Dreams After a Head Injury

Something doctors never ask about, and really should, during or after a head injury is, “What do you dream about?”  Can you tell what’s a dream and what’s reality when you’ve had a traumatic head injury, or in a coma? One of the most interesting things about having a head injury is trying to make sense out of dreams and reality. I had quite a few dreams. It seemed as if I were asleep for 3 weeks and unable to wake up. Even during the dreams I tried to wake up to pull myself out of it but couldn’t.

I remember dreams when I was younger of falling and waking up before I hit the ground. Sometimes you have dreams where you start to feel rested and you can bring the dream to an end and wake up. I couldn’t do that for the first 3 weeks. I just kept jumping from one dream to another. Seemed as if I were fully aware of it being a dream and unable to change it in any way. My dreams had some reality to them, but I was an able to interact. I could hear people in my room talking, even see them, but they didn’t hear a single word I was saying to them. Other times I felt I was in a glass box and the things going on right there next to me couldn’t hear or see me either. I would wave to them and holler with not even a glance in return.

When I finally came out of this 3 week dream I was in a hospital and had no idea why. I was happy that I was finally able to wake up. It took me 4 months after “waking up” before I realized the dreams and reality differences. I originally thought the dreams were just because I was knocked unconscious. I learned that my brain, while damaged, was perfectly capable of working in a way I didn’t know was possible. I’ve tried very hard to remember the accident, and events prior to the accident. Two weeks prior to is the closest I’ve been able to come.

The dreams that I had started the day of the accident and I can still remember them. The fact that I understand them at all is a little frustrating. I’ve lost a lot of education, training, and personal memories but have been very well self-educated on dreams.  I seem to be able to have a conversation with someone else who has had a similar injury better then I can with doctors. Perhaps the injury gives us a language that only we understand (joke, joke).  I still pull up those dreams and analyze the details very carefully to keep some connection between the old and new me.  At times I wish that I had stayed in the “dream world” longer, then maybe I might have recovered better. I do feel that is a “what if” that I’ll never be able to answer.

I remember Doctors sending people out of the room, when I was in ICU, due to the fact my heart rate would increase too much. I remember hearing their voices. I tried to respond but couldn’t see them and they couldn’t hear me. I did not understand why at the time though. I got angry about them not responding. This happened a few times the first week in the hospital. A very strange thing about all of this is that I have no idea when my body was awake or asleep. When I opened my eyes to see the room and things around me, it just blended right into the dream I was having at the time. It was fun to realize that the time at the hospital and the dreams were connected. It was also entertaining to sort out how I comprehended things.  The dreams helped me sort out which areas of my brain were damaged worse then others. Perhaps someday we will have the capability of “reading minds” while a patient is unconscious. All the electronics they have today, I believe it may actually happen someday.

Of course, there is much more to say on the subject of dreams and reality crossing paths, and what your brain knows that the doctors don’t know and don’t ask you about.  But that will have to wait for another time.

D. D.

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