Today is a very significant day for me, it’s the day I call my ‘I’m not deadaversary’. Two years ago I hoped on a plane to start a five week trip around Europe and I felt great. I was excited – of course – and tired because I hadn’t got a lot of sleep the night before but other than that just looking forward to leaving the country for the first time in 2 ½ years.
When we landed in Dubai (where I was staying for 3 days) I walked down the stairs, onto the tarmac and then blacked out – I had clots in my heart and lungs. I didn’t actually realise how close I came until weeks later when I was safely back home in New Zealand. At the time I was too busy down playing it and telling everyone I was fine, which I was doing right up to the point that they told me I had to have open heart surgery at which point I rethought my position.
So today I remember my luck, I’m lucky I didn’t die, I’m lucky I landed in a country with a really good health system, I’m lucky I had a surgeon who did one last test before he cut me open even though there was only a 5% chance I wouldn’t need surgery, I’m lucky I didn’t need open heart surgery.
I’m not a deeply philosophical person, I’m not religious and I don’t generally look for deeper meanings in life – I’ve pretty much learnt to take things as they come. But when faced with something that scares me, that’s outside my comfort zone, I always remember the alternative.
Below is a piece I wrote about that day, it was an exercise in being more introspective and writing more about details and less about action.
She opened her eyes; she could feel the hard tarmac underneath her, hot in the Arabian sun. As she gained focus she could see blood pooling by on the ground, like a scarlet oil slick bright against the black.
She struggled with her memory, as she struggled for breath. Hours and hours on a plane, it had been stuffy, and no matter what she tried she could not get comfortable, sleep was always just out of reach. There had been turbulence; despite all of the travel she’d done she had never had a flight with bad turbulence until now. As she exited the plane she felt queasy and light headed, the heat and recycled air, she thought to herself, the turbulence and lack of sleep that’s why she felt so unwell.
There were people everywhere. A woman in her beige airline uniform crouched down and spoke to her trying to find out what had happened. Other passengers in the distance, some already on the bus that would whisk them onwards to the terminal and holidays, looking as one of their number lay sprawled on the ground, as the air hostess put a travel pillow under her head, as the airport’s medical unit were called.
The ground was hard but it was warm, she wanted to sleep but still she struggled to breathe. She tried her breathing techniques that she’d learnt in singing lessons, the ones that helped so much when she had asthma but today nothing would work.
Another of the cabin crew crouched down. They asked her name, they asked where she was from, where she was going simple questions she could answer between strangled breaths. She was staying for a few days, did she know the name of her hotel – a question her concussed mind could not answer.
At last the medics came. On another day riding on the nifty little vehicle would have been a thrill, being treated like an injured All Black. On this day she barely noticed, she was jostled and lifted onto the stretcher and phased in and out as the desert air tousled the parts of her hair not caked in blood.
Who knew that airports had medical centres, she thought, as the doctors and nurses bustled around, giving her oxygen, IV fluids bombarding her with questions. Eventually they could do no more and sent her onwards to the hospital she focused not on what had happened but on details, what about her luggage? Could she still go to Europe?
The ambulance tore through the streets of Dubai, she had been there before but as she was lying down, strapped to a gurney she had no sense of direction no idea where in the city she was going.
They arrived at the hospital and she was wheeled into the bright florescent lighting and pastel walls that are uniform of hospitals everywhere. There were more questions and tests she was wheeled through various parts of the hospital – why couldn’t they just let her sleep?
Eventually a doctor explained things to her, clots. Her heart and her lungs were full of clots. They jabbed her with a needle to make the clots go away, they told her she couldn’t leave the bed, not for anything.
And at last she was left alone. By herself in a strange country, in a foreign hospital but all she could think about was sleep.