Out of my head

When I went back to the hospital last week, I asked a surgeon to explain the hallucinations and paranoia in the days following my surgery. He said it was not unusual. The combination of drugs and a lack of sleep can do funny things. I’ll take him at his word. For me, it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced.

There’s so much I’m uncertain of, what happened or what I think happened, what I saw, what I felt and heard. That’s the whole nature of what I experienced. Throughout, you’re never sure what is fact and fiction, and what the nature of reality is.

This is how I experienced it. One moment I was laying there on the hospital gurney listening to the conversation and my right arm outstretched at an awkward angle, watching the complex preparations as anaesthetics, meds, whatever are programmed. There must be half a dozen people around me doing their thing with the light bright above. Everything is heightened but normal.

Then it’s like someone flicked a switch. The next moment in my experience, I’m faced with what appears a screen full of scrolling little green badges. It felt like I was within a machine, and in my muddled state of mind, I came to believe in a miserable truth: this was the matrix, and I was inside it. The feeling was doom, but also shocked surprise. It really was true, after all.

That’s my memory of it, but that’s likely the rewrite. The linear record is disjointed. Did I really lose consciousness at that point? Or was it rewritten in subsequent drafts, overwriting any version previous to that?

In any case, it went on from there. I found myself in an evolving, complex and intricately detailed versions of reality.

For me, much of this was in beautiful visuals, produced ad Infinitum in playful displays of bravura creation. It was mesmerising and more true – more complete and vivid – than anything I had ever lightly thought of as reality before. It was crushing because the individual ceases to exist in that order. You find yourself subsumed into this system and being stripped of your identity. It was horrifying and all-encompassing and so my solution – hours after the surgery and I was in recovery – was to resist unconsciousness. If I kept myself conscious, then there was a chance I could get through this. But it meant I couldn’t get the rest I needed, or so it seemed.

I know it sounds insane. I was not in a good way. I had basically accepted the reality I had grown up believing in was fake but couldn’t face the new reality given me.

There were audio as well as visual components to this. That’s where the paranoia hooped in. It felt as if my ears had developed acute hearing, and I could hear every thought and conversation – and all of it was about me.

Some of it was almost comical. It was like tuning into a Nigerian radio station and hearing every personal failure described in hilarious and gleeful detail. I could hear the fruity accents and laughter tormenting me, all of it a fabrication of my mind.

Besides that, I imagined the nurses talking about me. I listened in to their disparaging and insulting comments or imagined I did. I could do nothing about it, but it festered in me distrust that would later manifest in my dealings with them.

Closing my eyes, I would be presented with many different things, but among them were what appeared insulting testimonials commenting on my character. All of it appeared as if I was looking at a screen.

At other times I’d see these brilliant mandalas like images continually evolve on screen. It was so complex and detailed that I would wonder at it, but it had a hypnotic effect I would counter ultimately by opening my eyes again.

During this time, and since, I could feel what seemed like magic happening in the cheek where I was operated on – an agitated activity, an internal twitching, as if the muscle and nerves were knitting in real-time. I still feel this occasionally and think it authentic.

My cheek was packed with wadding infused with god knows what, with a piece of skin and an artery transplanted from my groin to become my upper palate. It was important that it fused and became compatible, and several times a day throughout my stay, the nurses and doctors would check on it. It felt as if it was adapting to the environment, joining and growing, encouraged by whatever was in the wadding was infused with. I could taste it in my mouth to the point I wanted to spit it out, so bitter and chemical was it.

There was something almost rhythmic to this, and when I closed my eyes, I would see what appeared to be a cloth, dark brownish-red and slightly moistened it appeared, subtly shift as if it was breathing.

By this time, I think, I’d poked my head up a few times and made some outrageous and panicked claims, though remember, I had no voice (which made things worse – I felt trapped, locked-in). People were worried about me. This was 2-3 days post-surgery, and I was in this crazy mental spiral. There was no escape from it. It felt like a form of torture. But at some point, I think I came to realise that – to accept – that it wasn’t true. It was just a horrible trip. I couldn’t stop it, though, and from that crazy place, I’d send out missives trying to alert the world and get some help. No chance of that.

I don’t know how I survived it. I despaired at the effort required to endure down in my hole. I knew, in my crazy, mixed-up way, that I had to keep going. But there were times I felt as if I couldn’t go on and felt like ripping out every tube.

I survived in the end. In my mind, I imagined all sorts of explanations for what was happening. Maybe it was just a bad reaction to the drugs. I imagined, in fact, that I had pushed the pain button too much, and I was sure I heard at one stage a nurse saying the painkiller hadn’t been diluted at it should have been – but then, that was just as likely another figment of my paranoia. Regardless, it gave me something to focus on. The medication would fade – I had to outlast it.

Eventually, I came out of this funk. Surgery was Wednesday. I reckon it wasn’t until Sunday that I saw some light. The days in between were some of the hardest in my life. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t expect the psychological challenge to be greater than the physical.

The guy I shared a room with commented that he had some strange thoughts and dreams, though not to the degree I had. There are still occasions when something pops into my head and dreams that feel like that – but then, I still have the wadding in my cheek.

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