The only time I can recall having a hallucination was ten years ago. That memory surfaced recently over lunch with a couple we’ve known for years. He said he had hallucinated while in the hospital a few years ago, explaining that it had to do with the pain medications he was on. That triggered my memory.
I was in the cardiac ICU, after having undergone surgery. The ICU nurse assigned to me spent most of the night in question looking out for me and, I assume, other cardiac ICU patients. The only other person I saw was a respiratory therapist who visited periodically to have me take deep breaths and blow into a device to measure my lung capacity.
Several times during the night, I managed to move so the wires for the cardiac monitor affixed to my chest pulled loose. Each time that happened, an alarm sounded and the nurse came in to attach the wires again. And each time I felt bad that I had somehow done something to cause more work for her. One time, the connections came off my chest when I tried to get up to make my way to the “bathroom,” which was nothing more than a portable urinal and hand sink near my bed. When she came in to correct the situation, she chastised me for getting up by myself, saying something along the lines of “It’s my job to look out after you; you aren’t disturbing me when the alarm goes off and you won’t disturb me if you need me to help you…DON’T try that on your own again!”
The aforementioned interactions were real. My intellect tells me the ones that followed are not; they must be hallucinations. Read on, I think you’ll agree.
About the third or fourth time I pulled the wires loose and set off the alarm, the nurse came in with a look of annoyance on her face. Her hair was a bit out of place and it appeared that her blouse was only partially buttoned. Instantly, I suspected she had been with the respiratory therapist when the alarm sounded and was forced to quickly pull her clothes back on to come respond to the alarm.
Not long after she corrected that disconnection, it happened again. This time, it took her much longer to come to my bedside. And this time, she was decidedly more disheveled and her blouse was partially unbuttoned. Her face was flushed and she was breathing hard. A moment later, the respiratory therapist came in. They exchanged long and knowing looks.
The look in her eyes as she turned to leave told the story: she knew that I knew about her tryst with the respiratory therapist and she knew I could report it and she would lose her job. I knew, too, that she would not believe me if I swore not to say a word. I knew she and her boyfriend had decided the only way for them to stay safe was to kill me.
My heart began to race and I began to shake. I didn’t know how I would defend myself if she decided to kill me. It probably wouldn’t be obvious; she’d probably use a drug that she would inject into my IV. I got very, very frightened. I was getting sleepy, but I dared not shut my eyes because I might go to sleep and if I went to sleep I might never wake up.
So, I kept my eyes open. I watched carefully so I would at least be alert and awake if she returned to kill me.
I have to describe the area in which my bed was located in order for the next part to make any sense. My “room” was actually a triangular space; two part of the triangle were walls, outfitted with all manner of medical equipment and supplies. The third part of the triangle was a glass wall with a doorway, but no door. Curtains hanging from the ceiling covered the windows on the inside and could be pulled over the doorway, as well.
Some time later, as I watched the door opening, I saw the drapes being pulled back. A small boy and a small girl peered into my tiny triangular room and stared at me. Instantly, I knew they were the nurse’s children. I must have moved suddenly when they pulled back the curtain, because the alarm went off, indicating I had pulled a lead away from my chest again.
The nurse came quickly this time. Her blouse was not tucked into her skirt and several of her top buttons were unbuttoned, revealing her bra. She looked at the children by the window, then looked at me, visibly angry. She said something like “I’ll take care of this,” then I saw her plunge the needle of a syringe into an IV connection.
That’s all I remember of the hallucination. My memory of the hallucination has no doubt changed over the years, but the way I’ve described it is essentially the way it happened. At least in my mind.
I didn’t tell anyone about it for weeks, maybe month, after my surgery because it seemed very real to me; I thought I might have been losing my mind. Or that I had barely escaped with my life. Finally, though, it sunk in; this series of “memories” could not possibly have happened. I think it was the realization that there was no way the nurse would have had her children in the ICU in the middle of the night that finally convinced me.
That notwithstanding, I simply cannot get over how real it seemed at the time. It was far more vivid and far more detailed than a dream. It was as if all of this was really happening. I assume, of course, it didn’t. Did it?