The doctors were standing in the corner of Cheryl Misak's room, wearing little Christmas party hats and getting more and more drunk. Then, they stripped naked and paraded the patients around the intensive care unit one by one, taunting and humiliating them to their giddy delight.
The delusion felt completely and utterly real, one of many that became seared into Misak's mind after she nearly died in a Toronto ICU from acute respiratory syndrome and sepsis caused by a devastating infection.
In 1998, the philosopher and former University of Toronto provost survived serious multiple organ failure. But she also experienced terrifying moments of "utter insanity" in the ICU. She left hospital so frail and emaciated she refused to have her picture taken.
With the slightest exertion, searing nerve pain shot up her body like fire, from the soles of her feet to her neck. She couldn't sleep; the sounds of the ICU stayed with her for a year — the whoosh and beep of the ventilator, the patients moaning in pain or anguish in the beds next to her. She would break into a cold sweat at the sound of an ambulance siren.
Misak experienced forms of a terrifying phenomenon researchers have only begun to fully grasp.