My mother died when she was nearly 51. Now nearing that age when she last roamed the earth, I often wonder whether I will live longer than 51, or not. It is a strange thing to compare yourself to those who died before they were your age. Some expected it to happen, like my mother after having been ill for 2 years, but the majority of friends who died before my present age, did not see it coming, except in those last seconds.
Dying itself is easy. It is the road to death that often is difficult. The road to death is always life.
Sometimes death is preceded by suffering. Life and suffering, we cannot separate one from the other. The road to death is always life.
on a personal level
I came close, a couple of times this month – no more air / larynx blocked – and I know that this death would be like a candle losing its fire. Easy. Brain shuts down first when the oxygen gets low.
Unconscious when the heart stops beating. Within a couple of minutes, tissue starts dying. Usually brain tissue.
But first there is a short panic when you have stopped breathing, and no more air can get in. That panic is harder than whatever you feel on a physical level. But the second time that panic is no more. You just try to relax to get some air in. That has always worked, otherwise I wouldn’t write this, panic is counterproductive. If relaxing doesn’t work, a matter of seconds and you will lose consciousness. Perhaps there’s someone around to do CPR. To me Friday evening has been the most dangerous moment of the week.
There is also the possibility of a stroke. I warned my family. I have been coughing my brains out, literally. Blood pressure rising to killer levels when that suddenly happens. Blood vessels in the left eye have already given up. They know what to do and who to call when I might seem unbalanced or disoriented, or strange speech …
‘Consciousness’ loses vision, like a hexagon zooming out, creating a radiating but fragmentary view. Sometimes you see your body shaking from a different vantage point. You think, I have to get in that body again. Who is doing that thinking? Is it thinking? This is the brink of unconsciousness. This is what happens when the coughing is under control, but lasting too long, depriving the brain temporarily of oxygen. It’s not really dangerous.
This is dangerous: When I almost died in my sleep, 3 weeks ago, the ‘interrupt‘ tried decisively to wake me up. I was dreaming the strangest thing, about a dog with the head of Eddy Murphy, where Eddy is barking ‘wake up now’. Then I woke up from very deep deep down. And I realized that there was no more time to lose. I gasped for air. How long had I not been breathing? Must have been minutes.
February 2005: I walked on the road, coming from work, with something resembling a pneumonia, but under treatment and not contagious. Doctor had proposed 3 scenarios: hospital, home, work. I chose work: there is more peace there than at home or in a hospital, and I promised to listen to my body. But at a given moment I felt that I was using more oxygen than I was breathing in. So I realized that, and stopped my walk and waited a bit. Better to go and sit down so nobody would see me drop dead or worse.
April 2013: I start coughing like crazy while in the car. I know that this paroxysmal cough is capable of taking my consciousness for seconds. I now drive 130 on the freeway. Will I keep a straight line while unconscious? Better go for the break and move right as soon as possible. Then nothing happens.
Sometimes the moment looks right to die. You are again on that freeway, but now it is raining cats and dogs, and nobody is there! You have brand new tires, a million miles of experience and you want to see whether they will hold the road. So you go for 160. But there is always feedback and control. And then you slow down again, cause the rain has already stopped, and there is the most beautiful of rainbows. This is terribly irresponsible. But the kick of experiencing is sometimes necessary to keep one alive.
experiments in a far away past
July 2003: In Germany there is no speed limit on the highways. So you try out your new car driving alone to a customer. You go downhill, way past 200. A truck is moving to the left lane, far away, but so close in just 5 seconds. It takes many long seconds to break. Pure adrenaline.
Only one thought remaining: “Time to be a responsible father again.”