I don’t know if I’ve ever been very close to death. I thought I was, once. But I probably wasn’t. I’ve had a few times in my life where there were near misses on the road where I may have been inches from death there and never realized it. But when things are moving quickly and I have to keep focusing on after, there isn’t time to reflect how close to death I could have been.
The one time I thought that I was going to die was when I was 19 years old. I had tonsillitis. Anyone who has had a severe bout of that might know that it may not feel like one is at death’s door, but at least that death had blown smoke in one’s throat from some hellfire cigar.
This was my third case of tonsillitis in about a year. I had landed in the hospital for the first case and had the tonsils lanced in the operating room under a local anesthetic and barbiturates. I stayed in the hospital for two days on fluids and antibiotics and almost missed my high school graduation. The second time I got the tonsillitis I was admitted again for the same procedure and only stayed the night. The ENT doctor agreed that my tonsils should come out but before they could remove them, they became infected again. You can’t operate on a sick person so the surgery was postponed.
Tonsillitis means having tonsils infected, swollen and painful. I couldn’t even swallow my own spit. This third affliction was caught early. One of my parents took me to the doctor and they had a look at me to confirm that yes, I had it again. I was feverish, weak and miserable. The standard procedure was to give me a shot of penicillin. I quietly agreed. I tried to tell them that the last time I had gotten a shot like that it made me nauseous and dizzy. They acknowledged me and gave me the shot.
It barely hurt and I was able to sit back down in the exam chair right after. Time might have passed by. Someone asked me if I felt okay and I heard my voice say yes. I felt myself rise from the chair, point myself toward the door and walk forward. Then I heard the clatter of the tray beside the door being bumped.
Next thing I knew I was back in the chair. I had no memory of getting back in, if I made it myself or was helped or carried. My blood pressure was being taken and I couldn’t see anything.
“You’re okay, David,” a voice said in the distance.
Then I had a memory flash of the shift manager at Pizza Hut answering the phone the previous evening when I called in sick. I thought I was having my life flash before my eyes and the only part I caught was: “Lahaina Pizza Hut, Russell speaking, may I help you?”
I’m dying, I thought. I thought about the coolest item of clothing I owned, an imitation leather vest. Two friends owned identical ones. It was the mark of our gang, KittyHawk. I had thought that if I ever went out in the blaze of glory, it would be while wearing my KittyHawk vest. But that morning I had put on my dark green hooded sweatshirt. I almost never wore it. This was before hoods were cool and I didn’t expect to see anyone that day. And of course I didn’t expect to die.
I’m dying and I’m wearing my green hooded sweatshirt, was all I thought about.
Well I didn’t die. I guess it’s normal to be knocked out by any kind of strong injection if someone’s got an empty stomach and is in a weakened state. I don’t think I was in any danger. But I had never blacked out before and it was scary. A few days later they lanced my tonsils in that same chair with only the local anesthetic. To this day it’s the most painful and physically unpleasant thing I’ve ever undergone. But I never thought I would die during it.
I got my tonsils out a few months later and kept them in a specimen jar in the console of my Mustang.
There is more than one way I can wrap up this story. I could say that I started wearing my KittyHawk vest every day from then on just in case, which is true. But I wish that experienced had changed me in a different way.
I wish that instead of lamenting about what I was wearing when I thought I was going to die, I had done a quick inventory of my life and hoped that everything in my life was in order before I left.
I don’t have that vest anymore. But I can still wear something each day. I can put on hope each morning. I’m still learning what that is. But I think it’s something that if I was to find myself at deaths door I would not only know that I was entering God’s kingdom, but the life I left behind pointed the way. That is the hope I wear each day.