What do we tetraplegics dream of in our sleep? Do we walk in our dreams? Do we dream in colours? If dreams are the true reflections of our innermost sentiments, then my world is a monochromatic drama of fear, helplessness and insecurity. I used to have this vivid and recurring nightmare of suddenly plunging from a great height. Amidst the nerve-racking sensation of weightlessness and free falling, my hands would desperately flail on reflex to break the fall. Consequently I would be jolted awake, hyperventilating, heart beating rapidly and badly shaken from the ordeal.
I dream often. I know I do. The distressing part is that the moment my eyes caught light, the images that had been acting out in my mind would begin to melt into obscurity. As hard as I tried, I seldom could fully recollect those nocturnal theatrics except for fragments that made no sense when pieced together. For a while after that, it would feel like some parts of my life were missing, irretrievably lost in the muddle of my erratic psyche.
One time, I found myself swimming for my life in a swollen river that had threatened to swallow me up. I paddled and kicked with all my might but to no avail. The raging currents carried me further and further away from the muddied banks. Another time, overwhelming fear so totally paralysed me that I could hardly move. I opened my mouth to scream but no words came out. That feeling of impotence would affect me for hours later, sometimes days.
The most significant dreams I had were of Mum. I dreamt of her three months after she passed away. We were in an old fortification overlooking the sea. It was dusky. She looked dispassionate and spoke nary a word. We stood there looking at each other for a long time. Then she beckoned me to follow her. As I was deciding whether to follow her or not, I woke up. One early morning several weeks later, in the absolute darkness, I heard her voice saying, “If you do not take care of yourself, you will not live beyond two years.”
That prompted me to get my blood screened. Indeed, the results revealed that all was not well. My serum creatinine had shot up significantly, I was anaemic, my lipoprotein ratio was hovering on the borderline and those uric acid figures did not look good. That was the period which I had lapsed in looking after my health. I had refused to take the medicine that was prescribed because of the extreme side effects that I was experiencing. My intermittent catheterisation programme went to the dogs. I performed it only when I remembered instead of every four hourly. Beyond doubt, my kidneys were in a bad shape. Nevertheless the question is: Did I really hear Mum?s voice or was that just a dream? I cannot be sure but that probably had saved my kidneys from further damage.
Regardless of the nightmares that have been plaguing me every now and then, I am thankful that one thing has not changed. Do tetraplegics walk in their dreams? I know I do, all the time, every time. In the two decades that I have been paralysed, I have never ever dreamt of being in a wheelchair. I was walking, I was running, I was swimming, but never forlornly sitting on a wheelchair. For those brief moments that my mind was allowed unrepressed creative liberty, I was free again, unshackled from the body that no longer heeded my commands. The one thing that has changed is that I have not dreamt of falling uncontrollably again after I broke my neck. That is one nightmare less to worry about.