That time I almost died, and how it saved my life

In July 2016 my life changed in ways I’m still just discovering now, almost 18 months later.

I was the most stressed I’ve ever been; I’d quit my job and was working out my notice while setting up a new business, I was beyond exhausted all the time, and was desperately trying to hold it all together.

I’ve always been a pretty independent and self-reliant person; I struggled to ask for help, and I don’t get deeply connected with other people, not even my own family. I felt like if people saw me at my worst, crying and messy, needing them desperately, without answers or jokes, they wouldn’t like me at all.

Living alone made it easier to hermit. It also meant I was responsible for everything. I paid all the bills, fed the cats, did the chores, fixed the things. It slowly wore away at me in ways I can’t even quantify. I’d tell myself that I didn’t care that I wasn’t getting hugged, that there was no one to cook dinner when I was tired, or that I had to sort out replacing the batteries on the smoke detector.

But I cared. And I was profoundly lonely.

To cut a long story short, in the middle of all this, my body gave out. I ended up in the HDU at North Shore Hospital with a tube pumping the contents of my stomach out, a catheter, a spinal tap for the morphine, an array of drips plugged into my arm, and an oxygen machine keeping me, well, oxygenated. In other words, I was entirely dependent on hospital staff to do even the simplest of tasks: Wash me, deal with my bodily fluids, calm me when I was scared.

My father drove up from Wellington. I didn’t find out til much, much later that he’d been warned that I had a 15% chance of fatality and he had to make some tricky calls around what to say to the rest of the family. One of my brothers and his partner took care of my cats, and getting my house cleaned, which was hard for me to deal with. To be frank, before the ambulance came, I’d been having a full body evacuation and I was ashamed of the state of my house. If it weren’t for the cats, I’d never have given them the keys.

But I had to.

I’m not sure I’d been so physically or emotionally vulnerable in my whole adult life. I’m crying now just thinking about it. I’d been building a self-sufficient empire where I didn’t need anyone, and now a nurse was taking bags of my urine away to measure as I lay in a bed, struggling to stay conscious, while my baby brother navigated my dirty washing and piles of vomit. Good times.

Everyone was so gentle, and so kind. Washing my face for me, feeding me ice chips, organising a fan when I was burning up, and reading me encouraging messages from friends. You’re not allowed flowers – or friends – in the HDU, so mates sent magazines and fruit, and messaged my dad for updates hourly. Every time I came to, my brother was sitting beside me, telling me jokes or letting me know what was going on.

The staff asked if I wanted to see my minister, and having him pray for me when I was so confused and anxious was, well, a godsend.

I had no choice but to be loved on, in an intimate and vulnerable way. At the time, I was just focusing on what was in front of me, but on reflection, this was a hugely transformative time.

It didn’t stop when I got moved to the ward. My body struggled to get used to food after a week of the drip and things got messy. I felt humiliated, but the staff were so respectful and even made me laugh about it. I mean, what else can you do when a stranger is scrubbing your butt?

Friends sent flowers – so many gorgeous flowers – and loving messages. They dropped by with treats, and hugs, and gossip, and lip balm, and wax strips for my unibrow – after a couple weeks, things really go to seed.

Then when my Pop died, the other patients in my room gathered around me, pulling the curtains closed and just being there while I grieved. It’s something I would have normally done in private, but having them right there forced me to talk about it, talk about him. And as I couldn’t get to the funeral, that was a very good thing.

In the weeks and months that followed that time, I’ve allowed myself to become more and more open with the people around me. To let them in when I’m having a meltdown. To let them cook me dinner, or pay the bill every once in a while. To explain more about what I’m feeling. To share my losses. To love and be loved more deeply and fully than before.

There’s power in being vulnerable, in owning your brokenness, in not having the answers, and not trying to be perfect. Letting others in doesn’t make you weaker, it really does make you stronger. I don’t have many answers, but this one has started to change me more thoroughly than I thought I had the ability to be changed.

It’s connecting bits of me I thought were broken beyond repair, and now I’m beginning to truly live.

That’s my miracle.