Since I almost died twice, I figure I’m on my third life and that gives me a very personal understanding of just how fragile, and precious, life is. I can understand young folks playing fast and loose with life, but I don’t understand how older folks can do it. And many of them do it. Either through commission or omission.
On the commission side, I stay away from risks that are easily avoided, like speeding. When you’ve almost checked out early twice, you gain a special appreciation for the late check out option.
Some folks are fatalists who say that when your time’s up, your time’s up. I don’t believe that. I do believe that when you make a decision not to wear a seatbelt, then that decision, not just bad luck, enables your early check out. And I won’t be an accomplice to my own death…
I have no conscious memory of my first life because it lasted less than a year. When I was just a few months old, I contracted gastro-enteritis and could not digest any food. (My parents blamed my amah, a Chinese professional baby nurse, for not properly sterilizing my bottle.) At that time, there was no cure and no hospital in Manila would admit me. Why allow a valuable pediatric bed to be taken up by someone who was going to die when it could be used for someone who could be saved?
One sympathetic doctor put my parents in touch with a pediatrician who had just arrived from the U.S. and was setting up his practice. Dr. Hebert offered no hope but agreed to take me and try everything. He put me up in an examination room in his clinic and my parents hired a private nurse for the evenings since I couldn’t be left alone.
I was in that room for many, many weeks. One by one, I was injected with every antibiotic available. After one antibiotic (which shouldn’t work against a virus) failed to bring any improvement after a few days, I received the next antibiotic. I was kept alive through IV but that was an iffy situation. At that age, I constantly jerked the needles out and the number of good veins for IV use dwindled. If something didn’t happen soon, I’d die from starvation and dehydration.
My body decided not to go down without a fight and mounted the most natural defense against a virus: fever. I developed a fever that began rising and rising despite attempts to keep it down. It became so bad by evening that my parents were called to the clinic to hear Dr. Hebert’s warning: either the fever would kill the virus or the fever would kill me because it could not be controlled.
I was packed in ice. My temperature was high enough to kill me or at least produce brain damage (hey…maybe that’s my problem…lol!) but the fever finally broke. Dr. Hebert couldn’t explain why I didn’t die that night.
The next day was the first day of recovery. For a few months, I had a minor side effect from being so sick: my heart would stop. My parents had a syringe which they could fill with a stimulant of some sort to inject right into my heart to get it going again. But after full recovery, I never was sick again with anything more than a cold. (Until I caught chicken pox in my mid-50’s from seeing Shrek in a theater full of children.)
I do have a subconscious memory of being so sick. I get very nervous and weak-kneed when I’m in a hospital that has a “medicinal” smell. And I hate needles; just the sight of one gets me worked up (even if it’s not for me). A blood test leaves me completely stressed out. My psyche remembers all the needles and the pain they brought….
My second life ended when I was in third grade. I was in the deep end of the pool at the Army-Navy club. I discovered the pool’s water outlet pipe while swimming underwater along a wall. It had no protective cover and the water was coming out very strong. I pushed my hand against the rushing water to see if I could cover the pipe. This became a game for me….
Eventually, after my hand covered the pipe mouth, my arm was sucked into the pipe and became stuck from a partial vacuum. I could not pull my arm out, I was running out of air, and no one was nearby to help. As I realized that I’d drown if I didn’t get my arm out of that pipe in a few more seconds, it occurred to me to put both my feet against the pool wall and push back as hard as I could. My arm popped out and I made it to the surface gasping for air.
I didn’t say anything to anyone about the incident because I was afraid I’d not be allowed to swim there again. I should have. About four years later, when I was in 7th grade, the younger brother of a classmate did the same thing in that same pool. He drowned.
So at nine years old, I learned to be careful in life. I knew how just one act of carelessness can be fatal.
I’m especially careful in cars, since that is a common form of death. No speeding; I drive 62 on the Interstate so I’m alone. No rush to get anywhere; anyone who’s been in a car with me says I’m the slowest driver they know. No fancy maneuvers; if I miss a turn because I’m in the wrong lane, I can come back. At 57, I’ve only been in two moving accidents: someone backed into me at a light and someone hit me from behind in barely moving traffic because he was eyeballing a car tailgating him.
No skydiving; no scuba diving; no mountain climbing; no cave exploring; no skiing (water or snow). No smoking. I don’t think I’m missing anything.
Let me tell you, nothing gets your heart pumping more than when you realize you have a few seconds to live, as I did when I was trapped underwater with my arm in a pipe. So the “adventure” folks have nothing on me unless they’ve been seconds away from dying. Unlike computers, there’s no “undo” or “reboot” in life.
On the diet side, I’m very much a moderate. I like pizza, chili dogs, burgers and fries like most everyone else. But I don’t have any of them even once a week. Maybe once every other week. Red meat maybe once or twice a month. Very little deep fried food (because I don’t like it).
I’m the family cook and my three main cooking methods are gas grilling, crockpot, or stir fry with some canola or olive oil. So I have no heartbreak over eating a bit of ice cream almost every day. And some dark chocolate too!
Then there’s the “omission” side…
Many men don’t like to go to a doctor, especially if they have no symptoms. I don’t have that problem – I get an annual physical even though I‘ve been healthy for decades. Years ago, a friend of mine at work had a toothache. He didn’t go to a dentist because he hated dental work. Finally, after a few weeks, the pain become too much and he visited a dentist. It wasn’t a cavity… it was jaw cancer. Despite an operation, he died within a few months.
I’ve had a colonoscopy, which everyone over 50 should have. If you wait for the symptoms of colon cancer, it usually is at least stage 3 (outside the colon) and often stage 4 (metastasized). In the cancer death hierarchy, only lung cancer kills more folks (men and women combined) than colon cancer. More Americans die each year from colon cancer than breast cancer and AIDS combined. So if you’re over 50 and haven’t had a colonoscopy…that’s a huge omission.
My grandmother is over 100. I want to beat her longevity….
Live long and prosper!