I Awake Rested and Ready After Bad Dream


My “trauma dreams” are never set in Iraq. They’re always in the context of something else, somewhere else. (I want to say before going any further that I was a lucky son-of-a-gun while I was in Iraq, never in a fire fight, never watched someone die. Most of the badly injured I saw had already received a fair amount of “patching up” by medical personnel.) Last night I was having a rough time getting to sleep. I had a pretty full day yesterday so I should have been plenty tired. Adam was wiped out after spending a large part of the day in surgery. He’s doing his burn rotation right now. He always shares what happened each day in med school. (He listens to whatever I want to share from my day every night as well.) The stories of the burn patients are often hard to hear. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing in me that would want him to not tell me. Some of the most meaningful and memorable things he’s shared have come from the more difficult cases.) I’m sure, lurking around in my “headgear” while I was trying to fall asleep, was some of the residue of what he’d told me from yesterday. But not in the conscious mind at all. Life is fleeting. Live it like there’s no guarantee of tomorrow. There’s not. I’ll leave it at that. Last night, he was so exhausted he fell right to sleep. It just got later and later and I just keep tossing and turning. In addition to all the other things rolling around in my head was the fact that I wanted to get up early to go to the 0600 Crossfit. Wish granted.

I woke up at 0330 out of a dream that didn’t turn out so well for Willie (our black lab). In the dream—urgh, too tough to talk about, but suffice it to say it involved my borrowing a 9 mm (pistol) from a by-stander and doing the difficult thing. I was in the mindset of emotional disengagement required to “do the difficult thing.” Other servicemembers who deployed will understand what I mean. Others of you likely will as well. Now that I’m typing this, I realize that this level of emotional disengagement is something I’m watching my husband learn. It’s different from denial. In fact, there’s absolutely no denial involved. Again, servicemembers who deployed will understand what I mean; others of you too, I’m guessing.

Not too long ago, I found myself in the VA emergency room.  I was coming unglued because I was three days off the painkillers I’d had to take over about ten days. I was taking them for my back. I’ll have surgery soon– more on that another time. (By the way, I’ve since learned by reading Adam’s Journal of American Medicine that there’s very little research evidence that supports the use of opioids for non-cancer pain management.) Anyway, being a sober person, I wasn’t going to take them for a minute longer than I absolutely had too and I had already started to play that “am I hurting bad enough to warrant…” game so I decided I was done, pain or no pain. Three days later: emergency room. Even though I took them as prescribed, in fact I took a lot less than the prescription would have allowed, I was fricken “dope sick!” For a guy who used to run everything but Drano (and who knows, maybe I did that in a blackout), my system is hypersensitive to any drugs now. At the VA, after they called my name and I was back in the treatment area, they called some social worker over to talk to me about the way I was feeling while I waiting to see the doc. I couldn’t focus much on what he was saying. I felt like I was sitting on an electric fence. All of a sudden they brought a man in who apparently had had some kind of lawnmower accident. His hand was all mangled and he looked like somebody had thrown a bucket of blood on him. Here’s the weird thing: all of a sudden I was fine. I mean, absolutely fine. I mean calm, not shaking, not nervous, not focused on myself.  What I wanted to do the most was to help with the man. I shit you not, if they’d let me even towel up the blood I would have been happy to. I’m good in volatile situations, calm I mean.

I say all this to say that when I woke up at 0330 this morning (after about 3 hours sleep), because I was awakened by that traumatic dream, I was totally fine. I felt rested, calm, and ready to go. From what I’ve heard from other vets and what’s portrayed in movies and on TV, I get the feeling that this is not a common response to traumatic dreams. As per most of my writing, I just tell the story so that if someone else has a similar experience, they won’t feel like they’re alone anymore.


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