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Sunday, 19 January 2014

A perspective on not quite dying : It's time to live a little

A quick warning to family and friends who may read this: this post may upset you, because I'm going to be brutally honest about how I felt and what happened. It's pointless writing about it otherwise, but please don't read unless you're up for it. Also, there will be Strong Language involved, because *shrug* this is me, after all. It's also a long post. For the TLDR crowd; not dead yet. ;)

I'm back in London, which is surprisingly warm for this time of the year. The wedding was gorgeous; the bride was a vision, and my brother is a very happy and lucky guy. And if you can get yourself to New Zealand, do so; that country had the best food I've ever come across, and the most stunning scenery.

They also have one hell of a health service. I got to have my third ever ambulance ride in kiwi-land *sigh* the morning after the wedding, and the paramedics and staff at Timaru hospital (Hi, Dr O and Bernard!) saved my life. Considering how close I came to not getting out of the ambulance, I'm pretty damn grateful. I'm not ready to give up on walking the skin of this world just yet, it appears. Thinking how bleak the last year has been pain-wise, and how closely I resembled an ambulatory corpse when I got off the plane at the start of the holiday, this says a lot.

The wedding took place in the lovely little town of Geraldine. We stayed at the Geraldine Motel, which is great - self-contained little apartments and a very friendly owner, who ended up calling the ambulance and talking my folks through what was probably a horrifying experience for them. I started getting short of breath at the wedding which was really weird for me. I'm usually the first one up and the last one off the dance floor, but I just couldn't get my breath. I thought it was hay-fever; it's summer in that part of the world and large amount of the party was sneezing and coughing.

At around 5:30 the next morning I got up because Something Wasn't Right. At around 6:30 I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror, and something poked a very cold finger into my spine and told me I was in a lot of trouble. My pupils were huge. I was pale, clammy and sweating. To be totally honest, I wasn't sure if I was having a heart attack or an asthma attack. My head hurt. I couldn't breathe.

I staggered into my parent's room.

"Mom. Mom. I need an ambulance. I can't breathe." And then I wheezed, standing upright, too afraid to sit down or lie down. I doubt I'd have gotten up again.

I don't know how long it took the ambulance to get there. I know they're staffed by volunteers, and were just down the road. It couldn't have been long, but when you can't breathe every second rattles through your body like eternity. Also, it hurt.

My mom rode in the front of the ambulance. I remember the paramedic in the back kept talking to me and asking questions, and I couldn't really answer her. The notes on my file say I could speak 3 words a minute.

A little way into the trip, I felt myself untether. I lifted the mask off my face and said to the paramedic: "I'm getting worse." A few minutes later everything narrowed down into a pinpoint of light. This time I looked at her and said: "I'm going." My pulse rate on the machine dropped, then flared, then dropped again. There was no panic involved; it felt utterly inevitable, and there's little point in panicking when you know it's going to happen.

The paramedic slapped another ventilator tab into the funky Darth Vader mask and dove into the front, and I floated above myself. (By the way, an OBE is NOT the best way to find out you missed a spot on your hair dye, and you look like you've sprouted a bald patch right at the top of your head. That was annoying and will be fixed ASAP.)

There was a lot of radio chatter from the front, which I ignored. I was looking at my mom, at the way her knuckles were white as she clutched her hand-bag on her lap. I was thinking that I've had a good life. I have a family I adore (and who hopefully feel the same way about me). I have some of the best friends anyone could want. I've written a few good stories. I've just watched my brother get married to one of the best people I know. Am I done? Am I ready to be done? Because there was this tugging. This moment of knowing I could let go, I could be done. No more pain. No more fear. No more stress over bills and rent and work and all the trivial bullshit. No more migraine. No more spending three to four days a week trying not to throw up, convulsing, and shaking from pain. No more wondering how the hell I'm going to get the money for the op that might fix it. No more meds. Just. No. More.

I'd be a damn liar if I said I wasn't tempted; I'd had a couple of migraine attacks since arriving in Melbourne just before Christmas, and although they passed in a matter of hours, they were bad. Not as bad as before the Botox, but bad.

The ambulance had stopped. I drifted further over to the windshield, to the front. I could see the curve of my mother's cheek, the soft skin that was pale with worry. I could see her trying not to cry. Her lower lip was trembling despite being clamped between her teeth. I wanted to kiss her cheek.


I thought about everything I haven't done yet. I thought about the books I haven't written, the stories still to be read. The friends still to meet and places to see. All the stuff I put off doing for whatever reason. I wasn't ready to go. I wasn't ready to die in the back of this ambulance with my mom sitting in front of me; that's not something I'm willing to do to somebody I love. Also, call me perverse, but I prefer to leave this planet on my damn terms, and those terms involve good whiskey and a few more decades, not slowly suffocating because of my own body throwing a strop.

I love you guys.

The back door of the ambulance opened and another woman scrambled in. She took a look at me, told the driver to "Step on it, but steady," and injected me with adrenaline.

Choose now.

Fuck it. I've never given up without a fight. I came back, about 5 seconds before they intubated me, which is something I'm quite happy to have missed, thank you very much. That hose looked nasty.

I'll skip the rest of the ride; I did the Darth Vader impression in the emergency room for a very long time. I had drips and drugs and enough blood taken to please the average vamp, and seven people working on me for the first hour or so in the actual hospital. Unfortunately I didn't get everyone's name, but thank you. (Also, not sure where they hire from, but everyone seemed drop-dead gorgeous. Like General Hospital casting pretty.)

The awesome Doctor O thought I'd be in for four days or so. I got released the next afternoon, and managed to see a great deal of New Zealand. A week later I was on a luge in Queenstown, thinking "I'm lucky. I'm forty years old and it's a beautiful day and I'm alive."

And here's the thing; this may have been the best thing to happen to me at this point in time. It made me realise how much I haven't been living, this past year or so. I've made a few attempts - gone out to friends, written a bit, worked a lot more - but it hasn't been living.  It's been existing on this frantic little treadmill of work-pain-meds-pain-work-pay bills, and I haven't enjoyed enough of it.

Time for a change. Time to live my life, however much time I have left. I have no idea how successful I'll be at it, but I'm cursed well going to try, as Amber would say. Because it shouldn't take almost dying in a foreign country to realise that you're in a rut, that you're marking time like a hamster on a wheel, and that life is still happening around you through the fog of pain-killers and grimness of I'm not enjoying this.  (Also, universe, you've had your annual shot at killing me. Can we give it a rest for a bit, now, ok?)

On my bucket list for this year - get my motorbike license (FINALLY!). Hopefully get around Europe a bit on a long weekend. Get my brain fixed.

My friend Anne-Mhairi Simpson read my blog last year on what happens when the Botox wears off, and started up a Go-fund me site here. A bunch of fellow authors have stepped up to offer give-aways. I read what Anne-Mhairi wrote and sat down and cried, but these were good tears. I have no idea what I did deserve friends like you, but I'm so very lucky and grateful. It gives me hope; they've already raised over £100. Considering the ultimate cost, every penny will help; it means I'm that much closer to getting my life back. I'd like to not do the funky chicken pain-dance again, ever. The last one was in the back of a taxi in Melbourne. But whatever happens, I promise you guys that I'm not going to give up. I promise to keep trying to live, and live well. How can I do anything else, with people like this in my corner?