I was gone for about an hour Wednesday. I have no idea where I went and no memory whatsoever of the time lost, although I do have testimony from others about the missing hour. They assure me that I did not disappear.
What happened to me is that pursuant to undergoing a colonoscopy (I have a family history of colon cancer) I was given the drug “Versed”, or midazolam injection, and that resulted in amnesia for the period of the procedure. I had experienced this twice before, once for a previous colonoscopy and once for dental surgery. This time I resolved to pay extra attention to the experience.
I heard the nurse say that she was injecting the stuff and about 10 seconds later I heard the on-going conversation in the room rapidly diminish in volume and become less understandable. It was just as though the sounds were on a radio that was being quickly turned down and simultaneously tuned a little off-frequency. I estimate the period over which the transition occurred lasted not more than three seconds. Then I immediately awakened in the recovery room. It was about an hour later, but I had absolutely zero sense of any time lost. The missing hour was not like sleep, it was a total blank. It was as though that hour had not happened.
A nurse told me that “amnesia” was a common side effect of Versed and I shouldn’t worry, but I found this most curious. I looked up Versed / midazolam in the world’s best medical reference, the NLM’s MedlinePlus site and found some interesting information.
First off, this is a very serious med. It can cause you to depart this world permanently if staff aren’t there with the right equipment because it can stop your breathing. Secondly, there was this statement about why Versed is prescribed:
Midazolam injection is used before medical procedures and surgery to cause drowsiness, relieve anxiety, and prevent any memory of the event (emphasis, mine). It is also sometimes given as part of the anesthesia during surgery to produce a loss of consciousness. Midazolam injection is also used to cause a state of decreased consciousness in seriously ill people in intensive care units (ICU) who are breathing with the help of a machine. Midazolam injection is in a class of medications called benzodiazepines. It works by slowing activity in the brain to allow relaxation and decreased consciousness.
I find it most curious that intentional memory loss should be listed as a purpose for prescribing this medication. It makes me wonder, under what ethical conditions might this be the driving purpose? The only one I can think of might be to reduce later psychological reaction, as in nightmares, to some kind of traumatic experience. Whether it is ever actually used this way is unknown to me. Now I am wondering, did I actually experience the procedure as it was performed, only to have those memories erased, or if I was unconscious the whole time? I didn’t get a chance to ask anyone in the OR.
My wife, Mollie, has had this procedure as well and her reaction to Versed was different: she had no amnesia and her memory of the procedure was intact, including the discomfort. I wonder if the CIA uses Versed? Hmm. Could you water-board someone under Versed, extract information, and then have them retain no memory of the event? I guess they could me, but not Mollie. Since this is a public blog, and just for the record, I know nothing. Honest.
Death can not be different from that missing hour, it seems to me. It invites thinking about the nature of self-awareness, a subject that has long fascinated philosophers. I submit that there is a continuity of self-awareness in natural sleep that does not exist in this amnesia.
Decartes said, Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. But, the corollary then must be, if you do not think, you aren’t. You do not exist. No lighted passage, no vision of angels, no departed relatives to greet you. I would be wondering about my soul, except that my experience is typical of those who lose consciousness this way. This kind of death is not to be feared as would hell, a different definition of death. While the thought of going under, not to awaken, is disappointing in the extreme, but I can think of no better motivation to make the most of every day I have left.
PS, no trace of cancer or polyps, and I quit smoking 39 years ago. I’m going for a record.
PPS, the biochemistry here is real. Below is a related article on an enzyme that boosts or restores memory. (I wonder if it could restore mine?)
- A Pill to Remember (scientificamerican.com)