A long time ago, when we were colleagues, we vowed we would spend a couple of minutes each day meditating and contemplating death. Back then, to me, death seemed such a long way away.
Three years ago, when my heart went into ventricular fibrillation in the middle of Itchen Valley, Hampshire, I thought I would die. I knew I was minutes from flatlining if my heart could not get itself out of this deadly spiral. I didn’t mind the dying bit, but the way I was dying was awful. I felt as if my chest was being crushed and each breath of air was such a Herculean feat I had to take, not to live, but to stop the pain and the animal fear. As luck would have it, he was by my side, fighting for my life.
He was talking a lot of nonsense then when we thought I was going to die, but I remembered our conversations from long ago about dying. Death suddenly became very real.
Itchen Valley, where my life almost ended. We go back yearly, to remind ourselves, sort of like our old ritual:
He had told me to “go off-pump”, a theory he had been formulating that in the human body, it is not the heart alone that is facilitating the movement of the blood round the body, but also the involuntary muscles where the arteries, veins and capillaries are embedded in.
And because I believed him and because that belief was stronger than my fear, I let go just a little, but enough to calm my heart sufficiently for it to find its own beat again.
A couple of days ago, I picked up a cold. The cold worsened and settled on my chest. I wasn’t comfortable lying down as I couldn’t breath due to the congestion in my airways (though I used eucalyptus oil in my diffuser and menthol on my chest). I had to breathe through my mouth, which had the effect of drying out the insides of my mouth, making me feel insanely thirsty.
But what struck me most was how awful it was having to fight for every breath. I knew I wasn’t going to die from the cold, but I still had a mildly panicky feeling from having to struggle to breathe as I lay in the dark (it felt as if there was not enough air in the room, or I was breathing through a steel cage). I felt exhausted from the exertion. I picked up a book we loved and began reading. At the end of life, we have to give everything away, including our breath (so difficult and SCARY!), though love stays on.
If you are looking for a little story to read (especially for young children), please read what I wrote a few days ago. You can access it here.