Lessons from a near death experience

What I Learned From a Near Death Experience

Back in March, I had what I would call a near death experience.

I think I can call it a near death experience even though I didn’t hover over my own body, my heart didn’t stop, and there was no white light or anyone from the other side.

I actually remember almost none of it and am going on the stories that were relayed to me.  There was a life flight, a chest tube, and the card on the flowers that my daughter gave me that said, “Mom, thanks for not dying!” All this evidence points me to the conclusion that it was, indeed, a near death experience.

I went to see the doctor for a very routine colonoscopy (I am a woman of a certain age).  The last thing I remember is handing my coat to Angel #2 (aka my daughter, also my ride home).  The story after that is that they couldn’t wake me up from the anesthesia so they gave me more drugs to get me out of it.  That apparently pissed me off and sent me into some sort of an agitated state but I would still not wake up and they decided to take me to the emergency room.  At the ER, the agitated state became more like an uncontrollable screaming rage.

It took six people to strap me down [OK…not going to lie…this part of the story makes me feel a little bit like a bad ass…tiny middle-aged woman needs 6 people to restrain her…not bad]  and they decide they needed to life flight me to the  Cleveland Clinic, about 45-minute drive away by car.

I spent the next three days in the Intensive Care Unit,  with all the fancy pieces parts you would see in a TV medical drama, the whole works.  What made my situation worse (for everyone else…because, again, I don’t remember) was that the Mister was away on business over a thousand miles from home. For the first time, my daughters had to deal with an adult emergency that should have fallen on the shoulders of their father but they stepped in until he got back.

Angel #1 met Angel #2 at the ER where they were forced to make decisions they thought they would never have to make and subsequently followed me to the Clinic.

This was a huge crisis for my family.

While the combination of drugs has erased most of my memory for those three days (at least the presumption as of now), I listened to everyone’s account of that day and have mulled it over.  I am a big believer that there is something to be learned in every situation. Certainly, a near-death experience is an important event to consider. I distilled it down to a few things.

I Can’t Control Everything

I already knew this.  You don’t live for fifty years without knowing it.  However, this lesson keeps popping up in my life.  It was another reminder; a rather big one at that. 

I am not obsessive compulsive about my things, in fact, I can be messy at times. Yet, I am obsessive about my time.  I abhor being late.  I become anxiety ridden if my schedule or my calendar changes at the last minute.  I like to plan things out in advance.  Life, unfortunately, doesn’t work that way.

This scenario was an absolute nightmare for me in more ways than just the obvious, it tampered with my carefully planned week:

*Angel #1 had to find a substitute for my class.  My not being in class upended the lesson plans and affected what my students were doing.

*It took 4-5 days out of my week and set me behind.  It took me a good three weeks to tie up the loose ends from that. Not to mention what I got behind on while I was catching up.

*Add in the extra doctor appointments I had to follow up with and I found myself in the middle of a panic stew.

It took a lot of meditating and prayers for patience for me to get through it (I am aware of how overdramatic that sounds but that is how stressful I find these types of scenarios).  The whole entire time I knew that one of the major lessons from this was to loosen up and learn to roll with the punches.  And some inner voice screamed that in my head for the entire three weeks I was trying to get back on track.

Lo and behold, everything is fine.  All the extra panic was for naught.

Patience, Anna.  You need to learn patience.

Time Invested in People and Relationships are a Good Use of My Time

In the last couple of years, I have been focusing on building relationships, both new and old.

I put a great deal of energy into maintaining and growing my relationships with my children as they became adults (Angel #1 is 24 and Angel #2 is 20). It appears that was prudent on my part.  They cared enough to help and they cared enough to deal with the toughness of the situation. This might seem like a given but, sadly, I have friends where this has not been the case. I was very proud of how they dealt with the situation in a mostly calm manner and they took over where they needed to.

I was also overwhelmed with gratitude that two nearby family friends immediately dropped everything to be with my daughters.  Not only was this very generous, it meant so much more because our extended family members live about an hour away from us in all directions.  They would have been alone for quite a while with no support if they had not shown up.

Speaking of family, there was a generous outpouring there, too.  They may or may not have taken over the ICU waiting room (I was told that at one point there were 17 family members and friends there).  This is also important to me because I have been putting in a concerted effort to grow relationships with my parents, my siblings, my nieces and nephews.  I don’t know if they ever recognized this fact but knowing they showed up to support my family seems like a good sign.

Having this information and outcome has made me determined to increase my efforts with my family and friends.

Time invested in people and relationships is a good use of time! Click To Tweet

Humor is Still a Great Coping Mechanism

I have always used humor as a coping mechanism.  I come from a family where this is pretty standard stuff.  Some of it is borderline inappropriate and I am sure many people (like my in-laws, who were not raised with such a macabre sense of humor) find it disturbing but it works for me and my family.  It breaks the tension and the stress. It works best when everyone joins in.

I believe that if you can laugh at yourself, all the better.  Apparently, I kept questioning if Angel #2 had changed her hair color (no, she didn’t) while I was in the hospital and asked it again once I was lucid so there is now a running joke about mom losing her ever loving mind over hair color.

If I hadn’t laughed for those first few weeks after I got out of the hospital with what I call ‘swiss cheese brain’, I could have easily gotten depressed and worried that there was permanent damage or that it had sent me into early Alzheimer’s.   

Humor won’t cure anything but it can keep me from going to some very dark places.

Living a Life I Am Proud Of

Once I reviewed where my life was at this point I made the great discovery that if I had, in fact, died that day, I would have left with no major regrets (there are still a few foot-in-mouth moments that I would rather forget).  This was a huge relief! I had been fearful to examine this and worried I would find some gaping hole I had ignored or neglected.

Now, don’t get me wrong…I have so much I still want to learn and do and experience…but none of it is because I put something on hold or because I was afraid or was just too lazy to do it. I have been learning and doing and experiencing my whole life.   I have plans on staying on this earth as long as I am able to keep doing those things.

I realized how important it was for me to live a life I am proud of.  I think I am doing it.  Just like the relationships in my life, it inspires me to reach for more and live congruently.

The Very Best Thing I Learned

The best thing that I came away with is that I am loved and cared about. It wasn’t news to me, just confirmation. But It silenced that stupid little insecure voice in the corner of my mind that questioned my impact on the world.

My husband and my children love me.  I have friends I can count on.  I have extended family that obviously care (whether they admit it or not, lol).  That to me is success.

I love my life and grateful that something so negative can inspire me to do more positive. This feisty woman has a lot more in store!  

photo credit: Robert Kenny

What have you learned from a dramatic event in your life?

2 thoughts on “What I Learned From a Near Death Experience

  1. Kristin Wong

    OMG! Anna! Thank you for being alive and well!! I am so sorry this happened. It sounds like you learned a lot of really powerful lessons. It sounds like your daughters really pulled through in a time of crisis, too. (Go ladies!). I’ve always thought of you as kind of a badass so this solidifies it 🙂


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