Cats. Comas, and Dreams
The other morning I was in the kitchen when I heard an eerie and little scary sound. Okay, who am I kidding? It was a really scary sound, mainly because it was a sound I had seldom if ever heard. I have two cats, housecats who were rescues meaning they were homeless until we adopted them. One came to us just a few days old and was so malnourished we first thought she was a baby squirrel. The other came to us via an animal humane group when she was eighteen months old. She had never had a home and it took quite a while for her to realize that food would be consistent and the terrain of our house was safe rather than strange and threatening.
Neither cat is the cuddly, purring type of cat most housecats are but they are important members of our family so, when I realized the eerie and scary sound was coming from a cat, I hurriedly went to find the problem. It did not take long. One of our cats was sitting in a window staring at another cat who sat right outside the window. The cat on the outside was simply sitting, looking in. It was not in any posture to indicate fighting nor was it making any sounds. Still, its very presence was obviously irritating to our cat who was emitting these warrior sounds from somewhere inside her body. Seriously, I could have taped them and made some money with her vocalizations as a sound effect!
Concerned that the two felines might become engaged in a cat fight and possibly break the double-paned window or hurt themselves, I reached down to pick up our cat and reassure her she was safe. In doing so, I forgot one of the first rules of pet ownership. My cat was in a dreamlike state because of her alert “danger mode”. Therefore, any intrusion into her space would be interpreted as a threat. You probably know what happened next. Yes, I got scratched; not a huge, life-threatening scratch but still, all I had for my heroic efforts was a medal of pain, my scratched wrist. Our cat realized her mistake, jumped down and took off for other parts of the house. Meanwhile, the cat outside stared at me for a few seconds and then took a bath. Neither saw my presence as salvation but rather as an interruption to their … whatever it was.
A couple of you have asked about something I mentioned several weeks ago. A family member was involved in a very serious automobile accident and had been in a coma in a neurological intensive care unit of a nearby hospital. I would love to tell you we have a great Hollywood movie-style recovery and all is back to normal. The truth is we now have a “new normal”. My family member was able to be moved from the intensive care unit to a regular hospital room but then was transferred to a long-term acute care facility in a persistent vegetative state.
Such a term sounds very depressing and, quite frankly, it is. Having someone in a coma is very difficult because it means you are living half in the real world and half in world something like a dream and mostly like an alien planet. You speak to the person but there is no usual sign of recognition. Indications may exist that imply cognition is possible but without regular lines of communication to measure such, you feel like either you are the alien or they are.
Mostly, though, in these situations, you just want to wake up, wake up and find it has all been a dream, more of a nightmare really. Thing is, it isn’t a dream; it is reality. You realize just how many little things there are in life to celebrate, things that go entirely unnoticed in our daily lives. Eyes opening, eyes that are able to follow sound from one side of the room, a movement called tracking that really is a very big thing to celebrate. An arm raised with hands opening when someone leaves the room may seem like a jerky motion until something gives it the context of a “wave” and you suddenly are overjoyed.
There is so much we know about our world today in the twenty-first century that many of these mythologies we have been exploring seem like bad science fiction. Then something like this occurs and you realize that the brain is perhaps the last great alien landscape here on earth that we know very little about. And there are plenty of myths about the brain. Some appear to have truth; others should just be ignored. For instance, many who have been in a come believe they heard their loved ones at their bedside while they were “out”, in the dreamlike unknown that represents what we call a coma. Then there is that look of instance depression people give you when you update them and say “Persistent. Vegetative. State.” Suddenly you feel like my cat did when I reached down to ‘rescue” her. Your friends are hearing the words just as I typed them – with a period after each, a period that is like a death sentence, a period that represents another myth. Over half of the people who are in such a condition, a prolonged coma or persistent vegetative state within a year will come out of it with little impairment. There are those who do have issues but many have wonderful recoveries and lives.
My family member has now been transferred to a rehabilitation center. In this country long term acute care facilities do exactly what their names imply. They take care of medical and day-to-day needs twenty-hours. The rehabilitation center teaches the patient life skills, adapting them to best meet their abilities and physical conditions. There is no chart or measuring stick for any of this. Much like our dreams, each case is unique and moves at its own pace. The way to live through such an experience is to celebrate each minute for the victory it is. Like a bad dream, the first thing to remember is that you did not succumb. The next thing, as we are doing, is to move forward with a positive outlook, relying on faith. Thank you for your concern, best wishes, and prayers. We are only partway through this journey. We could all say the same thing about life.
I have referenced both of these stories above with the term “dream”. We often put ourselves in a dreamlike state by really concentrating on something or by just letting our minds wander off. Reading can do the same thing. I can get all wrapped up in a historical novel only to have the telephone ring and be suddenly amazed I am back in the twenty-first century instead of regency England. If you study dreams, at some point you will come across this quote, so often-repeated that the original attribution has been lost. “Everything in a dream is an aspect of our selves.” Studying dreams was brought to the mainstream attention by Carl Jung but even Plato believed in the study of dreams and wrote about it.
For many of us, dreaming is something we do in our sleep. For others it is a roadmap of our mind, illustrating what we fear or what makes us happy. For the Aborigine people of Australia, the past, present, and future are explained in their myths of the Dreaming, a concept over forty thousand years old.
The spirits of the Dreaming are eternal mythical creatures who die only to become part of the natural landscape. Thus, what may appear to be a barren desert is actually a living myth. These “dreaming” stories are kept alive through oral tradition, songs, tattoos, sand paintings, and conventional art.
Before we dismiss such beliefs as silly, think about this. Dreams are mentioned in the Bible one hundred and twenty times. It may seem crazy to believe spirits become part of the landscape but consider the fact that symbols are often called the language of dreams. Perhaps those spirits that seem to alive are just symbols that represent something.
The movie “crocodile Dundee” brought the ancient tradition of ‘walkabout” into the spotlight. Strongly connected to the land, Aboriginal Australian males would undertake this solitary journey to reconnect with the spirits of their ancestors. Thought to be retracing ancient paths, rituals were and are conducted at preordained sites. These paths are often called “songlines” to incorporate both eh steps and the traditional ceremonies. Learning to live off the land and recognize various landmarks is thought to be an integral part of growing up as well as growing closer to their beliefs. The tradition continues today.
The Dreamtime myths have many variations. Each tribe considers their variation an important part of both their culture and their identity. Each Dreamtime incarnation was thought to have a natural counterpart and they offered prayers to the spirit in dealing with the material matter on earth.
The study of dreams is considered to be a behavioral science. Older definitions of a dream centered on images seen while sleeping. Of course, these are also daydreams, those periods where our mind seems to take a vacation and these occur during our waking hours. Aborigines believe the terrain features have power, just as many believe dreams have power, power and answers. The former spirits of the Dreaming turn into rocks or creeks are said to have “djang” or spiritual potency. Our own prayers and dreams have power when we apply meaning to them, meaning and action.
My cat is still visited by the neighborhood cat but both have learned to keep the vocalizations quiet so that I do not interfere with whatever it is they are doing. My family member is still living in what seems to us a dreamlike state. Each day brings a little but more of her back to us and we get the best results when we act normal, act like she is normal. AS I described it before, this particular “dreamtime” has become our new normal. Dreams can be powerful but sometimes they simply are images soon forgotten. We all, however, have those hidden dreams, those “if I could” secret yearnings of our souls. The only thing keeping a dream from becoming reality is a lack of faith in ourselves. Faith is one’s self can make a dream a plan for success. I have faith in my God and in my family member. I have faith in your dreams. The problem is not that we have dreams. The problem is that we forget to live them, to walk about secure in the faith of our beliefs, our dreams, ourselves.