I Don't Know A Thing About It

Today She Was In China

I took today off to be at the hospital with Mom. Joe and I got there a bit before noon -- she seemed to be sleeping peacefully, Country Living magazine open in her hand and the television on. The IV whispered beside her high-tech bed.

I gently placed my hand on her thin, bruised arm.


Her eyes flew open and she saw me, saw both of us, and grabbed for our hands.

"Oh, you're here! You're finally here!"

She actually started shaking, whether in relief or fright I really don't know.

"Just hold my hands!" she said, clear as a bell. She began to calm down, breathing hard and looking all around, trying to make sense of her surroundings.

"Are we in China?" she asked.

"No, we're in Olney, Mom."

"OLNEY?!" she was shocked. "We're not in China?"

"No, you're in the hospital, in Olney," I said. "Remember? You came here Sunday night, with a bad nosebleed."

"Oh, yes, yes -- I remember that! I've never seen so much blood in my life!" Now I began to calm down.

"What made you think you were in China?" I asked.

"I woke up and thought I should get up, so I started to get up, and then this Chinese girl came and made me get back in bed. She wouldn't let me get up!"

Ah, that explains it. Her daytime nurse is Asian.

As she woke up more, she talked more about this vivid dream. She was in China, there were Chinese people all around her, they wouldn't let her go home. Then, suddenly, she was in Philadelphia. She didn't know how she got to Philly from China, but somehow there she was.

The whole day reminded me of a chapter in Oliver Sachs' book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, in which a terminally ill young woman spent her days living, in her mind, in her home country of India. She would participate consciously in her care, but when those tasks were done, she slipped back into her mind and went back to India.

My Mom goes to China and Philadephia.

Then she turned to me and looked me dead in the eye and said, "Is my mother still alive?"

My heart broke into a thousand pieces.

"No, Mom, your mother's not alive anymore."

"Ohhhh." She looked so sad. "How long has she been gone?"

"A long time, Mom. Since 1971."

"1971? Really?"

"Yes, really. I'm sorry."

She shook her head. "I really thought I was in China."

"No, I think it was a dream."

"Of course. Of course it was. But it was so real!"

She ate a few bites of lunch -- grilled cheese sandwich and chocolate pudding -- and sipped some milk, and seemed to come back into our reality more.

Later she told us about how she got lost in the hospital the night she got there. She's absolutely convinced that she was put in a room, but no one knew where she was supposed to be. So she walked up and down the corridors, looking for where she was supposed to be. She kept meeting up with a woman who led her back to the same room; one time she saw a couple in the room and told me that they had been making out. After all, there was a bed in the room, so you know what they were up to.

The mind is a strange thing, isn't it? I didn't even try to dissuade her from her "lost in the hospital" story. I just listened, and commented on how strange it was. She's convinced it happened; why should I upset her by telling her she dreamed it?

I wonder about this phenomenon. Certainly some of the meds she's on cause vivid dreams, but it seems like it's more than a simple side effect. Maybe, as the veil between life and death thins out, your mind takes flight and reality isn't confined to the physical life on this plane.

Or maybe I'm just nuts.