Since Sunday evening I’ve been knocked out by a flu. Temperatures well above 39°C and a resting pulse of 110 bpm when lying down. My collegues at work had taken ill previously, and this flu season seems to be extra ambitious. Haven’t been this sick for this long in a while.
Today is the first day I can string a coherent thought together for more than half a minute so I thought I’d write this up. Apart from sweating like crazy in the night, the most disturbing feature of fevers are the dreams. As long as I’m in them I can’t reason myself out. Usually when we speak of dreams we have a common vocabulary—it was you, but it wasn’t you, y’know?—but I can’t for the life of me tell you what the past few days fever dreams were about.
I did come up with an analogy of how I experience fever dreams though, and it’s the similarity to compulsive behaviour. On a lark I started platespotting when we got a car. The idea is that you need to see the plates in consequitive order, with 001 first, then 002, etc. It’s oddly addictive, and whenever I’m out driving I keep one eye on the road and one on the plates of oncoming traffic. I’ve also become proficient in reading numbers in the rear view mirror.
My analogy to the fever dream is this:
When there’s a lot of oncoming traffic, your eyes are zipping back and forth very rapidly, scanning the plates. What number am I looking for? 26! Is that 26? No! What number? 26! Back up, was the last car 26? No. What number? 26! Is that 26? Part of you dissociate into a stream of compulsion, and at least for me this can leave me with mild nausea and a buzzing head.
Fever dreams remind me of this because of the relentless focus and looping. There is something you need to do. Did you do it? Yes. Ok, did you do it? Yes! There is something you need to do! Didn’t I just do it? You need to do it! I’m doing it again. Did you do it? Yes! Ok, do it! I did! There is something you need to do! I did! Do it!
There’s an overwhelming sense of that this is really important and that you have no choice—sometimes it’s more like events are looping rather than your behaviour, but the repetition and the urgency is the same every time. Even if you drift in and out of sleep you’ll still have this sense of urgency, and a suggestion that understanding is just beyond your grasp. Only way to get rid of these dreams is to medicate and lower your temperature.
I found a few explanations of what might be happening in the brain when we have fever dreams, but I didn’t find many descriptions of the dreams themselves. Higher temperature give higher levels of activity, but why not just increase the dopamine and bliss us out in a calm ocean of fluff instead of these repetetive loops? Is this a pure malfunction or is there an evolutionary benefit to these dreams? I didn’t get any hits for “fever” in the journal Dreaming but I’m sure someone must have looked into it somewhere.
In addition to the fever I’ve been coughing my poor lungs out. Someone has taken a parmesan grater to my throat and occasionally I break whatever lining it is which keeps my blood on the inside. If our bodies are made up of 10 times as many foreign cells as our own, they must consider me a very unfair landlord as I’ve been evicting them profusely and colourfully.
I noticed an amusing thing for a couple of hours when the fever was nearing 40°C the other day: I could hear my eyeballs move! It sounded like fabric rubbing together, or perhaps as when you drag your fingernail quickly across fine cotton. Did my brain twig to the electric activity in the muscles or had the muscles swelled and rubbed against something? There’s a condition called SCDS which causes one to hear ones body, but it’s chronic and carries with it other symptoms. Perhaps it wasn’t anything more than the fever and mucous increasing the density somewhere and allowing for some sounds to conduct which normally wouldn’t. This might be the only silver lining to the lung lining I’ve lost.
To the surprise of absolutely no-one there’s a forum for spotters, albeit not very active: http://www.platespotting.com
And in Swedish, there’s a mockumentary as well: Albin the platespotter