through which a ventilator tube is placed to get oxygen to your lungs) is performed above the larynx, so no air can reach it to vibrate and produce sound.
I also couldn’t move – don’t pay attention to films like Kill Bill or the numerous dramas I have seen in which people wake from comas and happily get up as though they’ve had a long sleep – it doesn’t work like that, people. Your muscles atrophy. They waste away to nothing, and when you wake up you can’t even sit up or move your head. You can barely lift a hand. You have to learn and train your muscles to work all over again, and it takes quite some time. You are a helpless baby, unable to do anything for yourself. Someone lifts you and rolls you to clean you. You have no control over your bowels, and empty them directly onto an absorbent pad on the bed, then lying in your own waste until a nurse notices. You are fed by a tube as you can’t swallow. You have drips attached to both arms, a central line in your neck, and are hooked up to a heart monitor. It is literally like Neo waking up in The Matrix with the sheer amount of wires involved. You are entirely dependant on other humans to ensure your comfort and survival. The worst fear is a ventilator ‘pop off’. Sometimes the pressure of the air going through the ventilator causes the tube to ‘pop’ off it’s connection, leaving you without oxygen. If no one notices, it’s sayonara, sweetheart. Luckily they do have alarms to notify the nurses of this sort of thing. Plus you tend to have just one nurse per patient – they don’t call it intensive care for nothing.
Writing this is causing me to think about my current thoughts and behaviours a lot – and I’ve realised that I now have an almost pathological fear of asking for help – I am fiercely independent and hate showing signs of need – I wonder if this is directly related to the horror of complete loss of control during that time. I have complete empathy for babies and for anyone struggling with physical disabilities – I know what it’s like to be forced to rely on others and it’s truly frightening.
To be continued.