I think it was either Benjamin Franklin or Jerry Seinfeld that said “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” It’s strange to consider that both taxes and death are in fact, a terrible necessity. Death in particular is one of those uncomfortable subjects we don’t like to discuss in everyday conversation. Its right up there with telling people you actually love Jalapeño poppers. Death is the one topic that is difficult to put into context and relate to, because once you’ve died, you’re not talking to anyone about it.
Of course, people do die and come back from the dead (sadly, not as zombies like so many of us secretly hope). No, it’s because they’ve been revived by the wonders of modern medicine. Brought back from the brink of oblivion by a combination of technology, timing and a little luck.
I am such a person.
I’ve died. I’ve kicked the bucket. I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. I am the parrot in that Monty Python sketch. For two minutes, my heart stopped beating. Now, two minutes seems like nothing to brag about, but when you really think about, it’s a lengthy time for your ticker to stop pumping. The human brain can only survive around six minutes before irreparable damage occurs.
Try counting two minutes now. I’ll be waiting…
It’s a long time right?
How did it happen? Well, in January 2007, I was living in Leeds, England and I was just finishing University. I was your average student. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. No direction. No real desire to grow up and get a job.
No real desire to even get a sensible haircut.
So, I was walking along with a pal on a Saturday evening when I stumbled off the pavement. Simple accident. I wasn’t watching where I was going. Could have happened to anyone. Usually you just get up and hope no one saw you fall on your arse. However, fate had decided that I was going to catch a bus.
Whether I wanted to or not.
BANG. Black. Silence. Nothing.
At this point, I had no idea what had happened. Or indeed, where my wallet was. In London alone, there’s one death every three weeks involving a bus. It was only after doing a bit of research for this post that I realised just how common an occurrence it is. It seems like such a blasé way to go doesn’t it. Embarrassing almost. Not quite dying-on-the-toilet levels of ludicrous, but it’s never going to be anyone’s top method to exit stage right.
To be honest, I don’t remember a lot. Certainly nothing before being hit. It was dark. Like a deep sleep that I couldn’t wake from. Noises coming and going. I lost all track of time and sense. Unsettling and disturbing.
There was no white light. No tunnel. No warm, welcome embrace of a forgiving afterlife. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. Just a whole lot of nothing.
A few days later, I woke up in intensive care feeling like I’d been hit by a bus. This is when the Doctor told me I’d been hit by a bus. There was a laundry list of injuries; three skull fractures, fractured cheekbone, seven broken ribs, ruptured spleen and a collapsed lung.
I was very lucky to be alive, they said. I was a young, strong, healthy (well, up until now) man. If I’d been a 9 year old child or an 80 year old man I’d have been killed off quicker than Firefly.
It was a long road to recovery. First, I developed ICU Psychosis, which is very trippy. And not in the in a Mickey Mouse Fantasia-good way. More a being forced to watch Karate Kid Part III repeatedly way. I thought ducks were trying to kill me. Seriously. Hallucinations are a standard part of the deal when you’re suffering from life threatening injuries, constant drugs and sleep pattern disruption. I constantly tried to crawl out of my bed and tear the life-saving equipment from my body.
I was a mess. My body was a mess. My life was a mess. My penis had a tube coming out of it.
I was at rock bottom.
But that’s the moment it clicked for me. Having all that time to lay around and think. If I’d died, what mark would I have made on the world? Nothing. I hadn’t made any kind of difference. I would be gone and nothing would really change that much. Sure my family and friends would be sad for a bit. Maybe someone might create a Facebook page. But in a real sense, I’d not done anything worthwhile. I had gone to university without having clear goals and was pretty content to just bum around hoping I’d fall into a career I’d enjoy. But it wasn’t enough now.
The thought started to terrify me that I wasn’t doing something worthwhile (in my eyes, if no one else’s). I thought about those people who made a difference to lives on a daily basis. People like architects, teachers and police officers. Those who make the choice every day to affect the lives of those around them. Whether it’s designing a new building for people to live and work in, to preventing domestic violence in a relationship.
That was something that had a tangibility that appealed to me now.
So during recovery, I made it my business to do something with my life. I’d been given the yellow card and it was time to live. First I wrote a letter to the local newspaper praising the NHS for saving my life (it’s always nice to be polite). Free healthcare is nothing to be sniffed at, especially when other countries will straight up bankrupt you for saving your life.
I had a think about what I wanted to do. I love Japanese movies. I love Japanese culture. I’ll move to Japan! It really was as easy as that. I was now starting to make decisions that would change my outlook on life. And it felt great.
I applied to teach English to students in Japan. Whilst there I taught children and adults. I loved it. I really did. Watching their smiles when they learned something that was going to be of real use to them gave me a great feeling.
I took part in a 3,000-man tug-of-war. I watched the sunset over Mount Sakurajima whilst dolphins swam below me. I travelled and did things that fulfilled me as a person whilst helping others. It was an amazing feeling which cancelled out the pain of that bus by a long shot.
Today, I work as a public servant, making a difference. I’m fully recovered. I’m much happier now than I’ve been in a long time.
It’s a real cliché but it took dying to really appreciate living.
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