Monday, November 23, 2015

How many lives?

These are the anecdotes I love to share with my children to remind them how lucky they are to be here.

I’m not sure if it is just me, but there is something about knowing that I am definitely on my last life that triggers the memory of the number of times, through sheer luck, I have ducked when the grim reaper came to call. And these are just the times I know about.  

The earliest episodes for me are lost in childhood amnesia but the stories were often told.

When I was a baby, my birth mother was apparently mentally unstable. I’m not sure what that means. The description given to me was much harsher. However, in those days stigma of mental illness was even greater than it is now, and treatment was even poorer. I cannot even imagine the demons that were fighting in her head. One day, she just packed up and left her husband and children and disappeared into the silence of a world where you could leave no digital footprint. Over the years, I have truly valued my mental health and it remains an open question if I would have survived physically and mentally had she stayed.

At three years old, I had just been adopted. I was playing hide-and-seek with my siblings one evening while we were vacationing in a remote area on the coast. The cottage we stayed at was near a cliff that plunged about 100 feet in a steep drop to the waves crashing on the rocks below. My siblings went inside and no one noticed I was missing for a few hours. When it came time for bed and I could not be found, everyone went to search. At about midnight they eventually abandoned the search. Next morning, I tottered to the cottage and pointed out the bush I had slept under all night. It was just 50 yards from the edge of the cliff.

I was five or six when my brother and I woke up early one morning to play with fireworks. We didn’t want to wake the parents so we walked a bit away from the house. My brother lit the fireworks and then accidently lit my clothes. In a few seconds, they were blazing. Fortunately, my nanny was not far away and saw me. She stripped off the burning clothes before too much damage was done. I have only a small scar on my side and even that has just about faded.

I was born before the measles vaccine. Now, there is a Zulu saying that you don’t count your children before the measles. I was one of those children who should not have been counted. As I struggled to breathe from a secondary pneumonia infection, the priest was called. My parents were not religious people, but the fear of a child dying without the necessary last rites scared them. The scars left on my lungs have given many a radiologist pause.

No one knows how I contracted infective hepatitis (Hep A) at 11. There were three of us that did in our town. Two were siblings and I had nothing in common with them. One of the siblings died. I was at bedrest for six months. The only long-term effect was that I have never been able to drink more than the smallest amount of alcohol and of course, I was banned for life from donating blood.

I used to work as a surgical intensive care nurse. It was extremely stressful as I dealt with knife and bullet wounds, patients who had been thrown out of moving cars, and regular open heart surgery cases. Sometimes, we were called to give evidence in court.  I never thought of it as dangerous until I was stalked by a man accused of murdering one of my patients. He confronted me in a parking garage and informed me that I was not to testify at all about the patient unless I told the story he would give me. Or else. The next day, I gave a deposition and booked a flight to Europe.

I don’t have fond memories of Italy. While in Italy, I was walking along a quiet road when suddenly a group of young men with knives surrounded me. Fortunately, I spotted an older man carrying a walking stick and I ran up to him as though I knew him. The hooligans melted away. He was from their village.

My second son was a few months old and my husband was driving. I was sitting in the front passenger seat. The little one was strapped in his car seat at the back but he was restless. We were in the middle of the city so I got out and went to sit in the back to distract the baby so that my husband could concentrate on driving. My husband stopped at the red light and when it turned green, checked that nothing was coming and moved forward. Suddenly a car driven by a drunk driver came storming through the red light and hit the front passenger side, crushing it into the driver’s side. We walked away from the accident unharmed but there was nothing left of the car. The police offers all agreed that I could not have survived if I had not switched seats.

I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer just over two-and-a-half years ago. Every morning when I wake up, I punch the air in victory. I survived one more day. But I also punch in frustration because my death is just another unnecessary death. So much money collected in the name of finding a cure has been squandered on broken promises. The war we have now been conscripted into is not for our own lives. It is too late for that. We are forced to fight for women who will come after us. We are forced to stand up and say no to the idiotic pink ribbons and expose the scam that will result in 521,900 lives discarded in the wasteland of greed and apathy every year. 

1 comment:

  1. You are a miracle, and yet I have to say life seems to owe you something good for all the close calls and times you were ignored. I glad for the good things you have, and May life give you more good things.