Life in the Real Desert: Pilgrim’s Progress

Author photo March 2013
Finishing my first cup of tea and ruminating over the past few days events has left me with an epiphany of sorts. Let me explain: Back in 2012 while I was in Basildon Hospital, in the UK, and recovering from the dual surgery that saved my life, I got a visit from a lovely lady who worked in the medical facility. She warned me that one day, it would all sink in about how close to death I had been. “It is usual for survivors to experience crushing depression,” she said.

Well, it is now over two and a half years since that fateful day; where my universe shrank down to a tiny space of unbelievable pain, and that depression has still not made an appearance. Certainly I do feel down sometimes, these happen at the oddest times as well. Yesterday, for example, had this new desert dweller becoming the recipient of not one, but several acts of kindness. Yet when arriving back home, I was caught up in a blue funk that lasted till sleep.

Most of that was from being overly tired. My only mechanical mode of transport was out of commision for a few days, requiring a back inner tube, so it was two days of attempting to patch said tube and one day of angrily marching a total of 3.5 miles only to realize that by the time I got to the store it would be closed. It was then a much slower trip home as the anger was spent and I was tired, after all the wasted adrenaline drained away.

That walk, although not too hot according to the thermometer, beat the hell out of me and for the next two days I hurt everywhere. Lesson learned: Do not storm off on a moderately hot day in a foul mood.

This pilgrim’s progress has been slow and not just to adjusting to life in the desert here in the southwestern state of Arizona. The reason for this slow acclimation to things since that August day where I should have died not once, but twice, came to me this morning after an odd dream in the wee hours just as the sun was peeping over the mountains in the east.

Sleeping fitfully, I moved between dozing and wakefulness, I thought, all night. As the sky began to light up, I was laying on my left side, half-awake and grumpily cursing the doves and their annoying nest noises; they stomp on the brittle twigs making a sound like people walking on gravel which is very disconcerting when half-asleep.

As the birds settled down and began to make their cooing noises, I felt the cover beside me move. Four little feet made their way to my back and a small warm body then lay carefully next to my upper back. I could “feel” a bushy tail move up near my neck and could “smell” a fusty fur smell. I instantly relaxed, although in the back of my head was the awareness that there are no animals in the place, and felt totally at peace as sleep reclaimed me.

That this was a dream became apparent later when I had an amusing thought that I could well have a wild skunk lying right on top of me and I turned to see what was snuggled against me. I found a rag doll in the shape of pointy nose elf-like creature with a sewn on striped cone hat. We conversed, as one does, with no words but in our heads.

I did actually wake up at that point and found that I was alone and pondered the doll thing that my mind had dredged up. It made no sense, after all why would a two-legged doll walk on all fours to get across my cover. It was a surreal moment and the realization that it was so brought on my epiphany.

Speaking to someone a few days ago, I mentioned the forecast of massive depression from the medical lady in the hospital and said that I was still waiting for that shoe to drop. My “light-bulb” moment this morning was that this will not occur. What has happened instead is a constant state of surrealness, if you will.

I left Basildon Hospital (the cardiac section) four days after one of the most invasive surgeries one can endure, the first surgery should have been so routine that it was boring, and everything, it seems stems from that time. My second surgery took a long time, during which I was “technically dead.”

A machine kept my blood pumping and my lungs breathing while the doc’s stopped my heart to perform the aortic dissection and bypass, this after they whipped a vein out of my right leg, and the estimated time I was “dead” was around eight or more hours. Now, if you had asked me after I recovered from this procedure how long I was “out” or how long I was “dead” no answer would have been available. A lot of remembering had to happen before I could recall and this only happened after I asked my daughter, who had to live through all this.

The point being that from the moment I was moved from ICU to the recovery ward, everything has seemed surreal. You could even argue that my waking up during the first surgery, when they discovered that my aortic arch had been perforated and most of my aorta was split open, and managing to talk around the tube in my throat started the whole thing. This also is the reason, I believe, for the “gravel” in my voice since the surgery.

Sidenote: To the family who were staying in Basildon Hospital with their own medical emergency, “Thank you for the kindness you showed my child who had to deal with all this on her own.”

The epiphany this morning has been that I have never really gotten over the surreal stage of this whole heart attack malarkey. My brain seems to be operating in a sort of fugue state of semi-awareness with small moments of clarity. At times I can almost react to things normally but there is still that feeling of unreality flitting around the edges.

I find myself unable to function properly in social settings. The actor in me puts on a good show, but basic things like exchanging phone numbers while interacting with another person who has just asked for mine go by the wayside. Just trying to remember to thank someone for a good deed or act of kindness is also fraught with inactivity or at least poor responses.

Anyone who has known me well can tell you that I have a radar that can tell when a person is on the level or not to be trusted almost seconds after meeting them. That ability seems to have been left on the operating table along with some of my common sense. How else can I explain being taken in by a con artist so completely that I moved in with the bugger, and his wife, and only woke up after it seemed I was about to be made a patsy? (And upon learning that he was a “wanted” felon.)

There are a long list of things that all point to my mind still existing in this surreal state. A place where my subconscious is attempting to get round surviving back in 2012 and despite my resolute marching forward to this new beat of the drum, I am struggling. Not desperately, but just enough that my thinking is affected.

Everything happens for a reason. I firmly believe this, just as I believe that my “pilgrim’s progress” here in the desert is needed at the point in time. A step back from busy society and a chance for me to get my soldiers back in step. This quiet time is needed to help me get back on an even keel, or at least recognize that moving back to the foreign country I left so long ago is either my new “normality” or just another turn of the screw in my current directionless journey.

Time will tell and at least now I can realize where my “head is at.” Even if it took a two-legged dream doll to point me in the right direction.

19 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

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Author: Michael Knox-Smith

World traveler, writer, actor, journalist. Cinephile who reviews films, television, books and interviews professionals in the industry. Member Nevada Film Critics Society

7 thoughts on “Life in the Real Desert: Pilgrim’s Progress”

  1. Your dream sounds interesting. I don’t dream, not that I recall. I miss dreaming, they were fun.
    Since your heart surgery you have a lot to be grateful for, has that replaced the possible depression?

    I’ve never been on a heart machine but I don’t think your brain knows the difference from your heart beating.
    Could your surreal feelings be coming from a different source? The not going to work, the change in your diet or activity level, something?

    1. My second wife swore she never dreamed either…in her case I don’t think it was the truth. What a bummer if you are dreaming and cannot remember them. I usually have crystal clear recall of mine, all Technicolor and very involved! LOL I do believe the surreal feeling stems from the surgery. But, hell, what do I know? LOLOL 🙂

    2. Having re-read my previous comment, I do think the sudden departure from a “proper” job which meant a sort of normalcy, along with me getting used to being single again and the recuperation period may have a bit to do with the surrealness of everything. But like I said previously…What do I know! LOL

  2. I was told the same thing and it never happened to me, either. I think I did that already after the cancer. Having just climbed out of the black hole when I discovered my whole heart needed a complete redo, I was really upset and pissed off, but I wasn’t and am not now depressed. I think warning us that it might happen to a degree makes it less likely to actually happen. Just my opinion. No one said anything about it when I was trying to recover from a bilateral mastectomy, but it’s just as common if not more so when you’ve lost two breasts. I’ve been so sliced and diced in so many ways over the past decade and a half, nothing depresses me. But I get very upset. And angry. It’s hard to figure out with whom to BE angry.

    1. I’ve actually been pretty lucky in the anger respect. I was much angrier before the heart attack. I used to walk around in a constant state of rage, but that pretty much disappeared when I got rid of wife number two. I think you are correct that when warned of the possibility of depression it never rears its ugly head! You’ve had more than your fair share of going under the knife, no wonder you’re angry!

      1. I’m pissed at life. I think I haven’t been given a break yet and I deserve one. But life isn’t and never has been about what we deserve. Life just is what it is. I don’t do a lot of railing against fate, but I’m pissed.

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