Sweat stung my eyes as I took short, shallow breaths. I tried sucking in as much air as possible but the humidity wouldn’t allow it. Neither would my chest. My ribs were angry and rebelled against the idea of being forced to move when I tried to take the next ragged breath. Pain in my abdomen caused my entire body to convulse.
I closed my eyes to stop the sweat from scorching my cornea; it burned like tear gas. I moaned because my head and neck hurt. There was a ringing in my ears and I was having trouble thinking.
My fingertips screamed in agony from literally clinging to a wall, hanging on for dear life. They were in slight indentations either cut or worn into the wall. Without seeing them, I knew my toes were also in small notches. The random thought, “Holy crap, I don’t have any shoes on!” whizzed through my mind and into oblivion.
It was hot — humid and hot. Drenched in sweat, my arm and leg muscles tightened, straining with the exertion. I had no idea how long I’d been hanging on.
My head buzzed with voices. “Hit the red button,” they chanted. “Hit the red button.”
I quickly looked left then right, scraping my nose on the wall in the process. It felt like I wasn’t alone but I couldn’t see anybody. The voices sounded like they were right there; right beside me, but there was nothing, nobody. My brain was having trouble catching up to the movement! Vertigo hit me like a thousand-pound sledgehammer.
I could feel the bile beginning to churn in my stomach and climb up my oesophagus. I swallowed hard to suppress it. My throat burning from the acid, my taste buds flooded my mouth with saliva to dilute it. I swallowed again.
Turning my head slowly to the left, I saw nothing but wall. It seemed to curve around me. I reached out with my left hand and touched the wall just behind me. I realised I was in a tube of sorts. I could feel the wall about six inches behind me. I was in a thin, hot and sweaty silo.
I looked up and saw a pinpoint of LED light high above me. The light shone on a small grey box across from it. A red emergency stop button, the type you see on major mechanical and electrical equipment, stuck out from the box. The voices called to me, “Hit the red button!”
I had to get to that button, the quicker the better. I had no idea why it was important but I had to get there and the only way was up. The voices insisted, “Hit the red button!”
I reached with my left hand and felt another indentation. I moved my left foot and found another foothold. I did the same with my right hand and foot finding more along the way. I was exhausted, overheated. I wanted to stop but the voices called out, “Hit the red button!” I wasn’t sure why but I knew, with absolute urgency, I had to get to that button.
Exchanging handhold after handhold, foothold after foothold, half blinded by acidic sweat, my muscles racked with exertion, my ribs burning with every motion, I climbed higher. My fingers and toes ached with every movement. Sweat continuously poured into my eyes but I continued to climb. Shooting pains travelling from my toes to my hips, from hips to shoulders, shoulders to fingertips as I grunted and groaned my way up the wall. I bellowed my fool head off and cried out in anger and frustration.
I looked up and stopped moving, unsure of what I was seeing. I blinked twice to clear my vision. Just above the grey box with the emergency button was a huge metal door, like a watertight door that seals off compartments on a submarine. The huge locking wheel was facing me. My first thought was, “How the hell am I going to open that when I’m hanging here by my finger tips?”
I had just started to move toward the door when a blinding, searing pain ripped through my skull freezing me in place.
My first conscious realisation was of floating in a void of absolute blackness. I had the perception of slowly falling to the bottom. Of what, I did not know. Darkness? An abyss? Misery? Salvation?
Intrinsically, I knew I had my eyes open but my brain would not or could not acknowledge that fact. I couldn’t see. The complete absence of light was like being in an underground coal mine without my helmet light on. I had actually lived that experience but this? This was different.
No up. No down. No despair. No joy. My conscious mind was not able to grasp the reality of the blackness swirling around me, embracing me but not letting my body sense it. I knew I was part of it and it was part of me. It was like being in thick fluid that moved with me but I didn’t feel solid. I felt no fear, just peace.
My senses were disrupted, disjointed, firing off independently but not completely as if they were short-circuiting. I was surrounded by warmth yet it wasn’t body heat as if somebody was lying beside me. Slowly my mind recognised it was my own heat produced from within. And yet, it wasn’t.
Another bright flash behind my eyes produced a sound with a rhythm that I felt more than heard. It throbbed within me quietly without intensity. It was like listening to monks chanting in a large acoustically perfect temple. There were no words, just an indefinable throbbing like a beating heart.
As I struggled to comprehend what was happening to me and where I was, the throbbing became louder and more intense. Disjointed thoughts and visions shot through my mind so fast I could not get a grasp on what they were. Slowly, I began to feel my fingers. The tips became solid. The fingers and the rest of my hands solidified in front of me and I marvelled at them as if seeing them for the first time.
The moment my brain detected my hands, I was violently and unexpectedly wrenched from the depths of that warm, thick fluid and slammed face first against the wall. The pain was immediate, excruciating and racked my entire body from head to toe. All five senses fired up simultaneously demanding auto responses from my abruptly overwhelmed body.
I took a deep ragged breath fighting for my lungs to inflate. I just couldn’t get enough air! I exhaled as quickly and as forcefully as I could, expelling the perceived fluid that I thought filled my lungs. Another deep breath and this time I felt my lungs expand.
I opened my eyes. I could see the rough edges of the silo wall I was desperately clinging to. The light was much brighter. I looked up. The red button was only a few feet above me. The voices demanded, “Hit the red button!”
Without knowing how I summoned the strength, I scrambled up the wall obliterating the distance to the red button. The voices increased in intensity and volume as I grew closer, “Hit the red button!” I reached up with my right hand, curled it into a fist and hesitated. For a nanosecond, I wondered what was on the other side of the watertight door above me but I sure as hell didn’t want to stay where I was.
“Hit the red button! Hit the red button!” the voices continued rising with a crescendo like a million booming voices shouting all at once. My ears hurt. The pain throughout my body had ratcheted up as if somebody quickly turned a dimmer switch to the maximum setting. My agonising scream echoed up and down the silo.
I slammed my fist against the offending red emergency button with all my might, anger and built up frustration.
An alarm, sounding like the dive alarm on a submarine, echoed and ricocheted off the silo walls. A red light flashed on and off, a hypnotic strobe. The locking wheel on the massive door spun counter-clockwise and was flung open on massive hydraulic hinges when it unlocked. Brilliant white light immediately flooded the silo searing my retinas in the process. Then all went black. The voices were finally gone.
“Jim! Jim, can you hear me? Jim, wake up!” Somebody, a female, yelled in my right ear while shaking my shoulder!
“Jim, I need you to wake up!” I was too tired to open my eyes. Two, if not more, high-pitched alarms sounded nearby. They irritated me. They were out of sync with each other. While shaking me she yelled, “I need help here, bring the crash cart! Code blue”
“Wake up, Jim”, she yelled again. “I need you to wake up, now!” I tried moving my eyelids but they just didn’t want to move. It felt like a wet, heavy blanket covered me, smothering me. All I wanted to do was sleep but I forced my eyes to open just a crack. I rolled my head to the right to see who was shaking my shoulder and yelling at me. She looked familiar.
“Laura?” I croaked; my throat was so dry.
“Yes, Jim, it’s me!” she said. “You gave me one hell of a scare!”
I was aware of movement around me that I hadn’t noticed earlier. Hands reached out wiping my sweat soaked chest with a towel. Another set attached electrodes. Other hands took the soaking wet flannel blanket from my body while another set lifted my left arm to remove the IV line in order to take the shirt off me. I looked over at Laura, who was hooking up another IV bag.
“I’m sorry, Laura” I whispered and everything went black again.
Waking again, I was conscious of bodies and voices surrounding me. There wasn’t the same urgent energy within the room as before. It was calm, almost relaxed. I realised that my hospital bed sheets and blankets had been changed as well as my hospital pyjamas. The nurses had done all that while I had slept. I was dry and I was no longer sweating. The electrodes were still attached to my chest and I heard regular beeping from the monitors. Laura and another woman, a doctor in a white lab coat were speaking to each other. The doctor was holding two bags of something red.
Hoarsely, I asked, “Are those for me?” She stopped talking while turning her attention to me.
“Oh good, you’re back and yes, they are,” she said. She needed my signature to do the blood transfusion.
I looked at my left arm and saw there was already a second IV in it. Checking my right arm I saw the transfusion IV already prepped. I hadn’t felt a thing while I slept. They hooked me up and got the transfusion started.
I clearly remembered slipping and falling at home on Chinese New Year’s Eve in January 2017. Unable to do anything about it, I knew it was going to be bad. I landed on my surround sound equipment breaking the ribs on my left side and lacerating my spleen. If my girlfriend hadn’t stopped by and immediately driven me to the hospital, I probably would have bled to death in my apartment.
I was supposed to go into surgery to have my spleen repaired the next morning. However, the bleeding within my abdominal cavity was more substantial than what was first thought. As I continued bleeding internally, the build-up affected my lung and heart function. My blood pressure dropped to critically low levels. I was drifting away without knowing it.
I was in pretty rough shape, sweating profusely, heart rate continuing to drop, oxygen levels getting lower and I was about to have a heart attack. Laura, my night nurse, saved my life.
The next afternoon, the surgeon operated and saved my spleen. I was up and walking around the trauma ward the next morning. Albeit, slowly but I was up and walking. I went home 10 days later.
I revisited the hospital three separate times over the next four months to deal with multiple pleural effusions, a complication that made breathing very difficult. In total, they removed close to 7 litres of fluid from around my heart and lungs using chest tubes. It took me 9.5 months to return to work. Around the four-month mark of my recuperation, I figured out the voices were telling me to activate the nurse’s call button pinned to my mattress, which was within easy reach.
I’m a different person now. My environmental awareness is more acute. I’m astounded by what I notice, especially simple things that I had either ignored or not seen before. My appreciation for who and what I have in my life has increased considerably. I’m grateful for the ability to do simple things, like breathe. I will never take breathing for granted again.
Emotionally, there have been changes as well. I seem more sensitive to situations I experience. I empathise with people better than before the accident. I experience a distinct calmness when faced with tense or potentially dangerous situations.
Are there symbolic things within the story that will confuse some? More than likely. Writing this down took more time and effort than I thought I would spend. I had a very hard time describing the feelings I experienced while in each of those stages.
Will there be questions that some might not find answers to? Hell, yes, because there are still questions that I have about the whole experience that I doubt I’ll ever have answers to. It was like being in a dream; one that I remember nearly everything about. Most times, when I’ve had a dream I can’t give you many concrete details about it. This one was not a dream and yet, at the same time, it felt like it.
I’ve always equated the climbing of the wall within that silo as the place we, as individual human beings, place ourselves throughout our lives. The small silo-like tube, to me, represents the restrictions we put on ourselves either through experiences or perceived misconceptions about how our lives should be.
Being transported into that warm, fluid-like emptiness — I’ve come up with two interpretations for that one. It’s either taking me back to when I was in the womb, completely surrounded without experiences to disturb the peacefulness or I was placed in the void between life and death, a transfer point, if you like. I have no idea what awaited me on the other side of life. Somehow, within that void, I must have heard the call to come back and complete what I’m supposed to do on this Earth and consequently found myself back in the silo.
Once I hit that emergency button, I came back to consciousness in that hospital bed. The reader can speculate at that point how I got there or how I knew the nurse’s name. The fact that I came back from the doorstep of whatever awaited me on the other side is of significance only to me. The fact I’m able to experience joy in all the little things I used to ignore is even better.
When I spoke with friends and colleagues about what happened as well as the ‘dream’ I had, some said I experienced a near-death event. Others told me I was lucky to be alive, that I must have had an angel looking after me. And they’d be right. She came in the form of a nurse named Laura.
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