07.22NESS Executive Director Abducted By Aliens
by Perry DeAngelis
On Tuesday June 13th I was admitted to Yale New Haven Medical Center with severe abdominal pain. As I had assumed, it was my stone-laden gallbladder that was the culprit. Two times last fall I had landed in the hospital a total of five weeks with gallbladder pancreatitis, and I knew that the troubled organ would have to be removed. Now it had returned with a vengeance, as if to chastise me for not having attended to the matter earlier.
And thus began the strange adventure that was to come.
The Aliens Prepare
As I was doubled over with abdominal pain and between the vomiting spells I knew it was my old gallbladder rearing its ugly head. On Wednesday a few tests were performed, and I was thence scheduled for the cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) on Thursday afternoon to finally rid myself of the offending organ. My surgeon, Dr. Michael K. O`Brien, who I met a few hours before surgery, explained to me that this was a very routine operation and that there was nothing to worry about.
We were both soon to learn the folly of that prediction.
The difficulty began as soon as I was rolled into the operating room. Because of my size and thickening of my skin, due to a chronic condition known as scleroderma, it is extremely difficult to get an IV line into me. The anesthesiologists had to work for 20 minutes before they finally found a spot to get access to a vein, after of course sticking me three unsuccessful times. “You’re quite a challenge Sir,” said one.
Once I was out, Dr. O`Brien and the resident assisting him began the operation laparoscopically. This is a process where small incisions are made and slender cameras are inserted into the patient, and as the surgeon watches on a monitor, specialized implements are inserted via another small hole and the organ is thusly removed. This type of procedure is obviously much less traumatic to the body, and greatly speeds the recovery process. However, this portion of the surgery did not last long, for once they got the camera in and saw the dastardly condition of my gallbladder, Dr. O`Brien knew he would have to resort to old-fashioned open surgery. The cameras were removed and a foot long incision was made in my abdomen. It was then seen clearly that my gallbladder was in critical condition, severely infected and gangrenous. The operation proved so difficult, that the resident had to scrub out, and Dr. O`Brien called in his partner to assist. Many weeks later, Dr. O`Brien would inform me that I had the distinction of being his most difficult cholecystectomy ever. Quite an honor considering how common this operation is.
The Aliens Land
By this time some of our readers may be wondering what all this medical mish-mash has to do with being abducted by aliens. That will soon become clear, for it was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), that they came for me.
It was about 7:30 PM when I was wheeled into the surgical ICU. Let me tell you right now, that ICU suites are small affairs. It’s like a long walk-in closet, with only narrow space on each side of your bed. You face the hallway in this door-less room, and behind you is the ever present slew of medical machinery to which you are tethered. And I mean tethered! I had a dozen tubes and wires running out of me, everything from a catheter for urine, to a feeding tube up my nose.
The first thing I wondered about when I regained consciousness was whether or not the laparoscopic attempt was successful. My surgeon, who was there checking on my incision, simply raised his eyebrows and said “Oh no! We had to cut you.” Since I had expected this I was only marginally disappointed. Some time that evening, the nurses gave me the now ubiquitous morphine drip machine. Almost all post-surgical patients are given this device so that they can press a button and give themselves a morphine shot for pain. The machine has a built in timing mechanism that will not allow you to over medicate yourself. I slept that night and on Friday I seemed to be doing reasonably well. I recall a few visitors, and even smiled for pictures my sister took.
Then things began to go terribly wrong.
I do not recall Saturday at all. It was during this day that my health deteriorated rapidly. My already weakened kidneys began to shut down as my creatinine rose to 5.0 (in a healthy person it’s usually 1.0). The infection in my abdomen from the gangrenous gallbladder, which is always spread around a little by the act of removing a diseased organ, grew worse. My BUN (blood urea nitrogen, a toxin normally removed by the kidneys) had increased from a healthy 20 to a critical 80. My breathing began to get labored and shallow.
The shallow breathing resulted in carbon dioxide (usually removed by the lungs) building up in my blood. Carbon dioxide is an acid, so this caused my blood to become very acidotic. This was the main ingredient in the landing of the aliens. The following is related as best as I can recall given the circumstances.
Early on Sunday morning my mother came to the hospital to see me (in the Yale ICU people can visit at any time). I do not recall this part, but she told me later that she gently woke me from the stuporous sleep I was in, and said to me “Don’t worry Perry, I will talk to god for you.” My mother is aware of my agnosticism, but I suppose she was trying to comfort me with these words. Apparently however, these words had the opposite effect. She tells me that my reply to her was,
“Oh, stop your fu**ing bullshit!”
Yet now I was awake after almost a day of fever-ridden sleep. I remember looking around and seeing a nurse standing at my bedside writing on a clipboard. She seemed to be making the same writing motion over and over again. Behind and above her the TV was on with some sort of dance show being televised. I looked briefly around at my strange surroundings, and the bright light of the hallway, and then back at the nurse.
It was then that I realized she was the enemy.
She was an alien, and I had been kidnapped and taken to a secret part of the hospital. They had drugged me to keep me docile. Inside my brain I screamed “No! I will fight these bastards!” So, I reached up and tore the feeding tube from my nose. “I don’t want that!” I screamed out loud. I remember seeing the alien nurse in an excited state and she said something about not being able to help me if I pulled my tubes out. Yet I knew she was just trying to con me into accepting her alien drugs. I smiled a sarcastic smile and said (or thought) in the same sarcastic manner, “Oh, sure you want to help… I know who you are!” Then there were other alien medical personnel there. They all were fighting with me, trying to hold me down. I looked over and saw my mother with her arms extended, a frightened look in her wide eyes. She said something to me I can’t recall, but I knew she had just been duped by the aliens. Then one of the alien doctors gave me a shot of something and I was quickly knocked out.
Some time later that morning I can remember opening my eyes slowly, and looking down to see my hands tied to the bed. This confirmed that I was indeed the prisoner of some wicked alien plot. However, I was simply too weak to do anything about it, and I lulled back into troubled sleep. Yet even in my sleep the aliens did not leave me alone.
Stemming, I suppose now, from the dance number that had been on the television, there were two alien woman that haunted me during this time. One was a tall slender Latin woman in a pink body suit, and the other was shorter and heavier. They ridiculed me endlessly because I knew they were aliens, but since I was Executive Director of a Skeptical Society, I couldn’t tell anyone! It was like they were trying to upset me to illicit a reaction. I tried to remain stoic, but I think eventually I broke down and cried.
Sunday and Monday were critical days for me. At one point I had all but stopped breathing, and was put on a respirator. Blissfully I was almost always unconscious during this time, yet I can recall opening my eyes for brief moments and seeing some kind of apparatus above my face. Also during this time, there was a parade of visitors above my bed (many of whom had not visited me in the hospital during my four previous stays that year.) Yet at the time I did not realize that this procession of visitors meant I was desperately ill. I will say now, that if I had died in the ICU, I would have been unaware of it. That is to say, I had no idea how sick I was. There was not a time of “Gee, I’m getting really weak here,” or even “My gosh, am I going to die?!.” Nothing like that. And though my heart never stopped, there were no white lights, no floating, no tunnels. I simply would have been gone.
It was late Tuesday night when I could once again sustain consciousness. My vital signs had stabilized, the respirator had dealt with my CO2 problem, and I could finally look around and put together some coherent thoughts. I was still unsure what exactly was happening, but then Jocelyn Novella came in, our President’s wife, and she was holding their one year old daughter, Julia. I remember looking at Julia, and knowing for the first time that she could not possibly be an alien. Not little “Hoopie-doo!” (a nickname of hers). I knew then I was safe.
What I experienced is a delirium known as ICU psychosis. It is much more common of a phenomenon than I realized, as detailed by Dr. Sandeep Jauhar in the New York Times. He states that it is
“…a disturbance called ICU psychosis, observed with increasing frequency as intensive care units proliferate in American hospitals. In the 1960’s there were only about a hundred ‘special care’ units in the United States. Now, most hospitals with more than 100 beds have some form of intensive care unit. About a third of the patients who spend more than five days there will experience some form of psychotic reaction.”
In my particular case my delirium was shaped by the culture in which I have grown up. I have had aliens on my mind ever since puberty. I believed in and thrilled to “real” books on UFO’s in high school. In addition I am a lover of speculative fiction, and more importantly science fiction movies. I was inundated with shlocky 1950’s and `60’s movies about aliens taking human form. Why did they always take human form in these old movies? Because it was cheap! Producers didn’t have to worry about expensive make-up and effects if the aliens paraded around in human guise (until the last five minutes anyway when their masks were revealed by that week’s hero). Furthermore, what is it that aliens are always doing to humans? Why, performing medical experiments on them, of course. All of these things conspired within my memory to shape the delirious thoughts I had in the ICU.
The interesting lesson in this experience is that it demonstrated to me in a very real and immediate way how dependent we are on the biology of our brains. We perceive and understand reality only as a manifestation of the physiology of a few pounds of flesh housed in our skulls. When that flesh is stressed, our ability to interact with reality is altered. We are prone in such situations to hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and fear. The experience seems as real as any other, especially at the time, and only later does the unrealistic and dream-like quality of the experience become clear. It is also interesting how readily we incorporate into such paranoid delusions the fixtures of our culture, such as aliens.
I am happy to say that I have made a full recovery from my medical misadventure. I am left with an impressive scar as my only physical reminder of the experience. Whether or not I have regained my former faculties and am fully engaged with reality I will leave up to the reader to decide.
But finally my friends, I must tell you this. I can relate these things easily to you now and even laugh about them. Yet when it was happening these events were very real me, and so was the terror. I was scared, disoriented, paranoid, and felt very alone. If you have a friend or loved one in the ICU, keep in mind that this may happen to them also. Realize what is happening, work to calm them, and wait for the episode to pass. And later when it’s all over, be there to comfort and reassure them. It is a terrifying experience I would not wish on my worst enemy.