Today is exactly a week ago that I literally came back to life. I was spending last Sunday Easter day my time with a good friend in beautiful city of lights, Paris, France.
It’s been exactly 21 years ago since I’ve been in this lovely city. My friend Octavio was coming to Europe and after deciding it wasn’t possible for us to meet in the Netherlands; we gave up the hope of seeing each other again.
Later on, I had the brilliant idea to fly to Paris and spend this long weekend with him. It was possible, and everything was arranged for us to spend this Easter weekend together. So I flew by plane on Friday afternoon and we met at the airport. It was quite an experience for me, since it was a long month since my bike accident and I wasn’t going out that much due to the injury in my knee.
Anyway, we spend some nice time together until Sunday.
Sunday I woke up with lots of energy and we decided after breakfast to catch some sun rays going to a nice park and made our way into the cosy Latin Quarter, where we decided to go to a small bistro to have some late lunch.
While we were waiting our food to arrive, I started to feel a bit sick. I couldn’t recall what was happening, but I had a lump in my throat, and could barely swallow any of my delicious tea. I thought that it had to do with the fact that I was starving from hunger, it was almost 15:00 and I didn’t have lunch yet (when normally I have lunch around 12:00). Then, I felt warm in my face, and kind of dizzy. The back of my ears started to itch and I felt I had some bumps there. My friend Octavio was talking and I couldn’t make out any word from what he was saying. But, still, I didn’t dare to say I was feeling so bad. Because the food was taking long I went to the toilette and decided to take a look at my face.
What I saw in the mirror scared me. My face was totally red and swollen, my eyes were really small and everything was itching. It felt as if my whole body was on fire, my sightseeing was blurred and I felt almost like fainting. I went back to sit and then I told Octavio I was not feeling ok. I told him that I wanted to go. He asked me what I wanted to do, and because I still couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, I said I wanted to go back to the hotel.
He paid and we stepped out. The moment I was standing up I realized my legs weren’t working with me, after my knee injury I was doing careful with my movements, but this was completely something different. My whole body was limp and when we went back to the street, my eyes were completely blurred, like when you stare too long into the sun and all you can see are stains in front of your eyes. My head was light and I had this horrible feeling in the middle of my thorax, like something closing and air was not getting in anymore. I tried to swallow some new air but nothing was working. I was falling apart, it was like I had too much drink but this wasn’t the case. I couldn’t walk, so I had to lean on my friend, we made almost 40 meters and came to a corner, perpendicular a big avenue. Octavio asked me to embrace a tree, but I was falling, my legs trembling and I was feeling unconscious. In my mind, still was a glimpse of consciousness, and this terrorizing feeling of not having any control of my body.
Finally I made it to a chair, a kind girl came to me with a glass of something really sweet, which I tried to sip and then some minutes later (I couldn’t recall on how long all this took) I was being helped to the inside of a small truck. This was actually a firemen sort of ambulance. Three young firemen were talking to me, half in English, and half in French. They were asking me things but I there were no words coming out of my mouth, I felt my words vanished, I had so much pain in my chest, words and air couldn’t come in or out. I was lying on a stretcher, feeling really cold and I could barely make out what were they talking about. I felt in panic.
Not long later a male nurse, with a long beard and beautiful eyes came and started talking a lot in good English. He explained me things, and everybody looked expectant to see what was going to happen next. I was having an allergy shock, a really severe one. They asked me what did I eat previously and everything I had was a normal continental breakfast and some chips and cashews at the park. They acted fast, and gave me some medicines (3 in total) to reanimate me. They were losing me.
At last, I made it through, everything was aching inside of me, I got a bad reaction to one of the medicines, my head felt as it was going to explode, my heartbeats raced up and I felt like throwing up. They were all talking and I was feeling completely out. The bearded nurse and the three young firemen helped me to lay on the stretcher of an ambulance which was waiting for me. They took me to a near hospital, the siren really loud and even with a police escort! It was like I was living in a movie!
We arrived to the hospital and they took me immediately to intensive therapy where they lay me on a bed. Many nurses and intern doctors came to see me; I was the only patient at the hospital on this feast day. They were all really kind and helpful, all making their best to speak some English and even some were trying Spanish as well.
A kind young doctor came to see me and explained me that what I had was an anaphylactic shock. The main cause could have been an allergy to the cashews. It was really weird because I’ve never had such an allergy before.
I’m a flexitarian, which means my diet is almost semi vegetarian, so tree nuts and peanuts are one of the main food ingredients in my diet.
Anyway, they have me totally connected to different equipment. It felt all so weird, I could barely move or stretch my arm; my left arm was connected to two different serum infusions hanging, with different equipment to measure my heartbeats, blood pressure and so on.
At this moment I was feeling better, I didn’t have the lump in my throat and my heartbeat was pacing up to a stable mode. But my blood pressure was still really low, lower than normal.
The doctor said I couldn’t leave the hospital until the next day, which it was something I wasn’t expecting. The following morning I was supposed to be flying back to the Netherlands. I couldn’t make it. With a severe anaphylactic shock after having medicines you need to stay minimum 24 hours in observation because you can fall to a rebound.
My friend came to visit me, his face was blank and he was looking really wasted. He then explained me how bad the situation was. He told me I was like a phoenix bird, reborn from its ashes. He said that if we weren’t on time to call the emergency service I was sure not here anymore. That due to the bronchospasm I was experiencing, I could not breathe in and out, blood pressure was extremely low and at that moment it was a matter or reacting fast. Otherwise, I would have been dead by now.
I felt completely blank. I didn’t know how bad the situation was until he told me so. At that moment I could only think about my children, back in Holland. I asked him to call some good friends and family of the father’s side of my children to let them know what the situation was and that I was not going to be able to be back in the Netherlands by Monday.
He left to go to the hotel to have some rest and make the calls.
I was lying in bed, alone with all my thoughts, feeling so awkward about the whole situation, how it was possible to be there after chewing on some cashews? My whole world almost collapsed, I was in an emotional shock. I felt like crying but there weren’t any tears coming out my eyes.
That night I couldn’t sleep much. Because of being connected to all this equipment, I couldn’t stretch my arms and my head was busy with thoughts, thinking about the whole trip, the whole day and my beloved children.
The following morning I was doing better, feeling tired but with new energy. It was like a life call. If I was going to think negative there were many things to think about. After the bike accident, now going through a life-death experience was too much to bear.
My life has completely changed from one day to the other, I now have a nuts allergy, which it really sucks, almost all food its been prepaired with nuts or in a fabric where they use nuts, which means I need to be really creative now on how I’m going to prepair my food and what I have to avoid to eat in order not to fall to this shock again.
I also got an adrenaline auto-injector which I have to carry with me all the time in case I get a shock again. The doctor explained me that once you have an anaphylactic shock you’re due forever in your life to be prone to it.
Allthough all this, I feel good. I feel like reborn. With new energy, feeling anew to the fact that I am still alive and kicking.
Monday in the midday the doctor agreed to let me go. We stepped out the hospital and the sun was shining.
We made it up to the Champs Elysees, still tired after such a life experience, I could realize how lucky I was. I think I never felt so alive in my life.
Later that night my head was spinning with all the thoughts. It was as if I couldn’t wait to wake up and live. The following morning I was wide awake really early and we decided to have breakfast and hit the city.
We finally made it to the Eiffel Tower; it was a warm and sunny day. And my thoughts were into the moment. I feel grateful that I was alive to enjoy every single moment.
It’s been tough, really tough. But today I feel really happy. I’m happy to be alive, happy to have this second opportunity to change my life for good.
That evening I went with the train back to the Netherlands. The following afternoon everything I wanted was to hug my children. All thoughts of despair, sadness and depression were gone. For good.
I was happy I could live to tell this story. It made my life richer and I now fully understand what it means to embrace life. How important it is to live fully in the moment. How much life gives us every day, every moment to breathe in and breathe out.
And from now and on, all I want is to be happy. Enjoying every moment, every single day of my life!
I realized this was my time to rise and shine. There wasn’t way back. The future was now and I was not going to waste any more second to start rising and feeling whole. It has been a tough lesson to learn. That from now and on, life is what I make it out of it, not more not less. No more fear. Even when it comes to those little things in life, like pursuing your dreams or telling the guy you like what your feelings for him are.
P.s. I want to thank the whole medical staff from Cochin Broca Hôtel-Dieu, Hôpitaux Universitaires Paris Centre. Thanks also to the fire brigade Sapeurs Pompiers de Paris (especially the young fireman with the beautiful green eyes), bearded nurse (and archeologist a.o) Demian and all the medical staff from the SAMU and the local police. Doctor Michael Thy, all nurses who kindly helped me and attended me. You were awesome! And also to the night service medical staff whom let me listen to some rock radio on the internet before going to sleep and the following morning! You rock guys!
*Live to tell is the title of a song from Madonna from the film ‘A close range’ with Sean Penn. It’s a beautiful pop balad and was one of the first songs where Madonna was singing in a serious way. From the album ‘True Blue’, released as a sinlge in 1986 was her first number-one on the Adult Contemporary Chart. The song is about being strong, and questioning whether you can be that strong but ultimately surviving.