Welcome to My Nightmare

31Oct12

It’s Halloween. I have mixed emotions about this day now. I can remember the times from my childhood trick or treating where we would walk for blocks and blocks all over Ozone Park and come back with a huge haul of candy. Back then, you just didn’t worry that much about walking far from home or visiting houses you weren’t familiar with. There wasn’t the same type of fear that exists today for our kids. I guess this gets back more to my post yesterday about fear. It’s a little bit of a different type of fear in that it seems a lot more real than what you hear or see in books or movies, sad to say.

I also have an association with Halloween that I’ll have forever. Three years ago today, I was released from Helen Hayes Hospital and came home for the first time in nearly 6 months. Halloween will always be the day that I got my freedom back, in a sense. When I left Helen Hayes, which is a rehabilitation hospital, there were a lot of ifs having over me. I could barely walk and had to use a walker. I was on oxygen and had a portable tank with me all the time. I was on a lot of medication. But  I was glad to be home. It was an odd thing to come back home after being away for so long. I had only been out of the hospital twice in that whole time frame (well, four times actually if you count the two ambulance rides to move me to different hospitals), so it was odd to sit in the car and come back home. I still had 7 more months of physical and occupational therapy ahead of me. I had already done most things that a lot of doctors thought I wouldn’t do. They had told Michelle I was likely going to die. Then they told her I could be on a ventilator for the rest of my life. Then when I came out of the coma, they said I would probably need a wheelchair for the rest of my life. So when I left the hospital with a walker, we already felt like I was ahead of the game.

Doctors told me I would likely be on oxygen for the rest of my life. I was off it in three months. I was able to drive in four months. I ditched the walker in six months. I went from taking 14 pills a day to 6 (and 3 of them are vitamins now). Progress slowed after all of that, but even now, I am a thousand times better than I was three years ago and I feel like I am still making progress (you can check some of my more recent posts about that).

Now on to something that Halloween brings to people. Halloween, of course, is supposed to bring some good scares as well. I guess the emphasis there should be on the word “good.” The scares you see on Halloween aren’t really supposed to hurt anyone. As I talked about yesterday, people get more of a thrill out of this type of scare than any real fear. Real scares seem to come from much different places. And that brings me to the topic I really wanted to get to tonight, which is about nightmares.

Everyone has nightmares at one point in their lives or another. Most of us likely had them when we were kids and outgrew them at some point as we got older. I think I probably had nightmares when I was younger, but like most of us, I don’t really remember what they were. Unfortunately, there are many people who experience nightmares as adults. This happens for a variety of reasons; I think a lot of the time it stems from some type of trauma that a person has suffered and this is the way the nightmare manifests itself. At least, that is what happens to me.

My nightmare started before I left Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. After I had awakened from the coma, they began to start to wean me off of a lot of the medications I had been taking, which was both some strong steroids and very strong pain killers. One of the wonderful side effects of all this was that it put me through withdrawals and I suffered from hallucinations. To add to the fun, I also couldn’t really talk at this point. I was allowed limited amount of talking when they would put a speaking valve in where my tracheostomy was. Most of the time the valve wasn’t in, so I couldn’t talk. Well, I shouldn’t say that; I could whisper, but not enough that anyone could really hear me. Between the hallucinations and the nightmares, I never wanted to be alone in that hospital while I was awake. I used to plead with Michelle to spend the nights with me because I was so afraid to be alone there. I was convinced that whatever I saw in those hallucinations or nightmares was real, and it was coming for me.

Once I got home, on Halloween as you know, the nightmares didn’t stop. The doctors I have kind of chalk it all up to a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that I carry with me and just have to deal with, so I try to deal with it. They can give me medication to help me sleep, but they can’t give me anything to make the nightmare stop. I thought maybe it was time to talk about it and maybe it would help it to go away for a while.

It’s always the same dream. Nothing about it changes. Ever. it does differ slightly from the hallucinations I had. The only real difference is that in hallucinations it would come out of the shadows of the hospital room. Now it just appears next to my bed. What is it? I don’t know exactly, but whatever it is scares the hell out of me. I know that every time I see it, I can’t move when it’s there. When I was in the hospital I couldn’t move either, but that was because I literally couldn’t move. I had tubes and wires all over me and my body wasn’t capable of movement at that point. There was no way for me to escape. Whenever I have the nightmare, that’s what is happening. I can’t move and it feels like it did when I was in that bed. Whatever it is, it knows I can’t move and it knows I am afraid of it. In the hospital, it used to just grab my oxygen tube, put something over my face and smother me so I couldn’t breathe. I could feel the pressure building up in my chest and couldn’t breathe or call out for help. When it happens to me at home, it puts its claw around my throat and squeezes and then wraps something over my face to make sure I can’t breathe. I never die when it happens. I always wake up before that happens, but it sure feels like I am going to die and it sure seems real.

And then I wake up. I wake up and don’t want to go back to sleep for a while, and then eventually I get too tired and fall asleep. The nightmares don’t happen as often as they used to. They have kind of faded over the last few years where I only have them once in a while now. Is the thing that is trying to get me Death? Maybe. Maybe he feels cheated because he didn’t get me the chances that he had at me in the hospital, real or otherwise. Or maybe it’s just symbolic of something else, some part of me that’s still there from when I was sick, deep in my mind somewhere. My hope is that someday it won’t be there anymore. I think at that point I will finally be better.

I know it doesn’t sound like much, but I think nightmares don’t have to be much in order to really scare us. It just has to be something deep inside that is hard for us to get out, hard for us to shed. Hopefully I am not the only person who still has to deal with nightmares, but then again i don’t wish them on anyone, so maybe it’s better if I am, but I don’t think that’s really true.

If you have a nightmare you want to share, you are welcome to do it. I honestly hope it will make me feel better and maybe make this fade away from me, and it might do the same for you. Maybe it will just feel better to get it out into the open. Either way, if you want to share, here is your space. Feel free to do so.

Okay, after talking about fears and nightmares, tomorrow we’ll move on to something lighter, I promise. Enjoy your Halloween.

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