Life and Death and Luck
It’s weird having been so close to death. I feel like a fraud talking about it. I don’t really feel like I was close to death at all. I can look at the numbers. I can look at the rarity of what happened. I can hear the words of my surgeon echoing in my mind. I take it on faith that I am lucky to be alive.
But it feels unreal. I had no long struggle with chemo. I had no warning signs that doctors cautioned me about. There was no accident or crash, no incident of violence. I felt ill for a few hours, I spent some time unconscious, and now I’m here.
It’s only real when I look down. A lazy red tattoo snakes down my chest, a reminder for the rest of my life of how close I came.
This isn’t to say it’s been easy. Recovery has been slow (to me). The pain has finally subsided enough that I no longer need Tylenol to take the edge off (the Percocet thankfully long gone). I can sleep through the night. Only this last week have I been able to eat or drink cold things. Large amounts of anything still remains elusive, but that is getting better. The worst has been my bowels. Turns out when you take your guts out of your body for a bit, they stop working and take a loooong time to fully reboot. Add in a week of scorched-Earth-level antibiotics, and you’re pretty much not going to absorb anything you eat. I lost 22 pounds because of all this, and half that was not digesting my food properly for over a month.
The body heals, perhaps not as fast as we’d like. The mind though, is another story.
My scar is like a stamp with an expiration date. I’m going to die. Not soon, I think, but who knows? I’ve always understood this, I think more keenly than most people. I’ve always thought I’d die before I got old. Maybe I was wrong about that, maybe this was the bullet dodged?
But now, I think about that a lot. Not, oddly, in a morose way. More in a fatalistic way (literally, I guess). The doctors say that this shouldn’t affect me long term, but if you’d asked any doctor in the world on February 28th what serious medical emergency I’d have the next day, exactly none would have said celiac artery aneurysm.
That’s not to say I don’t believe doctors. It’s that I do believe in chaos. The random chance of the world. I feel the fragility of life in a way I didn’t before.
My best friend tries to convince me this is just like when I got my cast off after breaking my leg. I was so nervous about injuring it again I was timid and hesitant to do anything with it. Maybe she’s right. Maybe in a few months this will have faded and I’ll feel less like there’s another shoe to drop. But for right now, 2 months out, that’s not how I feel. I feel like the future is far more uncertain than I ever feared. I feel brittle.
Had this happened 4 years ago I think it would have profoundly changed my outlook on the world. The thing is, I had that epiphany already. I already took stock in my life and did something about it. Perhaps that’s why I’m not freaked out now. For the last three years I’ve traveled the world, seen incredible things, and met the most amazing people. As I lay there in my hospital bed, taking stock of everything, I realized what I wanted out of life was what I was already doing. I wanted to travel, write, and most importantly, spend time with people I do love and people I will love. I had no near-death crisis questioning my life’s choices. I’d done that with no surgical stimuli. All I wanted was to go back to doing what I had been doing.
So that’s where I’m lucky. Not in having the aneurysm (of course). Not in surviving a catastrophic medical incident, since that was thanks to the the skill of my doctors. No, I’m lucky in that I came out the other side realizing that what I want out of life is what I already have.
Though a bit more couldn’t hurt. I don’t know if I’ll have time to do everything, but I’m going to try.