I Keep Wondering Where I Went


Where was my spark, or spirit, or soul during my long surgery?

In the hours and days since my brain surgery three weeks ago, I have found myself wondering about the process itself. Not so much the mechanical or medical parts of the surgery; to be honest, the less I think about that, the better off I am.

I keep wondering how it could be possible for a whole group of surgeons to open my skull, remove a tumor, and sew everything back together without my being aware of any of it. I was on that operating table, unaware of anything at all, for twelve full hours.

Twelve hours, during which I felt nothing. I was unaware of the table beneath me, the tube in my throat, the cuts into my skin, muscle, bone or brain. I heard nothing at all. There was no smell or taste.

There was no time.

The many hours between my taking deep breaths into the mask on my face and my awareness of people calling my name felt like an absence of time. I didn’t feel myself slipping into sleep. I was breathing, and then I was waking up.

But twelve hours had gone by.

An entire day was gone.

And I can’t help but wonder, where did I go? Where was the essence of me, of Karen? If my consciousness was simply suspended, what does that mean?

I think that it is a kind of death, but it is a death of the spirit only; the body that houses my spirit was kept alive by a bunch of machines and a team of medical professionals. My heart kept beating, my blood moved, my lungs exchanged oxygen for carbon dioxide. I stayed alive.

But there were no thoughts. None. Nothing.

If my spirit wasn’t there, what does it mean to have had my body keep going? I am obviously happy that my body DID keep going, and that when the good doctors called my spirit back home, it had a home to return to.

Still, I can’t quite come to terms with the fact that the key part of myself, the part that loves and thinks and grieves, was simply able to fly away. I can’t help but think of that team of doctors and nurses as mystical sorcerers who captured the spark of energy that is Nonni/Mom/me and held it for those long hours in a secret place. I can’t help but think of the spark diminished, like the coals of a banked fire. Smoldering and waiting to be brought back into a burst of bright flame when the time was right.

I keep thinking about death. I keep thinking that death and deep unconsciousness are so close. In both cases, the body loses all of its senses. It cannot hear or feel or see. But in death, the body stops functioning, while the little spark of life goes on.

I wonder where I was during that long day. I wonder? While my husband and kids waited for news from the hospital, why didn’t I even dream? While the city of Boston wilted in the heat and people bustled all around the hospital where I lay, why was I unaware of anything at all, even of myself?

I don’t expect any answers to any of this. I just need to share it.

This entire experience has given me a renewed belief that life goes on well after the body can no longer hold it. Now I have an image of a great pile of glowing coals, little spirit lights, waiting to be reawakened to live again. I have an image of those spirits rising up and floating the join the crowd of other glowing lights after death.

It’s comforting.

But I can’t help wondering where I was for all those hours.

10 thoughts on “I Keep Wondering Where I Went

  1. It’s interesting to contemplate how profoundly deep anesthesia may mimic a state close to death. I think I’ve actually read about obscure studies and tests- perhaps not all medically scientific but more in the psychological realms, that have attempted to define the answer to where we go at the moment of death. I can share though, that a number of the drugs used during anesthesia are designed specifically to erase any memory of any event during the procedure. Propofol is the anesthetic agent but is often combined with things like a narcotic (fentanyl) and for amnesia both Ketamine and Versed. I only know this as I worked for a number of years as a surgical dental assistant. The dosages are much lower in that setting, but typical of any type of surgery.

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    • Thanks! I was thinking that, too. I only know that in past surgeries (from cataracts to a hysterectomy), I was generally aware of the world around me, if only dimly. This time I feel like somehow an entire day was simply erased. A bit unsettling!

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  2. Totally get it. I’ve wondered the exact same thing after every surgery I’ve undergone. “Where did I go, where has my mind been?” Always a mystery.

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  3. A very interesting experience and question… there is much to read about concepts of spirit/consciousness/surgery/near death experiences etc, but what I’m hearing is your very real lived experience of ‘disappearing’, and that your being is trying to integrate it. All part of the recovery process I’m sure, so may you keep improving. Best wishes, G in Australia 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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