And now, from the awful, horrible, wicked mind of… hey, wait, this is my question! Ooops.
Describe five of your most interesting near-death-experiences. Now, by NDE I don’t mean when you temporarily die and you see a white light, get visited by your grandmother’s second cousin’s dog’s previous owner, hear choirs of angels singing pastiches of the Carpenters and Handel, or anything like that. (Though of course such (purported) experiences would certainly fall well within the range of possible answers to this question.) Rather, I mean situations in which you or someone you were with nearly died. Actual (permanent) death does not count. Rather, the near escape or near avoidance of death is what we are all curious about. (Or, at least, I am!)
Actually, I thought of this question at Marvin’s house when I was ranting about the dangers of cycling in Korea, and he agreed it might be a good F5 question. So it’s partly from the evil, wicked, horrid mind of Marvin too.
And on the topic of cycling in Korea, this most dangerous form of of exercise has provided me with a great many angry, ranted-out examples, but I shall try to answer in a more diverse fashion.
- A half-remembered apparent near-drowning. When I was a little kid, perhaps in first grade or so, my class made a trip to the community swimming pool. Some bright soul decided it would be hilarious to push one of the little kids in. I must have been pushed hard, because I remember my head hitting the bottom of the poolbut it couldn’t have been that hard, since it was only the shallow end. I remember my head hitting the bottom, though, and a strange feeling of panic as well as an inability to move as everything went black. I don’t know if anyone ever told my parents about it, but in any case, I was scared of water after that for a long time!
- The Rock. That was what we called this gigantic house-sized piece of rock that took up a house-sized plot of land on my block in the little northern town of Lac La Ronge, where I learned the meaning of “slow white kid” in a white-kid-minority setting. Now, this may not have been a real near-death experience, but I remember this day when the bullies were chasing me and I decided to try a new tactic: instead of hiding in the bush and waiting till dinnertime, or trying to run homethereby running the gauntlet of bullies who blocked the one block’s worth of road stretching between the school gates and my houseI decided to run to the rock, which was on the way, and climb onto it. Now, the bullies followed me, but they had to get to the rock to catch me, and that bought me enough time to reach the far edge of it and realize that cornering myself on a high bluff might have been a stupid idea. I wanted to climb down but was too scared, and somehow I ended up sliding down the face of it headfirst.
Boy did that hurt.
- 8th Street Speeders, Saskatoon. When I was taking the bus from 7th Street to University everyday in Saskatoon, I had to cross 8th Street everyday to catch my bus to school. The problem was that on my particular streetcorner, people didn’t seem to care what the traffic lights commanded. Many mornings I would sleepily gaze at a green light and begin to cross the street, only to be almost creamed by some insane damned farmer speeding in his pickup truck. It got so that I started carrying rocks, spare paperback books, occasionally eggs, just so I’d have something to throw at people who decided to run the red lights there. It happened with such regularity that I could be 95% certain to use up any eggs I took from the house.
- (Late) Childhood Illness. You know how all those Victorian novels have characters that were “sickly children”? I wonder what was wrong with them. Mostly they sound like pathetic whiners whose illnesses I would have gladly exchanged for my own at a moment’s notice. The worst one I remember, the one through which I begged for death, was some kind of mysterious respiratory ailment that struck me in the first summer after high school. I was so sick that I spent a great deal of time on the family couch, sleeping in a sitting position because I couldn’t breathe when I lay down. My parents, distrustful of doctors and Western medicine, refused to take me to the hospital until I insisted I would crawl there if nobody drove me. Turned out that after fifteen minutes on a mist machine, I could breathe relatively alright again. So I got a prescription for steroid inhalants, and asthma medication, as well as antibiotics for the pneumonia I was suffering from. My parents were, last we spoke of it, still convinced that my respiratory problems are linked to a fungal infection in my lungs, and to childhood consumption of corn (to which they believe I am allergic), and not asthma. But I respond to asthma medication and I see no point in laying there crippled by an inability to breathe. However, I blame my parents’ stone-aged ideas about medicine less than the evil pulp mill that continually polluted the air of the town I lived in, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. The whole town smelled like rotten eggs one day out of three, and I’m certain, since the mill was one of the major emlpoyers in the town, that nobody would have done anything even if tests showed illegal amounts of pollution going on. In any case, I know that I spent a couple of months pretty much unable to breathe.
- Yet Another Korean Driver Who Thinks Cyclists Are Not Human Beings. Korea’s drivers are in large part bad drivers, but there are some outstanding morons on the road in this country. I once ranted about one of the worst I’d encountered, and I’ll simply link to that rant. But let me say one thing: I am beginning to worry more and more about how I shall react the next time someone on the road screws me over but remains accessible to me after their “mistake”. I’ve heard of one very affable foreigner I know who was cut off by some brainless housewife driving as if bicycles are armor-plated. In his rage he cut her off, dismounted, lifted his bicycle over his head, threw it onto the roof of her car, and began to cuss at her in Korean and English. Apparently she just sat there in fear of her life. He yanked his bike off the roof of the car and then went on his way, feeling as if all that anger had finally been sated. Well, cyclists in Korea very routinely feel road rage, and I am no exception.
And now for a bonus round, of near-death experiences I gave to others, or saved others from:
- When she was a little kid, my baby sister Annie (Isabella) somehow managed to open the car door without my dad noticing. He was at the wheel of the car, and I was beside him, but I noticed, and screamed for him to stop. Annie’d somehow gotten under the car and it was lucky I’d noticed. But I don’t know if I’d been all that much of a hero, though I did strut around proudly telling the story for days. I mean, I was five or six years old, okay?
- Once, my sisters and I were playing this game we’d made up. It was called Jump Off The Top Bunk Bed Onto a Poorly Arranged Assortment of Bedding On The Floor. I went first, and being a fat little boy, I’d scattered the bedding nicely upon landing. But I’d been so excited by the experience that instead of rearranging the bedding, I simply dashed back up onto the top bunk to await my next turn. Impatiently. Very impatiently. My sister took too long, reticent to simply jump onto the floor, so, like any kind and thoughtful elder brother, I decided to help her overcome her fear of heights: I pushed her. WHAM! went her face against the corner of the dresser. If it’d hit her nose, she could well have died instead of just getting a black eye.
- Also in Lac La Ronge, walking home from school on a day when the bullies found something else to do other than make me bleed, I passed by the house of the biggest tomboy in the school. Well, not only was she a tomboy, but a rather nasty little child. She ran out of her house, yelled something nasty at me, and threw a rusty metal bolt at me. She missed, but it landed close enough to me that I could pick it up, see what it was, and throw it back. Mind you, I was seven or eight years old, and new in town, so I didn’t know much about the girl. I didn’t know why so many kids put up with her rudeness, her tendency to throw things at people. I couldn’t understand why nobody ever threw anything back at her, to give her a taste of her own medicine. So I threw it back, as fast and as hard as I could, and I hit her square in the forehead.
It felt like a scene from David and Goliath, as she ran away crying and I, slightly shocked, felt finally that maybe I might be left alone by one of the nasty kids in town.
Well, not only was she a tomboy and a rather nasty little child; she was also a haemophiliac. She apparently immediately was rushed to the emergency ward, and the next day at school, my teacher took me aside and asked me if I wanted to become a murderer. It was a bit horrifying, that, being told I’d almost killed someone, and when I explained that she’d thrown the bolt at me firstrather half-heartedly, because once you’re told you could have killed someone, you tend to think any kind of response to such an accusation will do little goodthe teacher didn’t seem to care. I think I told my parents the story that day, because someone had called home from the school. My mother said something rather intelligent about it, which was, “If that girl’s parents want her to live much longer they’d better get some control of her and teacher her not to start fights with other kids, or attack them out of the blue.” So I finally (sort of) escaped this weird vague feeling that I’d almost become a murderer. Retrospectively, I suppose maybe the teacher thought she was doing me a favour by scaring the hell out of me, but it was grossly irresponsible of her to use a verb like “murder” in a situation like that, when, being new in town, I couldn’t have known about the girl’s condition, and when she was well-known for starting fights to begin with.
- One time, my (now ex-) sister-in-law called her sister, my (now ex-) wife early in the morning. She called and was crying, because she’d apparently broken up with her then-boyfriend, Ryan. Ryan was some kind of fundamentalist Christian, and my sister-in-law had become one as well (and for all I know she still is one… she was in Korea sometime last year preaching the Bible or something; why a Christian missionary would come to Korea, where Christianity is already the most common religion, is beyond me, but anyway…). She took the breakup very, very hard, and ended up swallowing whole bottles of Tylenol and antacids. My ex had desperately made many calls, but her sister was in Vancouver and we’d been living in Montreal at the time. So she tried calling people in Vancouver and asking them to call 911-Emergency for her. Well, that was a strategic mistake: the local pastor and Ryan’s mother both insisted thatdespite prior suicide attempts and despite the situationthat the girl was incapable of suicide, she was too cheery and happy and she’d found the Lord, so she’d be just fine. My ex begged and begged, but Ryan’s mother refused to listen at all, and when she got Ryan on the phone, he said, “I just don’t want to deal with her anymore.” (Understandable, from my own dealings with her, as I found her always to have been a nasty, messed-up person deep inside, but it was pretty a cold way to think about the girl you’d broken up with only hours before.) The pastor actually agreed to pop by her house later and see how she was doing. I woke sometime after a lot of this had happened, at which point my ex was crying and begging Ryan’s mother to at least call 9-1-1 for her.
I took the phone away, hung it up, and called directory assistance. The operator answered, and I said I needed Vancouver directory assistance and that it was an emergency of life-and-death. The first operator said she couldn’t make an emergency call for me, and gave me a local Vancouver police phone number to call. I tried it, found it to be the non-emergency number (meaning nobody answered for the minute I let it ring) and hung up. I called the Vancouver directory assistance again, and the second operator, halfway through my hurried explanation, said he couldn’t help me and hung up on me. I was pretty shocked but decided to try once more, my ex lying on the floor and crying because she was convinced by now her sister was going to die.
The third time, I told the operator first off that she must NOT hang up on me, that this was a matter of life and death, that if she did her job that she could save a life and if she didn’t she would be responsible for someone dying. She listened to my story carefully, and said she couldn’t make an outgoing call. I begged her to go to a payphone and make the call, because, not being local in Vancouver, we couldn’t do it ourselves; she went and got her manager instead, and he listened to the story, effortlessly patched us through to 9-1-1, and ambulances were dispatched. The ambulances and cop cars arrived quickly, and my ex-sister-in-law was found on the living room floor with her stomach full of painkillers and cough syrup as well. Apparently the call had just come in time; the preacher’d been standing outside the door ringing the bell when the ambulance arrived, and a roommate had risen from a drunken stupor, apparently sleeping through the whole incident in the very same room where the girl had taken the pills.
What galled me was not that she’d never even thanked me for making the calls (which, at a time when we had no money and she’d had a lot, had meant us eating instant noodles for weeks while she went out to expensive dinners with her friends and drives in her sports car while “recuperating” from her breakup. No, what angered me was how she never took responsibility for her idiotic mistake. No, a few weeks later her story was that the devil had made her do it but that, now that she’d found Jesus and “gone on her walk with Jesus”, it would never happen again. I was so pissed off when I heard that bullshit that I wrote her off permanently as mentally ill. Still, I don’t regret having stepped in and made the necessary calls when my ex couldn’t think straight enough to do so. A life is a life.
- There were several dark years there after the dissolution of my ill-conceived youthful marriage when I’d seriously considered putting myself out of my misery, for I was that depressed for several years after. Yes, I was not well, but at least I had the guts to admit to myself that it was me doing the contemplation on ending it all, not some supernatural agent.
Anyway, that’s about as much near-death as I’ve ever actually received and either dealt to others or saved others from. Ugh! Not a happy post.