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Anna Sale

When I almost died

I still think about what happened to me quite a lot, actually. I imagine it’s because there was no ending to it, no diagnosis at all, and so I still don’t know what actually happened to me and therefore it takes on a strange spot of honor in my memory, unforgettable yet unexplainable. It has, however, affected the rest of my life so far in a shadowy way, adding a certain opacity to everyday events and how I look at things overall.

I wasn’t alone when it happened. I was a college student, 20 years old, and my younger sister and I were at the dingy apartment of a guy I’d begun dating. It was the two of us, and four guys, all very sweet (this isn’t that kind of tale, don’t worry). We were doing what all college students do at the weekend really, and that was having some drinks and getting ready for a Saturday night out. We’d all toasted our first drink — some terrible bulk-buy wine if I recall, being extra fancy- when I started to feel strange, as if I was being lifted out of my own body. No one else seemed to be acting strange and they were all drinking the exact same thing, so I quietly tried to make eye contact with my sister and mouthed to her “I don’t feel right”. She just looked away (no doubt weirded out by her annoying big sister, trying to play it cool in front of the guys).

But a minute or two later, I couldn't hide it anymore when I began foaming at the mouth and having an incredibly violent seizure. I’d never had a seizure before, and haven’t since. This was strange. The boy I was dating was horrified, holding me in his arms as I apologized for dying in his apartment and “doing this to everyone”. No one knew what to do, but someone called 911. I felt like I was watching everything from the outside. I knew that I was going to die.

An ambulance came and I was carried out of the apartment. By this time, my college town street was full of students milling here and there heading to house parties and subsequently gawking at the girl being loaded into an ambulance before 9pm on a weekend evening. The EMTs assumed I was on drugs (I wasn’t). My sister had called my parents and I remember my dad crying over me while I lay in a hospital bed, hooked up to many things, still with eyes closed, waiting in the darkness, and whispering in my ear that he loved me. The doctors didn’t know what had happened, but that it seemed something had happened to my heart. I was released the next day, told to rest and relax.

Afterwards I got rid of the clothes I’d been wearing that night. Slightly flared jeans and tight-fitting, midriff -baring black polo shirt with a tiny purple horse on the left breast, I remember — I felt panicky just looking at them. It took several days to feel any semblance of normal again — I felt like I’d fallen into a hole in the collective consciousness, something that no one could understand and something that I couldn’t explain. I was scared and nothing felt real or normal. It felt as if the entire human race was a dream and I was the only one who knew that everything we were doing wasn’t real. I felt like I was floating in space and that my heart had nearly exploded and no one could help or stop it.

I think fundamentally that event changed me. It sounds strange really, but in my mind it’s like that short experience was the truth, and everything else before and after has been a long, very realistic dream that I just have to make the most of. Not that I’d ever been risk-averse, but afterwards I was even more willing to do crazy things — I moved to a tiny island in the Pacific, I moved to South Korea, I currently live in England — but maybe none of that would have happened if things had turned out differently, or if I hadn’t seen this other side (an other side that very well have been the hallucinations of a very sick girl).

I don’t talk about it much — in fact, this is the only time I’ve ever tried to put it into words, outside of a 5 page nonsensical ramble in the journal I was keeping when it all happened. But that’s the time, in my mind, when I almost died.


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