Black Bile

The body of man has in itself blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile; these make up the nature of this body, and through these he feels pain or enjoys health. Now he enjoys the most perfect health when these elements are duly proportioned to one another in respect of compounding, power and bulk, and when they are perfectly mingled.

–Hippocrates

It is with some apprehension that I write tonight, as I don’t really want to write about this dream. I don’t want to shine a light on such darkness, or let it out. And yet, I keep having the dream. As if keeping it in somehow empowers the thought and drives me to dream it again and again and again. So tonight: a catharsis in hopes that I should rid myself of this recurring unpleasantry, and to clear out the black bile of melancholy that visits nightly.

Each time I have dreamt of the black bile, it comes on in the middle of an otherwise normal dream. Sometimes, I am teaching at school, other times I’m with loved ones. But every time it happens, the dream is completely hijacked and over taken.

In the most recent instance, I was teaching in a new lecture hall that I’ve never personally been to. All was going well as I explained the pathophysiology of autoimmune mediated hemolytic anemia to a group of students. I was surprised even, at how attentive my audience was (proof it was a dream, I suppose!). Then a tickle came up in my throat. I cleared it, apologizing. The next few words came out just fine, and then again came the tickle.

I looked to the back of the room. My colleagues were lined up in the back, near the doors, watching me. One of them, Amy, looked concerned and pointed to her nose as if to tell me that I should check my face. Mimicking her motion, I touched my fingers just under my nose and felt something warm and wet. Students in the lecture hall began to whisper, eyes wide. As I looked down at my fingers, I saw a shiny, black sludge.

A coughing fit wracked my body then, doubling me over in an instant. The whisper of the students became a roar and I stumbled, still coughing, down the center of the room towards the doors to get out of the lecture hall. Amy came and helped me along as I heard another coworker take up the lecture from where I left off.

As soon as we made it into the corridor outside, I began to stumble, still coughing. I could feel the black sludge dripping from my nose, and there was a wetness streaming down from my eyes at this point as well. I looked up at Amy and she screamed. The coughing and stumbling worsened until I came down on my hands and knees.

“You’re so sick, I’ll get help.” Amy said as she left me.

Between coughs, I waved my arm at her and shook my head. “I’m… not… I’m not sick. I’m fine.”

But she was gone, and my words were drowned in coughing that quickly turned to retching and heaving. The black sludge began to pour out of my mouth, and I couldn’t catch my breath. I could feel it streaming from my eyes, nose, and mouth; a river of blackness that seemed unending and determined to choke me, chasing every bit of air within me and driving it out of my lungs until there was nothing there but blackness.

So much of this black bile poured out of me that the room filled up with it, and I was drowning. It devoured me, inside and out, ravaging my lungs as I choked and sputtered in the rising darkness. In a mere moment, I was consumed and all was black.

Then I was in another place, dimly lit and cold. The damp smell of mildew seeped through the chill of the air. The sound of water droplets hitting stone pattered here and there, echoing in the low light. But mercifully, there was no more coughing, no more retching, and I could breathe easily again. And so greedily did I breathe the air in, smell and all, as if it were life itself.

A man dressed all in black, elderly and bald, stood staring at me. His face was cold and uncaring, his eyes like daggers. To his left, there was a wheel, and it slowly turned. Above the wheel, there was a flame, and below, ice. On the wheel, were effigies of people tied to it, and as it slowly turned, they were burned and then frozen, only to thaw and burn again. Forever repeating the cycle on the wheel.

“Where am I?” I asked, voice still raspy from the cough.

“You know where you are.” He replied, agitated.

“I don’t…”

“Then you should remember, before you can’t anymore.”

Each time I’ve had this dream, this is the point at which I awake. I always see the man, I always see the wheel. He always says the same thing and I always reply the same way, even when I realize I’m dreaming and I try to change the dialogue.

So, here’s hoping that writing it out will get it out of my head, and pave the way for dreams of light and love to follow…

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