The Toon Trauma Triggers

Brad Dell avatar

by Brad Dell |

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It’s the happiest place in the world. Disneyland. I am afraid.

Trembling, I slip deep down into the plastic seat molded into a massive seashell on wheels. The darkness of the man-made cavern is interrupted by a video on the ceiling that makes it look like I am under the sea and looking up at the opening of a tidal pool. Ariel, from the film inspiration for the ride, “The Little Mermaid,” swims above. To my left is a plastic Sebastian, the crab character.

It’s the saddest place in the world. The intensive care unit. I am singing.

I crackly cooed from a dry throat, eyes closed, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” over and over and over and over, like a broken record: “Is this the real life? Or is this just fantasy?”

I did this for four days.

Silly, huh?

I was trapped in my hallucinating brain, hell, screaming for eternity as I fell backward into an oil-slicked tidal pool, over and over and over and over, like someone was yanking me out of the water by my chest and then letting me fall back again every few minutes.

You know when you have a falling dream and your heart hammers like crazy? That’s how it was, nonstop. But I didn’t wake up for days. The body of Sebastian, but with Maggie Smith’s face, floated next to me as I fell into the abyss. She shrieked at me that I was dying, that it was my fault, that I deserved pain and death.

Four days.

It’s the happiest place in the world. I am having flashbacks.

I’m on the “Alice in Wonderland” ride. On the wall is a video of Alice falling, falling, falling down the rabbit hole. She looks helpless. Reality is crushed and I’m smacked back into my hellish flashback, my old “wonderland,” one just as imaginary yet believable as Alice’s. My ride car enters a psychedelic room filled with neon plants and Chester the Cat smiling his mocking smile and knowing eyes.

It’s the saddest place in the world. People are laughing.

I was strapped to my bed like an insane person after trying to pull out my IVs and punch people. I was insane, much more than the Mad Hatter. When not singing Queen, I muttered this is a bad trip, these are bad drugs, this is a bad trip, these are bad drugs, over and over and over and over. People laughed.

Silly, huh?

Yet, people didn’t laugh much when I spat that I loathed them. Or when I begged them to end my life, end my misery as mercy. I felt like Alice on her Victorian acid trip, falling into the cosmos. I was afraid that this was the afterlife — literal hell.

Four days.

While silly to others, my ICU delirium was, and is, horrifying.

When septic shock struck me in June 2016, carbon dioxide gassed my brain. My organs shut down and decided they wanted nothing to do with reality anymore. The actual afterlife was preferable, but machines kept me involuntarily alive. My subconscious decided the next best thing was to jet me off to the nightmare wonderland. I went berserk, a blind and pulsing rage layered over my hallucinations.

I was completely deaf and unable to taste, thanks to antibiotics, and my sinuses have been blocked for years. Between all that and the visions overwhelming my eyes, my only real sense was touch. And the only “touch” was torment — people jamming needles into my flesh, pushing me into my bed while suffocating, cramming tubes between aching jaws. I drowned, gurgling puddy-like mucus.

Still silly?

The trauma still hasn’t left me, and it might never.

You either deeply understand trauma or not at all.

Others who have never endured trauma judge us. We’re wimps who can’t get a hold on our minds. To them, I’m not brave if I cry after delirium, a transplant, and deafness.

When I published a post about trauma, commenters mocked my “weakness.” Silly.

Our souls cry out uncontrollably and people make “triggered” jokes. All of a sudden, they don’t remember our battles; only our flawed recoveries. Recoveries take bravery, too. They do. The mightiest battles, which take the most bravery, won’t be won in one fell swoop. We will stumble and tire and fear.

People see the “silly” triggers but they don’t see what is triggered. Those who laugh don’t understand. Let’s hope they never fully do.


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Nicole Lyster avatar

Nicole Lyster

An excellent and informative piece of writing, I think I'm going to share it with my daughter's consultants, because they are still unaware of how needles trigger her bad experiences, despite the innumerable times she has explained it to them, and they are CF specialists. Thank you.

Gina avatar


You are a beautiful man to write this, and also a beautiful writer. I have some trauma so I very very much sympathize. I wish us all a lot of relief, Brad! Best of everything always to you, Sir.

Elly Aylwin-Foster avatar

Elly Aylwin-Foster

Firstly this is fantastic writing. You should be proud that you can evoke these emotions on a page, however harrowing. As a fellow writer, kudos to you!
Secondly, I can't believe anyone from the CF community would mock you for writing about trauma. That shocks me, what happened to compassion and common ground?
Keep up the good stuff!

CF Dad avatar

CF Dad

Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain. RMN
You are set aside as no ordinary man.


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