I Almost Died This Year, And Here’s What I Learned

Excuse the deliciously click-baity headline, but I had to get you here somehow. And it’s not really click bait — my hospital discharge papers can attest that I was poorly enough to warrant the doctor giving me odds of 6:1. But more on that later.

I suppose we often come close to death, we just never really know it at the time. We probably never get to know it. An unseen near-miss in the car, a “if I hadn’t cleaned the slippery mould off those steps last week…”, choking on a spider in your sleep only to wake up with a slight headache the next morning… Ew. But where was I? Oh yes, near death. It’s a thing.

I’ve always felt like when stuff goes wrong, I have to sort it for myself. A forced independence, if you will. I live hundreds of kms from my parents, and don’t like to bother them with my problems anyway, most of my friends have their own families to worry about, I earn enough to not need help, I live alone, and I don’t have a partner. Pretty isolated, really, physically and emotionally.

The night I got sick started with me feeling just a little off colour. I’d been fine at work but then got progressively worse as the night wore on; I won’t dwell on the details but lets say my bathroom became a war-zone like I had never seen before, and the pain was something else. I called for an ambulance and managed to unlock the front door before passing out.

Fast-forward five days in the HDU, I had tubes in all the places. I was fed through one into my arm, while another pumped my stomach out through my nose. There was the glorious morphine line directly into my spine which meant faces blurred into other faces. It also meant I was entirely trapped in the bed, unable to do much of anything.

Nurses. Wonderful nurses. Stroking my hair. Feeding me ice chips. Gently washing my face, my hands. Smiling at me. Plumping my pillows. Checking my stats. Adjusting my nasal prongs. I remember being sick all over one nurse as she tried to insert a tube down my throat. I cried with embarrassment, there wasn’t much else I could do. And she smiled and told me it was all okay.

Family. I’m sure I asked my dad to call my work at least 10 times so they knew I wasn’t bailing. They took care of my cats, got some poor cleaners in to deal with that bedraggled bathroom of mine, took time to read my friend’s messages to me. I couldn’t hide my brokenness from my family — needing them was so big of a change and hard to do! I was always so careful to make them think they didn’t need to worry about their star daughter and sister, and now they had to make way as nurses emptied containers of my bodily fluids. To say I was vulnerable was no understatement.

Friends. Once I was moved onto the ward, I was able to accept the gifts people had sent me but couldn’t have in the HDU. Six bouquets of flowers (including one made entirely of Forerro Rocher thankyouverymuch). A friend who bought with her ten pairs of granny undies at my behest. Another who came with chapstick and tissues and a little something to deal with the mustache and monobrow I was now sporting. And those who came to hold my hand as I slept, watch reality TV with me, or spend half an hour with news of the outside world. It was a love I could do nothing but receive.

So, what did I learn?

Firstly, nurses are amazing. The amount they have to do with so little resource is phenomenal. If you know a nurse, buy them a coffee or give them a hug. Or both.

Secondly, no man — or woman — is an island. It’s super hard to be vulnerable and ask for help. And it’s not about getting a 10-pack of granny undies, (although let me tell you how amazing it was to put a pair on after a week of your butt hanging out of the back of your gown…) but it’s about giving a friend space to be there for you. It’s nice to feel needed and useful! This might be a rookie level play for most of you, but it sure was a big shift in my thinking.

Finally, I got undeniable proof that life has a way of working out. When I was going through this I was just about to leave my job, I had quit to be a freelance consultant. Rather than hustling, I was lying in a hospital bed with Real Housewives for company. And you know what? It all worked out okay. I haven’t missed a rent payment yet. I don’t mean to sound blase, but being vulnerable to life itself seems makes things come out in the wash. “The road will rise to meet you” and all that. It doesn’t make logical sense, but there it is. And with that learning comes peace I’ve never really felt before. A tangible sense of “what will be will be” and that I’ll be okay, regardless.

The time in hospital and thereafter was a miracle period of my life, but to be honest, beating those 6:1 odds was the smallest miracle of them all.