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A Brush with Life
14 days ago, I was dead.
The surgical team fought hard and shocked me rudely back to the operating table. Choosing not to proceed with the second stent in my heart, in case I refused to come back next time.
That Friday morning was typical enough. A possible flu bug I was fighting but nothing untoward.
I went to fetch something for lunch in Holland Village and felt a little dizzy. It was a hot day, and perhaps I had overdone it a little at the gym earlier.
I decided to sit a while by the MRT entrance and let the dizziness pass.
I stand to my feet. I haven't got time for this. I need to be getting on with things.
The next thing I know some guy babbling over me. Voices. Where the heck am I?
No, I don't need an ambulance. What. Of course, I'll be fine let me just sit up.
There's a ten ton elephant sitting on my chest.
Invisible, true, but sure is heavy.
More voices. People milling around. I see feet; I hear questions. I think I answer.
Water, oh yes, I need water.
I lift my head, or no; someone is lifting my head. A calming male voice. Brit I think, seems to know what he's on about.
They splash cool water on my neck and forehead. Oh so cold, oh so delicious.
I'll be OK; I'm just over hot. I fainted. That's all.
I ask someone to call my wife. She goes to find a phone from someone. I'll call her ‘Red'; I don't know her name, but I think I see red and a tatoo. I babble the number. How did I remember that?
People are beginning to sound serious. There's even an ambulance on the way. And now it seems a GP by my head. I hear stroke, I hear heart attack. I hear myself saying, “not now.”
The ambulance arrives, and I let myself be taken by the professionals. I'll come quietly. As if I had any choice in the matter.
Somehow my brain still thinks it has some charge over the rest of my body.
By the time we reach NUH a few minutes down the road, the heart attack diagnosis is favourite.
A few minutes later I'm staring at machinery and white ceiling tiles of an operating theatre.
A woman in blue comes to me explaining something about risk, stents, sheaths, and by-passes and blockages and the 1% here, 5% there… would I sign consent here. I have never met any of these people before in my life. And without truly understanding what I was signing, I signed my life into the hands of complete strangers praying to the Lord that I was leaving Him in charge, so He had better get it right.
I got to think all this and wondering how it is we trust some people so readily, and then I had to focus on shifting off a stretcher onto a cold metal table. A feat that was more effort than it should be.
Someone asks me about pain. I have no words to describe this. On a scale of 1 to 10 – it is unbelievable, off-scale.
They give up on going in through my wrist and start to shave my groin. What!!?? You want to shave me where? Do whatever you have to and get his elephant off me. As far as I know I wasn't saying all this by the way. I believe that I was still polite and agreeable… but heck I was being crushed by a 10 ton elephant so anything is possible.
I'm praying and calling on the Lord to guide the surgeon's hands, and speak Psalm 23 out as I focus on what I think is an X-ray box. There's something creeping inside me and a disembodied voice calls out numbers and strange utterances through a radio as someone in the room repeats this and then there's another feeling somewhere, but where, what's happening?
I have rested by the still waters and head off to the valley of the shadow of death, and there I am. In the valley – floating and then up, up, up, absolute pitch black, yet it's light. How weird is that? Total darkness yet completely filled with light. It's not frightening. It's weird and nice. And then I see people, hundreds of people, and I know them, but I can't place them.
And then I see the source of the light. In the distance, and it is golden white. And I know why people think it is a tunnel of white light. But it's not a tunnel. It is everything. Everything is pitch black… yet everything is light. It's not that you can't see. It's that you don't see the same way. I float on towards the source of the light. It's a long way off, and I just know that's the light is Jesus. But first there's all these people. And I know them, and they know me. It's almost that they are cheering as I come to the end of the race.
Then there're seven people in front of me. They are not by the sides; they are in the middle of the road… if it is a road. They are walking. And rather purposefully too and they don't look too pleased to see me. I know them. But I don't. I can't place them. The woman in the middle is so familiar yet so elusive. And the man beside her, tall, and slim and athletic. Then I see another couple; he is shorter, but oh that presence and the beauty beside him… now she is really angry.
The two women push their hands, palm out toward me; they are coming faster, rushing now, and they are going to shove me back. I am not allowed in. And I turn one glance back and WWWWAMAMMAMm!
It's OK John. It's OK.
I ask where I am now. I was happy. I was comfortable. I was nearly home.
The operating team decided not to continue with the second stent now. They don't want to have to zap me again.
Oh, it was so tempting to just let go. However, it seems my mum, dad, Blanche and Alan know that there's work still to be done. I didn't recognize them immediately because I'm not exactly used to seeing my mum strutting, young and quite so forceful. And as for the thought of enduring Blanche and Alan working as a team on me again… so I am back.
What's the work? I too am excited to go and find out… not too excited of course just yet, don't want to go exploding any blood vessels…
There's much I have learned since that Friday morning:
• Quitting a 46 year long smoking habit Cold Turkey hurts, but less so than a 10 ton elephant!
• Making an impact and leaving a legacy cannot wait.
• Death is a moment and not a problem… it is surviving and I thank God that I will recover fully.
• Cutting fun things like cheese, butter and eggs from your diet is actually pretty brutal. At least it is for an Englishman.
• And change, really is hard.
I shall use the experience to ensure it profits others and become a better coach because of it.
My thanks to so many people who have prayed for my recovery, for your thoughts and well wishes.
Special thanks to the angels in Holland Village. I owe you my life, truly.
To the team at National University Hospital, Singapore – may you continue to impact lives daily with professionalism and real care.