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The birthday that changed my life

Well, what a birthday!

It was an interesting birthday week. 23rd of April 2018. I turned 55 on Monday, and by Saturday was in an induced coma. Now, I’d like to say that this was due to unbridled and wild celebrations. However, the truth is much more boring, in a life or death kind of way.

I got sick.

But, let’s go back a bit.

Up until this point, those preceding 55 years, I think it’s fair to say, I hadn’t lived an exceptional life. I grew up in a loving family in the burbs, and enjoyed a typical miss-spent youth. I’d been married twice, once successfully, I was the father of two daughters, now both successfully all grown up, and I barracked for the less than successful St Kilda, all my life.

In my spare time, I loved cooking, eating, drinking wine and sport. My love of cooking, quite literally, fed my love of eating. My love of wine, well anything alcoholic, was well catered for. I played cricket and football up until my late twenties. Persistent knee injuries curtailed playing competitively into my 30s. And, while not the greatest of golfers, I wasn’t the worst. At that stage I thought my greatest handicap was that I was left-handed, half the time. A trait that I think I gained from my grandfather, was that while I was a right-handed, when it came to knife play, writing and throwing, anything that involved two hands, I was left-handed. Batting, golf, even kicking, I was a lefty.

Work wise, for the past 27 years or so, I’d listened to people complain. From dispute resolution with the Banking Ombudsman, to receiving and investigating Spam complaints. For the last 12 years, I was an Investigator with a Federal Government Agency, shiny badge and all. Whilst most of that time was sitting behind a desk, handling complaints and investigations, every now and again, I’d be taking it to the streets, flashing the badge and chasing baddies. Sometimes exciting, but overall, I was just another public servant, your taxes, at work.

So, not an exceptional life, but, as it turns out, I am, an exception. You see, in the days [or weeks] leading up to my birthday, I somehow contracted meningococcal disease, and it didn’t kill me!

Meningococcal disease is a serious illness that usually causes meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) and/or septicaemia (blood poisoning). Between 5 and 25 per cent of people carry meningococcal bacteria at the back of the throat without showing any illness or symptoms.

These bacteria are spread by respiratory secretions, the technical term for coughing, sneezing or kissing. I can assure you all now, at 55 I wasn’t kissing anybody! I was pretty much keeping my respiratory secretions to myself. I assume I was coughed on, that’s my story, I’m sticking to it.

People with meningococcal disease become extremely unwell very quickly.

Yes, I got sick. I got sick for around half a day.

The week itself was, sadly, very normal. [wild birthday notwithstanding]. I went to work each day, and I came home. On the Thursday night, I remember cooking fried rice for dinner. My wife, from my successful marriage, the ever charming Miss Debs, and I ate, we drank some wine, and we went to bed. All very normal.

However, at around 2:00 Friday morning I woke up. I was hot, I was shivering with cold, I could not get comfortable, I was sweating like a pig. At 2:30, I felt a far distant, familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach. I stumbled out a bed, made it to the toilet and vomited, profusely. Sorry for the graphic details. Well, I thought to myself, whatever that was, I’m rid of it now. In truth, not really. The next 12 hours or so was a situation of rinse and repeat.

By around 8 that night, the ever present, and assuredly patient Miss Debs, decided that I was not quite right. Being a bloke, I assured her that, if I still felt ill in the morning, I’d go and see a doctor. Not to be persuaded, Miss Debs rang nurses on call. My long suffering wife explained my symptoms to them, chatted a bit, listened a bit, and then briefly passed the phone to me to discuss my plight. They told me, in learned tones, that it sounded like I had contracted a gastro bug that was all the rage at the moment. They suggested that I’d be fine by morning and asked for me to hand the phone back to Miss Debs. They gave her a slightly more concerning opinion about what was going on with me.

They told her that they had already called an ambulance, and that it was on its way. They explained to her that while they couldn’t diagnose exactly what was wrong over the phone, it didn’t sound good, and it was best that I be taken with all haste to the local emergency centre. Just to be sure.

You see, the thing with meningococcal disease is that if it’s not diagnosed and treated within 24 hours of infection, simply put, you could die! Up to 10% of people who contract it do.

Well, the ambulance came, but at this stage I was in a state that swung between delirium and, what I thought of the time, was the most pain I would ever experience. Don’t get me wrong, there was that little boy in me that was quite excited to be in the back of an ambulance, lights and sirens, racing down the road. But overall, it’s a trip I hope none of you ever need to make.

In the ER the doctors conducted all manner of tests on me in an effort to discover what was wrong. In technical terms they said ’… you are one sick puppy, but we’re still unsure what it is. What we’d like to do is give you a shit load of drugs, and hope that we get the right one. Not knowing what effect this may have, we'd prefer it if you were asleep…’

Fine, I thought, give me some anaesthetic, give me the drugs, i’ll wake up tomorrow and go home. What I didn’t realise was their idea of sleep was a coma. I stayed in that coma for almost a fortnight. When I did awake, my world was a dramatically different place.

Now, there was some good news. I didn’t die. The second dose of that shit load of drugs given was a meningococcal anti-body. It killed that sucker dead in its tracks. End of story.? I think the phrase is ‘but wait, there’s more’! Unfortunately, while busy not dying, septicaemia had raised its ugly head.

Septicaemia, or the ‘bitch’ as we came to refer to it, is an insidious thing. Basically, when the body realises that it is under attack, and that your blood is poisoned, it does all it can to protect the ‘vitals’. It does this by sending all of the oxygenated [the good] blood to your heart and to your brain. Everything else is thrown under the bus. Good blood is no longer sent to your extremities, so, your fingers and toes are the first victims. As time goes by, your arms, legs and other, kinda important organs join the list of casualties, and shut down.

While peacefully unaware, comfortable in my coma, my legs and arms started dying, my kidneys packed it in, and, just to add to the fun, I had a heart attack. Big tip, if you are ever going to have a heart attack, it’s best to be surrounded by medical professionals.

But awake I did, and the next eight months was spent in various hospitals undergoing a multitude of procedures, nips and tucks, a plethora of drugs, the subsequent drug induced psychosis, and enduring some of the worst food known to man.



I'm John

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