On 12 April 1999, a beautiful day in Johannesburg, I went horseriding with a few friends. I was in no way experienced, but I knew a stable where you could just go for an outride for the day. The group split in two, and since they had seen me a few times at the stables, they put me with the more experienced riders. We were taking turns cantering across the bushveld to a river, and I went first. My horse shied (possibly saw something in the path) and I fell off. I was taken to hospital where they couldn’t find anything wrong, but the stabbing pain in my side made me too stubborn to leave.
That’s when I was put in the care of the best doctor on the planet, Dr David Grolman. I was put under observation for the night, but the nurses failed to monitor my blood pressure, and the following morning, another angel came into the picture – the lady in the bed beside me. She had been shot in an armed robbery at her house, although the wound was minor enough for her to be in an ordinary ward. I was squirming in pain (I don’t remember this) and she told the nurses that if they didn’t call a doctor she would have them fired. I was rushed into surgery. My liver had ruptured during the fall, but in a rare turn of events, it had sealed over and so they couldn’t pick up any internal bleeding when I was admitted. I do remember Dr G looking in amazement at my belly ring (I had just come back from London) and asking me how to get it out. I have no idea what I told him, but when I woke up 5 weeks later it was still there and he had cut around it! I was given something like 8 pints of blood during that surgery. I also went into multiple organ failure, which is the last thing that happens to everyone before they die. But Dr G pulled me back from the edge somehow.
I was eventually put ICU in an induced coma, and with a couple of machines helping to keep me alive. My poor family! After about 10 days, another bleed ensued, and since they could no longer do surgery, the artery had to be embolised. This is quite a fascinating technology, they kind of thread a tiny parachute through the arteries, from your legs into the organ where it is needed. The parachute closes the ruptured artery. Probably not the medically correct terminology but there you have it. I was brought back from the edge again. I was in one of only four hospitals in Johannesburg to have this technology in place at the time.
After a few more weeks, I was slowly woken up. It takes a few days to come out of an induced coma, not quite the fluttering of eyelids that we see in the movies. I had a nurse washing me when I woke up, singing cheerfully away in Zulu. I wondered where I was, and made a mental note that I needed to get home soon, because my family would be worrying about me. Then I went back to sleep. A few hours (or maybe a day?) later I woke again, to the same lady singing and scrubbing every inch of my emaciated body. I must have looked confused and she told me that I had been in an accident and I was in hospital. I decided she was delusional and that I would explain to her that I needed to go home, just as soon as I had finished another nap… The next time I awoke to the scrubbing, with the same confused look on my face, and the same explanation, I shook my head (I was unable to speak due to a pipe in my throat). She lifted my sheet and showed me my belly, which had a long scar down it. And she told me that my parents were coming to visit me (again I didn’t believe her, how could they know where I was if I didn’t?). But she was right on the money again, at 16:01 my Dad came striding through ICU to my bed, with my mom in tow, much to my fascination.
And I could write for hours about ICU. But suffice to say, I survived. A few days later a physiotherapist hauled my 12kg lighter body out of that bed (even though I tried to pretend I was sleeping to make her go away) and made me stand up. It was terrifying, I had no muscles left in my legs, I could wrap my fingers around my legs. I felt like I was about to topple over. But after two or three days, muscle memory kicked in, and she had me walking again, the body is incredible in it’s power to recover.
And so it was that I survived against the odds. I was given a second chance at this beautiful life.
I wrote a blog post about the ICU experience here