The Time I Almost Died in Real Life and Did Die In My Mind — ICU Induced Delirium
Authors note: These events are relayed to the best of my recollection. Obviously, given the situation, that recollection is far from perfect. I have written so much about this event/these things but never put any of it out for public consumption before. Maybe it was too painful or too personal or too scary. Whatever the reasons I’m over them. I will be updating/editing and releasing parts of some of these writings from now until I run out I guess. I hope they can mean something to someone besides me.
I was hospitalized for the entire month of January 2015 with necrotizing pancreatitis which eventually progressed to multi organ system failure. For 90% of that month I was in the ICU. At my lowest point physically I was given a 40% chance to live. So much fluid had built up inside my abdomen that at various times my kidneys, lungs, and heart each failed completely or had their function reduced to levels below what is necessary to sustain life. An emergency surgery called a decompressive laparotomy saved my life. Basically they cut me open at the midline of my torso from sternum to waist, spread me apart and left me like that for three days to drain.
For the the majority of my 32 day long convalescence I experienced a condition known in the medical community as ICU induced delirium. It’s thought to be mostly the result of long term exposure to high levels of the extremely powerful narcotic medications administered for pain control and sedation. In my case this was exacerbated further as the dosages given were 10–100X what a “normal” person would require. I was admitted to the hospital with a significant opioid tolerance the reasons for which are unimportant in relation to the events described here. It is enough to note that my situation was unusual in that regard and I have little doubt it contributed to the duration, intensity, and vividness of my delirium experiences.
Describing those experiences/episodes now is like trying to recall a dream. Unlike a dream however the things I do remember feel like actual memories from my real life. Sometimes I mix up the events I experienced then with real events from my own lifetime, my actual past. In my mind I lived parts of multiple lifetimes, and I died once too. The memories of those lives are disjointed and askew but the events they portray all seem so real. I lived them, experienced them, in every way that matters they felt like, still feel like, they really happened.
I battled a sinister man with terrifying powers who was known to me only by the cryptic name Mr. X. In a large majority of the events I can recall Mr. X was the main antagonist and he played at least some small role in virtually all of them. I have already written so much (though not published here) about what transpired between myself and Mr. X. I think soon I will make some of that material public but for now it remains a personal story told only in parts, verbally, to a very few close family and friends.
In one of the most vivid of all the non-Mr. X focused delirium events/stories/experiences/lifetimes [I still don’t know the right word(s) to use] I lived through the end of the world. It was in this same timeline that I experienced my death. Somehow I had become trapped in a terminal at the Philadelphia airport by a raging snowstorm. I was stuck there as an invalid, strapped in a gurney and unable to walk or even to stand or move. There was one woman who cared for me, fed me and gave me medication. I recognized her as a nurse though she worked for no hospital and wore no uniform. The little I recall of her are no more than impressions now. Ageless, ancient and young all at once, simply dressed in grey and black, usually plain in appearance but at times indescribably beautiful. She said almost nothing. “Relax, it will be ok, be calm, peace, don’t be afraid” are the few short things I remember. Never did she speak without touching me gently first. Always her touch washed over me like a waterfall, cool and fresh, I would sleep then, for how long it’s impossible to say. The experience of falling asleep when one is already sleeping, has been sleeping for days or weeks, was so strange. It is simply impossible for me to describe. What I can say is that it was pleasant and only once did I fear falling asleep but that is a tale I don’t intend to tell, ever.
There came I time when the world’s end was very near. The woman/nurse knew it and she needed to get home to her family. She said nothing to me but I knew she had to go. Before she departed, she took my hand, looked straight at me, and injected me with poison directly in the gut. I knew it was an act of mercy and she only meant to spare me further suffering but I can still feel the pain from the needle as it pierced my abdomen. A numbness came over me, I could see the sadness in her eyes, her pity, then a darkness grew as all light was gradually extinguished. At the same time I could hear the hospital monitoring equipment beeping and buzzing, loudly at first, and then beginning to grow quiet and to slow and I knew that when it stopped and there was no more sound I would be dead. I felt great fear, the oldest and strongest fear known to man, that of the unknown. (used with all due respect given to H.P. Lovecraft). I was gasping for breath, thoughts racing, no way out, and still quieter and quieter it became. Until one last barely audible beep, no more than a whisper and I took one final great gasp searching for air, there was none, and I died. After that I remember nothing for what seemed a very long time. I can’t puzzle out the order of events beyond that time but at some point I came back either into another delirium state or the real world.
So many things happened to me in that month in the ICU. Wonderful, terrible, happy, and sad, yet the entire time I was bedridden, organs failing, on dialysis, a ventilator, a respirator, dying but somehow surviving. Then one day I woke up, sat up, looked around and had no idea where I was, who I was, or how I had arrived there. Time was seriously out of joint (used with all due respect to Phillip K. Dick), and i was oblivious to the date. Even my name remained a mystery to me for the first day. Yet I immediately recognized my wife as such and I panicked some because she was the prime target of Mr. X. I had to warn her, explain what and happened and that she was in terrible danger. I begged for a pen to write with but was too weak to grasp it between my fingers let alone put it to paper. Instead i let loose with as much intensity and speed as I could muster and spoke what I knew. Later she told me I spouted nonsense for two full days and occasional gibberish for two more. Much later, I heard a recording of some of it and I sounded like a man possessed. Barely able to breathe yet talking as fast as my weak body would allow. I had to get those things out of me. I needed to say them.
When I think about that time now I feel a profound sense of wonder. Physically, though my abdomen now bears a vicious looking foot long gash/scar, and I’m plagued by occasional bouts of severe pain and weakness, I’m mostly recovered. Mentally, I don’t know what to think still. I am a changed person. No one could live through the things I did and not be deeply affected. Mostly I am thankful. People assume I’m thankful to be alive. That’s not it at all, I’m thankful for the opportunity I was given to die. In that place. In my mind.
Authors postscript: I told a few people that I died in the hospital. For many months after I left I was convinced that I had. I thought that what I was experiencing back in the “real world” was itself a fake, a substitute for the actual situation. The situation being me dead and buried somewhere, remembered by a very few close friends and family but forgotten by history, my passing never remarked upon in any book or song or in any way of import at all. I “lived” that way for some time. In the end it didn’t really matter, if the world I lived in was fake I was still hungry in it, I still needed money to eat and to pay the bills, so I needed to work. I didn’t want to be alone in this fake world either so I needed friends and family. I went about my business acting like nothing had changed. At some point pretending becomes just being, what is fake becomes what is real. I have mostly given up thinking I am dead but sometimes I feel something strange or hear something in a whisper and instantly I am back in that hospital and I remember what happened to me and I wonder.