I Cheated Death and Survived To Tell The Tale
My learnings from an excruciating year
On the night of April 5 last year, I had a terrible pain shooting up in my abdomen. It was unbearable and it felt like someone was stabbing me from the inside. I went to the nearby hospital but there was no one there to see me because it was after midnight. I was given a painkiller and sent back home.
The pain was horrible the next morning too. I went to get sonography and after looking at the reports, a gastroenterologist said it was time to remove the appendix. He told me that it was not the pain of the appendix that worried him as much as the growing polyp in my gall bladder. We went over all my past reports which confirmed that it was growing unnaturally fast and could become cancerous and even become fatal. Which would mean another surgery in the next few years. He suggested we remove both and I agreed because I was in immense pain.
That day seems like a haze because it was in the middle of another covid-19 wave and I had to go to different hospitals to get different tests and get admitted. I had to do it by myself with only my sister for support. It was a jarring and frightening experience, to say the least.
After all the tests were done and I was given the green signal, right before the surgery was scheduled, I got my period. It was an impediment but my surgeon said that we could still go ahead and do it or discharge me to come back after 5 days. I was on three different painkillers by then and just wanted to end my misery. I told him to kill me instead. He assured me I didn’t have to be melodramatic and I would be fine. I surrendered my body to him and the will of the universe and went ahead with it.
There were four patients before me who also had their gallbladder removed. Some were in worse shape than me and some had more invasive surgeries than me. Some had to have their entire stomach cut up while mine was done laparoscopically. When my anaesthesia wore off, I found myself struggling to breathe. My body was ice-cold and exposed. My throat parched, my stomach the size of a big balloon. I kept shouting for the nurse, “Help! I feel cold! Somebody help me!” soon enough a nurse came and brought a huge air vent with her that blew hot air from my feet up. Soon enough I went back into a coma-like sleep and was taken to my room.
I woke up vomiting green bile and blood. Three 5 ft nurses were holding back my 5’7 body of 86 kgs at the time. They were trying to make sure I didn’t accidentally pop the stitches in the five places that the surgeon cut me. I was given more painkillers to make me manageable. I was bleeding from my vagina, my five stitches and my mouth. It was a bloody train alright.
Now the point of this personal essay is not to garner pity, make y’all squirm with the gory details or celebrate the first anniversary of my surgery and tell the world hey wassup! Look I survived!
We will get to that. Later.
But for now, I am trying to remember what led to that life event, what my therapists call a ‘watershed moment’ in my journey.
I felt so powerless and weak in front of my body, that I had punished for decades to work according to my commands. I was battling depression before the surgery and lots of things were not working in my favour. I had caught the alpha strain of covid in 2020. I had a horrible birthday in January where I felt like it was the lowest point of my life, I had a devastating and heart-shattering break-up in February with a man who was cheating on me- a betrayal that hurts me to this day, my core friend circle split up over misunderstandings in March and my boss, who had become my proxy mom at work, quit the organization in April. And then my body gave up. And boom! I had two supra major invasive surgeries.
I tried excruciatingly hard to heal in two weeks so I could go back to work and I did. I was in the office after 15 days. But I couldn’t predict how it was all going to come crashing down.
By August, I realized that my stomach was just not cooperating with me. I had horrible pain all the time and I was in tears practically every day. I regretted the surgery so much during that time. I became irrevocably sad about having lost all control in every aspect of my life. I became so afraid of food that I started avoiding everything I used to love eating. I developed a phobia of falling sick after eating anything and needing to be rushed to the hospital.
I went crying to my surgeon blaming him for ruining my life. He was having none of it. “Listen! I have operated on thousands of patients over the last 25 years of my practice and trust my intelligence when I say that your brain is playing some ghastly games with your gut. Your gut-brain axis is under stress and the cortisol from this stress is delaying your healing. I am putting you in touch with the psychiatrist that I trust is going to help you. You have an irritable bowel and no medicine or cure with me will help you. But I do want you to feel better. Trust me and see her,” he reprimanded me. He was afraid I would develop IBS or worse, an eating disorder.
I saw the psychiatrist begrudgingly because I didn’t have a great time with my previous one. He gave me very heavy doses of sleeping pills and tranquillizers. They made me gain 10 kgs over a month and further exacerbated my depression because I didn’t want to be seen in public. The anti-fatness and fatphobia were too much to bear. I went into a bad self-harm hole where I just wanted to end my life. I was afraid this new doctor was also going to ruin everything I had painstakingly built.
But she became a blessing that helped me live. She and another ISP therapist have tried their hardest to bring me back to life and give me a fresh start. I thought I was born 30 years ago but my surgeon, therapists and of course Goenka guruji gave me a second lease on life. After many trials and errors over the last 15 years, I feel like I have found the people that are the absolute best in their field to help me.
Every night I meditated. I prayed. I begged. To be healed. For the pain to stop. Or Death. I would visit Mount Mary so many times and demand death. But even Mother Mary was having none of my bullshit. She would come in my dreams and tell me to have faith.
For some reason, I have kept coming back from excruciatingly close death. I remember a story my parents tell me about how I was declared dead by doctors when I was two years old. Choked, blue and purple, lying lifeless on the cold steel gurney. And yet colour returned to my cheeks and I was fine like nothing happened. My mother would tell me about a time she had bought abortion pills from the doctor because she was 30 and in no shape to give birth again. After four daughters and multiple miscarriages, she was at the end of her rope. But she stopped herself. She saw me as a blessing of god and let me be born.
Even my birth was a miraculous affair because the doctors told my father that my life and my mom’s life were in danger as my mom was severely anaemic and losing blood. But nothing happened. We both survived.
I had two surgeries before this one in April 2021. The first one was a PRK surgery to correct the myopic and cylindrical vision in my eyes. They scratched out my cornea and shot a few red lasers. I could smell the burning flesh of my eyes. Then they were shut for the next 15 days. I can only describe the pain as a thousand needles pricking both my eyes 24/7 while my cornea regrew itself.
The next surgery was more invasive as it was on my face. I had terrible pain in my left cheek and on closer inspection, it turned out there was another polyp growing behind my nose and obstructing my sinus. The mucus was collecting inside them and decaying into my skin. The doctor said, if I was not operated on soon, it could infect my brain. So, I was back on the operating table again. The surgeon had to first saw off the deviated septum to get to the polyp behind. When he was breaking and pulling the bone out from my nose, the anaesthesia wore off and I woke up. His tools were centimetres away from my brain when I jerked. The anesthesiologist put me back to sleep and that surgery was a success as well.
He later showed me the entire video recording of it. He also drained the mucus out and enlarged my sinus openings to let more air in. And then my nose was completely shut off for recovery. He stuffed cotton up my nose up until my eyebrows. I had to sleep upright, breathing from my mouth for a week. Then the bandages had to come out. The surgeon ripped them out. That was a near-death experience too, trust me.
Before these surgeries, I had every contagious and communicable disease. I nearly died of Dengue, Jaundice, etc. My GP just couldn’t diagnose it until I was 2 inches away from the parasite killing me. Another hospital stay. The same pattern was repeated the millionth time.
I have been in and out of hospitals so many times now, that I started fearing that I would die alone in the hospital. My biggest fear is dying alone in a hospital. I have stared death in the face so many times, that I just keep telling it to end me once and for all. But it doesn’t. What sadistic pleasure does the universe get from torturing me so much? I will never know. I still can’t answer why I keep coming back to life every single time. Like why?
But something happened after the surgery on April 6. A lot of the items I had been juggling, all the weight and baggage that I had been trudging on my weak body, dropped. Like a hot potato. A realization dawned on me.
These doctors will keep cutting Prekshaa, till there is no more Prekshaa left to cut.
If I need to come out of these trials and tribulations and if I want my suffering to end, I will need to cut open my mind and operate on my soul. I will have to do a deep mental dive and become my own surgeon. From now on, the only person that metaphorically cuts me is me.
I drew all the power and strength I could from my training in Vipassana while being extremely grateful to Gautam Buddha and embraced my suffering. I accepted my fate.
Sometimes, I wondered if I deserved any of what happened to me and my body. I certainly didn’t deserve to be raped when I was eight years old. I didn’t deserve any of the sexual assault and abuse throughout my teens and adulthood. I didn’t deserve to see my sister die in front of my eyes. I didn’t deserve the various cycles and loops of harm, self-sabotage and risky adrenaline junkie behaviour. I didn’t deserve any of the diseases and ailments. None of the million hospital and clinic visits. None of the million needle jabs. Nobody deserves to be cut open over and over again. It was not my fault. It never was.
I used to wonder if there was going to be some enlightenment or some meaning to my pain. No matter how many times I burned or cut myself to end my pain, made several attempts to jump off the terrace or cross busy traffic junctions so a car or truck would run over me…I just didn’t succeed. No matter what I tried, something in me just never gave up and didn’t allow me to die. People who suffer immense mental, physical and emotional trauma like me would know how to difficult it is to manage the never-ending pain.
The only conclusion I have reached so far is that life is just randomly cruel.
And something or someone definitely wants me alive either to torture me or take my pain away. Maybe I am just repaying my past life karma and these are the cards I have been dealt. If not for my utter faith in the principles of Buddhism and non-violence, I would have ended my life many years ago. 2015 to be exact. I didn’t think I would make it past my 23rd birthday and yet, here I am. 30-years-old and furiously typing away at my keyboard.
Now the only cuts I have are the scratches from my cats and dogs. The voices in my head have become feeble. The dark clouds have shifted. I am not that attached to living in pain anymore. Pain is second nature.
Having been chronically ill, I am surprised at my body’s resistance to death. I can feel every cell in my body fighting to live another day. It just doesn’t know how to give up. It bounces back after the worst you could put it through. It puts one step in front of the other every single day. It rises every morning and fights to breathe in more oxygen. My heart still beats and I still love. And who am I to come between destiny’s plan for me?
I am the strongest person I know. It did take literal blood and guts to make it this far without losing my shit. My therapists tell me I am one persistent and resilient nut who has been in survival mode longer than most army men have had to their entire lives. They get holidays to meet their families and rest but I never did. I never came home to my body to rest. I have been fighting to live since the day I was conceived and fighting is hard-coded into my DNA. And yet, even though I could’ve easily chosen substance abuse, drugs, alcohol and sex to numb my pain, I didn’t. I felt each and every second of it. Because the only way out was through.
I am now able to see my anger with compassion. It originates from a deep well where only hurt resides. After the surgery and a year of recovery, I have just found out that I have ADHD. And it explains so much of my confusing life. My inability to switch off my mind, my impulsivity, hyperfocus, irritation, my attachment to routines and structures that I have built…All of my childhood was spent just crying for the world to make sense. But the world would never make sense to my neurodivergent traumatised brain. I wasn’t supposed to be in the system that was setting me up for failure with its neurotypicality.
People have always had this perception of me as someone intimidating, hard-headed, stubborn, angry, masculine, too direct and pretty much a no-bullshit straight talker. Few have taken their time to get to know me and allow me to drop my armour. Extremely few people have been completely exposed to all my wounds and scars. Two to be precise (my sister and my best friend, both born on August 14. I love you my Leo Queens.)
It was hard, letting my sister witness me at my weakest moment. Totally exposed. I was physically and emotionally naked in the hospital. Bleeding from every part of my body. And yet, my sister didn’t look away, she didn’t squirm, she didn’t abandon me. She took care of me. She sacrificed sleep, food and rest. She came through and held my hand. And for that, I am forever indebted and grateful. My best friend was my rock and support throughout the entire ordeal. She listened to me complain about the same problem like a broken record and yet received me with grace and compassion. She’s the best friend I asked Mother Mary for. I am so blessed to have them.
I have overcome so much already. All by the age of 30. I have the life experience of three average people on any given day lol. I had to grow up so early in life. I taught myself how to come back home from my kindergarten when I was 2-years-old. I have always been a loner because I knew I couldn’t depend on anyone for my needs. But letting myself need others and depend on them, letting them be there for me, letting them hold my burden for some time, has changed me as a person. I don’t operate out of my childhood abandonment and neglect trauma as much anymore. I feel a certain sense of peace knowing that I will always have myself. I will not self-abandon, self-reject, self-harm and self-sabotage anymore. I am building new neural pathways through therapy and it is helping. Why am I doing all this?
Because I am worthy of so much life. I am worthy of beauty. I am worthy of compassion. And it’s okay for me to be soft and weak sometimes. I don’t always need to have my shit together and everything figured out. The world is not such a dangerous place to live in anymore. Like Kourtney Kardashian says, “my vibe right now is to live life, I am just here to live life and have fun, live your life girl, live your life!”
I have been in therapy since August and I take a good SSRI now (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor: fancy anti-depressant for my traumatized brain) They have been so helpful in bringing my story into focus. Instead of all the bad, I am now able to look at the good. I can be proud of myself. I can now see so many of the qualities that I had overlooked in my constant pain and self-sabotage.
I realized I touched so many lives and impacted them so positively. I left people happier and smarter. I have so much integrity and such a strong value system. Even though I saw the worst of humanity and so many crimes were committed on my body, I never let it make me bitter and unkind. My heart still generously flows with love and compassion for everybody. I have a very strong social justice compass and I have worked tirelessly for human betterment. I never hold back on love. I am very generous and giving still.
Most of all, I never gave up.
Yes, I complained, I cried, I wanted to die, I begged every mortal and immortal being to end my life, but what you want, you don’t necessarily get.
But sometimes what you do get, turns out to be so much better.
If there is anything I have learned from this year it is that-
Even angry people deserve compassion, but not at the cost of your humanity.
People don’t know how to give what they never received.
Remove yourself from places, friendships and relationships that don’t suit you and your unique needs.
Find, build and maintain relationships with people and communities that are most suited to your personality.
Make mistakes but don’t be attached to failure.
All the money in the world can’t buy a single extra minute of life.
You will not die until it’s your time to die. Until then, just live.
Everybody needs a therapist.
Children deserve so much more. Much much more.
It’s okay to change. It’s okay to let go of the mask. People who love you will not be disgusted by your ugly side. They will still stay. They will not just pretend to tolerate you. They will pour into you and build you back up.
You are the creator of life and you choose what you can and won’t suffer.
No more autopilot victim mode, live life in manual mode.
And lastly, your past doesn’t define you, it only prepares you.