The week before Christmas, I developed a urine infection. Because it was the weekend (of course), when I found bright red blood on my toilet paper I called the out-of-hours service for the UK, which now means dialling 111. After being asked a set of stock questions by someone who sounded extremely young and stated that she wasn’t a medical professional, I was told that according to my answers my infection wasn’t serious enough for me to see a doctor and I should wait until Monday and go in to my GP surgery.
About two years ago, I suffered a nasty allergic reaction to an antibiotic which I was given for a urine infection. This was clearly stated on my notes and the nurse I saw that Monday at my doctor’s surgery told me she was prescribing an antibiotic from the same family but that I “shouldn’t have a reaction”. Because she was the medical professional, I swallowed my qualms and decided to trust that she knew what she was talking about.
After that morning, I remember nothing for four days. Apparently, I did have an allergic reaction to that antibiotic, so stopped taking it on the Tuesday morning. By Tuesday night I was vomiting. By Wednesday morning I was delirious. My partner called 999 and I was taken to hospital. By the time we got there, I was going blue and my blood pressure had sunk to a dangerous low. The staff at A&E took one look at me and rushed me straight into resuscitation, where they battled to stabilise me (and save my life) for two hours. The infection had spread to my kidneys, and they had pretty much ceased to function. Because of this, the painkillers I take (which are pretty heavy-duty) were not being absorbed into my system and I was effectively overdosing. One hour later and I would have been dead.
I have no idea whether, if the 111 service hadn’t dismissed me and/or the nurse hadn’t given me that particular antibiotic, all of this could have been avoided. Suffice to say, it was a huge shock to me, my partner and my family, which we’re still getting over. Mercifully, I did not sustain permanent kidney damage, but my system received such a huge shock that I am still getting over the resulting fatigue.
As I’m lucky enough not to have suffered any long-term physical damage, it’s the emotional shock of the experience which has hit hardest. I nearly died. I keep saying this to myself and marvelling that this could have happened so suddenly. That I could well have slipped away without even noticing. Of course, this happens every day to millions of people all over the world – one minute they’re here and the next they’re not. But none of us expect it to happen to us, do we? Over Christmas, we sat and stared at each other. What the … just happened?! We went over and over the details of those few days, trying to make sense of it. How had a little bout of cystitis led to such a body blow?
For a while, everything in my normal life took on a special significance. I was so grateful to still be here that I counted my blessings every day, as I lay in bed recovering. And I discovered something. Being grateful for what you have makes you happier. For a good few years now, although I was abstractedly grateful for my partner, our grandchildren and all the other things which life has blessed me with, I was bogged down by the things which aren’t right in my life. There’s quite a lot of that too, and it’s normal for it to get you down, but I now believe that it’s just as important to look at the good things in your life as often as possible.
If my near death experience has given me anything, it’s reminded me of the importance of family, and the importance of all the little things which happen each day to make me smile or marvel at the world around me. I nearly had all those things taken away, so I want to appreciate them for as long as I can.