I wonder if there will come a time again in my life when I sit at a table and share my experience of nearly dying with two other men who saw my hand and instead of freaking out raised me more near death each of them. It happened this past week and I have been ruminating on it since the conversation.
If you have been paying attention you know I can’t photograph or identify Dave or Joe (names changed) but take my word for it, we three old white guys sat around a table in Occupational Therapy and talked without holding back. Dave started it. He asked Elias what I was in for and Elias said he couldn’t say owing to privacy rules. I rolled over to Dave’s table and told him the story of my wreck. I don’t embellish it- that would be hard!- but I tell it as a funny story and it is very funny. Me flying through the air, telling by standers what to do, and then considering who the listener is either I skip to the helicopter ride or I’ll tell you about fading away.
Dave nearly died from complications of routine surgery. He described sensations I am now quite familiar with, a physical sensation of comfort and warmth, a gradual loss of interest. To outsiders I describe it as looking for the white light but even though I never did see the white light I was entirely at peace for a while. I don’t even know how long. I had no visions and I didn’t see anyone from my past, I just lay there and the physical coldness from blood loss left me. Dave was telling his story and I was nodding along because I recognized it. I thought I was fully conscious throughout the crash and aftermath but there was someone real holding my hand and I talked to her she said (on Facebook) and of her I have no memory. I was busy fading away because I do remember laying there waiting for the end of this chapter and the start of a new journey. Then the paramedics arrived and started asking questions and so forth and I was back. I even took a selfie on the stretcher. I thought it might be the last picture of me alive. Not sure why that was important, and if it were I should have smiled.
We sat at the table lifting our weights and squeezing our hand springs as we chatted. Dave is in his 70’s, a thin gaunt man with deep set eyes and a hook nose and a shock of white hair. He looks like a pirate having a streak of bad luck in his hospital gown and a startled look in his eyes. He stopped eating in the ICU and is proud of the hundred pounds he lost. He didn’t die either. He cheered me on as I took my first steps in the walker. Nowadays he gives me grief as I lie on the mat strengthening my legs. “Sleeping on the job Michael?” “Fuck off Dave,” and he starts cackling from his chair. The therapists try to stay professional but we old codgers test them. Then I cheer him on as he fights the parallel bars. “Go back to sleeping,” he shouts over his shoulder. We are alive both of us. My bed in the gym:
There were three of us at the table. Joe also in his seventies listened to us and then stepped in, as you do when sitting in a wheelchair, with his story of acute internal organ failure and twice he stepped up to the pearly gates. Not ready he said as he pounded the weights. Was it easier the second time I asked. No he said, I still didn’t want to go. For all the agony of recovery, Dave’s piss bag whose tube is always getting in the way as he rises out of the chair, Joe’s grim determination to survive despite the odds he has overcome, my mild sense of confusion that I am still alive all combine to keep us awake and trying to do these impossible exercises.
You should have joined me in my ICU fast when I lost a hundred pounds Dave says as he watches me deploy my upper body strength (thank you Broga) only half defeated by my beer keg as Nathalie calls my abdominal six pack. Fuck off Dave I say conversationally between gasps and tugs at the Red Cords. He cackles as they wheel him out of the gym. I walked a total of fifty feet on my longest march this week. Not all of it was brilliant, a bit wobbly, but I did it. I took four showers and shat in a toilet three times. I am alive dammit.
The MRSA wound is almost closed and I am very happy about that. What I am not so happy about is how pissed I felt when I was diagnosed. Dying in the roadway like a piece of bloody meat didn’t bother me aside from a vague feeling that I’d like more time thanks. However the possibility of the bacterium getting me pissed me off. It seems irrational to me. Perhaps after such a smash I had no expectations but getting through the ICU and all that misery had primed me to see a future which suddenly looked cut short.
I didn’t want to go back to pain and tubes and immobility. Perhaps that’s another lesson to be learned: just because I survived one brush with the Grim Reaper gives no immunity from the next encounter. There’s food for thought. Like Joe I wasn’t ready for a second go at the white light. None of us are so I have to keep on wasting no time. This is exhausting. Better make it worth it!