A few weeks back, I nearly died.
I don’t mean this in any figurative sense. I. Nearly. Died.
I didn’t write about it close to the event, because it felt a bit glib to do so at the time. But now that we’re a few weeks out, I’m more of the mindset that “all’s well that ends well.” What’s more, I experienced something I don’t believe would have been possible had it not been for my visit to death’s door and back.
If you’re a regular here, you know that I experienced some prolonged and progressively worsening health issues over the course of a year and a half, from spring of 2015 until late 2016 — a situation that mystified specialists until I realized around Christmas time that I’d been severely overdosing on zinc of all things. That day, I cut zinc entirely. I even replaced my daily multi-vitamin with one that contained no zinc or other minerals. Within two weeks, all symptoms that had been plaguing me for so long subsided.
As fate would have it, my doctor decided to take a blood test before re-upping my regular thyroid meds — a dose that hasn’t changed in eighteen years. My research on the zinc situation had revealed that, along with everything else, too much zinc interferes with the uptake of thyroid meds. I had a feeling the test would come back wrong. It did. I suggested that we simply wait a few weeks for the excess zinc to be out of my system and then do another blood test. The doctor, however, decided that I was “way overdosed” on the thyroid medication — that after eighteen years, my thyroid must’ve started working again somehow, putting out some amount of its own hormone.
He cut the dose by 20%.
And within just a few days, I was so tired, lethargic and unable to focus that basic daily living became a struggle.
I began drinking bottles of 5-Hour Energy regularly, and even started into Red Bull for the first time in my life … just to stay conscious. And of course, that created its own set of problems.
While picking up my next refill of the lowered dose of thyroid meds at the pharmacy, I happened down an aisle that offered supplements claiming to boost metabolism and provide “natural energy.”
Anything had to be better than continually feeling that I was just waking up from anesthesia, or having the all-over body buzz and subsequent crash cycle caused by all the energy drinks.
I’d be willing to bet that you see where all of this is going …
I grabbed the black-and-gold box from the shelf and had the pharmacist ring it in with my regular prescription. Nary a word did she say by way of warning about the product as she punched it into her computer and I swiped my card. Nope. She sent me off with a smile and a “Have a good day.” And that was that.
Once home, I opened the box, read the directions and shook out the first of the magical pills that would surely finally solve my energy problems: two large, oval pills.
Yes, I know. Why wasn’t the fact that they were black my first clue that, perhaps, I shouldn’t take them?
I suppose I can only fall back on the fact that we all do stupid things sometimes in moments of desperation. And I was desperate.
Down the hatch they went with a few gulps of cold water. All there was to do now was to wait for that burst of natural energy to hit.
Within five minutes, I felt hot.
Within seven, my skin felt like the worst sunburn I’d ever had as a kid, especially my face.
Eight and I felt like my face was … swelling?
I went to the bathroom to see if there was any actual outward sign of what I was feeling.
The mirror showed that I was turning plum purple. The blood vessels in my eyes were breaking. I felt like I was on fire.
A moment later, my vision grayed as I felt hands around my throat choking me. This was what it must be like to be hanged.
Then my vision blacked out completely.
I tried to use Siri to call my mother. I couldn’t talk. My tongue was thick in my mouth. I couldn’t get a breath.
I was surprisingly calm, all the while thinking, I think I am going to die today. I never picture it being this way.
I knew the neighbor had left. No one was home downstairs.
I did my best to guess the buttons that would open the phone dialing screen and dialed 9-1-1.
I stumbled, sightless, to the kitchen and opened the freezer, snatching out every ice pack I had.
I lay on the couch, suffocating. I’d practiced my whole life holding my breath for as long as I could, since I have asthma, being able to function long enough to get to an inhaler … if I had to. But an inhaler wouldn’t solve this.
I packed my face and throat in ice.
I felt beside me on the coffee table for a pen and started to dismantle it. I’d read in a book somewhere about how to do an emergency tracheotomy. But could I actually go through with it? And on myself?
Just as my ears started ringing and my head and lungs felt they would explode, I eked in the first air in … I don’t know how long it had been. Not long enough to die, it would seem.
Slowly, the ice started to have an effect.
Perhaps fifteen minutes later, my vision returned, foggy at first, then clearing.
I was shaking terribly. But as you’ve likely deduced, I lived. Somehow.
I later realized that I’d dialed #-1-1. Close but no cigar, as they say. That explained why no one had come to the rescue.
I called my mother, a lifelong nurse. As I had suspected: anaphylactic reaction. She quickly researched the supplement and — lo and behold — there were scads of reviews from other users who’d had the same reaction or similar.
What an idiot, I scolded myself once more. The pills were pitch black, for crying out loud.
But once the crisis had passed, do you know what else I realized?
As I had lain there, faced with the very real possibility that I wouldn’t make it — that this was it for me — my life didn’t flash before my eyes. I didn’t think of all the people I hadn’t told what I’d meant to tell them, or the ones to whom I said things I shouldn’t have.
I wouldn’t say I was peaceful. I was as calm as I suppose anyone could be while still trying to think rationally about a plan to survive.
Dying is no fun. But what I realized in retrospect is that I had no regrets. I’d managed to poison my body in a rash moment — but across a lifetime thus far, I apparently hadn’t poisoned my soul.
So I lived. I’m rather happy about that.
But it occurred to me that perhaps the greater goal isn’t simply to live, but to live without regret.