There is only one thing we say to Death: Not today.Syrio Forel
There are people who seem to seek out Death. We call them thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies. They jump from planes, drive incredibly fast, or partake in extreme sports. Some of them fight fires or go to war and some of them resort to drug use or crime sprees. No matter the outlet, they all seek the same adrenaline rush that comes of blatantly tempting fate through intense life experiences. They seem to thrive on the thrill of chasing down Death, tapping him on the shoulder, and jumping just out of reach.
I am not one of those people. In fact, these days I generally try to stay the hell out of Death’s way. I mean, we HAVE been known to run in the same crowd occasionally but, frankly, I’m just not interested in getting to know him any better at this particular moment. So you would think with all the people seeking him out on a daily basis, he’d be a pretty busy guy. But it seems that my dear old ‘frenemy,’ Death, will somehow find the time to actively seek me out for an unwanted game of hide and seek whenever he chooses.
So, today, I’ve decided to share a few more of my true life rare occurrences to further support the symbolism of the flying pig that I’ve adopted as an ironic joke on the so-called status quo life. I hope that you will see that despite Death’s occasional rude interruptions, the thought of pigs soaring through the air does not have a negative connotation for me, it’s not about being rare and unfortunate and dramatic. It’s more of an awe-inspiring image, ripe with possibilities; something that, instead, makes me smile.
One of my first brushes with death was in my early twenties, when a light pole fell onto my car– and only my car–in the middle of a busy road during rush hour. Granted, ‘rush hour’ in the town where I grew up is relative compared to my daily commute in Denver these days. Nonetheless, there were many cars on the road that afternoon and traffic had slowed from nearly 50 miles-per-hour to about 25 or less.
A close-coupled semi-trailer truck was just ahead of me signaling a right turn off the main roadway and onto a street that led to several industrial buildings. But as the truck turned, I noticed that the driver had not calculated a wide enough angle and I slowed even more to allow him to exit the main road. What I did not see was that as he rounded the corner, the back end of the truck jumped the corner curb slightly and bumped the industrial light pole stationed on the corner.
Now, you may or may not know that many poles and signs near roadways are designed with a ‘breakaway’ feature, allowing for the heavy pole to yield just enough to mitigate the crash impact on a vehicle and its occupants. It’s meant to reduce the risk of heavy, stationary objects from becoming deadly hazards when hit by a car that has veered off the road for whatever reason. Ideally, the pole would fall out of harms way.
But before I knew what was happening the pole tipped completely over like a chopped tree (although, unfortunately, no one yelled “TIMBER”), just as I was passing through and struck my car head-on. Traffic came to a halt all around me and several people came to see if I was ok. The pole had nearly shattered my windshield where it landed and then slid down the front of the car. I was told that, had I been going faster, the pole would have gone all the way through the windshield and likely taken my head with it. My car was completely totaled and I walked away without a single scratch – save for the miniscule pieces of glass I found embedded in my skin over the next few days.
Yup. That happened.
Then there was the time in between major illnesses when I received a very serious letter from the nephrologist who had treated my kidney disease. He had been contacted by the blood bank with a notification that some of the plasma I had received via infusion during my treatment for anti-GBM had come from a donor who had since been determined unqualified to donate blood.
Around that time, the regulations for donating blood had changed slightly, mainly to account for a recent worldwide health scare related to people who had eaten beef within certain regions of the world during certain time periods. The change in donation policy, was meant to avoid passing on unknown cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, AKA human mad cow disease.
When the doctor explained all of this to me, I responded the only way I could at the moment: with an outburst of uncontrollable laughter. I mean who does this stuff happen to in real life? Just me, as it turns out. You really couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried! Well, I soon learned that this donor had been on a military base during that time and had only been ruled out for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, not because he had actually eaten bad meat. Nevertheless, my family and I couldn’t resist the inevitable comedy that came along with this news. For weeks they were all put on high alert for any signs of random mooing from me, and I was, of course, happy to jokingly oblige.
When I got the first autoimmune disease, I did a lot of researching on odds. I learned that the chances of a person being hit by lighting are one in 700,000. The likelihood of winning an Oscar is one in 11,500 . The odds of being audited by the IRS are one in 175. And, the chances of a person getting a rare, ideopathological, auto-immune kidney disease called Anti-Glomerular Basement Membrane disease were about one in TWO MILLION. I had learned that I had better odds of being randomly struck by lightning, being audited or winning an Academy Award than I had of getting that particular disease.
And on the subject of lightning, there was actually one evening during my first hospital stay that a summer storm hit unexpectedly and I watched lightning strike the ground of the parking lot just outside my window. It knocked the power out on my floor but soon the generators kicked in to provide support for those who needed it and I took the opportunity to wander the halls and observe the chaos. It was a surreal experience, yet it sort of grounded me; made me feel insignificant in a time when I wanted something to happen around me, not to me.
By the end of the year 2012, I was far enough away from the random disease that had led to a kidney transplant and I was feeling pretty good. I wandered into a shop one day and saw a tiny little glass pig with wings. Since it made me smile, I bought it as a token of my survival and unbroken sense of humor.
Apparently, God was in on the joke too, all the while thinking “…but wait, there’s more!”
Not three months later I was hospitalized for my second rare autoimmune disease, anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, which as it turns out is slightly more common, although often misdiagnosed. The odds are harder to validate due to the relatively recent discovery of the disease, but it’s somewhere around one in 75,000.
And after all that, here I am… alive and well. So, who’s laughing now?
It’s not that I take my chance meetings with Death lightly, but I can tell you this, a good sense of humor can be a powerful antidote to what ails you and that’s got to tip the odds in your favor, right? In the words of Emily Sailers of Indigo Girls fame, “You have to laugh at yourself, because you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t.”