It is now over 12 months since my last blog posting. The reason for this hiatus is that I got cancer. And had to undergo some long and complicated surgery which at some stages was life threatening. There were crises and much surgery had to be done twice. From the time I went under in the operating theatre a number of days were to pass before I was fully conscious. There was loss of blood and oxygen starvation. I was rescued and rebuilt by a remarkable surgical team under Mr Cyrus Kerawala.
I have seen the theater report of what happened but this story is very much mine; a patient, a layman without either the technical terminology nor the imagination to understand exactly what was done to me. However, I continued to remain under a controlled coma well into the following week. I do not know exactly when I was moved into the Critical Care Unit, I only know that I woke up in full consciousness the following Tuesday morning, a week after the first operation. Over those seven days I was technically unconscious but actually living out a fantastical and complicated trip.
This is the story of that trip which took me, in my mind, to other continents and other places, traveling all the time in my hospital bed. That this was not a dream, but a living experience, is made more certain since I remember it all in extraordinary detail. In this account, I shall interject my waking and conscious experiences when they did occur but, for the main, what now follows is what I experienced in my unconscious state. Rather than a dream, this was my trip.
Of course, for most of that time I was either unconscious or semiconscious or in a coma. I drifted in and out of various degrees of consciousness and clearly was sometimes vaguely aware of my surroundings. I can recall within the trip sequence, voices and words spoken by my wife, Gisela, and others around me. Clearly the combination of drugs and anesthetics kept me largely comatose throughout. However, my brain was still functioning because I experienced some most remarkable events in my head, though I never moved out of the recovery or care unit beds that I was placed in.
What follows is a broadly chronological description of the events that I imagined. Before I start this description, I should make a couple of observations. Mr. Kerawala suggested a theory that we are temporal beings and, when brain functions are interfered with in a surgical procedure, particularly one as close to the brain as the mouth and face, the individual may experience some loss or distortion of memory. In some cases, much more. One approach to restoring that memory might be to project the patient back to an earlier time as a kind of benchmark, or fixed point from which to reboot the memory function. This thought must have remained in my head and so I interpreted many of the events that came to me as being part of that process.
What happened to me demonstrated how fragile our concept of reality really is. We know that the brain processes all sensory inputs and adjusts them to achieve a constant and logical sense of reality. We carry around in our head a model of the world we inhabit which we constructed and set in those early years of our lives. When deprived of real time sensory inputs such as sound and vision, our brain seeks to build a conscious existence out of the memory and any residual sensory cues. In my trip, I saw and felt what I imagined to be actual incidents and all had some origin in what I remember or what I have experienced, or from books I have read and films I have seen.
However, two things are clear. My subconscious was aware when my existence was threatened. And everything that seemed to have happened could have happened. In that sense, this was no fantasy.
There is one further question. Was I merely reacting to my circumstance or was I allowed a glimpse of something more profound? I will return to this later.
The last thing I remember before the trip was climbing on to the operating table in the remarkable underground theater which the Kerawala team use at the Marsden. I had no idea what was in store for me.
The trip begins in the Brompton Road and the time is clearly the 1930s. I knew that because of the buses which were definitely prewar. Great six wheel AEC vehicles with outside staircases. On the pavement were shoppers dressed in the pre-war style, Harrods windows were crammed with merchandise, not like the stark minimalism of today.
I suppose that I knew these scenes were not remembered from within my own life but were actually the result of descriptions and pictures shown to me as a child. The world in which I grew up in the immediate post-war time was, of course, a continuation of the 1930s. In spite of the bombing in London, most of the cars and street furnishings were from pre-war; also much of the clothing at that time was from the 30’s, only modified by the exigencies of fighting a war and so many grown-ups being in uniform.
The next scene found me sitting on a great spiral staircase inside Harrods observing a revolving display down the middle of the staircase containing many the products on sale in the store; food, cosmetics, some clothing and men’s personal articles, such as wallets and cigarette lighters and so forth, all revolving in front of my eyes while I sat and watched. Shoppers came and went in appropriate 1930s clothing and the whole panorama was one, which gave me a sense of comfort and reality.
With no apparent discontinuity, I changed to an aerial view of London of the period of my youth. I found that I could concentrate on, and find myself in a particular street, even though I was aware that I could not walk, but could only sit or lie and view. The panorama that passed before me with people going into restaurants and into public houses was rather like a three-dimensional film.
Then my imagination conjured up my early school and I was able to look into the playground and see the Golden Arrow train passing on the track that ran alongside the school. I also experienced the feeling of running in the playground and sitting in classrooms. It was summer and in the heat we could all have a short swim in a huge splash pool.
I had a remarkably comfortable feeling about the world that I seemed to be inhabiting which took me back to an age when I was indeed comfortable and happy. I was not aware of any serious discomfort or anxiety, but merely saw myself as an observer who both participated in the scenes from the early part of my life, and also seemed to be within them.
The next thing I knew was that someone was calling me (I now know it was Gisela) and, though I wished to respond, my speaking voice simply would not come, and I was dumb. And the more that this voice called me, the more my images became contemporary and I saw buses and cars on the streets from a later part of my life and the panorama included all kinds of experiences such as camping and sailing.
I knew I was uncomfortable and was suddenly outside in some sort of boat and I could hear and feel water, and a floating sensation. There were people somehow taking care of me. But all this disappeared in an intense feeling of anxiety and concern.
The next moment I seemed to be in America. I was being taken on a journey not unlike those I have recently taken by train and motorbike, but this time I was being driven and shown the countryside, which was straight out of the movies. But my anxiety was heightened because somebody in my dream was telling me that I had to get back to London or I would be in a serious difficulty. The next thing I knew I was boarding a Boeing 747 but, because I was in a wheelchair, or a moving bed, I had to be put into the hold and, in the hold, there were strange objects and people. It was extremely cold and uncomfortable and I could hardly breathe.
Then I began to have an intense feeling of anxiety, of not being able to breathe properly and demanding oxygen, even to the point of shouting that if I did not get some air I would die, and I was not going to die. I’m told I even shouted this out as far as I was able at the time (this must have been the period of the second operation when I was subject to oxygen starvation).
I knew I had to have oxygen if I was travelling in the hold of an aircraft. I was told repeatedly that oxygen would be provided and, though I did not understand or notice how it came, I suddenly had breaths of fresh air and began to feel less panic and anticipated my arrival in London.
Somehow, I was saved. However, I never experienced the aircraft actually taking off or landing, but was told that I would be fetched and taken home from the airplane. Then suddenly we were at Heathrow. The strange thing is that I know that I have been in this 747, but I cannot hear the sounds of an airplane, only that soon we will arrive and soon I would be let out of the aircraft in my rolling bed. My anxiety persisted, but I do recall a strong feeling of relief and relaxation that was followed by the most remarkable series of imagined events.
About this point in my imagination I began to realise that there was some kind of apparatus that travelled everywhere with me on my trips. Much later I identified this as my hospital bed and the equipment that surrounded it including the overhead TV screen. There was also always someone sitting silently in my sight line with a computer screen in front of him or her. There were strange noises, mainly clicks and buzzes and alarms. I must have by now drifted into semi consciousness and become aware of my surroundings. The only problem was that I couldn’t place them in a hospital, and I could not speak.
I suppose that this first Atlantic journey preceded and then included the second operation. Many of the scenes and sensations already part of the trip came back and were repeated.
Once more I imagined that I was in a rather large wheelchair, and once again sitting on the Harrods staircase, watching the array of goods available in Harrods in the 30s and 40s on a revolving display down the middle of the stone staircase as I sat on one of the landings. By now I was desperately thirsty and longed to be able to reach out and take the frozen fruit and ice cream and fruit juices that were laid out in the display, but of course I couldn’t…
However, there were others like me bound to wheelchairs and they seemed to be being propelled in front of me. I began to be really frustrated and called out not to be left behind. They were gradually being wheeled out of a door and into the street. It was raining and so a sort of plastic tent was placed around me. The nurse who was pushing me and who remained silent just got wet. At last my wheelchair was moved out of the store and onto the pavement.
It was Saturday afternoon (I think it really was) and raining hard in London. The door opened out onto the road very nearly opposite Buckingham Palace. We were to join some sort of parade (I was to continue to believe that I was near Buckingham Palace for at least the next 72 hours).
There were other wheelchairs in the parade, and nurse pushed me along with the rest of the crowd, but very slowly. We turned into Birdcage Walk and then very gradually turned right to go up a lane between Birdcage Walk and Petty France (this topography I now know to have been entirely in my imagination). The queue of wheelchairs with accompanying nurses, all in wartime dress, moved very slowly and was held up for a while by some vintage Army lorries coming the other way.
Somehow the area of Buckingham Gate was parkland with trees and gently sloping grassland, except over to the left towards Victoria Street was a huge crater. Somebody explained to me that the way of projecting us back into the present from this past would be by using the bomb shelters which had been built under the buildings to the south of Buckingham Palace. Through some catastrophe these had been exposed in the ensuing landslide.
The rain was very heavy and everybody outside was extremely wet. It was clear to me that some kind of a celebration or parade was taking place with ancient trucks and vehicles until I realised, peering through the transparent plastic front of my wheelchair, that the surrounding people and vehicles were in fact genuinely from the 1930s. This was no pretense, it was indeed London in wartime.
Through the rain and my plastic cover I could see the massive crater that had opened up to our right. We could see, on the other side of the great depression, a number of holes leading to tunnels. Somehow, a voice told me that these were bomb shelters and ammunition stores from the First War. I was astonished when it was explained that my wheelchair, with me in it, now had to be pushed into one of the tunnels in order to pass back into the present day. This great clay crater had suddenly opened up because of the intense rain after the explosion, which I assumed was a wartime bomb.
The scene was one of devastation and all light brown, just like the bomb craters and destroyed houses when I was a child. There were wrecks of houses with furniture spilling out of upstairs rooms. And there were mummified dead bodies in the dirt and even some apparently still wounded lying around. We were passing among the dead skeletons, one larger than the others, which a bystander said was ‘tail end Charlie’; the soldier who could not get out in time. My nurse pushed me very slowly down the hill towards a tunnel, larger than the others. There were other trolleys on rudimentary rails heading for other tunnels. I wanted my nurse to get a move on, but we went down the hill very slowly towards the tunnel. As the others each approached a tunnel they disappeared.
At last my trolley speeded up and the nurse let go. The trolley seemed to be on some kind of track and it smoothly entered the tunnel. There was a rushing sound and wind and steam, and I seemed to be travelling very fast. As I shot through the tunnel I had an impression of great speed blown by a curious hot wind and a great cloud of steam.
Suddenly, I came out into a golden desert with the sun shining brightly and a wide landscape of mountains and hills, dotted with small houses. My wheelchair slowed and bumped along the ground until it stopped by a group of people most of whom I recognised as being my family and friends, and they helped me out of the chair.
Looking back, I could see where the tunnels emerged out of the cliff that divided the 1930’s from the present day. I was told that there was no way back; that this was only a one-way entrance from the former times of my birth to the later times I now inhabited for the first time. I was somehow mobile and could walk, and was taken by my wife’s hand up a mountain path to the top of a great hill in the center of the valley.
Looking around the desert landscape I could see small villages and little square houses. I met friends, relations, and most of the people I had known in my life. The remarkable thing was that they were all youthful, tanned and largely naked. Nobody seemed surprised by my appearance and all seemed to want me to embrace them and join in their activities. The whole scene reminded me of the southern Peru landscape around the Nazca Lines.
We were told that we had now to create a new society here. The climate was very warm and sunny, and nobody was irritated but good temper reigned throughout. Some of those in the party said that we should start to organise ourselves, and certainly that we should do something about the other crowds of people that had come through the tunnels from the 1930s at the same time.
For a short time, I was extraordinarily relaxed and comfortable and more than a little sexually aroused by the fact that all the women of the party were mostly naked. I thought to myself that this must be a kind of paradise on earth, where one could put right all the wrongs of one’s own life and those around one, and this I set out to do. I asked those around me if we could make things perfect again and everybody wanted to do that and to make some sort of agreement.
My feeling of well-being spread to my appetite and thirst. I wanted to eat and drink, not of necessity, but for pleasure, but was told it would be later. I seemed to have no clothes and my nakedness was clearly part of the scene. It was like being part of a beautiful painting representing plenty and happiness. There seemed to be no limitations of time, for all the people of my life were there, but without any differences of age. In fact, the lack of aging itself was remarkable.
This period on top of the hill, looking out over the red desert and bathing in the warm sunlight, did not last, and soon I found myself back in my travelling bed, looking out now towards the floating city. This is not actually a floating city, but is a famous city in Peru which lies on the shores of a large lake and, if seen from the opposite side of the lake, usually still and calm, it seems to be floating. I correctly identified that we were indeed in Peru, and I was confused that my travel from the 1930s had landed me not only in a different era, but on a different continent.
There now followed a very curious set of episodes. I found myself with my immediate family, including my son, Andreas, and his family, in a circular glass residence high up, looking down on the floating city, full of the most modern glass and aluminum furniture, very comfortable and very stylish, but I couldn’t go anywhere for I was back in my wheelchair, or was it a bed? I was being looked after. We all looked at the view and everybody was eating cool refreshing food but I could not reach it. Whenever I put my hand out I couldn’t reach the food.
I noticed that my family were making preparations to leave when suddenly, up the stairs into this glass dome, came a group of people whom I identified as my eldest sister and her husband and his parents, uncles and aunts and they were waving papers and saying that they were going to take over the cost of the journey to Peru. That had all been arranged with my American Express, and I didn’t have to do anything other than to sign the receipt. But I could not. My hand wouldn’t work (I now know that this probably reflects the incident where I had to sign at some point during that week a further consent form for more medical procedures.)
Then there was a great fuss because I was not prepared to sign, insisting that all my arrangements for paying for what was being done for me had all been dealt with by insurance. Furthermore, I did not need the wider family to cover everything. My curiosity was particularly piqued by the fact that at least four in the party of people who were prepared to pay for me were actually dead. So, there must have been an element of time travel here as well. In due course, they sorted themselves out with a bearded South American lawyer; then left and went downstairs and I was left alone in the glass tower wondering how I would ever get back to London this time.
Miraculously, my wheelchair, or travelling bed, or whatever the device was, could be lowered in a sort of a lift into the lobby. But the owner of the resort hotel informed me that I could not leave without paying the bill. I insisted that I didn’t know how to pay the bill, nor did I know how to leave since I was completely restricted to the travelling bed and I was stuck. I was then visited by a feeling of terrible loneliness and neglect and not knowing how I was to get myself back to London, or what was supposed to happen anyway.
I sat in the lobby of this resort hotel waiting for somebody to rescue me and looked along the harbour of the floating city which I knew by then was definitely in Peru. However, going up and down the street outside were London buses (it is odd throughout the trip how frequently London buses and other local traffic figure in my journey.).
Then suddenly a boat appeared by the quayside next to this hotel and on the boat was mounted a kind of forklift arrangement, and the whole of the back of the hotel was lifted onto the boat with me in it and was taken for about 500 yards along the quay and then loaded off the boat and onto a truck which was the size of a container. I was told that we were on our way to the airport because all arrangements to take me to London had been made.
At the airport my machine, I can’t really call it anything else, was offloaded and put into the row of containers going into a 747 back to London. The curious thing was that the number of containers that will fit in a normal 747 is no more than a dozen but there seemed to be something like 50 containers queuing up to get on to that 747. I noticed that in front of me was another container that was yellow and orange and red. I used that as a pilot to measure my progress in boarding. (later I discovered that there was indeed a piece of furniture yellow, orange and red in the Care Unit.)
Gradually all the containers were moved forward. Of course, it was raining again. We moved slowly forward towards the airplane and there was a moment when they thought they could not get me on to that flight and, even if they did, there would not be enough oxygen. I was conscious of a big argument about me going on out of sight but audible. The person who was responsible for me finally fixed the paperwork and even assured me that there would be enough oxygen.
It’s curious that the anxiety about oxygen did come into this fantastical trip more than once, and does seem to reflect the fact that I did suffer a period of hypoxemia acute, and as I shall describe it came with much greater seriousness on the journey on the 747 back to London.
The hold of the 747 was so huge that it was like a small cathedral. It seemed curious for an airplane to have a brick lining and masonry walls. It also had various kinds of plants and trees growing on the floor and the walls. It seemed to grow bigger than before. There were hitch hikers there, even though this was a freight hold, and not a place for passengers. And all around were piles of illegal merchandise.
Gradually the containers and the other parts of the freight were pushed into the hold of the 747. I was back on my plinth and looking down on the chaos around me. The freight area did not have its own supply of oxygen, and if I stayed there I would suffocate. Opposite me there was a door which I was told led into the passenger compartment, but the way to that door was a discontinuous walkway. There were gaps and holes, and I was too weak to even try to make it through to fresh air.
Then someone in the hold of this giant 747 gave me some little flasks of oxygen, much like James Bond had in Thunderball. And suddenly I could breathe fresh air. But I was in a very strange world, and I felt very frightened that I would run out of air again.
A fellow occupant, whom I deduced was probably there illegally, handed me a further supply of tubes holding more oxygen. My travelling bed was hoisted into an elevated position where I could see the door to safety, but I couldn’t reach it. Somebody came out of the door with more oxygen capsules. Somehow I seemed to survive, even though I was never allowed to walk to the door which was safety. But clearly the crisis was passed and I knew I would survive and get back to Heathrow and fresh air
The next part of my trip is the most intense and detailed of the whole episode.
What follows is really very confusing and I have had no real way of explaining it but, at the same time as being anchored into my bed or chair, I also participated in activities that were going on around me.
The most dramatic was that I looked down from my plinth onto a small town which seemed to be populated by my relatives going back as long and as far as I can remember, who were all smartly dressed, and the entire family seemed to be engaged in producing jigsaw puzzles, and fretwork models out of plywood, where the outlines of the building is printed onto the plywood and then the pieces could be assembled. This was their major source of income. From it they were very well off and prosperous.
However, they also claimed to have populated a soap opera on television called Crown Imperial, which was written by one of my relatives and was purported to be the story of the family over two generations. The Family Feek had become famous and were treated like celebrities. What was special was that the TV series was actually filmed where we lived and related actual happenings. So when one of my cousins was unfaithful, that became the crux of the next episode of Crown Imperial. I, of course wanted to join in, but was told there was no place for a character in a hospital bed. I know I felt rejected, and made my way back to the plinth.
Somehow time passed and though we never seemed to depart or arrive I feel I am travelling. And so I am now in New England. I am with Gisela and walking up from a town called Buxton in New England. We walk across some fields and then up a grassy lane alongside a wall to the top of the hill. We can look out across meadows and woodlands, and there is a light dusting of snow on the ground and she says to me that we should go into the Sheik’s Museum. And so, we enter this large wooden house or barn. Inside there is a reception hall where we are welcomed, and I find that I must ride around in a wheelchair.
I am pushed out from the lobby and everything is in pale varnished wood and beautifully laid out. I am placed on a couch beside what looks like a model town all made of the same beautiful varnished wood. And, as I sit on this padded seat, the model begins to rotate, but then I realise that it is the seat I am on that is actually moving and it begins to circulate right around the model and, as it circulates, so it rises. And as the seat rises the model seems to fall away but I can see more and more detail. There are churches and houses and shops and workshops all made out of wood in the most fine detail and gradually I see that as I am rising I can see different vistas and eventually I get to the top of the building and my wheelchair which I now seem to occupy is pushed through a door into a loft.
This room is bare, with boarded walls washed in blue distemper. It seems to be familiar, and reminds me of a room I visited as a child which had a large rocking horse in it.
I am told now that the only way out of the room is for me to get on to a slide which will take me right the way back down through the building to the path below and out into the snow. I find this very difficult and cannot move. Clearly, I am unable to make it because someone is blocking the way. Then, suddenly, I am on the slide and pushed and go down this helter-skelter and come out into the snow.
Once more I am met by Gisela who then leads me down the path, but I seem to still be in my travelling bed. At the bottom of the path there are railway tracks. One goes straight ahead through a small station while the other is at an angle and seems to lead away up a low hill. On both of them there is a railway train but we are clearly not in Europe, for these are definitely American rolling stock. One is a dark red and black two car train and seems to be a diesel. While on the right-hand track, which goes away at an angle, there is a green train which seems to be electric. Both appear to have been just left rather than derelict.
Suddenly, from nowhere, members of my family are around me, and for some reason they are angry with Gisela and want to attack her. But my eldest nephew intervenes. Then the daughters of my nephews see the trains, and they tell me that the two trains have been abandoned but they know how to get them to work again. There then follows a long period where they try to get the paperwork available to make the trains go. It seems that in America you just have to have the right paperwork in order to drive a train and carry passengers. In the end the red train goes off without us, driven by a friend.
But the green train is soon ready and one of the girls says she knows how to drive it. So, in the end, I am loaded into the green train, which is a single carriage. We leave, and the train rattles along a track that winds round mountains and across rivers, all the time stopping for passengers to get on and other passengers to get off. This goes on until we reach the terminus and the staff shout ‘all change’.
Suddenly, I am in a town that is dedicated to the production of chocolate. It has everything made of chocolate, even the furniture, as well as books, and novelties, and all kinds of foodstuffs, all made of chocolate. Apparently, I am somewhere in New England again and this chocolate town is, or has, some relationship to me, and I am treated with great respect and told that I must help their workers and the family that owns the chocolate factories to expand their market, and sell more chocolate.
I seem to be sitting in a sort of shop, surrounded by all these chocolate novelties, looking out at the High Street where traffic and buses and cars and trucks keep passing by. I can see that it has been raining, and the streets glisten. Somebody says to me that it is so important that I explain how they can expand their market for chocolate, but I want to leave. I wish that I could get up out of my chair and climb onto one of the buses that keeps passing by. Gradually I become very agitated about this, and worry that I will never get away from this chocolate town and back into my own life.
But now I am feeling rested again and I meet Gisela and Andreas. However, I am still in the travelling bed. We are in a very strange market town which looks a bit like Exeter, where all that is sold are sweet pies. The pies are all filled with rich and sugary candied fruit. I want to buy some but I am not allowed. However, Gisela and the family cannot get enough. I have to follow them in the travelling bed as they buy from every store, and the people who sell the pies are all very friendly and wish me well, but I cannot join in. I get very upset to be left out.
Then suddenly I am back in the airplane and we are landing at Heathrow. The strange thing is that I know I’m in this 747 but I cannot hear the sounds of an airplane, only that soon we will arrive and soon I will be let out of the aircraft, and my wheelchair.
I feel terribly tired now, but make myself wake up and look at the world outside, and all I can see is maps of London passing in front of me. There is a woman in white, alone, sitting at a computer screen. I am looking at a map of London as it was in the 1930s and can see the names of streets, one of which is named for Hitler. And at the bottom of the map ships and buses are passing by. There are strange alarm bells and noises that I do not understand.
I struggle to grasp where I am and what is happening, and eventually drift away.
When I wake up it is daylight and I am in bed and surrounded by doctors and nurses looking at me, and I seem to have been asleep for a very long time. I cannot speak but I am so very thirsty. All I get is horrible liquid and ice cubes.
Though the trip is over I have many after effects. The most disturbing is my loss of visual acuity. I seemed to have no horizon, so one eye registers a sloping world while the other is higher and straighter. This turns out to be a neurological problem since we all see a different world with each eye. Our clever brains put these visual signals together and provide a single vision which is reliable and useful. It took me some days to get my horizon back, which came quite suddenly. But for a while I could not coordinate hand and eye in the real world but my phantasy world was OK.
I also had clear daylight hallucinations. These were never frightening but always benign. I could see bushes and trees on the walls around me. Sometimes there were bunches of hair or feathers that wandered around the room blown by a mysterious wind. After a few days, I discovered that whenever this started I could send it away by fierce blinking of both eyes. I suspect that it was again my neurological sight system getting back to proper operation. This went away after a few weeks but still returns if I become very tired.
On the last afternoon in the intensive care unit I had a most imaginative fantasy. It was the Friday of that week and I had calmed down a lot but was still having hallucinations and seeing flying bundles of hair floating around in front of me. However, I was told that I would be leaving the Critical Care Unit to go into a normal ward. I could not walk and so would be transferred in my bed.
The way this worked was that the bed I was on was moved alongside a bed from the main surgical ward and I was to be taken on that bed to the ward below. However, I was made to wait because the ward room was not ready for me; it needed a deep clean. I became quite impatient and I must have been sedated in some way because I drifted off without realising it and imagined myself on the hospital bed being pushed out into the car park.
From there I was pushed along the road and through a tunnel and onto a sort of platform. This was probably the same base of my bed on which I had been rushing around the sky. The base and the bed were taken to the edge of what seemed to be a backwater of a stream. It was pushed out by the two nurses, one woman and one man. The man, incidentally, was the young Philippine nurse who had looked after me before. They climbed aboard this medical raft and guided it around a corner, through some shallows and then into a pool which had a landing stage on two sides only inches above the stream. On the landing stage was a small medical storeroom. There was another bed floating next to us. The sun was shining and I rested on the bed.
After a little while the Philippine nurse gave me a beautiful backrub and I relaxed completely. Eventually I realised that I could see the clock on the side of the building. This was a simple redbrick storehouse with windows along the front, and opposite was a garden wall. At 6 o’clock we pushed off and floated back along the backwater and into the car park. My bed was then pushed across the car park and at last I was allowed to move off my intensive care bed and onto a normal hospital bed. This whole event was so real that I was later able to draw a map of where the bed had been pushed. It was a backwater of the Thames just below Chelsea reach.
After changing beds, I was pushed along corridors, into the lift and down to the ward. By the time I reached the ward I was fully awake and conscious and gave battle because I didn’t want to be constrained with bed-bars.
Two nights later I had another extraordinarily vivid and detailed imagining. Somehow, I connected the knowledge that I had about the importance of 15th September. This is the date when nine species of mammal and bird in the southern hemisphere all spawn, or give birth, before setting off on trans-oceanic journeys across the globe. I imagined that I was in South Africa, right out on the Cape, and everybody was making their way in the dusk, through the forest, to the coast to watch the turtles making their way back to the sea.
I walked a long way uphill and then through the strange woodland and into a really odd main street of colonial buildings, which had ancient cars, not relics, but real operating cars on one side, and cafes and coffee bars on the other. The light in the distance was on the top of the hill and we walked along through the town and over the hill and down onto the beach. And there we saw the baby turtles making their way to the sea. Out in the bay we could see humpback whales blowing off. They give birth in these bays before setting off back to the Arctic.
I then strolled back and, on the way, was told to turn left. Suddenly I found myself in Southern Chile, and that was where the albatrosses breed before flying out to sea once more. People were gathered to look and see the great birds taking off to fly out to sea and live on the wing, leaving their chicks to learn to fly before following, all to return again next year. Then again, we watched the little arctic terns, hundreds of them, setting out to fly 10,000 miles of the North Atlantic to again reach their feeding grounds in the Arctic.
Only in my fantasy could I be on two continents at the same time. There I was, watching the departure of these animals, reptiles and birds all spawning and giving birth before setting out on long trips, and it was a strangely peaceful crowd of people. I found myself coming back to my bed, talking to the night nurse, and explaining where I’d been and the importance of September 15.
Looking back, I can see that I was so carefully humoured by the staff because my boundaries between reality and phantasy were all torn and I could be in one state or another without moving.
A few nights later I had another real experience. I believed that I should be better off staying in a museum of the Second World War. I somehow got out of bed and began to push my bed down the street into Hyde Park. I wanted to reach the Princes Gate, where I believed the gate house had been turned into a memorial museum to the Second War. I put a great deal of energy into my flight from the Marsden Hospital and eventually reached the Park Gates.
I knew where I was because I could see red buses passing Ennismore Terrace. Once again these were not modern, but red and grey wartime buses. I had kept tripping up and would have liked to catch a bus, but could not.
I pushed my bed inside the little cream coloured building and found it to be a replica of a Second War emergency first aid post. It was decked out with contemporary first aid equipment and uniforms and wheelchairs. On the walls were pictures of the blitzed city of that time. I pushed my bed into a corner and slumped into it only to be disturbed by my night nurses who said that I had to return to the hospital, and one said that he would arrange that. I asked him not to tell anyone. He told me to stay in bed and sleep, and I would be back in the ward by morning. And so, I was.
The next day I was visited by my wife Gisela and two friends. It was indeed a sunny afternoon but I imagined that we were all having tea in a rose garden. I did not like to tell my visitors because I suspected that my subconscious was having me on again.
My hallucinations and fantasies continued for the next week or two as the most extreme effects of the anesthetics and other drugs began to wear off, but my eyesight was still very poor. I found that my hallucinations invaded my eyesight and, only by blinking heavily once or twice, would they go away.
All of these fantasies and hallucinations eventually passed, but the remarkable thing about this whole story is that I can remember so much of it so vividly. Most of all I can remember how I felt and how, when I thought I had no more oxygen I was filled, not with panic, but with despair.
I know that the whole of the above comes from me, and has been induced by both the very traumatic medical procedure and the chemicals used to support me through the whole episode. But I cannot bring myself to ignore the fact that a specific selection of memory, knowledge and desires was played out in my head. In short, my unconscious had a field day, and let loose many things that have been hidden from me..
I have to admit that I feel different. I have a new face, but I feel that I have a new chapter to my life. This is the second time I have been near to death and the first, when I was sixteen, changed my life. Through this whole episode, I have been allowed to peep behind the curtain of my spirit and I will not be the same again.
Is there a message? Of course.