10:08 am . . .
“Let me tell you what I think is going on,” Dr. Smith said, leaning back in his comfortable leather chair as it squeaked a bit. I was on the couch this time. Last night put me in the class of patients that lay on the couch.
“You’re having lucid dreams.”
“Can I take a pill for that?” I asked, my hands folded behind my head.
“No, no. This is actually very good,” he explains, having been told about the vibrating universe that was my apartment last night. I might have left out a few of the minor details—the spooks, the Book of Sighs, the dead girl in my kitchen. But he had enough to go on. You have to spoon feed these doctors, or they’ll figure out you’ve been lying to them the whole time.
He went on, “. . . this is quite a wonderful point in your mental healing. Your brain is rewiring. Fixing itself. The fact that your dreams are so vivid means that you have much more REM activity than we originally thought you would have.”
“So,” I posed, “. . . what, exactly, is going on in my head? Because this feels a lot like crazy.”
He laughed. No, no, he said. This is a good thing.
What’s happening, he explained, is that I was experiencing NREM—Non-rapid Eye Movement sleep—sometimes. And at other times, my REM sleep—where the dreams happen—is in overdrive.
“You need to understand that because you are actually getting good, quality sleep most of the time, your REM sleep is on . . . well, as if it’s on steroids. That’s a bad example.”
“I get what you’re saying,” I said, a bit confused. “NREM, that’s without the eye movement?”
He goes on to explain that NREM sleep is conventionally subdivided into several different stages, on the basis of EEG (Electroencephalograph) criteria. In the adult Stage 1 is observed at sleep onset, or after momentary arousals during the night—like when the spooks start crawling around—and is defined as a low-voltage mixed-frequency EEG tracing with a considerable representation of a theta-wave.
“Theta wave,” he replied. “Four to seven hertz, or, uh, cycles-per-second of activity.”
Stage 2, he said, is a relatively low-voltage EEG tracing characterized by intermittent, short sequences of waves of 12-14 hertz—also called “Sleep spindles”—and by formations called K-complexes. Those are biphasic waveforms that can be induced by external stimulation.
“Like sounds in the night?”
“Sure,” he answered, nodding slowly, “. . . could be anything that’s introduced and processed by your mind. Some of them occur spontaneously in your sleep.”
Stages 3 and 4 consist of relatively high-voltage (more than 50-microvolt) EEG tracings with a predominance of delta-wave (one or two hertz) activity.
“You guys have to memorize all of this?”
He shrugged, “It’s easy because it all makes sense.”
After the transition from wakefulness to NREM sleep, most functions of the autonomic nervous system decrease their rate of activity and their moment-to-moment variability. Thus, NREM sleep is the kind of seemingly restful state that appears capable of supporting the recuperative functions assigned to sleep.
“It’s recovery sleep,” he says with a cheery grin.
“Then why am I dreaming all these horrible things?”
“That gets us back to your REM sleep being on overdrive!” he said excitedly. “I would like to run some tests on you, but my theory is that your dreams are uber-realistic.”
I’m not sure if he was making fun of me, cussing me out, or explaining the intricate fabric of my nightmares.
REM sleep is a state of diffuse bodily activation. Its EEG patterns are at least superficially similar to those of wakefulness. So I would think my visions were real. Most autonomic variables exhibit relatively high rates of activity and variability during REM sleep. He told me that my heart-rate would be higher, and my respiration-rate would be elevated—hence the sweat soaked t-shirts.
My blood pressure would increase. I might even experience full or partial penile erection. So that’s an added bonus. The dead will see me with a hard-on.
In addition, he said that I might have a low rate of gross body motility, but with some periodic twitching of the muscles of the face and extremities. Add to that high levels of oxygen consumption by the brain, increased cerebral blood flow, and higher brain temperature. And my cerebral neurons . . . they would be firing like a marching band.
My neurons could, in theory, be more active during this juiced-up REM sleep, than during the times when I’m awake. That and some bursts of rapid eye movements pretty much summed it up.
“Your NREM, recovery sleep, is enabling you to have lucid dreams during your shortened, but heightened REM sleep stages,” he said, straightening himself in his chair. He had an anxious look on his face, and his right hand reached down to his waist, somewhere—thank God—obscured by his desk. He took a quick breath, and his face softened in such a way that I knew I didn’t want to shake hands with him ever again.
I still had a few questions for him. To challenge his theory.
I wonder if my uber-REM is what’s warping the world around me?
If that’s responsible for the creepy-crawly spooks and the Gatherers?
For the giant gash in my chest?
For the dead girl in my kitchen?
But out loud I say, “Well, I guess that makes sense.”
He folded his hands on the desk in front of him, content that another patient had been saved by his prowess.
“Are you absolutely certain that I’m not going crazy?” I said, almost a bit sad.
He glanced down at my lab results, EEG, EKG, and other tests that had been performed last week. His lips receded until I could see both rows of his pearly white squared teeth. The kind of teeth that chew sideways, like an herbivore. He made little shush-shush-shush sounds as he studied the printouts.
Then he clicked his jaw together a couple times and smiled, his lips hiding his big cow teeth. “Jack, I think you’re fit as a fiddle.”
I uncrossed my hands from behind my head and folded them over my chest, where, for reasons I can’t explain, my chest is stinging. Stinging right there where those gatherers cut me. Where I almost fell out of me.
“Fit as a fiddle,” I echoed. “Not exactly a medical term.”
Dr. Smith laughed, “You’re tired. Frustrated. I understand. Hey, I’ve got two kids in college, so I know all about it . . .”
Really, doc? Do you know all about it?
“. . . My son is doing his pre-med with a degree in biology at UT . . .”
How many dead people walk around in your apartment?
“. . . and Sara, my daughter, that’s a whole other story. She’s dancing at Julliard. So you can imagine . . .”
Yeah, Dr. Smith. You and I are just alike. Two peas from the same pod. Two cheerios floating around the cosmic milk, together.
I smiled, nodded, and sat up. “Hey, Dr. Smith?”
“Yes, Jack?” he said, scooting forward, his back straight, giving me his full attention.
I pointed, “There’s a spook staring at you.”
“A what?” he said, his eyebrows folding in as he looked around the desk.
“A little creature that climbs out of shadows and looks at things that are dead or dying.”
He half laughed at me, turning from side to side, trying to figure out what the heck I was talking about.
“Just kidding,” I laughed. And I winked at him.
He pointed at me, a big smile forming on his face, “Youuuuu got me, Jack. Nice one.” He laughed, “Shadow creature, that’s good.”
“I’ll see you Tuesday, Dr. Smith,” I said, remembering not to shake his right hand. And then I stood up and headed out of his office.
Two more spooks ran past me, towards his desk. And I had this funny feeling that Dr. Smith might not be my caseworker much longer.