If you haven't read the first installment of Rob Feeney's experience during The Station Nightclub fire in 2003, please do. It's a well-written, albeit horrific, account of the night that turned Feeney into an advocate for fire sprinklers. In this latest installment, Feeney recalls what he experienced--or thought he experienced--immediately afterwards as the truth about his fiancé, also at The Station the night of the fire, unfolds:
I don’t remember if I lost consciousness on the way to the hospital or if I was given something to knock me out. I do know I was intubated and placed in a medically induced coma for about 10 days. During that time, I had what I called morphine dreams. It took me years to figure out what were dreams and what was reality.
These dreams were a combination of people and events from my past and events in my hospital room. There were friends from elementary school. My brother made frequent appearances, which was strange since I had only seen him once or twice over the past decade before the fire. There were other relatives, celebrities I had never met. There was also a lot of fire. A lot of chaos. A lot of violence and a lot of pain. I was always trying to get somewhere to get help, but would always be trapped.
I didn’t dream about The Station Nightclub, but places like Boardwalk and Baseball, an amusement park in Orlando I visited when I was 16. In my dreams, it burned down as I was on a roller coaster alone. I also dreamt of the Burger King at the Route 6 rest area in Hyannis, Massachusetts, but this time it was a movie set. I was auditioning for a part. It also burned down. No matter who I was with or where I was, everything turned into a war zone around me. Houses and buildings I were in would burn down. Roads I drove and walked down wound up being surrounded by fire.
In my dreams, I would eventually make it to the hospital. There was one dream where a part of the hospital where animals were treated was on fire. My relatives were in the hospital dreams. There were fights and violence in the hospital segments. At one point, a fight in an overcrowded ER escalated into it being set on fire. Many people were trapped. I was rushed down a hallway into another room. Then the dreams changed. They became more reflective of the reality going on around me as I was awakening from the induced coma.
When I first awoke, I had little vision and wasn’t fully aware of the extent of my injuries. I was fighting to stay awake. I remember seeing snow outside. I remember my parents coming in and my father arguing with a doctor about my surgery schedule. He was asked to leave the hospital for fighting with a surgeon. From the outside, he threw snowballs at the staff. He was chased until eventually caught, which caused him to have a heart attack. My surgeon saved him. This turned out to be a dream.
While coming back to reality, I could feel physically that something was not right. I was freezing. I remember shivering uncontrollably. Nurses would frequently check my temperature, and each time it rose higher and higher. I was given something for my fever, but it would rise again in a couple hours. At one point, I remember a nurse saying my temperature exceeded 104 degrees. I was shivering to the point of convulsions. I was having trouble breathing. A whole crew of nurses and doctors were now tending to me.
One doctor ordered the others to check all my wounds for infection. I was so cold, yet felt like I was burning inside. My legs were literally bouncing off the bed. I couldn’t control it. A female doctor with the respiratory team told me she was going to place a tube in my mouth to help me breath. I could feel my eyes rolling into the back of my head. I couldn’t keep them open anymore. I could still hear voices around me. They were talking to me and to each other about me. I could feel their hands on me. I was feeling like I was floating, feet first, turning upside down. The voices around me went from rather distinct to what seemed like thousands of voices around me. I couldn’t see anyone or make out any specific voice or conversation. The floating sensation stopped, and I now felt like I was being sucked upward through a tube feet first at a ridiculously fast speed. It turned out that I had a staph infection that led to respiratory failure. I was back in an induced coma. I was again intubated to help me breathe.
One of my last dreams was the most vivid, and perhaps the scariest. I was in a hospital bed. The room was odd, since it had a bunch of chairs lined up in rows behind my bed. I could see what I thought was the nurses' desk in the corner by a door. My fiancé, Donna, was there. She was talking to the nurse and had her daughter with her. The two were dressed up. They walked towards me, hand in hand, and sat in the front row. They sat sadly next to each other. Donna started talking to everyone entering the room. None came over to me, though. They just walked past me and sat down. Then Donna came over to me. I tried to talk to her. I tried asking her what was wrong. She placed her hand on my right shoulder and told me not to talk. She said I was not well, and I needed to rest and not speak. I watched her walk away. The chairs were now gone, except for a few. Donna sat down, then laid down. Her arms were across her chest, her hands clasped. She was sleeping. I wanted to talk to her. I yelled her name. She wouldn’t wake up. However, I did.
This time when I woke, I felt different. I was angry, alone, scared. Everything was blurred, but I could see nurses and doctors as they entered and exited my room. When a nurse came into my room, she didn’t ask many questions. I remember asking a nurse about Donna’s whereabouts. I asked her to call her for me because I couldn’t find the phone in my room. I began to get angry that nobody was telling me why I was in the hospital when I was sure I was only having some “touch-up” surgery on my hands. Eventually, my parents walked into the room. They weren’t alone. There was a large amount of medical personnel with them. I didn’t need anyone to say anything to me. I could feel it. I saw the looks on their faces. I knew. They had just returned from Donna’s funeral. This was no dream.
Rob Feeney recently became a call firefighter with the Onset Fire Department in Massachusetts and advocates for fire sprinklers and fire safety issues nationwide for the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors and Common Voices. Visit this blog often for future posts from Rob. For more information on advocacy training conducted by Phoenix, visit the organization's site.