Oblivion is a heavy word, but what I’m writing about today is a heavy topic. I rarely talk about the two months I was in a coma, and you might understand why after you read this post.
For those who are not aware of my whole story, after I was admitted to the University Hospital – located at the University of Missouri – I was placed in a medically induced coma for roughly two months. The period of time before the coma began is not super clear to me. The memories of being there are flashes of images to me and even those memories are fuzzy at best. Ali can go into great detail of each day, every incident, and all the health care professionals that treated me. I simply do not recall anything past a certain point.
No memories. No consciousness. Just oblivion.
The two months of oblivion I experienced were torturous, for those who were by my side and also for me. Everyone who spent time at Barnes Jewish Hospital (the hospital I was flown to for immediate medical care) witnessed horrifying things occur. People saw my heart stop over 75 times, five open-heart surgeries, three ECMO placements, two fist-sized leg wounds created, a 108 degree fever for 24 hours, and countless other minor health care concerns. While friends and family were seeing all this happen right in front of them, they could not see the hallucinations that continuously horrified me.They could see the physical pain, but they would have no idea the emotional and psychological pain I was experiencing.
The best way I can explain these hallucinations doesn’t convey the deep toll it took on me. The vivid images that I would be hallucinating include rape, murder, executions, human trafficking, torture, and addiction. I know how that could sound, but there’s an added element that I have not told you.This element was confusing and devastating because I couldn’t intervene in what I was seeing.
I was paralyzed.
This would make sense later, but whenever these hallucinations occurred without restraint or possibility of ending. I was an active observer in each hallucination without the physical capability to end the horrifying event I was witnessing. Only when the oblivion began fading into reality did I start to puzzle together what was happening. Well, I wish it was that simple.
The beginning of consciousness is not at all like what you see in any television show or movie. I did not just open my eyes and it all became clear. I certainly did not see all my friends and family standing around me, and at that exact moment we began talk about how much we loved each other.
My experience of waking up was literally the exact opposite of those portrayals. It took a month from my initial moments of consciousness to being fully aware of my environment. I could only recognize my wife, Ali, and the occasional family member at first. It took weeks to be able to recognize groups of people at a time, which was overwhelming for me and I’m sure troubling for others. The most emotional part of gaining consciousness was my inability to form the simplest words. I couldn’t tell my wife that I loved her because I literally could not remember how to speak.
While this is occurring there were a multitude of other challenges that I was experiencing. On top of realizing I couldn’t speak, I realized I was unable to eat, move, or even breathe on my own. I woke up with a feeding tube inserted in my right nostril, a trachea in my neck attached to a ventilator, I had staples in my chest (which I didn’t understand), and two wound vacuums (wound vacs) on both inner thighs. Also, unknown to anyone, I was continuing to have hallucinations, and this time the hallucinations were incorporating those around me. To say the least, this is not the image you see in any Hollywood production.
The reality of this month was not a touching scene from a mainstream film. Regaining consciousness was messy, horrifying, and confusing. During this month, as I mentioned before, I started incorporating real-life individuals into my hallucinations, so this made it increasingly difficult to distinguish between oblivion and reality. My nurse was trying to kill me, family members were involved in terrorism, friends were trying to kidnap me, and I even choked my mom because of an unknown perceived threat. Only at the end of the month was I able to understand that these horrifying visions were due to the medicine they were administering.
Adding more fuel to the fire, the inability to sleep lasted an entire week. This was due to the hallucinations, but it was also a result of the blood dripping down my airway from my tracheotomy. I legitimately would choke on my own blood every thirty minutes or so. A nurse would have to suction the blood out, causing violent coughs and chest pain. To this day, this was the worst part of my recovery. That should give you a picture of how awful this was. Now, during this month there were a couple things that gave comfort, reassurance, and even joy.
The first comfort was recognizing my wife, Ali. Seeing her in my vicinity relieved most anxiety that was experienced, and any time without her would be just a waiting game until she came back. This was exhausting for her since she was seven months pregnant, and it was painful because she witnessed her husband go through surgery after surgery without much hope. The odds of survival for every surgery were slim, and now I’m asking her to be by my side all day. She didn’t have to spend eighteen or twenty hours every day with me, but she did. She was always there. She loved sacrificially to a level many people can’t imagine or handle. The other comfort I found occurred when she played a song for me. I had heard this song plenty of times, but the lyrics hit me in a divinely profound way.
The lyrics come from a song called “How Deep” by King’s Kaleidoscope:
Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon his shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished
In the fog of consciousness and anxiety, I felt comfort that I can only describe as coming from God. I experienced a deeper understanding of my sin being placed on Christ on the cross, and how at one time I mocked him and fought against His love. After the first section, the second section was truly the comfort that I needed. It was my sin that held him on the cross, and He went all the way to death to see that I was redeemed from and forgiven of my sin. Even as I lay there in pain and suffering I somehow understood and related to His suffering, and His suffering was for me in this moment. Even if I didn’t see the purpose of my pain, I knew that He personally understood my suffering; He knows.
The last line of the verse was the pinnacle of comfort. He died so that I might live. As I lay there immensely blessed to be alive. Gratefulness overflowed for simply being alive. He gives life and sustains life. Gratefulness was only experienced in shallow ways prior, but this moment gave a new zeal and gratefulness for life. It is finished. What a comfort it is to know that His death on the cross completes the work He was destined to do! His perfect life, sacrificial death on the cross, and triumphant resurrection from death was finished.
My two months of oblivion will hopefully continue to lead me to years of abundant life.
“But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. How much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by his blood, will we be saved through him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.”
Jacob Luis Gonzales