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My Dance With Death At Solstice

I am yanked awake by the slippery sensation of the breathing tube being pulled out of my mouth. The extubation leaves me without breath. My brain, still in aenesthetic fog, cannot select between one of the two choices- inhalation or exhalation? I am left suspended, hovering far too long over death.

Foreboding looms over me as I frantically search for my source of life through endless passages. It is dark and unpleasant, fearsome even, and is nothing like the bliss inducing light that the newly dead encounter as they transition out of this world. My fear is all encompassing. This cannot be right. Why are You presenting me with this gruesome sight?

My brain remains uncertain of the most useful action to take under the circumstances, although I am seductively drawn to the long, morbid final exhale. Just as I yield to this cavernous incertitude, perhaps ambivalence, the Medulla Oblongata springs awake, bravely wards off death, and breathes me back to life. It is quite a shock, this, and quite dramatic.

I become aware of myself in my body, and open my eyes to the theatre nurse and aenesthetist calling my name.

It is the 22nd of June, and as Winter Solstice leaves our shores, Her invitation to accompany Her is almost irresistible for me.

This Portal opened to me on the 9th of June, the day marking the tenth anniversary of mama’s death. Please read my last post for the story of her passing.

This Portal Opening first shows up on that very Sunday the 9th on my flight back to Cape Town, after having spent time with my family in Tshwane. At first it appears as nothing much but the telltale sneezing, headache and slight body pain, marking the whisper of the flu. But it’s nothing- this I can ignore easily.

Except I wake up in the morning not able to tolerate light, and with an inability to get out of bed. I’m usually doctor weary, but have become cautious since my pneumonia attack last year. So I call my doctor and plead for an immediate appointment.

When I arrive at her consulting rooms a day later, she is so shocked by the state of me that she immediately puts me on swine flu treatment. She explains that she’d already admitted two patients to hospital for swine flu, and was was not taking any chances by waiting for full blood tests.

The flu flattens me for two weeks, leaving my body in constant pain, and relegates me to bed. I lie fallow, contemplating every laboured breath, nourishment coming from the diluted juices I substitute for food. A neighbour, Trisha, drops off chicken soup, whilst another, Bradley, delivers much needed prescribed medicines to my door. I am loved.

It takes me a fortnight to finaly manage to leave my bed, but am immediately struck by another affliction that sends me straight back there. This time, a hospital bed.

It is Friday the 21st, still June, marking winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. It is possibly my first day properly out of bed, so I go downstairs to enjoy the fire that Clement has made to lick the cold out of the house. I make myself a fruit smoothie for lunch, a welcome variation from the diluted juice diet I’ve been on since I contracted the flu.

I’m enjoying its pink deliciousness as I watch the predicted hurricane-like storm unsettle the Cape out my window. After a mere few sips, I feel my stomach unsettle in a disapproving cramp. I know this cramping all too well. It has successfully landed me in Casualty Units of hospitals around South Africa about a dozen times since 2015. Countless scopes, blood tests and other invasive investigations have failed to pinpoint the exact source of this.

At this time, I decide to ignore it, and hide from it in work on my laptop. But the cramps are persistent, and keep sending me loud whispers. Buscopan Co should sort this out, so I take two. Three hours later, by 6pm the cramps cease their threats, and attack full force. I take two more Buscopan Co, and distract myself by watching a movie on Showmax. They dial up the pain, and I’m losing. I don’t know what to do anymore, and walk about the house with a painful stoop, like mama used to close to her death.

By 9pm the pain is successfully invading my body, so I retire to bed upstairs. ‘Retire’ being a generous overstatement. The effort of climbing the stairs upsets my stomach so much that I vomit violently as soon as I hit the landing. Diarrhoea closely follows.

I stay in the bathroom a long time, hanging onto the towel rail for support. I have to remain here since everything is being released all at once through every orifice. By now the pain is everywhere in my body, and I’m unable to sit or stand or lie down in any way, so I roll about on my bed.

I don’t ask for help.

It takes me an hour before I eventually convince myself that this is not good. I need help. Thirty minutes go by with me listening to the wild storm hurricaning through the night, refusing to call Cape Medical Response, a service I pay a monthly subscription fee for, to assist me through my medical emergencies.

I’m embarrassed they’ll think I’m being dramatic, that I’m calling them out in the middle of inclement weather. I start bargaining with myself- I’ll call if I vomit again (I do), or if the first card I retrieve out my wallet without looking is my CMR card (it is), and ridiculously, if the second card I retrieve without looking is my medical aid card. Incredulously enough it is! (When I relate this my friend Injairu says my poor guardian angels had to work extra hard that night). I have lost all my bets with myself, so I relent and place the call. By then it’s around 10pm. The cramping started at 3 in the afternoon.

A CMR medic arrives within minutes, carrying a backpack brimming with hopeful drugs. She sits on my bed and listens to my story about these reccurent cramps, takes some notes on a pad, and refuses to give me any painkillers. She says I need to go to hospital; that she cannot chance medicating me without knowing the source of my ailment. There are so many major organs housed within the abdominal cavity, blah blah… I need to go to hospital, she insists. I refuse. She remains seated at the foot of my bed, staring me down, am not sure if it was kindly. In my mind’s eye I’m staring right back, but in reality it’s impossible, since I’m writhing about in pain. “Just bloody well hook me to a drip and load it up with pain drugs”, I plead, but she’s unmoved.

Twenty minutes later I stagger to the toilet for a mother of a long, dry heave, the type that makes you feel like you’ve vomited yourself right out of your body. When I return to the bedroom, her quizzical gaze bores into me, and I tell her: “Fine. Call the ambulance”. Whilst we wait she advices me to pack an overnight bag since I’m likely to get admitted, and I look at her and say: “they’re not going to admit me”, and pack my phone charger instead. And my Kindle reader.

The treacherous ambulance ride elicits more gloopy saliva vomiting. The force of the wind is so strong that it occasionally destabilised the sagittal vehicle, piercing through apocalyptic roads. My pain couldn’t care less that the world is ending.

Mercifully I’m pumped with drugs as soon as I arrive at Casualty. The doctor on duty insists on doing a full investigation of my organs for the source of my pain. I’m too out of it to note the amount of blood being extracted from my veins, but all tests come back clean.

The doctor eventually sends me to radiography for a contrast scan, where iodine is injected straight into the veins. As it razes slowly and thoroughly through my body, I feel like I’ve swallowed hell. Even my vagina goes up in internal flames.

It has taken the doctor on duty the entire longest night of the year to finally discover an incisional hernia plus a bowel obstruction, curtesy of the contrast CT scan. Of course she admits me to the ward, and I finally get some sleep at around 4:30 in the morning. The surgeon comes to see me at breakfast, and tells me I’m to have nil by mouth since I’ll be in surgery in about 2 hour’s time. Yes, it is an unscheduled emergency surgery, so of course I freak out. So does my family in Tshwane.

This is the surgery that ended up taking two hours as opposed to the 45 minutes the surgeon had promised. It’s the one where he discovered two and not one hernia, of course including the bowel obstruction. And it is the very one that acquaints me to death.

All my loved ones surround me, and cloak me in certain unconditional Love. My eldest sister Maureen flies down from Gauteng to give me care, whilst the rest of the family rearranges in order to all hold wherever they can. This call to death was felt so strongly that my 12 year old nephew, Boipelo, the family seer, commands me in his sleep: “No Mmane Makgati. Stop It!” This my sister tells me when she arrives in Cape Town.

I am loved.

I lie fallow again in convalescence. Now my entire June and July have me hibernating, in stillness, listening to life. In that time I download wisdoms and guidance, and am given the next steps to take.

My next post will pick up from the one on Mama’s Death, and will integrate gifts received through her passing, as well as the lessons given in my almost encounter with death.

Thank you for reading.Ka Lerato 🙏🏾

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