So, about four years ago now I became very very sick and had to be hospitalized and placed in a medically-induced coma for twelve days. My heartbeat and breathing were so out-of-whack that I was on a respirator that breathed for me and generally kept me alive.
I’m totally fine and healthy now- during my hospitalization I was finally diagnosed with this stupid and rare genetic condition called Adult-Onset Still’s Disease. Sometimes it pops up to mess with me, but I’ll never be hospitalized for it again, and that makes me smile. It was the most terrifying and miserable period in my life, in my husband’s life, and probably my family’s life (I haven’t asked directly), I still get freaked out when I get sick or go to a doctor, and I still have trouble seeing images of people on respirators in movies. It has changed my life in ways too numerous to even count.
But, all that aside, after four years I can talk about the experience without crying, and I’m trying to get more comfortable talking about it in general. I find it rarely comes up in conversations, and even when it does, I feel like I’m essentially going “Here, take this!” and dropping a big suitcase of drama onto the other person.
But here we are, so let’s talk about coma dreams.
The entire time I was in this medically-induced coma, I fought like a mad woman to get out of it, so much so that they had to physically strap me down. Even then, I would find a way to get loose enough to rip my respirator out, which I did so many times that I temporarily damaged my vocal cords. My fighting for consciousness may be why I have vague memories of my coma time, which I incorporated into the vast amount of insanely lucid dreams that I had and still remember. I thought it might be fun to walk you through a few of them.
One recurring theme was that I was in a dance troupe, some sort of Rockettes-type thing. I was having trouble finding my costume for our big show coming up, and I needed to get to the theater RIGHT NOW. I finally found my dress and got into this space pod of sorts (the lights on the ceiling of the space pod were the lights from my room in the ICU) and made it to the theater, where whipped cream had been sprayed everywhere. I complained that I would fall down, but I never got to dance in the show, because someone informed me that my boyfriend (now my husband) had been in an accident. I went to the hospital, again, in a space pod, to see him and found that he seemed totally fine. I remember him leaning over me, wearing glasses, and me thinking “But you look fine! Why are we here?”
I dreamed that I was in a swimming pool a lot, and that I had some very uncomfortable scuba gear on (clearly my respirator). While I was swimming I realized that I had grown a mustache, and I was mortified. I decided that I simply had to remove it, and since I couldn’t find tweezers, I just grabbed the mustache and yanked. This was me yanking out my respirator.
At some point my brain must have realized that I was institutionalized, because in my dreams, I became confined to some sort of room where I couldn’t move much. It felt like school. My friends and I were trying to plot a way out, while hiding from the room monitor, whose name was Panda. There was also a room monitor who was dressed like a hipster, wearing a trucker hat, but instead of a head he just had a block of wood, and instead of arms he just had sticky Jolly Ranchers, all stuck together in arm shapes. He kept pawing at me with his sticky candy hands, and I hated him. I hated him a lot. (The stickiness was actually all the medical tape that was all over my body and had to be changed out every day. It took weeks to remove all the black gummy adhesive.)
I plotted my escape from this weird institution constantly, and at some point, the head of Kareem Abdul Jabbar from the 80s started tracking my movements. It was Kareem wearing 80s basketball goggles and rocking a fade haircut, and it was just his head. It would pop up next to me as I discussed escape options with my friends, and at some point, it occurred to me that he might not be real. To test this, I would try to hit him in the face. Constantly. “Not real” I would say before leaning over and punching him.
I don’t really remember coming out of the coma. Once they figured out what was wrong with me they took me off of the stuff that kept me under, and I slowly regained consciousness. I remember wondering why I was strapped down, and I remember seeing my parents, my boyfriend, and my best friend Jamie and feeling relieved.
And eating ice. They wouldn’t let me eat anything, or drink anything (I had tons of IVs), so instead staff would bring me cups of barrel-shaped ice, and I would scarf them down like it was Thanksgiving. I remember eating ice one day, the task taking all my concentration as my muscles were completely atrophied, and looking over at Jamie, who was hanging out in my room. “Are these different flavors?” I asked in my croaky damaged voice, as I was convinced that each ice cube was slightly colored, and slightly fruit-flavored.
“Nope” Jamie said, as if it was the most logical question on earth. “It’s just ice.”
I can’t speak for all coma patients (and it’s racist for you to expect me to), but my experience was very much tinged by what was actually happening to me. So don’t assume a coma patient can’t hear you. They may be hearing you and creating a sports icon character just for you.