I should know by now that some of my dreams have been deeply significant in my life, but mostly I don’t even remember them, or forget to record even the really vivid ones. Listening to other people’s dreams can be extremely boring – yet for myself I cannot deny certain messages that have arrived from my subconscious. When a dream comes along which makes my hair stand on end, then I need to pay careful attention.

In 1975 my husband at the time was doing his national service in the navy. We lived in Glencairn and I had a five year old child and a four month pregnancy which was not going well – I had ongoing nausea and pain which were warning signals in themselves.  Then I had a dream that I parked an old-fashioned baby buggy along the coastal road near Fish Hoek, and when I returned a pink parking ticket was flapping on the cover of the pram – it simply said ’meter expired’. That was enough.

The next day, a check up at the naval clinic in Simonstown revealed that the foetus had died inside me. It was supposed to come away within two weeks, but in the end I had surgery for a so-called ’missed abortion’. This took place at the Old Military hospital in Wynberg, which consisted of a jumbled series of prefabs On discharge, I couldn’t help reading my name on a pathology jar. The label said:  ’products of conception – suspected molar pregnancy’. It looked more like a bunch of purple grapes than a human embryo. How could I be surprised when my subconscious had prepared me for this event?

A few other memorable dreams beckon like beacons in the dark. Whenever I have felt sad or sorry for myself, I could always go back in my heart to savour a halcyon moment from a dream that came unbidden one night: I was floating high in the air like a Chagall figure in the sky, and there were angel figures floating around me who held me aloft, gently supporting me, and the abiding feeling was of warmth and total love – more than that – I knew that these beings actually loved ME. This memory was a precious gift and it has carried me through some lonely places.

Two years ago I took myself off to the Franschhoek Literary Festival and was proud of not talking myself out of it yet again.  I don’t like crowds of strangers, and I was nearly defeated by the complex on-line booking system which somehow cancelled my choices as fast as I made them. But I succeeded, and found a friend to share a slightly seedy backpacker room, and I loved every talk I had signed up for, and felt immensely fulfilled and stimulated. Coming home to a warm fire and a loving spouse who really missed me, was confirmation that all the plans I had resisted had worked out well.

But my dream that night brought such a wave of shock and sadness that I was wide awake for hours, wrestling with the appalling significance.  The next morning I related it to Ugo as soon as he stirred,  so that he knew what I might have to confront.  In my dream I had received a message that it was my time to die – I had three days, I had to do the work myself, and I had to take a certain medication that would be prepared for me. I was shattered that I had no choice, and I would not see my grandchildren grow up. It affected me profoundly. I know these things are not literal – the language of dreams is deeply symbolic.  I had to find the meaning, and whatever it was, it would not be pleasant.

The following night I hit my head really badly. I remember feeling slightly nauseous and getting up to go to the loo in the dark, and that was the last thing I was aware of.

Next moment I found my cheek was cold and clammy, and I couldn’t find my pillow. It was dark and somehow my face was squashed against the chilly, unforgiving, greeny-blue ceramic tile of the bathroom floor. I had no idea how I had got there, nor how long I had been lying there. I dragged myself upright and then I remembered I had gone to the bathroom to fetch a Rennie because of feeling a bit nauseous. A small bathroom is a dangerous place to come crashing down between treacherous porcelain impediments. Miraculously hadn’t hit my nose, eyes or teeth against any of these.

Only when I staggered back to bed and woke Ugo did we realise what had happened – that I had fainted, and a massive egg was puffing up on my forehead.  I needed a bag of frozen peas to calm the throbbing pain – and Arnica, and Rescue Remedy. Then I yelled out for a bucket – quickly please!

All of that Monday we swapped bags of frozen vegetables on my forehead, and I resolutely refused to go to the doctor because my rational mind said I could think perfectly sequentially and knew I hadn’t fractured my skull, but I just wanted to stay in bed curled up to keep my heaving head still. My faraway sisters overruled me. A whatsapp photograph of my two enormous black eyes had been circulated to them, and the Australian sister threatened to jump on a plane to take me to the doctor herself if I still refused to have it checked out. So I set aside my bag of frozen sweetcorn (we were working our way steadily through the freezer supplies) and relented. There was no way I could go out with my hair looking like that, so I took a careful shower and yes, I even used a hairdryer on my aching head because I still had my vanity.

The doctor on duty was meticulous in recording all the details of the ‘vaso-vagal syncopy’ as he called it, and was concerned about what could have caused the fainting episode – I told him about my childhood history of petit-mal epilepsy and the two seizures I had as an adult when I got up too quickly in the night thirty years ago.  On both those occasions I had remained conscious throughout the shaking and twitching, but this time I had no recollection of any convulsing. The brain scan showed no brain damage.

It was the doctor’s summing up words “you fell from standing”, that connected my dream’s shocking news that my life was about to be over to my loss of consciousness with no prior symptoms. The dream was simply warning me that I have work to do. All those things I constantly put off – all those unfinished intentions. I have a responsibility to live my life meaningfully and to do it now. I have memoirs to write, an Everest of books to read, lappies to quilt, travels to follow, fresh herbs to smell, wild places to relish, mountain views to savour, relationships to mend, and, most of all, people to love.

Life is short and can change in a flash.  I could fall from standing – without any warning. It has never been any different.

Then a few months ago I had another epileptic episode but this time I was lying safely in my bed in a half waking state, with Ugo dreaming deeply alongside. He was unaware of an automatic egg beater suddenly whirring away under the duvet next to him. But I knew exactly what was going on – it seemed as if I had somehow touched an electric wire which was causing me to convulse. I cannot say how long it lasted but my brain registered: Oh no – not this again! Once more I lay awake till morning fretting about yet another doctor appointment, about wires and electrodes for an EEG this time, and a press-gang of really nasty drugs for the rest of my life. But through all the tests that followed, I have been treated so kindly, and luckily I can tolerate the new medication which keeps me safe.

So once again my bed has proved to be my haven, this convulsion was an alarm bell from some deep place. It never happened while I was in a public place or far, far worse, behind the wheel of my car. Now I know my angels are continually guarding me; they keep watch even in my dreams. And I must honour them and honour myself − to live a life that matters.

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About Sandy Rivera

Am beginning to catch up with lost time – after decades of reading, rearing, standing and stirring. I hike and sing and scribble, and startle my family with unexpected memoir stories. Italian conversation classes are a perpetual project - even though I might never speak well or follow the flow fast enough. Too late to converse competently with Italian in laws, I wallow in the language.