During my sedation, I was aware that things were not going as planned. The combination of fentanyl and morphine I was given while sedated had an effect on my perception of real and imagined events. In Part 1, Life Tsunami: Surviving the Unexpected, I lay out the facts that lead up to my surgery, two weeks of sedation and the aftermath I woke up to. This article, by contrast, features the imaginary experiences I mistook as reality. The following narrative is fiction except for the rare occasions where I reference real events that intersected and influenced my dreams. It is a comical, yet sobering glimpse through the looking glass of medicated unconsciousness.
Contracted Home Care
My first recollection was waking in an open-air home of a Hispanic family. It was a warm night, and I got the impression that this family was contracted by the hospital to take care of complicated patients that they didn’t know what to do with. I believed that I had been transported to this place on a ferry boat. A kind woman was bathing me with a cool cloth and encouraging me that they needed to get my fever down so I could resume treatment. Afterwards, I was wheeled into the main, open concept living area where her husband sat watching tv.
I tried to tell the woman that I had to use the bathroom, but I couldn’t speak. The words wouldn’t come. She must have known what I wanted because she tried to help me up, but I couldn’t move, and she wasn’t strong enough to get me up on her own. I started to fall and became partially exposed, so the husband angrily stopped the whole thing. He didn’t speak, but I sensed he was embarrassed at having patients in his home and was concerned about what his son might see in the process.
I was terribly uncomfortable, and I tried to keep communicating my need to use the facilities, but I was ignored. Everyone avoided direct eye contact.
The son was a sweet boy around ten years old who looked like he very much wanted to help but could not. Instead, he made bird calls outdoors in the dark night and encouraging words to me and the other patients. It was as though he was summoning all the forest creatures to come and offer encouragement and hope to the sick.
As dawn arrived, the backdrop changed. Instead of a family home, it was more like a home facility where staff alternated shifts. I caught the attention of the woman who had been caring for me and once again communicated wordlessly that I needed to use the bathroom urgently.
She said I would have to wait for the day staff that were relieving her and hurried out the door now that her shift was over.
A man who I took as a doctor arrived and I did what I could to get his attention and communicate my distress. He introduced himself with a flourish and had kind eyes and a smile. He seemed genuinely caring and confident in his skills. I had a sense that this was the adult embodiment of the little boy who been an encouragement. As this happened, the backdrop of my dream changed once again. Instead of a family home or home facility, it was as though I was in a grand foyer of a city hospital. There were glass and steel, and it was open to the sun. Suddenly there were female nurses all around who he instructed to take care of my needs and perform various tests. I could tell that they adored him and were happy to follow his instructions. They treated me very kindly, and I was made comfortable again.
I was rewarded with an Easter, Starbucks-like Frappuccino and sent back to Windsor on a boat. This time I was aware of the voices of my mother and my sister. They were waiting with me while all the boat passengers disembarked, and medical staff arrived to take me off to the hospital again.
At some point, I heard my mother offer to take my Fitbit bracelet off because she said I didn’t need it, and she would keep it safe. I agreed. I felt safe and thought my ordeal was going to be over soon. It was a long wait and I drifted off before the transport happened.
My next dream had me back in the city, which I guessed to be Toronto. The inability to “fix” me had become public, and people were beginning to get upset with the medical community. I was now a PR issue and was introduced to a woman named “Michelle.” She was a wealthy, savvy pharmaceutical executive who had connections. She was trying to help me, but I also sensed an exasperation at my inability to help myself. I needed her…she gave me pain killers that blunted my discomfort, but she wasn’t shy about showing her disdain for me either.
At one point, for a press conference, she looked at me in my hospital gown, laying on the stretcher and made comments about my appearance. She tugged at the tangled hair knot on my head and tried to comb out my hair. Exasperated, she told me I was going to thank her for this and found a warm cap to put over my hair. In the end, whatever she did to improve my appearance didn’t meet her expectations, but she was in a hurry and good enough was good enough.
The PR event seemed to go well, and I woke the next day happy because I thought my ordeal was over, and I was going to have breakfast with Shawn.
He came to see me, and I asked him for coffee, but he refused. He kept insisting that I wasn’t allowed anything to eat or drink and that if I didn’t calm down, he would be forced to leave.
I became more and more agitated. I knew Shawn wouldn’t back down, and I tried to convince him that I had already been given a Frappuccino, so he was mistaken. I could eat and drink.
In the end, he left me. I realized that a crowd had stopped to watch our conflict, including Michelle.
I was frustrated that he had left me like that. I looked at Michelle and told her that he does that sometimes. (Shawn told me later that at one point I was brought to consciousness and I did mouth to him that I wanted a coffee. He did refuse me since I was intubated and partially sedated. He did warn me that he would have to leave if I didn’t calm down. I grew more and more agitated, so the medical staff said he did have to go)
Gunshots & Earthquake
At some point, a friendly nurse told me that she was going to be taking care of me that night. I was wheeled to an area where I waited. I saw different technicians walking by, and I heard other patients being attended to. I even saw someone mopping the floors. It was dark, and I felt forgotten.
Then it was as though the room filled with energy. There were people around, and my friendly nurse made an appearance. She hooked me up to machines, made me comfortable and dispensed medicines. She was calling out orders to a busy team, and there was a sense of excitement in the air as though they were getting work done so they could leave to attend a big event on another floor.
At this point, I felt as though the hospital I was in was located in the Middle East. There were moans and cries from other patients that sounded Arabic. I got the sense that a politically important older man was in the room next to mine. His wife was with him, and I heard her reply as she tended to him in his pain.
It was quiet and dark now as the hospital staff had left to partake in some mysterious event. Then I heard calls and random gunshots outside. It wasn’t so much a battle as some kind of ceremony.
The man cried out, and a nurse returned to assist him. I could hear her talking to him and treating him. No one came to me and I grew anxious. As much as I tried to rest, the gunshots, yells from outdoors, and this man’s cries of pain kept me up. I was growing increasingly uncomfortable and in need of care myself. I pressed my call button. Nothing. Machines were beeping, but no one came.
Then there was an earthquake, and I was completely terrified. Everything in the room was a mess. A computer printer was spitting out paper readings. My nurse finally came into the room, and I asked her where she had been all that time.
“We were busy” was her unapologetic response, and she proceeded to clean me up and make me comfortable again.
The drugs that Michelle gave me had varying effects. One dose, in particular, had a deep primal rhythm punctuated by “Oh Ya” in a deep voice. I woke alone in a comfortable bed in a luxurious apartment hotel suite. It was modern with all glass and breezy sheer cloth hanging. It was as though the entire suite vibrated with the music of the medication I had been given.
I had a sense of expectation that my sister, Tara, and her family were flying in to stay with me. I should’ve rested peacefully but instead I was on alert to every noise and footstep that sounded like an arrival.
In another dream I found myself waiting in Michelle’s office. She left me there waiting and to my dismay, after hours of waiting for her to acknowledge me, I saw her leaving the building with her colleagues. I called after her to come back…not to leave me stranded in her office…but her and her friends were off to enjoy themselves. She laughed as they glanced back and stared for a moment before continuing out of the building.
I didn’t take that very well. I started yelling her name and asking her to come back to me. She was called on the phone because of the scene I was making. I was experiencing the full brunt of her contempt for me and my neediness, but I was fighting back.
Later I woke in a darkened room that was filled with people. It was as though there had been a massive party, and everyone had passed out wherever they were sitting. I suddenly needed to find Shawn urgently and tried to get up but couldn’t move. I struggled and tried to push against the stray arm resting over me. I tried to ask for help, but the random people who were awake didn’t acknowledge me and the ones I was pushing against didn’t wake up. I was using every bit of my strength, and I was yelling, “I want Shawn!” as loudly and persistently as I could but no-one could hear me.
Opioid Addiction Prevention
All of a sudden, Michelle was peering down at me, asking me what I wanted. I was voiceless.
“You want more pain medicine?” She guessed.
I nodded. That sounded good to me. I wasn’t in pain, but I wanted the comfort.
Michelle then launched into an unfamiliar speech, “Melissa, you must be aware of the statistics of opioid addiction among patients who are given pain medicine for extended periods… we’re trying to prevent that.”
Being a person who rarely takes pain medicine, I was aware and didn’t want to become an addict to pain medicine. Michelle had decided I didn’t need it anymore. I stopped asking for drugs after that. (Shawn said that after they stopped giving me the pain medicine via IV drip, that they started dosing me every so many hours. At some point, I made gestures that I wanted pain medicine, but it was before the next dosage time, so I was denied. He doesn’t remember any discussion about opioid addiction)
Michelle seemed determined to reconcile the tension between Shawn and me. She took us to her luxury beach home and did strange exercises in memory and overcoming illusions. It involved cutting tropical brush with a sword always starting in one direction towards the other. I was weak, so this was therapy as well.
Once she had worked with us separately, she arranged an awkward meeting between Shawn and me together. We talked politely and hesitantly like strangers. I was restraining my frustration with him, and he seemed to be put off by my condition, which in this dream included an open wound that didn’t smell right. He asked how long it would be until that wound healed, and I was painfully aware of my condition.
I didn’t visit heaven or have any seemingly lofty spiritual experiences during my two-week sedation. It’s a little disappointing, but since I never crossed the threshold of life and death, it makes sense. I was, however, acutely aware of God and His care for me through people the entire time. There was never a moment of evil, despair, or even real pain. There was always a sense of safety as I wrestled with issues during my dreams.
I did have one dream that felt dramatic and hugely significant when I experienced it. Later, after I woke up and realized the impact that drugs had on my thoughts and tried to find the words to describe it, the meaning seemed basic and trivial.
I saw an enormous long slab of dark wood overlaid with ancient scroll paper just short of the edges. Set in lines of gold were the timelines of man. Not only one but many. Each represented varying belief systems. They ran parallel to each other, overlapping and intersecting at points for some and independently gapped for others. Even imaginary, fiction-created timelines were represented like one in Disney tales.
The entire plaque-like display was protected by glass and filled with a clear, thick oil-type substance that gave it a “snow globe” quality.
I located a small wooden-doll likeness of myself set on the timeline of my faith, near the end of man’s days. Suddenly the entire timeline display was picked up and turned 180 degrees. Instead of being close to the bottom of the timeline, I was now at the top, and it was only moments before I was free-falling in slow motion towards the beginning of time, which now sat at the base. I was grabbing for things to stop my fall, but I wasn’t the only piece in motion. Everything except the timeline base itself was shifting positions.
This slow-motion fall was theatrical, and there was thematic music playing as I slowly drifted and bounced lightly and hollowly at the bottom.
At that moment, I felt like everything I knew or thought I knew had been stripped away. I felt utterly powerless yet safe. I was overcome with the realization of everything being meaningless except for two things: the awesome powerfulness of God even over our concept of time and order of events and the infinite value of humanity around me.
Nothing else mattered. Intelligence, wealth, power, influence, accomplishments, possessions, race, belief systems, age or gender, had no bearing on worth.
I didn’t hear an audible voice, but I left that dream feeling humbled by these words:
“Melissa, you are infinitely valuable to me but do not think you are more important to me than the rest of mankind. I exist for them all.”
This theme ran throughout my sedated dreams. I didn’t visually see other people suffering, but I heard suffering all around me that represented differing ages and races. I was keenly aware that although my care and survival were essential, I was not a priority above the care needs of others. I was one of many who needed help.
Unable to Eat
At some point I got the impression that whatever surgery I’d been given made it impossible for me to eat anymore. Without the installation of a particular, costly device and special food, I would not survive. Shawn was struggling with the investment that needed to be made. I remember looking down at myself lying helplessly, and I saw my sister, Jaime, nearby. The moment was very serene.
I asked her quietly, “Am I going to die?”
Jaime responded hesitantly, “No. They’ve figured out what the solution is and its going to help you get better.”
(I was told later that I did silently mouth the words asking if I was going to die and Jaime did reassure me. I thought it was the particular device and food that she was referring to as being the solution, but it was the discovery of my unknown allergies she was referring to)
With the unique device that would allow me to eat purchased by Shawn, there was a group of wealthy people in the medical community that arranged for a massive donation of the exceptional food I needed. The excitement was in the air. They needed to do surgery to install the device, and then I would be good to go home.
I heard a woman’s voice through the loudspeakers of the hospital, making a grand, corporate announcement that I imagined had something to do with the breakthrough in medical technology that I was about to receive and the generosity of the people who were making it happen. It was loud and persistent.
I woke lying in a large, dimly lighted operating room. It was early morning, and a nurse was arriving. Her hair was touseled and she was yawning. I summoned her for help, and she began tending to me, but a voice from the other side of a window on the wall stopped her.
“What time do we start prepping patients for their procedures?” The woman’s voice challenged her. The kind nurse looked at me apologetically and left. It was too early still.
Suddenly it was as though there was no oxygen in the room. I was gasping for breath, thrashing around. I saw an oxygen mask a few feet away and was reaching for it. I managed to lay hold of it, but when I put it to my mouth, there was nothing. I felt as though I was losing consciousness.
Then there was air, and I breathed it in. I could see the faces of medical staff through the window above and the bright light of a laser. They were fixing me so I could eat again.
Following the final surgery, I waited to be released to my family, but strangely, no-one came. I heard music playing and singing in addition to the repetitive announcement. I got the sense that something huge was going to happen in celebration of this breakthrough medical procedure.
No-one came for a very long time.
Finally, near nightfall, I saw a nurse piling all my bags (of special food I imagined) and belongings near a window looking outside at the pickup area. I was still lying on a hospital bed.
“You’re good to go, Mrs. Cassidy,” she said in a cheery voice before she left.
I waited anxiously for Shawn to drive up in our red van and take me home. Why wasn’t he coming?
Instead, after a very long time, my mother came through the sliding doors just outside my room with her arms full of bags. She was sighing and trying to reposition her load. I was confused. Where was Shawn? She told me he had to work, and then instead of leaving the hospital, I found myself in a bright, cheery hospital room being helped by two nurses into a chair.
This is where I began to become conscious for the first time after my sedation.
Just because I was officially “awake” following extubation, I was slipping back into sleep more often than I was conscious for the first couple days. I still believed that everything I dreamed during sedation was real and I didn’t know that the pain medication I was being weaned off of was still altering my reality. Throughout my hospital stay, I experienced issues that are linked to a condition called ICU Psychosis.
Here are some fun hallucination stories that transpired following my sedation:
You can imagine how disoriented I felt as I discovered that these occurrences were completely fabricated in my own mind. In addition to these funny antedotes I experienced some of the following:
1. Awareness of forms in my peripheral vision that I thought were other patients but when I turned to say something to them, realized they were objects instead. For some reason this startled and upset me. Later, I looked around my hospital bed and realized there were no objects that could’ve resembled other patients like lamps etc.
2. My remembrance of my ICU surroundings is completely skewed. A recent visit revealed surroundings that are nothing like what I envisioned.
3. I noticed that my digestive system was getting upset so I looked at my IV fluids and was alarmed to notice that they had replaced my clear IV fluids with a Costco Kirkland chocolate IV fluid. I imagined that this was were my digestive upset came from because somehow I had heard that Costco Kirkland IV feeding liquid was cheaply made and known to cause problems for people. Shawn says I was never given Costco Kirkland brand IV food at any time. He doubts it exists.
4. I thought the reason they wouldn’t let me eat or drink was because the staff was diapering me. I set out determinedly to anticipate bathroom visits and request to be put on a portable toilet because I thought if I could manage to bathroom myself, they would let me eat and drink again.
5. I thought that I had changed hospital locations several times during my ordeal (as mentioned in my dreams). I believed that I had been transferred to a newer, more upscale hospital in Windsor. It wasn’t until my third room change where I was put by a window that I recognized my location as MET hospital. I was genuinely shocked that I had never once left MET hospital at any time.
6. In the last week of my hospital stay I began to suffer extreme insomnia at night and experience panick attacks where I thought I couldn’t breathe.
7. Once home in my own bed, when I would wake with night sweats and the need to use the bathroom, I would hear a nurses voice say that she would be right with me so I would wait. It took a few minutes for me to realize that I was at home and there was no nurse present! I was genuinely troubled by the certainty that I had heard someone speak to me. This phenomenon lasted a week off and on.
The good news is that I am completely medication free and my mind is no longer playing tricks on me. As helpful as the drugs were to keep me comfortable during my ordeal, the mental confusion they created was disconcerting to say the least. Now that I have shared my Unexpected health crisis in my post, Life Tsunami: Surviving the Unexpected, and this amusing tale of my alter experience influenced by sedation and pain drugs with you, I will share the details of my recovery in my next blog post called, LIfe Tsunami: Rebuilding.
I’m writing this article during a period of social distancing while the world battles a highly contagious virus called COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Federal and provincial governments have declared an official state of emergency asking all non-essential businesses to close and limiting gathering sizes. Schools, churches, community centres, theatres and most non-essential businesses have closed. Store shelves are being cleared of essentials as quickly as they can be stocked. North America holds its collective breath as they watch the virus spread from its origin in China to ravage Italy and Spain. Almost every country in the world is dealing with some measure of the outbreak. For me, though, this is just an encore wave of crisis I’ve been faced with and hope to survive. Please continue to follow my posts for my reports on this unfolding storm.
Here are some simple action steps you can take to get engaged with this article:
💊Share this Facebook post to be entered into my monthly Tim Horton’s Gift Card drawing
💊 Feel free to comment below
💊 Like and share this article with sharing buttons at the top of this page
💊 Consider a donation via Kofi (explained below) or purchasing my recent book to support my writing
Thanks for reading!
Image by IgOrZh on Getty Images Pro via Canva Pro