So the other night, when I conked out after dinner unexpectedly, I woke up to find the apartment full of smoke and my Mom was standing at the door, calling to me to come help her open it because and we needed to get out and where is Michael? And I jumped up from the recliner, stumbled over a filebox on the floor trying to get to my mom and the door and just as I’m opening my mouth to yell for Michael the smoke had vanished. Also, Mom (who hasn’t visited us in over 20 years because travel is difficult for her for various health reasons) had vanished. There was no smoke. There was no fire. There had been no Mom.
And the dream was so vivid that I went to the bathroom and dug out the box with the unopened bottle of the nasal spray just to confirm that I hadn’t opened it and used it when the sinus headache had been real bad the night before. I didn’t remember using it, but the dream really felt like one of those, so I thought maybe in the middle of the night, when I was half asleep and had been tossing and turning because of the headache I had given in and added the spray to the mix of allergy pills and over the counter cold medications I’d already taken.
And that was only the first day of the fever.
I haven’t used the spray, but I keep having the weird dreams. The next morning my alarm watch went off a few hours after my husband left for work (he leaves much earlier than I even want to wake up). I often wake up briefly while he is getting ready for work. I may mumble, “I love you” or “Good morning” to him as I stumble to the bathroom and then back to bed. Sometimes I just try to wake up enough to say something to him and don’t succeed. Also I often wake up briefly once or twice before my alarm goes off, note that I still have more time to sleep, and roll over. But back to the alarm: The alarm was ringing and Michael is calling from the next room that I should turn off the alarm and asking if I’m going to try to go into the office or call in sick. And I get up and stumble out to the room where my Apple watch is on its charger to turn it off and I ask Michael, “What are you doing here? Did you get to work, decide you were too sick, and come back home?”
And Michael didn’t answer. But now that I’d spoken aloud, that was enough to completely wake me up, and I’m standing in front of the watch in its charger. Its face is lit up showing me that there are still two minutes until the alarm will actually go off.
There have also been two dreams where I was somewhere in the city trying to remember where I had parked the car because I either needed to pick up Michael somewhere or I was trying to get away from someone who was trying to hurt us. And both of those ended with me awake, standing in front of the phone charger, trying to find the app on the phone that will help me find the car. One of the mornings I wasn’t actually holding my phone, I was holding the TV remote (which is normally on the shelf above the phone charger), but I swear a few seconds before it had been my phone. And yes, it was as if I watched it morph from phone to remote as I finished waking up.
The fact that when I’m having a nightmare I will get up, walk around, talk (sometimes yell), and so forth is one of the reasons that normally I don’t watch scary movies, by the way.
So I still haven’t actually used the spray. I’m of two minds: since I seem to already be having the side effect I least like, maybe I should go ahead. On the other hand, the spray might just make the weird dreams even worse.
And this gets me to two reasons why I shy away from writing dream sequences in my fiction. When I have tried to write them like the dreams I remember, the reaction from readers (at least the ones I hear from) is that the dream was more confusing than enlightening. When I tried to write them to have a bit more narrative flow, readers say they went on too long. Having had these reactions, I am not enthused when someone suggests that a dream sequence would better explain a particular mystical thing happening in one of my stories.
Besides trying to get work done while juggling regular meds, symptoms of this cold thing, extra meds, it’s been a bit of a struggle to remember to keep hydrated and get enough caffeine in me so that I don’t wind up with a caffeine-deprivation headache on top of everything else. You would think that coffee, of all things, would be something I didn’t have to remind myself to drink, but you would be wrong.
I hope I’m well sooner rather than later.
The first time I was put on a medication which listed this side effect was for an extremely bed sinus-throat-and-ear infection I got some years ago. In addition to a standard antibiotic, my doctor described a steroidal nasal spray. He mentioned casually that sometimes patients have trouble sleeping when they first start taking this. The pharmacist who talked to me when I picked it up said that people often have sleep disturbances. The only person who actually warned me on what to expect was on online friend, who said, “Oh, no! Whenever I was put on that stuff, I had horrible vivid extremely disturbing dreams!”
I didn’t have nightmares that first night. What I had was first an extremely vivid dream in which I was trying to put up new shelves in the apartment I lived in at the time, while my late husband, Ray, was working on a quilt. And it was vitally important that we get these tasks done before someone arrived, and things just kept going wrong. I woke up with my heart pounding and feeling extremely angry at a screwdriver that kept transforming into the wrong kind of tool. It took me several minutes to untangle my thoughts and realize that I had been dreaming. It wasn’t real. It was irritating, but not scary.
And that was what they meant by sleep disturbances. Not an occasional temporary interruption of a good night’s rest, but a string of bizarre and emotionally overwrought dreams that propelled you out of bed confused and temporarily convinced that you had entered the twilight zone. In other words, something much more like being pestered by several deranged pets all night long.
The next time that a different medication with the same side effect was prescribed, my regular pharmacist asked if I had been on this particular thing before and if I knew what the label meant when it said “sleep disturbances.” With a slight sense of dread, I described the nights of weird dreams. “Yep!” she said, with a bit more cheerfulness than it deserved. “That’s usually what happens. Not scary dreams, just weird ones that leave you feeling strange and keep waking you up. Not much you can do, though they’re usually worst the first couple of nights.”
I realize that side effects can vary from person to person. And I also know that people don’t always describe the effects they feel the same way. But still, sleep disturbances didn’t really prepare me for what happened. On the other hand, my regular pharmacist was correct. Each time I’ve been on one of these meds, the bizarre dreams were worst for the first couple of days, and then became a bit more normal for the rest of the time I’m on the medication. Not complete going away, mind you, just less awful.
The same warning pamphlets usually also mention mood changes, or irritability, or lack of interest in sex as possible side effects. All of which, by my experience, are euphemisms for “Your emotions are doing to be wildly unpredictable for days!” A friend who has depression was once put on the same prescription strength nasal spray that my doctor has been fond of giving me for sinus infections lately (different than the first one I mentioned in this post), but no one warned him about possible mood-altering side effects. Or, I should say, whatever warning his doctor or pharmacist gave, did not communicate to him the possibility that his depression would be amplified to previously unplumbed depths. Fortunately, it occurred to him after several days of feeling much worse than usual to ask around. As he said afterward, it would have been nice if the warning had been clearer. Because it’s a lot easier to deal with extra depression (or other effects) if you know it’s coming.
Sometimes the sleep disturbances are just weird dreams. Unfortunately I’m a sleep walker and talker. So sometimes I have woke up in a violent rage about something, talking very loudly and angrily about someone. Usually just identified by pronoun. This wakes up my poor husband. I mention the pronoun thing because, usually the dreams that drive me to angrily leap out of bed don’t stick with me. What I mean is, by the time I’m awake enough to realize it’s a dream and answer Michael’s questions about what’s wrong, I can’t remember the details.
I’m writing about this now because currently I have a sinus infection (along with a chest cold and a nasty cough). I’m on antibiotics for the sinus infection, and since there’s a lot of mucous in my lungs, I’m also using an inhaler a couple times a day, and some prescription cough syrup (which I’m only using at bed time). The inhaler and the cough syrup both cause sleep disturbances. And I’ve had some weird dreams. I can’t decide whether the most annoying one so far was the one where my husband and I were trying to do something but our luggage kept vanishing and reappearing, or the one where it started out with us helping his father (who I am very fond of) do something, but then it morphed into helping my father (who I was not fond of at all while he was alive).
I just hope the cough gets better soon, so I can stop using the cough syrup and the inhaler. I’d rather just be dealing with the antibiotic for the rest of the week, you know?