The Day I Didn’t Wake-Up …

Wow!  Now how Drama Queen is that title … but it is absolutely true!  Towards the end of August 1994 I had a “fatal” asthma attack.  The report hints that I “possibly expired”, my near-death experience and according to the medical reports of that week … I lost consciousness, stopped breathing and I woke up in ICU a week later.  It changed my life forever!

Recently I was asked by this amazing woman who survived a rare form of lung cancer - Heather! to write something for the USA Healthy Lung Month.  In South Africa, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s not too much of a stretch to link Lungs and Breasts … so let’s just raise the vibrational awareness around both!  Heather asked me to share my lung story … here it is …

My story (for me) was absolutely empowering – if unequivocally scary at the time.  Really for the people around me more so than I, because I rather dastardly took the easy way out and lost consciousness, losing seven days to the darkness.  An entire week … vacant.  Gone!  Nothing!  But let me start from the beginning.

I can’t remember having asthma before we moved back to South Africa.  The wrenching and emotional trauma of returning to Cape Town, triggered asthma in seven year old me.  Even today, that seven year old scared little girl comes screaming out when my “we don’t want to play with you” button is pushed!  I remember experiencing asthma for the very first time within the first week of our return to Cape Town.  I was devastated, I was seven years old and I couldn't breathe … it was April of 1980.  The move was my trigger but having said all of that, it was in my genes, our whole family on one side, were chesty folks, both great boobs and shitty lungs, it is something that has meant the end of many a grand and great grandparent (not the great boobs the shitty lungs).  It’s in our genes … we know, it is what it is.  I had even lost people to asthma attacks, who could not get to help fast enough.  But NOT I … I bravado’ed out.  I was not that group of delicate people who dropped dead so quickly … we were made of stronger stuff!  Stranger things have happened …

It was a very normal winter’s night in August 1994, crisp, damp and cold as Cape Town tried to survive winter.  My then fiancé Paul (now husband) and I had some rather strange nocturnal habits (keep it clean) and he took me home that Sunday night, well into the wee hours.  My chest was tight but I thought that as soon as I got home I would be fine.  I wasn’t.

I woke my sister (one of the heroes of this story) and could barely ask for help.  She phoned for an ambulance.  The local provincial ambulance service, before everything went private, told her that they would not be able to get to me for about 3 hours.  She bungled me up in her car and that was the last thing I remember.  Fortunately, by some stroke of blessing, a hospital had been newly opened down the road from us and my sister raced me there.  I lost consciousness en-route.

I had long hair back then and it was up in a pony-tail, while driving, my sister repeatedly grabbed my pony-tail and kept hitting my forehead into the (thank heavens) padded dashboard, to force me to breathe.  Accordingly to her, she pulled up in the ambulance bay outside emergency, called for help and the wonderful Milnerton Medi-Clinic staff took over.  My sister Bernadette told me, that I threw up all over a rather gorgeous Doctor – sorry for that doll – and they fought tooth and nail (literally my teeth were chipped, when they intubated me, in my unconscious state I fought them off – unaware and terrified) to keep me alive.  I am forever grateful to those unknown strangers … they changed shift before I could learn their names.

I don’t remember … anything.  I STILL remember the feeling of not being able to breathe.  I have a few vague memories of my father, my sister, my friend Dorothy, my then fiancé Paul and strangely enough my boss at the time, as I drifted in and out of consciousness in ICU that week … nothing else.  A week later, by a miracle of both the Divine and modern medicine … I woke up.  Lost, with no memory of the event.  To this day, almost 20 years on, I still don’t remember anything.

After piecing bits and pieces together over the following 2 weeks, I could regale that story fluently and with hilarity.  Even now, I could make people listening laugh … but not those nearest and dearest to me.  One day when I was regaling the tale, full of humour and gorgeous Dr’s, chipped teeth and banging my head on the dashboard, my fiancé pulled me aside and begged me … “please stop telling that story”.  I didn’t get it.  I even said to him, quite indignantly, “what’s up with you, it’s not like it happened to you” he answered me full of horror “exactly, I just got to watch, unable to do anything, utterly helpless”.  I rarely tell the story any more, other than here now, and I don’t do it with humour.  I do it now with awareness and fear … it could have been so very different.

Even then, it took a further week of rehabilitation, for the psychological effects of that week to really hit home and I had a melt-down in the middle of a shopping centre when it hit me.

So … what have I learned and what did my lungs teach me that fateful Sunday night …  so clearly the Friday before, I waved good-bye to our receptionist at work Marion and said … “See you on Monday“.  I didn’t.  I didn’t see her on Monday because I was fighting to stay alive in ICU on that Monday.  Afterwards, it hit me! 

“There is no rule that says we are here tomorrow!”

This near-death experience changed everything for me.  Soon thereafter, Paul and I traveled internationally, what were we waiting for?  We married.  We had children.  We really started living!

Now, I live unapologetically … I love more, I laugh all the time, even in the face of fear (particularly then).  I tell people when they look good and smell good.  I take moments to stop and see those beautiful pictures that our Divine Universe presents us.  I cherish my family and friends.  I am fiercely protective and loyal – those relationships are critical to me.  I feel deeply, both the good and the lessons.  I hug closer, I cry harder, I feel deeply.  That experience with my lungs made me live life fuller.  Now I drink from the fire hose of life.  Now, I MAKE IT COUNT!

Another thing it did back then was, I started actively taking control of both my lungs and the bits of my life that I could.  I started managing my lung health very carefully.  It turns out, after a few specialist visits that I actually am one of those asthmatics that die waiting for help.  Something known as a "Brittle Asthmatic" .  Quick, no warning, unstable (hahaha) and fast.  I don’t let it get there now.  I know the signs.  I protect my lungs ferociously!  I am that annoying family member and friend who will not sit in the smoking section of pub or a restaurant … but I am worth it.

My chest still constricts when I hear someone cough, particularly that phlegmy chesty cough.  And I step forward immediately begging folks to go to the Doctor because it doesn't sound good.

So this month’s theme for Zenith … is something I have said for all of 2014, October has raced up to us … but this month let’s make it real.  Zenith’s theme for the month of October is MAKE IT COUNT!  There is no rule that says we are here tomorrow …


What are you going to do this October that is going to protect something important to you?  Your lungs?  Your breast health?  What are you going to do this month that is going to make you start living???  What would it take for you to make it count?  I would love to hear from you …

Love you all madly!  Let’s Make 2014 Count!  For a whole 10 months we have been saying it … Lets MAKE IT COUNT!
Collette in Cape Town

Song of the Post … Stay with Me! by Sam Smith


To learn more about the rare form of Lung Cancer Heather beat read Mesothelioma

To learn more around Lung Cancer Awareness

To learn more around Breast Cancer Awareness!   Go and get checked!  Peace of mind!


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