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Lessons of Anesthesia

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Indefinite, not Instantaneous

Before going into surgery, the nurse said that my experience would be instantaneous. “You will lie down and sleep, and then, the next moment you will be awake and surgery will be over.”

It wasn’t like that.

I would describe my experience of the time spent in anesthesia as “indefinite,” which is not the same as “instantaneous.” While in anesthesia I experienced an indefinite amount of time in an indefinite way.

An indefinite amount of time feels as much like an instant as it feels like an hour, or an aeon. Honestly my time in anesthesia felt more like an eternity than an instant, but I think there is probably little real difference between the two.

Waking Up

I felt that being in anesthesia was pleasant, since in that state I was incapable of being aware of any worry, need, hope etc. There was no burden of any sort, whatsoever.

“Waking up” from it, however, was unpleasant.

I felt like I was being pulled from my position, not like I was moving out of it by my own will.

The first thing I became cognizant of as I came out of anesthesia was total disbelief. We tend to think of “waking up” are returning to reality, but this felt like the opposite. I felt like I was being pulled from my real state, into a complex and disorienting distraction, by some sort of deception or trickery.

I became aware that something was trying to tamper with the core of what I am, my identity. At that time, still very deeply under the influence of anesthesia, I was aware of my identity, but not of anything specific about it. In other words, I was aware of “I” – but not aware of what “I” was.

The perceptions now pressing their way into my awareness were trying to define that empty space in “I am…” They did this aggressively. I was not inviting it.

The Struggle to Hold a Hand

My struggle against this perceptual aggression, however, did not last. It was only momentary. Almost immediately, my intellect began to come out from the effects of anesthesia struggling like a sputtering engine to analyze and comprehend my strange perceptions more clearly, perhaps to discover a clue to the nature of their deceptive power.

The emotional mind, however, had a head-start, having been the first thing to emerge from the depths of anesthesia. So, more than any intellectual desire, the most overwhelming urge I had at this point was an intense desire to hold someone’s hand. I reflexively felt that the truest way to fill in the second half of the “I am…” sentence would be in reference to some emotional connection with some other conscious being.

I would feel the touch of someone’s hand on my arm, and would attempt to grasp that hand and hold it. It seemed no one would consent to this! Everyone would pull their hand away from mine. This was frustrating, and gave me the fear that I was not among friends.

At this point, I began to have visual perceptions. Faces blurred in and out of my view. There seemed to be dozens of them, all female.

Audio perceptions soon followed. People were speaking loudly, and not very calmly.

I tried to speak to them. I spoke only in Japanese.

A Pink Shirt in a Dream?

My intellectual functions began to become more clear. It told me, “this sort of weird, blurry thing where causes and effects don’t always connect… this is what happens in dreams. I think you are in a dream.”

However, something about the sights and sounds did have continuity and logic – unlike a dream: the lighting behind and the shirts below these faces. The lightning was starkly fluorescent, and the shirts were all blue.

Then, suddenly I had a very specific perception. One of the women, on my left, was not in a blue shirt. Rather she wore a pink shirt.

In English I said, “Ah! A pink shirt!” with a sense of grand importance and satisfaction.

My intellect recalled a system of blue and pink uniforms, and suddenly I remembered a huge chunk of my identity…

I was a person in a hospital.

I was someone getting surgery on my neck.

But the anesthesia was still very strong. I could not feel the actual condition of my neck. Unknown to me, my intellect was replacing the lack of new nerve-data with a backup of previous nerve-data. As a result, I felt exactly the same as I had just before the surgery – perfectly fine. So I assumed I was either dreaming, or the hospital had screwed something up in a big way, and was trying to deceive me for some reason.

A Melody and a Name

I disliked all this uncertainty, amplified by being wheeled somewhere unknown without my volition, so I began a struggle to sit up, remove my gas mask, etc.

Like a drunk person; my intellect was too weak to mediate my feelings, and my gestures and expressions were raw, exaggerated, and unpredictable. This alarmed the nurses greatly.

I remember thinking, “When will I feel the straps tying me down?” But, that did not happen.

Instead, a Beethoven melody penetrated into my awareness. It was produced by a cheap, small speaker, with simple digital beep-tones. Now I knew I was not dreaming – because my intellect recognized this detail as identical to the sound I had heard so often, before surgery: the sound of the call-bell at the nurse’s station.

A nurse called out, “DiCara-saan,” to someone in the distance. This restored a gigantic amount of identity. “DiCara” was, my intellect proudly informed me, my name!

A nurse told me, in Japanese, “your family is coming.”

I saw the black and white tiger stripes of my daughter’s favorite jacket, and heard the voices of my wife and younger son. Now the whole identity-sentence was finished. “I am Vic DiCara, father of these lovable children, and husband of this faithful and saintly lady.”

Back to Normal

Nothing very dramatic or unusual occurred after this, because I was back to being a normal being with a normal consciousness-to-mind relationship. There was just a few hours of conventional disorientation and discomfort as the anesthesia wore off to the point that my intellect could take control of my nervous system pretty much as-usual.

A day or two later, when I woke up from sleeping, I realized that waking up is the same as coming out of anesthesia, but for whatever reason, waking from sleep is a very momentary affair, while waking from a drug-induced sleep takes a hundred or a thousand times longer.


One response to “Lessons of Anesthesia”

  1. Jennifer Brantley Avatar
    Jennifer Brantley

    I’m happy that you are well. It is very interesting to read about “waking up“ and different stages from your anesthesia.
    It made me think back on times I’ve been anesthetized before, years ago.
    You’re a line that talks about how waking up was unpleasant, because you felt like you were being pulled against your will… and how you felt like it was a deception… pulling away from reality (real reality & what ever that means ), and I compared it to this common vernacular, floating around in the zeitgeist, about being “woke”….
    I thought about the irony.
    I also thought about how not enough emphasis is given to how unpleasant the “waking up” process is (unless you’re Imagine Dragons)….

    In any case, I’m enjoying this podcast on what “enlightened” people think about.
    And I enjoyed this retelling of your anesthesia experience.


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