The first time I nearly died
Excruciating pain and infection oozing from my pores, and yet I still refused medical help.
It began not with pain but with sickness. I awoke and made it to the bathroom just in time before the vomiting began. It came from deep within; like my body was desperately trying to expel something it found particularly objectionable.
It was less than 24 hours since I had eaten a microwave meal of questionable quality and vintage, so I automatically attributed my symptoms to food poisoning.
When I was still vomiting 48 hours later, I started to wonder if my initial diagnosis had, in fact, been correct. When the sickness evolved into an excruciating pain in the lower right-hand side of my abdomen, I sensed the situation might be worse than I had originally thought.
Being a man, however, I refused to believe anything serious was amiss. I refused to go to the doctor, not out of fear but because the pain in my stomach was so severe that I could not face the prospect of being prodded or poked by a medical professional.
Four days in and I awoke to find a sticky yellow substance in my hairline. Five days in and that same substance was oozing from the pores on other parts of my body too. One of my children said, helpfully, that I smelled like I had died, and this was despite spending six hours in a hot bath trying to ease the abdominal pain.
On the sixth day, I was sat on the sofa and the pain was growing worse by the second. It built and built to an agonising crescendo when suddenly, something gave. I have never been stabbed but I cannot imagine a knife being forced through your flesh could be any more agonising. Yet, after that spike in pain, it felt like the worst had passed. I stood with relative ease. My eldest daughter found me unconscious on the floor an hour or two later. Yet still I refused medical treatment.
On the eighth day, my wife finally disregarded my protestations and called our local GP while I was shouting deliriously in the background that I didn’t need to see a doctor. (Unbeknown to me, the GP’s receptionist actually asked my wife if she considered herself to be in danger).
My wife drove me to the doctor’s surgery. And when I shuffled in, the doctor said: “Oh you are NOT well at all” even before he had examined me.
Fifteen minutes later, I was being greeted by a waiting crash team at my local accident and emergency department. They quickly determined that I had suffered a burst appendix compounded by peritonitis. That sticky yellow fluid seeping from my pores was an infection that had flooded my body cavity; and my organs were beginning to shut down.
The next few hours are a blur. I do remember being placed on a hospital bed. As two nurses lowered a cool, crisp sheet onto my fevered body, I recall thinking: “I can stop fighting now. Someone else has got this.” I received 16 litres of fluids via an intravenous drip over the course of a few hours before the medication and sheer exhaustion plunged me into a deep sleep.
What I didn’t realise was just how sick I had allowed myself to become. While I slept, my wife spoke to a doctor about my prognosis. The first words he said were: “If he makes it through the night…”
I did make it through the night. I made it through a severe bout of septicaemia caused by my bloodstream being swamped with bacteria. And I made it through a second brush with septicaemia after a tiny fragment of my exploded appendix flared up again.
After several weeks in hospital and several more weeks of recuperation at home, I took my wife to one of our favourite parts of London; Southbank.
We took the train and then walked a mile or two along the banks of the River Thames, basking in the autumn sunshine. But halfway back to our starting point, it became clear that my body was not yet fully recovered. I was literally unable to walk any further; I was spent. It would be more than a year until I actually felt well again.
It would be nice to think that was be my last brush with the Grim Reaper but, as you have probably gathered from the title of this article, it wasn’t. There were two more to come….so far.