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Back From The Dead

December 7, 2011

I was dreaming. a beautiful dream comprised of that beautiful riverbank, with the flowering field next to it. In my dream, I felt great – peaceful, tranquil, and completely happy and free of pain. I had the feeling that if I could just continue in the state I was in, I would be completely cured and happy forever.

But then there was something really annoying occurring. I could hear someone shouting. “Mrs. Mowder. you’ve got to wake up” I got the impression of a strange, darkened room; it was full of people. They were shaking me, shouting at me, telling me to wake up. “Why?” I remember asking, “Why do you want me to wake up?” All I wanted to do was get back to sleep, to that lovely. pain-free sleep. “Mrs. Mowder, you’ve got to wake up. You’ve had a bad reaction to your medicine. Your blood pressure has sunk too low. You weren’t breathing. You have to wake up.” I really didn’t care about all that. As I grew more awake to response to their actions, I also grew more confused. Where was I? I recognized some of the curtains, some of the people. I was in my bed in the “cluster unit” on the 5th floor of the hospital. I didn’t understand what was happening; all I knew was that everything hurt, and I wanted to go back to sleep. One of the nurses was trying to put an oxygen mask on my face. They kept telling me that I had to let them do this, that I needed to breathe. All I knew was that breathing that oxygen made everything feel worse. Normally, I am completely compliant with doctor’s and nurses’ instructions. This time, I fought back, vigorously. I started yelling, “Stop! No!” in a raspy voice that sounded strange to my ears. I twisted my head back and forth, refusing to let them fit the oxygen mask over my airway. It just hurt too much to wake up.

All I wanted was to get back to sleep. I succeeded; they disappeared. This time, I was floating in a luminous cloud-like substance, which was all around me and covering me like a blanket. I felt so relieved, so happy and tranquil. Once again, I was completely free of pain. I knew that all I had to do was continue sleeping, just like this, and I would be cured of every physical problem I had.

But once again, I could hear someone yelling me to wake up. A nurse was putting that damn vinyl oxygen mask over my mouth; the cold oxygen was being forced into my nose. I ached everywhere, in every muscle. I knew where I was, back in that damn hospital room, in the wee hours of the morning. Everyone was sleeping around me, and here were these medical people trying to wake me up again! I knew I was shouting and crying, “Stop! Why are you doing this to me! Leave me alone!” I was apologizing for making so much noise and disturbing the other three patients in the room. “Just leave me alone! I’ll be quiet!” I tried to bargain with them. Then I went back to sleep again.

The next time I woke up, I was in a different room. It was a cubicle, with a window and a door and a lot of monitor sounds and all the lights on. There was a different nurse. She had awoken me up to make me swallow some water. This confused me even more. “Where am I? What’s happening? Who are you?” “You’re in ICU. You were moved down here so we can monitor you. My name is Aurora.” Then I fell back to sleep.

I was having a dream that I was on “The Price Is Right.” I was called on stage, out of the audience. I won a car! I delightedly drove it off the stage, and down the aisle of the auditorium, to the applause of the crowd. Then I heard a commercial and actually woke up. I was lying in a bed in the same ICU room; it was 11:30 in the morning. There was a television on, playing morning game shows. The remote control, with the speaker, was right next to my head, and the events on the screen had gotten into my dream. I picked it up to turn it off, just as the nurse came in.

The story was simple enough. I’d been on morphine for pain for the last four days, ever since I’ve been admitted on Thanksgiving for severe intestinal and stomach pains. I’d also been given Valium for muscle cramps the day before on Sunday, after I’d spent a sleepless night contorted in spastic muscle pain. All these drugs had interacted with the meds that I was already taking to drive me towards respiratory arrest. Some time after I’d fallen asleep on Sunday night, my blood pressure had sunk below 50/30, and my breathing had gotten shallower and shallower. It had actually stopped a couple of times. All that confusion the night before had been the doctor, the nurses and the techs working for three hours, starting about 2 AM. trying to wake me up . They finally gave me a shot of Narcan , got me breathing again, and breathed a bit easier themselves.

Then I’d coded again, and they’d given me another shot of Narcan, and finally I had stabilized.

The nurses and the techs and especially the doctor on call, Dr. Michael Noll, had saved my life.

Now I was in ICU, with my blood pressure up above 230/120. The plan was to keep me on a drip with some high-powered intravenous blood pressure medication, while I was “detoxed” from all my regular meds, the morphine and the Valium, and then slowly brought back to speed on my medications for CPS, for spasticity, for hypertension, and for depression. The nurses and the techs and especially the doctor on call, Dr. Michael Noll, had saved my life.

But that is a different story – the one about how I got into the hospital, about being on a liquid diet for five days around Thanksgiving, about all the varieties of pain besides CPS that a person can feel in a hospital, about the part hypertension played in all of this, about the marvelous nurses at Robert Wood Johnson, about the whole week in the hospital spinning around that crucial three hours.

For four years, ever since my stroke in October 2007, I have felt my mortality every day. Everyday I have awoken thinking, “This day could be my last.” Every day I have been afraid of having another stroke, or of my blood pressure spiking and damaging one of my organs. Every day, I have wondered if today was the day I would die.

I had already died once, back when I was eight weeks old, in October of 1956. I had gotten such a severe case of croup that my trachea swelled and closed. My mother, overwhelmed with the care of her first infant, hadn’t known how to react, and hadn’t called for an ambulance until I was having extreme distress breathing. Then I had stopped breathing in the ambulance, and was blue and limp when they finally got me into the Emergency Room. An emergency tracheotomy saved my life then.

I’d always wondered if that near-death experience was one of the reasons that I’d always been so calm and certain that there was something after this field of existence – even though I knew it wasn’t the “Heaven” that was described to us little Roman Catholic children.

But this near-death experience was something different. It didn’t reveal to me any visions of the Hereafter. What it showed me was what it feels like to die of an overdose, essentially. It was calm, tranquil, beautiful, pain-free and relaxing, free of worry and fear. Is it the feeling that you get in all forms of death? Is there a split-second when you are dying in an accident, or of a heart attack, or even in a fire, when the fear and pain disappears, and you feel an expansive sense of desire for the best sleep you’ve ever had in your life? In my dreams of that night, I didn’t associate going to sleep with dying. I truly had the impression that I would wake up again, but cured and well and feeling wonderful. That was why I wanted to go back to sleep again, not because I had a death wish.

What unnerves me now is that I didn’t fight harder to stay alive. I actually fought to be left alone, to be allowed to go back to the stupor that was killing me.

I am delighted that I was revived. Now  I rejoice that I have been given the gift of another day when I awaken, instead of wondering morbidly about whether I will see the nightfall. There is a purpose to being alive, and it is clear.

What is not so clear is what would have happened had I continued to sleep that deep respiratory-arrest sleep. Would I have awoken in some other form of consciousness? Would everything that has happened in this life appear just like a distant story? Or would I have simply stopped dreaming altogether?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2011 5:47 PM

    Glad you made it back too… I also was dead for a while after a burst brain aneurysm in 2004. Perhaps we should talk about our experiences sometime. I’m still recovering but doing OK… I was inspired to create a website & write a book entitled “Apocalypse Near” because of what happened to me. Keep sharing your story, you never know who you are going to reach & turn from the fire to the light.
    In infinite Love & light,

  2. Kate Skeffington permalink
    January 31, 2012 2:48 PM

    Hey Louise,
    Your dream/stupor sounds like your early ideas of heaven: floating/clouds/happy/pain free.

    • January 31, 2012 3:08 PM

      Kate, that’s what I have now chosen to think of Heaven as being – a happy pain-free place where eventually I will be able to get out of bed and do things and hang out with people. (You will be there, I am sure.)

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