I am privileged to have had the opportunity to experience the cessation of life at an early age. One of my earliest experiences was at thirteen years of age. I was having seizures without regaining consciousness-status epilepticus. The Children’s Hospital did all that they could to try to stabilize me, but my breathing ceased, and my heart stopped. They were able to bring me back, and I languished in a coma for several days. Upon waking, I demanded a chocolate bar! Being close to death certainly reinforces what’s important in life!
I had several more dances with death within those months. I came out changed. Connecting to others became imperative and there was a sense of urgency toward being brave and speaking from the heart when amongst people. Nothing could be left unsaid or undone. I wanted to understand all the mysteries of the universe, and explored many different belief systems. At fifteen, I was thrown from a building. Sitting up on the ledge, I was ravenous for more life. I wanted to know what it would feel to be old in this world. There was pleading and crying for where I found myself, and then came acceptance. I reassured myself that I had had a good life, and then I started laughing. To this point, it had been a bloody awful, tumultuous life! Then I saw in my mind’s eye precious moments. Simple scenes filled with beauty and wonder. A smile, the ocean, my pet birds, a bubble bath. Life had been worth having if only for this.
I survived, though the danger wasn’t over. Many times I teetered on the edge. By seventeen my spine had curved inward, crushing my heart and lungs and doing my stomach no favours either. I was dying, and was told I needed a huge surgery to save my life. I may not wake up in ICU as hoped. The period between this discovery and the surgery was stressful, though also strangely peaceful. It taught me to say what was in my heart, to leave the detritus of everyday routine and concern and paint and write poetry and be real. I didn’t want my legacy to be a made bed! “That Raphaela was a good egg, she put away her clothes and made her bed and was agreeable at every turn until she died.” No! I wanted them to say, “she could be messy and creative and argumentative and a pain in the arse.” I wanted them to say that I loved fiercely and was brave.
I survived, and my appreciation of life became so engorged that I felt I may burst. It was all too beautiful: the pain and the citrus fruit sitting in a bowl, the trees and birdsong. All too beautiful. Mind officially blown.
I have had a hard time getting pent up about trivialities ever since. I have tried, I really have. The last time I almost died, was after abdominal surgery. It turned into a huge ordeal, far more extensive than I had bargained for. I went to go to the bathroom after the operation, and fell to the floor. I was in excruciating pain and weakly called for help. A nurse rushed in, put me back to bed and took my blood pressure. It was 55/40 and started dropping. I was started on blood plasma, but it wasn’t helping much at all. Doctors sat with me and I had over ten transfusions. My temperature soared, I had tachycardia and my breathing was laboured. I was bleeding along my pelvic wall, as it turned out, and they feared I wouldn’t survive further surgery. I had to fight to stay awake, feeling as though I could slip away very easily. I had to keep talking as they worked on me, and remember feeling amused at the stuff I had fretted about on my way to the hospital that morning. None of it mattered! It was my mind attempting to take control of every situation, real and imagined. If I survived, I vowed to revisit my prior stance on not sweating anything.
My four year old daughter was brought into the room and allowed to ride on the trolley until we were outside theatre. She kept stroking my hair, declaring her love for me. I kept whispering, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” in return. It was all that mattered. I did survive, and still have the feeling that time is not something to be tampered with. I will leave a toxic room or a pointless conversation in favour of lightness and beauty. This isn’t a game; this is your life and an hour spent with nonsense as your companion is a very sad thing indeed.