What does it feel like to almost die? Is it hot? Cold? Do you see a loved one who’s passed? Is there a sense of panic, or is it calm? An experience like this tends to change a person’s outlook on life and future plans: it’s an appreciation alarm clock that chimes loudly and causes an awakening. For some, the aftermath proves a needed breath of fresh air. For others, it can be a trigger to turmoil, stress, mental illness and PTSD. And for someone who has experienced as near to their final hour as it comes, what’s next? What happens the day after you almost die?
As a whole, we don’t talk about death or experiencing near-death enough. Disney and Pixar’s beautifully animated Coco provided us with a much-needed platform to talk to children (and adults alike) about life and the eventuality of death. The movie has tender moments that show death as a beautiful part of life; not as something to be feared. The skeletons portrayed are not frightening, they are ornate and fascinating. Nevertheless, the idea of saying goodbye to friends and family – not to mention the thought of the unknown – is a difficult process. It’s difficult to know what a person really goes through when death comes knocking, but being more open about our experiences can help to develop a better understanding and appreciation of life while we’ve still got it. Here, five brave IMAGE readers recall the times where it seemed a one-way ticket to Death Valley was inevitable…
Back in 2013 I was living in Melbourne and had decided to ring in the New Year with my boyfriend at a music festival in Tasmania. We arrived very under-prepared but thanks to a series of fortunate events, a local Tasmanian man agreed to lend us his 1970’s Volkswagen camper van for the week. We used this to travel around the island after the festival, and it served us well. However, the day when we had to drop the van back to our Tasmanian angel was the hottest day recorded in 100 years (46 degrees), and there were bush fires ravaging throughout the island.
With about an hour to drive before we would reach the next town, my boyfriend pointed out that the mountain we were driving alongside was practically turning into Mount Vesuvius. He thought this was all very exciting and went on to shout “AND IF THE WIND CHANGES, THAT FIRE IS COMING RIGHT FOR US!”. If I hadn’t been sweating enough already, I was practically drowning in it from the stress of the situation, which only heightened when I looked down to see that our petrol dial was at red. We had no petrol and we still had another hour to go driving alongside a mountain that was lit up like a Christmas pudding, it felt like the heat was literally singing my eyelashes.
This was it. I was going to die a sweaty, shrill mess. The only thing that kept me somewhat sane was praying to my deceased granny – she was my only hope at this point. Against all odds, this actually seemed to work, because we made it to that next town, driving for an hour on a completely empty tank. By the time we rolled into the first petrol station, the sky had turned a dull pink and it had started to rain ash, it was like Armageddon. We were surrounded by cars packed to capacity with people’s most precious belongings, people’s who joined us in gawking up at the inflamed distance, stating that their home had been gobbled up amongst it all. That certainly put things into perspective.
Geraldine Carton, Dublin
Death by cattle grid
I was on a camping family holiday to Achill Island with my family. I was five at the time and loved playing rough with my older brothers. One of them decided to take their little sister (me) on a bike ride through the campsite; which was surrounded by fencing and cattle grids because the majority of the area was farmland and had lots of livestock.
We got to one of the cattle grids on our bike and my brother decided to be brave and cycle over it. For non-country folk; a cattle grid is a large concrete hole in the ground with metal bars going across to stop animals escaping or entering the land. My brother made it over on the bike with ease but I stalled half-way across the grid and slipped. My tiny legs slid straight through the bars and I was dangling for dear life. My brother, unaware I was trapped, cycled ahead. I was screaming but no one could hear me and, then, a jeep came up and drove straight over me. Thankfully, the driver saw me just as the bonnet of the car slid over my head. We had to get a lot of butter and the jaws of life to release my legs. Naturally, I’ve never been on a cycle with my brother since…
Poisoned by my own body
It started as tonsillitis – a run-of-the-mill kind of thing. I was taking antibiotics and wasn’t feeling right: it was as if they were making it worse… One morning I woke up with a mouth as dry as Weetabix with not enough milk. I took a sip of water and tried to swallow, but I couldn’t. I rang my mam who was in work at the time and tried to tell her how I was feeling but struggled because I couldn’t catch my breath. She called an ambulance for me and I was rushed to a breathing machine and down to theatre. It turns out that my body rejected the antibiotics and developed something called ‘Quincy’; which is an abscess that grows on the tonsils as a result of the initial infection and reaction to the antibiotics. It was full of toxic fluid and had been pierced slightly and the toxic fluid began oozing into my body. They had to lacerate the abscess with me in my full senses because I had to be able to feel where and when they cut it to spit out the fluid, followed by having my stomach pumped. Had I not have gotten to the hospital when I did, I wouldn’t be here today cause of poisoning.
Niamh O’Hara, Dublin
Very, very near misses
I had bought my (then) 15-year-old daughter Ariana Grande tickets for Christmas 2016. She had been a huge fan for a long time and this has been a long-awaited event. She had a countdown calendar on her phone. We’d been out to buy new clothes. She was super excited about going to see her at the O2 on the Thursday. Then the vile and horrendous Manchester Arena bombing happened on Monday 22nd May 2017. I had already gone to bed as I’d been up early but, unknown to me my daughter, I watched it all unfold on social media. I so wish she hadn’t. She’d been up all night crying: girls and boys, just like her, dead or injured. Sights she will never erase from her memory. After a couple of days, Ariana called off her next couple of shows at London’s O2 and started again a couple of weeks later in Europe. Devasted, but relieved that this didn’t go ahead, I had to deal with a grieving daughter. We missed it by one event. It could so very, very easily have been us. Targetting children just like my daughter. This shook me to the core.
The following month, June 2017, I was judging a food award event in London. Three days before I was due to fly a van struck pedestrians on London Bridge. Eight people died and 48 people were injured. Another event, missed by a whisker. Then, in August 2017, we missed the Las Ramblas attacks in Barcelona by one week. In all, we narrowly escaped three deadly terrorist attacks in the space of a number of months. Frightening!!
I was in a car crash last year. I don’t like talking about it publicly but I have post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, due to it and had a panic attack today after seeing the aftermath of a collision. It’s been really awful dealing with it and has led me to make rash decisions and I’m super anxious all the time as a result. Like, I keep imagining my boyfriend or I dying suddenly. I had nightmares for months after. I wasn’t injured after the crash, but witnesses and Gardai at the scene all said that my sister and I should have died.