Thursday, October 18, 2012

When Death Came Knocking

It's such a long time since I sat down to write a post for S.P. I really ought to rebrand the blog as S.P. Volume 2 (or 3, or 6). But it wasn't just my habitual laziness keeping me away from blogging duties (I promise). In the immortal words of Kettering's J.L.Carr, "It's been a summer" - one I still haven't quite worked out the meaning of.

I nearly died in late June. From somewhere I caught pneumonia, which made my lung fill up with gunk. I also had something growing on the outside of my lung. I don't remember what the doctors said it was, but I do remember the description of it as thicker than four orange peels. The combination of the gunk on my lung and the gunk in my lung made it collapse one frightening night and within a week (I left it because I thought I'd got food poisoning!) I was in the worst pain I'd ever experienced. I'd also lost all control of my bladder.

After I was admitted to hospital things improved. I did get an infection of some sort in my left hand, which swelled up to twice its normal size, after a junior doctor messed up an injection (I have veins that are hard to locate apparently), but the huge amount of drugs they put me on got rid of all my pain and from that point on it was just a matter of enjoying the drug hallucinations and waiting for my op. (I saw all four of the Beatles in a stuffed red pepper. Morphine is great.)

Have you ever signed a form in which you acknowledge that before the day is out the surgery you're facing might kill you? I have and it's pretty scary. I did that just after I'd finally agreed to have an epidural, which I'd resisted furiously because I knew that if I had an epidural I'd also have to have a catheter. I'd seen those things inserted in my days as a care worker and I'd always sworn I'd rather die than have one.Unfortunately I'd reached the point where that was probably the choice.

As it turned out, having a catheter was oddly pleasant. It was great not getting up three or four times during the night to go to the toilet the way I normally do. And because I was still tranked up to the gills I didn't really feel it when it was taken out either. Thank you, Nurse Whoever-You-Are, for your gentle hands and for letting me keep my shorts on.

The operation itself was a success. It left me with a motherf**ker of a scar (see photo), but I also came back into the conscious world with a reinflated gunk-free lung. Getting rid of the pneumonia took a little longer, but the antibiotics finally drove that away too, and I have now been restored to my previous peak physical condition.

Psychologically, though, the impact of nearly dying has been severe. I was afraid to go out for a while because I saw omens of death in everything. Then I went to the other extreme and developed a kind of mania for going out. I had to do everything it was possible to do on my tiny student budget. Life was short and death was long: no more afternoons listening to Five Live and eating biscuits.

And now I'm wary of excessive sociability. I was always a man who appreciated his own company. I worked best, as a writer, when there were fewer people around. I have pushed myself so far into a social sphere I might not belong in I feel mentally naked, exposed, raw; I fear I may have lost the balance that is so precious to me as a Buddhist, and a borderline nutcase. But I'm not sure, either, that that feeling is honest or that balance is what I really need.

See what I mean about how death doesn't have to take you to mess your mind up? There is still quite a lot to work out here, clearly.