My eyes opened – properly this time – onto a new room (or the same room from a different angle). Two people were at my bedside, calling me. With an effort I looked at each of them. Things were in contact with my head and my face, and breathing was difficult. Time had passed without me.
For the second time in my life, I’d been anaesthetized for an extended period, and it had passed in the blink of an eye. I didn’t remember blackness. I hadn’t dreamt; there had simply been suddenly nothing, and then suddenly wakefulness. It was a new sensation, and while I would much rather have been unconscious while the surgeons did their thing, I initially found it unaccountably disturbing.
The waking-up part was (the second time around) uncomfortable and surprisingly difficult, but my sense of disquiet emanates more from my first and significantly more protracted surgery. The problem is that it has left me with large blocks of missing memory, both from immediately before I went into the operating theatre, and from the two or three hours afterwards. I have only one memory from waking up that first time, and that is – thankfully – of seeing my wife and daughter at my side, and speaking briefly to them. Everything else is simply absent.
Absence; my point (finally).
Falling asleep is familiar to all of us – most of us do it at least once each day, without any terror of not being conscious and in full and immediate control of our destiny. We have to do it; without it we eventually die, and in a rather unpleasant way, too. Falling asleep is natural, and often we approach the onset of losing consciousness with enthusiasm. We dream, some remember our dreams (I do, but only for a very short time) and some don’t. I often have at least some kind of sense of the passage of time between falling asleep and waking. But anaesthesia is different. There is simply awake, and then waking without realizing that consciousness had left. It’s confusing and disorienting. There is no perceived passage of time.
This makes me wonder if the death that we all must experience one day is in any way similar in terms of our perception. Do we simply ‘flick out’, as I remember doing? Are we, then, just suddenly absent? If so, we have nothing to fear from death. A state of merely not being holds no pain or suffering; no sorrow or regret. No loneliness. The pain of loss is felt by the living, and in particular the loving and the loved. We who remain suffer, while the dead are merely absent and unknowing.