Book Details Harrowing, Disturbing, Fantastical Hallucinations of Delirious COVID-19 Survivor
Taking a Wild Trip – Several, Actually – While in a Medical Coma
“Pamela helped me get on my feet, and one of the drivers got out to help me into the back of the ambulance. Much to my surprise, there was Nancy Stillwell, fully nude in a hot tub, smoking a cigar and nursing a tumbler of bourbon…we pulled out into the highway as the shop was breached…”
“Those of us in the bed of the monster truck were immediately separated from it and free falling to our imminent demise. As I looked around, the other groups had also been sent out of their planes in the same manner. I saw Josh and his group all wearing ape masks…We all died within seconds of each other. Except me.”
I recall an old Star Trek Next Generation episode where Captain Jean Luc Picard is rendered unconscious. Little did his Enterprise starship crew know, however, was that his mind was on another planet, where he lived nearly an entire lifetime during his 25 minutes of being unconscious. He got married, had kids, was happy, etc. It is funny how many dreams, at least those we are aware of when we awaken, can span long periods of time although we may have only been asleep for an hour or two.
Now, having just turned the last page on Mike Joyner’s book “Ten to Life – Delirium Tales of a COVID-19 Survivor,” I can declare that I took a fantastical trip - several actually - without the cliché leaving the farm or the aid of exceptionally potent LSD or other psychedelic drugs.
Joyner is a 61-year-old upstate New York entrepreneur, engineer, inventor and a tech geek. He used to be semi-pro bass player in a rock band and was past president of the National Wild Turkey Federation’s New York state chapter. Joyner survived a life-threatening bout with COVID 19. Choosing to be unvaccinated, he and his wife Lee lived carefully for 17 months after the pandemic broke, wearing top quality masks, diligently washing hands and cleaning common use surfaces. It did not matter. He began displaying the first symptoms on Aug. 3, 2021. A few days later, largely owing to pre-existing conditions, he was in a life-threatening condition, sick with the virus’ Delta variant. His physician said his only chance of survival was to be intubated and placed in a medical coma to allow his lungs to heal. Even then, he was told he had only a 10-20 percent chance of living. Once he agreed and after notifying his wife during a brief phone call, he was “swarmed by what can only be described as a pit crew at a NASCAR race.” He was unconscious within minutes of granting approval.
Dreams - some of them prolonged nightmares - began. Joyner was out for 18 days, but like the fictional Picard, he seemingly lived multiple lifetimes over that period. Amazingly, after surviving despite the stark odds, he could recall many of the hallucinations or dreams he had experienced. He wrote them down, cathartically chronicling them in a style both intense and therapeutic. The result was this book.
The 235-page book (no illustrations) has many short chapters – dream sequences really, most of which are just a few pages long. It opens with the “Mojave Desert Reality Show,” something that sets the stage with “What the hell is about to happen here?” pacing and utter sci-fi meets action adventure meets nightmare spy thriller feel. Ensuing journeys and often terrifying, mystifying experiences follow.
The first three stories “Mojave Desert Reality Show,” “Tumbleweed Town,” and “Near-Fatal Rejection,” were entirely sequential. The same with the last three: “Taking My Last Breath with Two Irish Setters,” “Hello to Baltimore,” and “Pumpkin Pie.” In the middle of the book, beginning with “Bahrain Airlines,” the extended plot split and started jumping around, he explained.
“As I never doubted a single thing while in a coma, it was maddening in that I knew what each segment was, what it meant, and where it fits in, and it was horribly upsetting and confusing, and magnified in my delirium as it went back and forth,” Joyner says. “When I wrote the book, I had to realign the jumping around to make it remotely possible to follow. Even then, lifetimes/visions would abruptly start and stop without warning. I cannot tell you as to what gaps in time these happened, or if this was somewhat evenly spread out over the eighteen days or in a single day. There are no time reference markers to grab onto.”
The book has many elements of a spy thriller, complete with international intrigue and villains, exotic poisons, a high-level role in the Navy, special operations missions, and more. After his Mojave Desert experience, Joyner is fitted with a bio exoskeleton suit, something that stays in place throughout the tome. Once cannot help but wonder if the exoskeleton suit was a subconscious manifestation of his knowledge that he was cocooned in a coma to protect and prolong his life. Perhaps many of the sessions where he is receiving drugs or treatments or even dying in the hallucinations reflect a subconscious awareness of things that staff members were doing to him or others nearby.
Joyner says he is a “huge fan” of the spy thriller and science fiction genres. His father was a career Navy man, a Gunner’s Mate First Class. He surmises the dreams pulled from all aspects of his life.
“I drew bits and pieces from any and all of those inputs and wove entire episodes in these hallucinations,” Joyner says. One of the arch villains, for example, a character named Ti Gee, was influenced by a very corrupt, evil person Joyner knew in real life. “He was murdered by his own son in recent years,” he adds. Other recurring components, such as a “Yellow Queen Loti Vine” seemingly sprang from nowhere.
Hunting sequences for deer and turkey are prominent, if incredibly fanciful, in some segments. Joyner said he wasn’t surprised that longing for and participating in turkey hunting played a role in his hallucinations, given his actual passion for it. He says some scenes, though, such as when a farmer set turkeys on fire in South Korea, “had me mad as hell in my coma.”
Joyner said he doesn’t know how some of the intense, action-oriented episodes – things in a dream-state that likely could have triggered adrenaline spikes or flailing legs and arms as the body activates “fight or flight” responses – might have spiked his vital signs while he was in a coma. The drugs coursing through him probably precluded a physical symptom. He was told by medical personnel that the tactic was to immobilize any lung response that might fight the ventilator.
“I am told that I would open my eyes at times while in a coma, but we cannot correlate anything to it,” Joyner says. “The day they brought me back out of it, they discovered I had hospital pneumonia, and we correlate the chapter ‘Taking My Last Breath with Two Irish Setters’ with that, where I had my talk with God and felt myself taking my last breaths. As I read the hospital notes, I was very close several times to not making it, notes, including the day they brought me back out of a coma.”
The book is intensely personal in places. Real places are juxtaposed with imaginary ones. Throughout it, Joyner is often hunted by villains or doing some hunting on his own, for example leading teams exacting retribution on war criminals. Other scenes are dark, reflecting abject depravity. Joyner says he opted to leave a lot more out. “I could have penned another 20,000-30,000 words that would have given it an R-rating for extreme and graphic violence and a designation as an Adult/Porn offering should I have indulged in providing such graphic descriptions,” he says. “Some of it also included those I know in real life and causing them emotional discomfort was a non-starter. I changed the identities for some for that reason alone. I told Lee about 98 percent of it a few weeks after I came home and felt brave enough to get through disclosing it to another human being. There are bits of it that I will take to the grave. Truthful, I was scared to death and deeply ashamed that I could conjure up such things in any sort of manner.”
Joyner says the experience changed him. He belongs to several support groups and has some medical professionals who want to discuss his experiences. "I am open to all that in that I may help others,” he says. “I have learned that by writing the book and speaking out about my experience, others are encouraged enough to begin talking about it, many, for the first time ever...I originally had no intentions of writing the book as it is so dark, wild, and upsetting…I later learned that others are just as scared, if not terrified, of their experience.
“I spent two weeks after being brought back out of a coma in my recovery room, going over every detail to decompress and unravel every bit of fiction of each of my hallucinations,” Joyner adds. “Being reduced to the physical functionality of a toddler is most certainly humbling. It takes a while to purge all the COVID cocktails, steroids, fentanyl and powerful sedatives to feel human again. With my talk with God, the powerful overwhelming sense I was thrown back to do something in this life I am meant to do, I view almost everything through that lens. It broke me down and caused me to re-exam every aspect of my life and everyone I care about in it.”
Ten to Life – Delirium Tales of a COVID-19 Survivor is available through Joyner Outdoor Media. Joyner has previously published books related to turkey hunting. It is also available through Kindle Direct Publishing. Order it at www.tentolife.com or on Amazon. The price is $18.49 or $8.49 for Kindle.