I’ve come close to death three times. Once when I caught hepatitis from a dirty needle. Second when I was bitten by a rabid dog in India and third when I contracted lung cancer.
Well there was a time when I was eight and on the verge of meningitis. I awoke in the morning and started coughing up blood, lots of it. The doctor was called and I can remember him examining me and then calling my mother over to the window. I can see them now, the doctor talking in hushed tones and shaking his head. Oh dear I’m going to die I thought to myself. They came over to me my mother was ashen. The doctor looked at me and noticed blood on my pillow and asked about it. Oh I had a heavy nosebleed in the night. Sigh of relief was palpable. It turned out I had had a massive nose bleed while sleeping and swallowed all the blood! So I don’t count that as a near death experience.
The first time I nearly died was when I was 22 I shared a needle (injecting for the last time – ever) with a friend and eight of us caught hepatitis and had to be hospitalised. I was not going to Neasden Isolation Hospital in London so I dragged myself to my friend’s house In Clydach Vale, Tony Pandy, Rhondda Valley, South Wales. I had no money but jumped trains; in the final leg the ticket inspector caught me. I could not pantomime the lost ticket routine I had developed. I just told him I had no money. He said OK and walked off. I was very ill. I was slowly dying. I don’t know how I did it but I made it to a local GP and he sent me home with some pills. They didn’t work and I wasn’t getting better. I went back and he saw the true state of me. He admitted me that day to a wonderful hospital high up in the valleys. I was there for three weeks and was treated like a king. I recovered.
The second time was when I was bitten by a rabid dog. About twenty of us were attending a meditation course in Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh, India. It was quite isolated. It was 1976 i think. It was an old colonial hill station and we had rented a lovely house on a hill top. We had a pet dog that started acting strangely and had already bitten five of us, breaking skin. When I saw he had chewed his metal bowl to pieces, well something was seriously wrong. I was in charge of him. Two idiots decided the poor chained up dog needed a walk OMG anyway when I heard I ran to them and the dog was going mad on his chain. I rescued them and in doing so I was bitten and so was one of the walkers.
Seven of us were bitten and if he was truly rabid we needed to know. So took him to a local doctor who said yes he was rabid and had to be put down, our cherished pet. So we didn’t accept it, the doctor was a bit daft, so we needed a second opinion. The only hospital was at a not too far away university hospital. We all piled into a taxi for the three hour journey and tied the dog wrapped in blankets to the roof rack. We headed down the mountain. There was a landslide earlier and the road was blocked so we had to return home. In the two days that followed we read up on rabies. It was fatal and you shook yourself to death. It was one of the worst ways to die. We had no choice we had to find out if the dog was rabid so we set off again and told the taxi driver he had to get us through. The landslide had been partially levelled and we managed to bump across. We made it to the university hospital, the dog died on the way.
At the autopsy they confirmed he was rabid. We went to a restaurant and we discussed what we should do. We were very scared. We talked about the anti-rabies injections 14 daily through the stomach wall. There were known side effects, one of them was permanent blindness. We were into day six of the first bite and the minimum incubation period for rabies was ten days. We decided we would have the injections. We returned home and went to the doctors. Yes he could inject us but he only had serum for a few days. He didn’t have enough. We needed more and the nearest place was Shimla a 12 hour train trip away. Armed with a letter from the doctor (he would phone them too) I and a friend headed off.
The journey was relatively uneventful except we had to keep the small crate of serum cold. In the hot parts of our journey we bought ice to cool it.
We were going to have the injections as a group so no one had started, it was now day 9 of the first bite. From what I remember one was over ten but we didn’t talk about that. The injections were horrible. About an inch of fluid straight into the stomach wall. They left lumps of fluid that lasted days. So every day we all trooped down the mountain, got our shots and trooped back. Not fun and this would last for two weeks. This was 1976 in a remote part of India.
Well we all survived OK except me. On the 12th injection I collapsed and they took me up the mountain on a donkey. They called the doctor and he came up to the house to give me my 13th injection. You had to do the course. That night I nearly died. I developed a fever and my temperature went up to 107 and my friends were coming in to say goodbye to me. I had two angels looking after me Kitty Subho an English Thai monk and a wonderful lady who we thought had recently become enlightened. I remember the delirium well. It was a bit out of body, very spacey and voices shouted from a distance. I was going to die but I had no fear just an acceptance.
In the wee hours of the morning the fever broke and I woke up yellow. I had hepatitis again. Think my liver just couldn’t handle the serum. I was ill for about three weeks but what a beautiful spot to be ill in.
Four years ago during a routine hospital check-up the doctor told me they had found a little spot on my lung. After tests it was found to be cancerous. I researched lung cancer and my prognosis was not good. I prepared to die. It wasn’t so bad, I had led a very full life. I achieved an ethereal state of acceptance and said goodbye to the world. This state stayed with me. It became semi-permanent and was a bit difficult to get out of.
After further tests, going up to St James in Dublin they decided they would operate immediately. The consultant surgeon would contact me the next week. It ended up three months later and all this time the cancer was growing. But I stayed calm and did what had to be done. If the operation was successful I would still not get the all clear they were going to take out my left lung. So be it. I was admitted to St James and had the operation two days later. I can remember the prep room and getting an injection then waking up don’t know when in the post op ward. There was good news they only had to take out a lobe. I have a scar running down most of my back where they went in. My mood, that of acceptance, continued.
My oncologist in Tullamore said the cancer may have spread to my lymph and I needed chemo. So I wasn’t clear. Four months later they decide that that was it. Chemo was not fun. I was in remission. Got another year to go to be out of the woods. After 5 years you are considered cured.
Dying holds no fear for me. The mental state that of having done with the world, persisted for a year afterwards. I found it difficult to “come back” . I’m back now but have grown from my experiences. In this day and age longevity is not uncommon and I might look for another twenty years. Well we will see. Whatever the future holds for me I feel I am prepared for it.
I have a WordPress blog so I am immortal. Below is one of my favourite tunes: Gov’t Mule “ Soulshine. I think I let my soul shine and lived better for it.
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