My Life Was but a Coma-Dream

My Life Was but a Coma-Dream August 24, 2016

A Dream of a Girl Before Sunrise, by Karl Briullov.
A Dream of a Girl Before Sunrise, by Karl Briullov.

I wasn’t aware that I was in a coma, though many elements of my coma-dream involved a hospital setting. For instance, I convinced my doctors to remove my trach–I had previously only heard the term while watching medical shows–because my ventilator was making it harder for me to breath, and I clearly didn’t need it anymore.

Later, after my awakening, a similar scene would play out in real life. I mimed ripping out my trach in frustration, after finding myself unable to communicate my wishes because I couldn’t speak. (During my coma-dream, I couldn’t imagine that the trach would prevent me from speaking, something even a severe case of strep throat hadn’t managed.)

When I was turned over to prevent bedsores, I convinced myself that I could do it myself if I wanted to. It was just easier to let the big orderly I imagined flipping me over like a flapjack do it. Pure laziness, that’s all.

Meanwhile, events that occurred before my coma played out as if they were dreams. You know that dream where you can’t generate the strength to perform some simple and common action, no matter how many times you try? That actually happened to me when I was attempting to get dressed to go to the hospital before I slipped into the coma. Keith’s mom, a former respiratory therapist, was the first person to realize something was wrong with me. Keith was heading home early from work to take me to the ER, and I was supposed to get dressed before he arrived. I just couldn’t work up the volition to do it. When he got home, Keith had to help me slip on my zippered jumpsuit, which took barely a minute to put on normally; that’s why I chose it. He found it nearly impossible to dress me because I couldn’t seem to make my arms and legs slip into the loose jumpsuit, even with his help.

Suddenly, the scene would shift to my primary care physician bending over me and asking, “Do you remember me?” What is he doing here? I wondered. (By sheer coincidence, my PCP was on ER duty when I was admitted.)

Next, I was wandering through a condensed landscape of my favorite childhood haunts in Miami with my mom. Monkey Jungle had closed, but for some reason, there were still several monkeys that had been left behind. (I later Googled Monkey Jungle and found out that it’s still going strong after all these years.)

Jungle Island had also somehow neglected to capture all of its birds when it closed (it’s still around, as well). Then, we strolled through the Miami zoo, where we passed a tea party consisting entirely of miniature zoo animals. The elephant held the teapot with its trunk as it poured the tea. The giraffe had crane its long, doll-sized neck in order to take a sip. I said, “They must be filming a children’s show.”

This is an all My Little Pony simulation of my miniature zoo animal tea party. Photo credit: Mary Bliss.
An all My Little Pony simulation of my miniature zoo animal tea party. Photo credit: Mary Bliss.

Dream logic. As I’ve joked, it was like dogs playing poker, only with tiny china cups.

Among the surreal unreality of my coma-dream, real life leaked through, as my mind spun stories to explain what it could not. When Keith told me to stop biting the swabs being used to clean my teeth, I thought I was sucking on a tube delivering Hi-C. How was I supposed to keep the tube from slipping out of my mouth if I didn’t?

My doctor was so proud of my ability to clear my sinuses, which were forming huge bubbles as if I had been snorting Double Bubble. I thought my snot-clearing talents were a result of my long-standing experience with nasal allergies. In fact, this was a scene born of an earlier period when my sinuses had become seriously infected by a feeding tube.

In the end, the infection forced the hospital to insert a gastric tube in my stomach. This occurred before what I believe is the main period of my coma-dream–following the G-tube insertion and accelerating after my move to a nursing home, five days before my awakening.

The rotating Saturday-morning serials that made up my coma-dream were from different eras of of my vegetative state. It stretched from the MRI Voice, mere weeks after I fell into the coma, continued through the mid-coma sinus scene, and finally incorporated the things happening around my nursing home bed. Some were repetitive and Groundhog Dayish, basically the same scene played over and over with slightly different dialog. Others were continuing storylines, their stories advancing with each new episode.

Such was the case in a particularly frequent serial. I was riding a Big Wheels-like tricycle that churned ice cream in a compartment attached to the back, peddling through various adventures. Did I mention that I was an anthropomorphic polar bear cub as I did this? Sadly, in one of the many instance of lucid dreaming in my coma-dream, I would sometimes think, “But I’m supposed to be a human!” And in a blink of the eye, my paws would turn into hands (along with the rest of me). I wish I could’ve told my brain to shut up–this is fun!

The last coma-dream before I awoke was also the most purely dream-like. Indeed, it felt like an ordinary adventure dream, albeit with nightmarish tinges of The Twilight Zone.

I was a paleontology student studying at a class held at the American Museum of Natural History. For some reason, the furniture and technology in the museum offices looked like it was straight out of the 40s. I took notes on a yellow legal pad. Then, suddenly, the antiquated office equipment began attacking everyone is sight. We battled the vacuum cleaners and typewriters and the like, as they attempted to strangle us with their tubes and gobble us up in their gears.

I pulled clear and barricaded myself in an unoccupied office. I relaxed a bit when I didn’t see any unexpectedly sentient machines in the office. That’s when a cord snaked around my arm, as I struggled to escape a bloodthirsty drill.

The next thing I knew, I saw the fuzzy form of my mom (I didn’t have my contacts in). My first thought was, “Dammit, I just got back to sleep!” (That was a recurring theme in my coma-dream. I was having a horrifically sleepless night. Every time I fell asleep, I would be woken up again. Those damn doctors shining lights in my eyes!)

My next thought was disappointment that I would never find out how that scary, but fun, dream would turn out. (It’s normal for me to jolt awake after a particularly frightening event in a dream. I’m usually awakening from a run-of-the-mill sleep state, however.) Would I have been drilled to death? We’ll never know.

That’s when my mom told me that I had been in a coma for six weeks and had nearly died. It’s hard to say which was more unbelievable.

Here is Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five of the Coma Day series celebrating the third anniversary of my awakening and the advances in covert cognition detection.

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