Saturday, March 17, 2007

An Anniversary

It was the first day that I had thoughts based in reality and not in the odd coma world I had lived in for the past two months.

I had been swimming, or trying to swim all of that time in my head. The dream repeated itself over and over again. I knew I was in a hospital. But I had decorated it to my liking with a big chunky schoolroom clock and bubblegum lights. I thought, for some reason, that I was in the Sol Blatt P.E. Center at the University of South Carolina in Columbia where I used to swim. I was aware of the ka-chunk-hiss-ka-chunk of the respirator. I heard the doctor's voices. One of the interns from India had a high-pitched whiny voice and it seemed like she was always getting fussed at despite the fact that her father was someone important. Her name was Mehta. I felt the presence of my family at times. Sometimes I thought I could see them. I remember feeling angry that they would not let me out of the bed to go to the bathroom. It did not occur to me that I could not walk. It did not occur to me that I was hanging on by my fingernails to sentience. But the dream was always the same. I was firmly convinced that I needed to escape. It was foremost in my mind.

I say, a dream, but coma dreams are horrifically real. The line between reality and dreams does not exist in the coma world. There were "visions". It is Alice's world. I would rise from the hospital bed. I would release one of the other patients from the machines because I knew they needed to escape too. Sometimes I would have to carry the other patient. We would get to the elevator and take it to the bottom floor. The pool was the destination. If I could only get to the pool, we could get out of this torture chamber. The underwater lights at the ends of the lanes. That's where we needed to go. The end of the lane. Into the warm, wet heat of the pool where movement was easy and I could feel the water sliced by my efficient stroke. Sometimes we were chased. I could hear Mehta's voice sometimes whining that I had gotten lose again and had taken this patient or that patient.

The outcome was always the same. Sometimes I would get in the water and sigh at its warmth but the moment I dove below the surface to kick off I would be back in the hated hospital room. I played this scenario over in my mind thousands of times in the coma world. I kept changing bits of it to see if another scenario would work. I went by myself once...fleeing the pleading of the other patients who wanted to come with me. I took the stairs. I changed bits of the puzzle in minute ways to see if I could finally reach my destination. I never did.

That's how I kept my brain alive for two months, trying to escape Wonderland.

What was going on in reality was much harsher. It was very hard on my siblings. I wasn't expected to live. They didn't know the battle I was fighting in my head to keep my brain alive. My chest had been split open to the heart and left that way so the mediastinitis could heal from the inside out. I had fevers of 106 that required a "cooling" blanket...basically a plastic duvet filled with circulating ice water. My sternum was removed and my chest required plastic surgery to reconstruct it. I had every "last chance" antibiotic available dripping into my veins. I died several times.

I also had young, sweet, new doctors who sneaked into my room to look at my chart and cheer me on...though they had nothing to do with my case. I met some of them, as well as a surgeon who had held my beating infected heart in his hands. The intimacy of it all was painful.

Later, when I visited MUSC in Charleston, where I actually was during this, I would run into them in the halls. Their eyes would light up with joy and they, strangers to me, would want to touch and hug me. Then tell me their story and how they knew me. What they did during my darkest days. How hard these men of science prayed for me. I'm still overwhelmed by what they did for me.

But on this day, 10 years ago, they took me off the ventilator. I remember the wet sucking squick of trying to cough it up and that first gasping, painful breath. I couldn't move, but for some strange reason, I thought I could. My brain had been working out fairly vigorously for the past two months and my body didn't realize it wasn't part of the plan. I could barely speak, but I thought I was speaking clearly. I had lost 70 pounds.

I remember my brother being there and looking very upset and worried. Expectant. Dr. Strange, head of the ICU, held up fingers and asked me to indicate how many he was holding up. My words were barely understandable but I had the right answers.

My eyes focused on my brother. "Guy Bebo, that fucking asshole!" I croaked at him, mentioning the name of the idiot G.P. that got me into this mess.

The doctor looked at my brother with concern, perhaps thinking my profanity a sign of brain damage. People with brain damage are often profane when they come out of their coma dreams. This was, after all, their greatest concern. I'd been gorked out for an awful long time.

A wide smile lit up my brother's face making him look like a young boy again.

"Yeah! That's her...She's back!" He said.

Dr. Strange continued his examination by asking me if I knew where I was. I did. Then he asked if I knew what day it was.

I thought he was being something of a smartass. I wanted to say, "Well, see, it's like this, I've been unconscious and don't you think it a bit much to ask me what day it is?"

But there was a calendar just over his shoulder where my eyes could make it out.

"It's March 17th. St. Patrick's Day."


  1. bonnie said...

    I'm awfully glad you made it back to drive us all mad with Food Porn Friday.
    bonnie said...
    and if that sounded flippant, it wasn't really supposed to. Really - have enjoyed reading your take on rural life and natures human, caprine & canine so much.
    Jbeeky said...
    Wow. I always thought coma patients had no memory of thier time in a coma. You must live with the knowledge or what's on the other side of the mirror. Glad you came back.
    Mallow said...
    I don't know how to comment to your posts most of the time, because I think everything I'd write would be so dim witted and trivial. I can say with certainty that I've learned a lot from reading your blog, and looking at your buzznet galleries also. I'm happy we met, so to speak... maybe one day it will be in person. I'm glad you're here Rosie.
    Hayden said...
    what an amazing experience - what a battle you won! I love the way you tricked the doctor with the date....
    Anonymous said...
    The water/swimming dreams are interesting- Water, the element of emotion, also represents the sub-conscious mind. So, it makes sense that while you were out dancing around for two months in your subconscious in the coma, each time you tried to go under you found yourself back in the hospital bed. 'Deep mind' shit here....

    goat yoda
    Erica said...
    That was one of the most amazing posts I've ever read anywhere, ever.

    And wow, you managed to sneak a little humor in there, too.

    Rosie, you just plain rock my world.
    Rosie said...
    Hey, bonnie...FPF was obviously my mission in life.

    jbeeky, I think people have different experiences and memories of their coma experience. I think it depends on how hard you are fighting and if you are able to fight. I wasn't there for a head injury and that is a very different sort of thing.

    Thanks, mallow! I feel that way on other blogs too. I don't find anything you have to say dim-witted or trivial. Is your boy still in love with his new saddle?

    In hindsight, Hayden...I don't think I really tricked him. I think that calendar was there for a reason, though I thought myself pretty sneaky at the time. Cheating must be one of those higher brain functions they look for.

    Thanks, Erica. That story has been rattling around for 10 years and it seemed like a good time to put it out there.
    seejanemom said...
    It shouldn't take that kind of Hell to get any of us to wake to the realities that our lives are but a wisp of smoke.

    I am glad you live life on your terms. It makes me deeply happy that SOMEONE does.

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