ventilator – the airplane

I was on a ventilator for 12 days, and had numerous dreams and hallucinations during my time under, I have no idea if what went on in my mind was spread across those two weeks, if they occurred during the days that I was apparently awake, or if they even happened in a single day. All I know is the helplessness and hopelessness that I felt were very real to me, and that while I’ve so far been spared of most of the emotional and mental trauma that accompanies those memories, they’ll stay with me forever.

The plane was similar to a DC-3 (but longer).

One of the most vivid memories I have of the time that I was on the ventilator, sedated, was of being on an airplane. I remember waking up at one point and seeing a bright light. I was able to look around and saw where the light was coming from – a small window, not unlike one on an airplane, and which was covered in silver sheathing – just like the aluminum sheathing of early airplanes. It was a single window, through which I could see the world, and through it I saw clouds and the other bright sights that are associated with flying. The loud drone that accompanies being on an airplane was also all around me. In my mind it all made sense – the hospital had loaded all of its covid patients, like me, onto an airplane for some kind of experimental treatment (and Eunice approved this treatment). We were all tied down to our beds and that’s why, even though I knew there were other people around me, and that we were stacked on top of each other like we were on bunk beds (we were stacked in three layers) I couldn’t hear or see anyone else. I was on the top level, at around shoulder height, on a bed with a brown frame. I knew that I was on the second set of beds closest to the window (we were perpendicular to the window, which was in the center of the aisle, with my head facing the window), but I couldn’t see the person closest to the window.

The beds were stacked up similar to Chinese trains.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement – it was one of the nurses that accompanied us on the flight. They were walking down a hallway outside of the compartment I was in (which was a small room, with a hallway that went across the entrance), and they were wearing their full PPE – respirator and all. There was also the faint sounds of music in the background, like someone had taken a guitar out and was playing it. To me, it sounded like the music was coming from around the corner in some other section of the plane. In retrospect, this may have been one of the times Eunice played music for me through the phone in my room. I couldn’t talk, or make any other verbal noise, so I began kicking my legs and making other movements when I saw that they were near. I was desperate to get their attention, to find out what was going on, and to no longer be tied down and restrained. Even in my state of confusion I had the strong desire and need to know what was happening with me. I knew that I was being treated for covid, but I didn’t know where I was or what that treatment entailed. Despite my movement, I don’t have any recollection of them seeing me, checking on me, or otherwise coming to my side – even though there was some activity around me, I was alone.

After some time I saw that the plane was beginning to land through the window. I was excited – we would land and I would finally be able to find out what was going on and what was happening to me. However, while the plane approached a snowy runway, and began its landing process, as soon as it touched down it took off again; we weren’t landing, but merely touching down for a moment. Frustration and despair once again began to take hold of me, I was still stuck in my bed without any ability to find out what was happening. I can’t recall what happened after that, or if I even had any other memories or hallucinations about this experience, but I do recall that prior to landing I somehow went from being stacked on a bed or bunk that had access to the window, to being in a closet on the plane because it was so full. Later, this experience stood in my mind as my being on a stratospheric plane that was circling the artic circile, and which had done its touch and go in a country that was a part of the old USSR that didn’t want people to know covid patients had been there at all – the flight was part some some clandestine covid treatment which required patients to be on an airplane for some unknown reason.

Once I was off of the ventilator and had recovered enough to be able to process at least some of what was happening, my whole “airplane” experience made the most sense to me. As part of the hospital’s covid safety measures, each room in the ICU was under negative pressure. The negative pressure was designed to keep the air in my room in my room, so that the virus could not escape, and was maintained air units were essentially large stainless steel air conditioners that stood four feet tall. These units were deafening – they were constantly running and emitted a sound similar to that of being in an airplane. The ICU room also had a single window, which the negative pressure unit was tied into, that was covered in stainless steel and foil tape and which didn’t have any shares and which couldn’t be closed – on a sunny day when you looked out of it, it was as bright as being on an airplane.