I’m no longer scared stiff after ‘dying’ for 15 minutes
Two weeks ago today I was dead. Literally. A complete stranger pulled me out of the surf at Coogee beach. I had no pulse. I was blue. My lips were deep purple.
Two other strangers came to assist, one with piercings, the other in a soccer jumper. Another stranger, whose second language was English, yelled, “Blue Lady! Blue Lady!”, pointing to me. These strangers worked together, lying me on my side, clearing my mouth and pumping my lungs.
Luke, a lifeguard on the job for just six weeks, ran towards us. The stranger who had pulled me from the water was by my side, his name was Neil. Luke knelt down and began CPR. Still no pulse. Luke kept pressing my chest, never faltering, counting and breathing all the way. Neil used Luke’s radio to call an ambulance. Another lifeguard, Matt, joined the group to help.
More strangers helped, a nurse and another, bringing oxygen and a defibrillator to the beach. Another identified himself as a physician, he began administering oxygen. Luke kept pounding away on my chest with more water shooting from my mouth, with so much water and foam inside me I looked six months pregnant.
Luke kept pounding and pounding. Minutes passed. Still no pulse. Luke’s arms were cramping but he kept going. Neil held my hand and assured me, repeatedly: “It’s going to be OK; it’s going to be OK”. The defibrillator was activated but couldn’t get a reading.
Luke kept going, pushing down on my chest. By this time his arms were really tired, but he kept going. Volumes of foam and water kept coming from my mouth. Luke kept going. The growing crowd of strangers were all working together to help save the blue lady on the beach.
Neil, holding my hand felt a pulse, a faint ‘boom-boom’ and then another one, ‘boom-boom’ and then in a big rush my heart starting beating, ‘boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom’. The blue lady had come back to life. The paramedics arrived. After a shot of adrenaline I was bundled off in an ambulance and taken to the Prince of Wales hospital.
Luke, Neil, the physician, nurse and the group of strangers were left on the beach. Me, I was unconscious, in a coma and no-one knew who I was. The Maroubra Police tracked down where I lived through the real estate agent whose tag on my keys allowed them to piece together who I was, where I lived and my next of kin.
On a ventilator in ICU, I regained consciousness. That’s when I saw the frightened faces of my family and friends, some of whom had flown from interstate. Everyone, including the brilliant doctors and nurses, were amazed I was alive and speaking. The word ‘miracle’ was used a few times.
The MRI showed no brain damage. The chest x-rays showed water subsiding. After tests for cognitive and motor skills, I was safe to go home, five days after I had died and been brought back to life.
The missing part of this story is how I ended up as the blue lady, floating face down in the ocean, clinically dead.
I had a seizure in the water. My name is Cassandra and have had epilepsy for the past 20 years of my life. Other people describe me as strong and courageous. I describe myself as a mum, a professional writer and corporate communicator.
I am also a funeral celebrant. And I am an author, about to publish a digital book on autism that that my 9 year-old autistic son illustrated. The book is called, ‘My Name is Max, I have Autism’, explaining autism in kid’s language, at the heart of which is being the same but different. It will be available on Amazon and iBooks shortly.
Four months ago I undertook professional training that gave me the qualifications to hold funerals: adhering to protocols; composing the order of service; recommending readings; writing eulogies; and often delivering the whole service.
I put together a website outlining my commitment as a funeral celebrant to doing justice to a life, to articulate what defines us - who we are and what is important to us - family rituals, special meals and fun times with friends.
The irony is not lost on me, that I have now had the very personal experience of dying. I have been asked what I saw on the other side, I can confidently report a big fat nothing, like being asleep without the dreams.
As I encourage others to face fears, of death, of rejection, of prejudice and autism, this is the first time in my life I have publicly acknowledged my epilepsy.
I am on medication but why I have epilepsy remains a mystery. I have been reticent to speak about my epilepsy, fearing other people’s reactions and prejudice. Some I have told reacted badly, reinforcing this reticence.
If I had been less ashamed, I would have worn a MedicAlert bracelet - it could have helped saved my life.
Fear has lost its grip on me and, like autism and death, I now feel a responsibility to tell my story to help others to acknowledge theirs. I now have the courage accept many things - my responsibilties, my dreams, my hopes and my illness.
I now have more courage to redream and reimagine my future as the courage of strangers has given me the courage and opportunity to pay back the kindness of strangers.
We all have afflictions and fear. In that sense we are all the same, just different. By talking about them, we can break through cages of fear, mitigate dangers and enrich our lives. Thanks to the courage, vigilance, and generosity of strangers, working together, I now live.
My experience has reinforced my belief that we should make the most of every moment we live: to spend time with friends that understand us for who we think we are; to discern what we can mould and where we need to accept what cannot be altered; to forgive and be tolerant of difference; to learn from love, sorrow, books, art, travel and music; to accept that not everything which makes us feel better is good for us, and, not everything that hurts us is bad; and, to ultimately be honest with ourselves about who we are.
The unconditional love of my dear family and friends makes my life all the more precious, now even more so, with two new friends who used to be strangers.
Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2013
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