Life is made up of experiences, some of them more unusual than others. We sense the world around us, experiences that are translated into memories, memories that meld together to form our personal histories, our ‘selves’. In a slight deviation from the usual, today is an introspective post about learning. It’s about learning what it means to be me.
Yesterday i lost myself for two hours. It wasn’t the result of a heavy night out, but rather a sedative used as hospital where i had to have a minor investigation. The experience was unsettling, because i’d chosen to document the experience of losing consciousness, of losing myself. I knew that the point of the sedative was to somehow distance myself from reality, but i wasn’t expecting the actual sensations that i experienced.
The two people i knew who had had this before gave me very different descriptions of what occurred. One said it was like being knocked out with a very sudden and overwhelming wave of dizziness. The other said it was like being very drunk. Both said that they could remember nothing of the time that they were sedated. For me, it was none of these things.
I found myself lying on my back, surrounded by strangers, a nurse holding my hand and saying that she was about to put the sedative in. I was concentrating furiously, ready for a reeling sensation, ready to document every moment, ready to fight it, ready to experience something different. But nothing happened. I had a very slight sensation of my vision wavering, but then nothing. No sensation at all of being drunk, no sudden change, nothing at all. I was aware of everything going on and, two hours later, of sitting on the recovery ward with a cup of tea and three biscuits.
Except that i wasn’t. Something odd had occurred. Somehow, the tie between my consciousness and what i was experiencing had been cut. I have clear memories of some of the experience, but not in the linear, narrative manner that i’m used to.
The procedure involved a camera going down my throat, and my clearest memory is watching the doctor operating the device. It can only have been inches from my face, and consisted of various dials, grips and levels. I have no clear picture of what it looked like, but a very clear recollection of studying it intently for what seemed to be a long time. I have a clear memory of a bright orange tube also being used, six times, in conjunction with this. I have a clear sensation of conversation taking place, all female voices, all quiet, but no recollection of what was being said.
I remember sitting up and being given my glasses in a small plastic bag, and tearing a sticker to open the bag. I remember worrying about my jumper and book being on a shelf somewhere, and clearly remember my relief when they were given to me. I remember sitting in an armchair and feeling pleased that there were biscuits, and even reading my book, but today, i can’t remember the pages that i read.
We are so used to the familiar pattern of experience, consisting of sensations and our interpretation of those sensations into our perception of the world, translating those perceptions into memories, those memories forming a linear track through our history, that when the narrative is broken, it’s unsettling. I am clear that i was fully conscious throughout, clear that some parts i can remember, but in an abstract way. As though i had the sensations, but the perception of what it meant is missing. From the inside, i still felt like me, but the friend who picked me up said i sounded ‘slow’. And, somewhere along the way, i lost about two hours.
In many ways, i shouldn’t be surprised by the experience; it was, after all, what was intended. But i am surprised by how the transition from conscious to unconscious was so smooth. For most of yesterday, i had a clear sensation that i hadn’t actually been sedated at all, that it hadn’t worked somehow, but now i realise that i was wrong. My brain has given up trying to fill in the gaps and accepted that parts are just missing and parts are just afloat in a random sequence. I guess the thing to learn from this is the marvel of consciousness, and the realisation that sensation is not always what it seems.