“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” – Albert Einstein

My mother is awake.

Which wouldn’t be so profound an announcement if it weren’t for the fact that she has been asleep for three weeks.

While I was on my vacation in St. Maarten, she developed an infection.  Considering what her Infectious Disease Specialist has told me about the identity of the bacterial culprit, it’s my (relatively informed and educated) opinion that it may have started with an infected tooth and then developed into a deep abscess in her neck.  He and I may disagree a bit on this point, but having two specialists is like having two clocks.  If you have one, you know the time.  If you have two, you are never sure.

What we do not disagree on is that, from her neck, the infection spread to the cervical vertebrae of her spine (causing her an immense degree of pain), and then, by aspiration, to her lungs.  Once there, it really set up shop to stay.

By the time they took her from her rural town by medical helicopter, delirious and then unconscious, to a more equipped hospital in Minneapolis, her lung capacity was nearing less than 25%, and they placed her immediately on a ventilator in a twilight sleep of antibiotics, painkillers and sedatives; a sleep that would last almost 21 days.

When we sleep, even a sedated sleep, we dream.  We dream and we are not oblivious to the world outside ourselves.  Our brain works to create the fantasies of our dream, and at the same time, it tries to make sense of the external stimuli that our senses still work to collect, even in sleep.  How many times have we dreamt a telephone ringing and awoke to find it was our alarm clock?  Or a doorbell?  I once dreamed I was driving a car with my eyes closed, struggling in a panic, unsuccessfully trying to open my eyes, and I woke to find I had my pillow over my head.  We are never completely inward, even in sleep.

When you are asleep for three weeks, in a critical state, the results of the brain’s attempts at synthesis border on the bizarre.

My mother awoke to the absolute and utter conviction that she had been abducted, thrown in the trunk of a car, beaten and abused by people who shouted her name at her.  She describes this vividly and emphatically, and it is as real to her as the view of my parking lot from my office window.  Only it never happened.

Her brain has created for her a perfect scenario from what it knew.  She was taken, strapped to a gurney, in a confined space.  She was poked and prodded and rolled around.  She was in pain and afraid, and people were calling to her in the dark, saying unintelligible things.  Without context, her belief is perfectly logical, even reasonable.

The immediate reaction is to tell her what did happen, to tell her the objective truth of her experience.  But that would be a disaster.  Imagine if you believed, absolutely believed and experienced, that you had been kidnapped and abused, and nobody believed you?  Imagine how horrible the abandonment and isolation of feeling alone and undefended?

Eventually she will need to re-synthesize her personal history and fill in the blanks of her lost three weeks.  For now, we work with her damaged psyche to assure her she is safe , that she is getting better and she is not alone.  A hospital security guard stops by her room and lets her know he is there.   We do not contradict her, we simply assure her.

And we let the brain have its own reality and give truth a holiday for a little while longer.

October 8th, 2009 at 9:23 am
5 Responses to “What dreams may come”
  1. 1
    Bambi Says:

    I am so very glad to hear that she is awake and recovering. She and your entire family have been in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. 2

    I too am so happy that she is awake and on the road to recovery. It has to be horrifying for her to go through something like that. I always wish for people who are in such circumstances to be as at peace as they appear. I will continue to hold out hope and prayers for her full recovery, both physical and emotional.

    If there’s anything we can do, you have only to ask.

    Love from me & Griff.

  3. 3
    Sara Says:

    I am so glad to hear that she is improving and recovery is underway. And what a wonderful thing you are doing for her by recognizing that delicate balance she needs right now. You are all in my prayers.

    Much love,


  4. 4

    My Dad’s started sleepwalking. He took his second late-night cruise night before last.


  5. 5

    I am so glad that your mom is going to pull through.