|I’d been paralysed for around three minutes before my wife discovered me where I’d fallen, squashed between the toilet and the shower cubical, mouth ajar, staring wide-eyed into the abyss. It had taken another two before she’d revived me, at first calling me, shaking me, slapping me and eventually dragging me onto the bathroom floor. A seizure had had me in its grip – my reaction to having been oxygen-deprived for too long. I’d fainted and fallen, wedged upright, my brain slowly starving as the blood struggled to reach my elevated head.
The raspy, guttural sounds a person makes as they become a corpse had woken my wife around 3:00 am. She’d come into the bathroom to investigate, and at first thought I was leaning over the toilet, vomiting, until she got closer and saw my face, the death mask upon it — a vision that later kept her awake by my side until morning, and one that haunted her for weeks afterwards.
“What’s my name? What’s my name!” she’d screamed at me. At first her voice was just a noise to me – one of many sensations swirling together in the thick, black syrup of my consciousness. I’d heard her, but had made no connection with what her voice was – a noise amongst other sensations I couldn’t comprehend. It was the tone in her voice that eventually pulled me free – the utter desperation and fear in it.
As I grasped for the life-line of her voice, I started to make sense of the shapes and patterns around me. Where am I? Why does she keep asking me to tell her her name?
The shower cubical came slowly into view. Why are my shampoo bottles on the ceiling? Some of the swirls melded together to form the bathmat, which for some reason had been hung like a tapestry. Why doesn’t she know her name? I hope she’s ok. A pool of water clung to the wall, seeming to defy gravity. I was trying to make sense of my environment, but this customised version of Burning Giraffe was starting make me nauseous. Soon my brain had received enough signals to make sense of the situation; I wasn’t casually leaning against the bathroom wall at all, but lying on the floor. Well, that explained the bathmat. Sigh… Not again.
“What’s my name?” she hammered. Yes, yes. I’ll get to telling you your name! Just give me a chance to pull myself together.
I propped up on one arm, and turned to look at her, her blurred features coming into form. The expression in her voice paled in comparison to that on her face. Something awful has happened. But what? And why has she forgotten her name? I needed to brace myself for bad news, and be there to support her. It hadn’t occurred to me that I was the cause of her concern. I looked at her. Yes… I know you – you’re my wife. Now… what exactly is your name?
“Leisa. It’s Leisa!” Her name came out of me, but was somehow disconnected as if spoken by another voice. Thank God I’d gotten that right. Truth be told, I hadn’t known her name – not consciously, anyhow.
“What’s wrong? What’s happening?” I’d asked, now sitting upright on the tiles. Leisa explained how she’d found me, and what she’d gone through in trying to revive me. But I’d only gone to urinate. I started to think back to what I’d eaten that day. What could have made me ill like that? I certainly hadn’t felt ill.
Leisa begged me to call an Ambulance, but I resisted. I’m supposed to be invincible. I talked her out of it, convincing her that I felt fine and just wanted to go back to bed. By this time I’d convinced myself too – that although I was feeling a little dazed from the experience, I was ok. And I was tired. It was only after I’d laid my head on the pillow that my head began to swim again, my mind numb with a kind-of painless pins and needles. It was a sensation not unlike coming down off acid – a party had taken place upstairs, but now it’s over, the room is hazy, and you know you had a good time but can recall only fractured memories. When I woke later that morning, I was still feeling numb upstairs. I should probably go to the hospital now.
That sensation subsided over about three weeks, but it’s never gone away entirely.
The morning after my ‘episode’, they hooked me up to the ECG and did a bunch of cognitive tests. I passed everything. They’d even asked me if I’d taken any drugs. “No!” I’d protested, feigning insult. “Do you have any?” I’d wondered.
By mid-morning I’d left the hospital and gone to my GP, who also couldn’t make heads or tails of it. And how was I supposed to explain the odd sensation in my brain? Yeah Doc, you know that feeling you get coming down off acid? He did what any good ‘general practitioner’ does when they don’t know for sure – he ordered a blood test.
One thing the doctor had been absolutely certain of was that I’d been only two-to-three minutes away from brain damage, and then death. Seems I dodged a bullet.
I passed out again while giving blood at the pathology lab the following morning. I’ve never liked needles, or surgery or doctors, or anything related to them for that matter, but I’d never passed out from an injection before – it had never bothered me. I’d wondered if it was a blood pressure thing. Turns out I was low in iron – an odd thing for a man, but not uncommon. But the doctor couldn’t be sure if I’d been low in iron and this had caused me to faint, or that the fainting and subsequent seizure itself was the cause of my low iron count.
…and I’d forgotten to tell him that I’d experienced a similar incident approximately four years earlier, having blacked-out one night, falling onto the bath and bruising my arm. That time I’d woken up from it.
There was a five-year gap between visits to my GP. In that time I made some changes to my lifestyle, including giving up smoking, reducing my drinking (why is there no way to say that without sounding like I have a problem? lol), reducing the amount of crap I eat, drinking lots more water, eating lots more fresh fruit, and starting and maintaining a serious exercise regimen.
These changes were not a reaction to my incident (not consciously, anyhow), but more to do with my not being happy with aspects of myself and my life at the time, and having grown tired of it, forcing change upon myself. I’d figured that whatever it was I’d been doing before had not been making me happy, so I may as well try something else.
There’s no doubt each individual change has been beneficial, but I’ve seen the most benefit from working-out.
I work out every weekday, starting at 5:30 with a 45-minute brisk walk on the treadmill, or out with the dog. Then in the afternoons I do another 45-minute session, this time with various weights programs on a multi-gym, following that with another 45-minute session of floor exercises (the Spartacus Workout) or occasionally on the Ab-Circle Pro (yes, in combination, they work).
It takes enormous dedication. I balance it with a healthy diet of chocolate mud cake. Seriously though, this dedication to fitness makes me sound like a gym-junkie. But I’m not; I do eat the odd sweet, and I’ve not given up coffee (not a chance). However, it has been (and must be) a lifestyle choice – if you slack-off for a week, it sets you back two.
And it’s not just a matter of maintaining the exercises, the discipline. I’ve had to introduce dietary supplements, such as drinking protein powder, because having a burst of protein after a workout helps to repair your muscles faster, and this prevents you feeling wiped-out for the rest of the evening – only half an hour after busting out a heavy workout, I feel great; full of energy, and alert.
Making radical changes like this hasn’t been all good, though. One of the run-off effects I’ve experienced is having a few family members and friends accuse me of suffering mid-life crises – like I’m doing this in an attempt to reclaim some lost youth. It contributed to the breakdown of my marriage.
Reclaim lost youth? One can’t reclaim what one hasn’t lost. Hell, I’ve never grown up – I don’t even know what it means to do so, apart from what appears to be the relinquishing of everything that brought you joy. I own a house, have raised a child, have a respectable career, pay my taxes. …and in my spare time I play video games and collect toy robots. That ok with everyone? If being mature means I have to be bored, soulless, passionless, I’ll stay a child forever.
These ‘friends’ also tried to attribute my behaviour to schizophrenia, as if I’d been consumed by an alternate personality – someone they’d not met before. In a sense they were right – I was (am) different, but by my choice. You don’t like your life? Yourself? Then make a change or stop complaining.
I’ve made these lifestyle choices because I wanted to improve the quality of my life, not because I’m trying to extend it, not because of any fear of death.
I’ve never feared death. Dying, sure – I don’t want to die in an horrific, painful way. Nor do I want to die in a pathetic way, such as lying wedged upright, over the toilet bowl, having a seizure. Sterling died like he lived – like an arsehole.
I don’t fear death at all. It’s partly because there’s no point in fretting over what you have no control over. It’s mainly because I have absolute belief in an existence beyond this ‘life on Earth as a human being’ thing.
That’s a story for another day, and it has nothing to do with any sense of a higher power, other religious or spiritual belief, or even ‘blind faith’. It’s more to do with my sense of ‘self’. …or more-precisely, my sense of everything else. …with a little technology throw in.
In any case, whilst I don’t fear death, I don’t welcome it either. Given a choice, I’d live forever – the universe is well big enough for me to take an eternity exploring it – what would I need with a life after this one? So, I’m trying to improve the quality of my life, not dodge death – there’s a little difference there.
The most important thing for me is to be happy, and I believe that happiness is just a chemical reaction in our brains, one that can be induced by ‘good’ experiences, but can also be induced by feeling ‘good’. Being fit and healthy makes you feel good, and that makes you feel happy. It really does.
If my life ever became bad, if I ever became diagnosed with a terminal or debilitating illness, or became blind, or deaf, or immobile, I’m hanging myself from the nearest tree (which is going to be difficult, if I score immobility. lol). Seriously.
Likewise, if I simply don’t want to be here anymore, or if I find myself incapable of being happy.
I’m sorry, I know how that might upset a lot of people, but I’d rather be dead than bored. Really, the thought of living a mundane life void of joy and happiness is worse than having my testicles eaten by bears. And, seeing as I don’t fear death… well, it wouldn’t make sense to stay here when I have a pretty good exit strategy available to me. No?
So, five years later I’m sitting in the doctor’s office, and he’s writing a referral for me to have some blood tests. They’re just routine. After all, I’m in my 40s now, and I’m supposed to be getting worried about aging. I’m not. …’cause I still think I’m invincible. …and he’s just told me that I’m in “phenomenal” health for someone my age. Phenomenal? Nice! …and I’m peering over his shoulder at my clinical record on his screen, and embedded amongst the various measurements and diagnoses are the words ‘Potential stroke candidate’.
What the fuck?!
When I’d been up at the hospital on the morning after my ‘episode’, the cognitive tests I’d participated in were designed to ascertain if I’d suffered a stroke. That had been explained to me at the time. However, my GP had ruled it out. …or so I’d thought. Now, seeing those words on the screen was, well… sobering.
He doesn’t believe I’ve suffered a stroke, simply because I don’t show any of the typical signs – no cognitive loss, no loss of motor function, no difficultly speaking and so forth. But he, like the staff at the hospital, can’t work out exactly what happened. I’d just needed a reboot, but how was I to explain that? Just to be sure, just so I’m not diagnosed a medication that could be dangerous, he’s flagged me as a stroke candidate.
My grandfather died from a stroke. There’s a chance I will, I guess. Knowing that’s a possibility is kind-of a rip-off – I mean, it’s not very glamorous, is it? I’ll be just walking down the street one day, blah-blah-blah-dead.
I’ve heard having a bad stroke, a massive stroke, is somewhat like being hit in the head with a baseball bat. …and I’ve had two ‘episodes’ so-far. Will it be third-time-lucky? Third time’s a charm? Three strikes and I’m out?
There is some comfort in knowing this. After all, to extend the baseball metaphor, when you’re running the bases, there are three to pass before you can come home. If I am a stroke candidate, and third base is on the horizon, it’s not so bad really. …I’m really quite looking forward to going home.