7 Life Lessons From A Near Death Experience

Two weeks ago, l nearly died. Not the airy fairy nearly died throw away comments, I’m talking about the 6-day Intensive Care Unit (ICU) stay that the universe had planned for me. I share this not for sympathy but as a wonderful reminder that no matter how well we are traveling, no matter our successes, we all have our challenges. I certainly didn’t see this one coming but boy did the universe grab my attention.

You see, it’s funny how life shows up sometimes. This year has been an incredible year filled with opportunities. Even though l was delving deep and working on me to create the life and business l wanted, I consistently created interruptions. Not the sore tooth ache or man flu type, l talking about the big fliers. The ones that take you out in one swift move — pneumonia, pleurisy and collapsed lungs.

Earlier in the year, l experienced a bout of pneumonia even though l didn’t know l was sick. Committed to my rituals, l trained in the morning was feeling fabulous and as the day progressed l felt a little sore on my side. I didn’t think much of it and put it towards muscle strain. Little did l know that Pandora ’s Box was about to open. A pain in my side ended up with a 10 day stay in hospital. The last three years I have been challenged with lung issues’ resulting in ICU stays and yet I was so convinced l was okay. As a determined little “chicky”, nothing was going to get in my way to create the success that l wanted.

The past 4 months I invested in getting to the root cause of the pneumonia as l am sure that you can appreciate when you are running a business, 6–8-week recoveries certainly can disrupt your flow. I consistently stuck with my rituals around sleep, healthy eating and exercise to allow my creativity in business to be nurtured. Despite my finest efforts, I was not going to escape surgery to fix the identified root cause of aspirational pneumonia. As far as l was concerned there was a solution.

In amongst the madness, l continued to run my business. Slowly but surely, having to pull back a bit, identifying priorities to get me where l wanted to be. It’s funny how we think we are in control of our world that we can move things around to create the results we want, however sometimes the universe has a bigger plan.

Fourteen days ago, my life stopped. I don’t remember much when l opened my eyes. Lots of lights flickering, people standing around me, having conversations. Not being able to make out what was being said but l could see the worried expressions on people’s faces. I kept coming in and out, a whirlwind of images passing by. I was in ICU. My body felt confused, my mind overwhelmed and my heart was hurting. Glimpses of bodies with ginormous machines, tubes coming out of people, l felt an overwhelming sense of fear and numbness. Bodies lay still, motionless and all you could hear were sounds of beeping from machines to remind you that you were alive.

In a moment, l became hypoxic. My brain was being deprived of oxygen. More specifically, my body couldn’t oxygenate blood and my brain was getting less oxygen to be able to properly function. My oxygen levels continued to drop despite the fine efforts of ICU staff to stabilize me and l could feel the sense of concern from all around as they hovered around the bed. I could feel the sense of urgency increasing as people moving extraordinarily quickly and completely covering my face with a mask to breathe. A ten-minute window opened for a decision to be made. Not a let’s think about it moment, a crisis decision. Mask or tube.

It’s funny, not the ha ha ha type of funny, more like how life tends to unfold moments where life just freezes and you see flashes of images pass you by. You become the observer of the past, present and future. In those moments you appreciate the finest detail, the simplest taste and the purest touch. When you feel that you have nothing left, it’s amazing how the simplest of things can ignite such a profound appreciation.

Having come through the other end of the experience, it is incredible how you can appreciate the simplest things. I am privileged and extraordinarily grateful for the people around (you know who you are) who have supported me unconditionally, who were there without expectation and held me in their hearts when l had nothing else to give.

Today, l’m home. Life has moved on and my experience feels like a life time ago. My recovery is progressing well and as l rise again with an expansive open heart, a ferocious drive to give back and a deeper appreciation for humanity, there are 7 lessons l want to share:

Life is not a dress rehearsal

I have never met someone who wants to die and l am no exception. The journey towards death is a reflection. Split second reflections, a moment of impact and a breaking stillness to remind you that you only have one life. Don’t be afraid of death, be afraid of an unlived life.

Time is of the essence

Life changes within seconds. Decisions are made in a moment. When you embrace flexibility, you break down the rigidity, the certainty of how it all needs to be, to be able to embrace the flow of life. Understanding urgency is a game changer. Don’t postpone anything that is important to you. Express your love for things, for people with greater frequency and maximize every opportunity to appreciate those around you.

Create meaningful experiences

When you eliminate negativity from your life, it’s amazing how much time you must celebrate the matters of importance. The incredible relationships, the investment in building new ones and embracing opportunities to create meaningful experiences. They are the only things you will take with you.

You are more powerful than you think

Many people walk around with limiting beliefs, fears and self-man-made obstacles to hold them back from living to their truest potential. When you open your heart, and give yourself permission to receive, the moments in time that you find challenging, uncomfortable or even terrifying, you will learn to dance with and act irrespective. When you trust in you, the world will reciprocate.

Letting go and surrendering

When you have been extremely unwell and you decide to surrender your entire life by letting go of the only thing you have control over — your breath, then nothing else matters. Incensed by words, stories or excuses no longer matter. Laying in the ICU bed, exhausted from fighting to keep alive, l chose to surrender. When you have beastly machines around you and the faceoff between you and tube, surrendering to the mercy of the machine as if to say — you win, ends the internal battle. With that, l collapsed into sleep, peace and somewhere else. When l learnt to hold on to nothing, nothing could hold anything back. Death and life in a single moment, that’s all we have.

Death’s doorstep

Our culture is so shame based that even when we experience death’s doorstep we try to maintain a basic sense of human dignity. I can assure you, in those moments, it all goes at the window. Our body is no worse or better than anyone else’s. In those times, you learn not to care who sees your nakedness. I couldn’t get to a toilet by myself, l couldn’t bathe myself and l couldn’t stand by myself. The most l could respond was on a scale 1 to 10 to discern my pain. In those moments, l was grateful that l had incredible people around to take care of me in my most vulnerable state. My fragile body was carefully nurtured by incredible people.

Silliness is necessary

Isn’t living about disengaging the brain, abandoning what we think we know and rolling around in the grass like we did when we were little? Silliness and play are the joyful expression of being. Silliness brings you closer to each other and reminds us of our shared humanity. It keeps you alive and rolling around in the grass. Isn’t that what life is about?

As first published in HuffPost