12 May 2010

Close

How close did you ever get to death before your time? Some people don't dodge it. I'm sure we all have known people, friends, family members, work colleagues who fell by the wayside far too early, dying too young. Equally, most of us can recall moments in our own lives when we thwarted death, survived by the skin of our teeth. Let me share the true tale of one of my near misses.

This escape took place in 1973. I am on my island - Rotuma in the far Pacific. With a bunch of older village children I have clambered over the rocks and round to the volcanic headland's base. It juts out beyond the coral reef. The receding tide has left a massive rock pool, so big that you can swim in it, even dive head-first if you're careful. We laugh and swim and banter away the afternoon. Then it's time to edge back over the rocks and round the headland to the paradisical palm-fringed beach of "Coral Island" or of commercials for "Bounty" coconut bars.

The soles of the kids' feet are like leather but mine are still pink and tender. I'm left behind the others. I have put on my towel sweatshirt and I'm rather tired. There's a big flat rock. It slopes at a forty five degree angle towards a little gully where the Pacific swells in splashing waves. The top of the big flat rock is at least four metres from the gully but as I slip I am not reckoning on the seaweed slime that clings to it. I try to get a grip but it is impossible. I am sliding inevitably into the treacherous gully.

It's like falling into a natural waste disposal unit. For a moment I'm there in the water at the bottom of the gully, then the swell lifts me up and crashes me against those unforgiving rocks. I try to get a hold of the big flat rock I had just plunged from but it remains impossible. I have already swallowed a pint or two of seawater and though I don't realise it at that moment, my head is now bleeding profusely.

Instead of bashing me against the rocks again, the ocean decides to draw me away from that dangerous gully and I am now in the open sea where there are sharks and other deadly creatures. I am five metres from the headland and I think to myself - I will just swim parallel to the rocks and find a safer place to clamber out but the ocean has other ideas. No matter how hard I swim, the current is pulling me further out. The towelling sweatshirt is heavy and I struggle to get it off, under the waves, gulping several more mouthfuls of seawater. I must survive. I must.

Pathetically, I yell "Help!" for I can see some of the village kids on the beach, sixty metres away, but they can't see or hear me. I am a little cork in a vast and uncaring body of rolling salt-water. It is taking me away, out to my inevitable death by drowning. I am nineteen and frightened. There's so much more I want to do. I don't want to go like this. And it embarrasses me, the militant atheist, to admit this but a cynical thought occurs to me - try begging God, it's worth a go - and so inside my head I say "Please God help me" even though I firmly believe there's no-one listening.

The current that had pushed me twenty metres out to sea now allows me to swim towards the island. Laboriously, I cut in towards the rocks again and find a place where I can more safely escape my would-be executioner. With every remaining ounce of my strength I scramble up. Exhausted, with blood still leaking from the gash on my head, I lie belly down, trembling and intensely grateful on the rocks. The whole event has lasted little more than ten minutes.

A couple of the village boys come looking for me and understand immediately what must have happened. Quietly, they help me home. I am alive. Life's journey isn't over.

6 comments:

  1. Elizabeth2:46 am

    What an interesting and beautifully written account, YP. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    I too have had near misses to relate - on one occasion I was resuscitated and it was only because of the persistence of one very lovely South African doctor that the crash team persisted, beyond the time allotted to such cases, that I survived. I am eternally grateful to that man for my life. It is when mortality stares us in the face like this, whether or not we believe anything lies beyond the grave, that we recognise how limited and precious our time is.

    May I add too, that I for one am so glad that you did live; I personally feel it a privilege and pleasure to have encountered you via the blogosphere and I know the world would be all the much duller without you around. Live long and prosper. x

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  2. Call it luck, good fortune, chance, or "the universe" -- we both know that God helped you that day. Well, I do, anyway.

    As you lay trembling and intensely grateful, to what or whom was your gratitude directed?

    I had a heart attack (anterior myocardial infarction) at age 54, but it was nowhere near as scary as what you described.

    I join Elizabeth in being glad you survived.

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  3. Glad you survived it YP.
    I thought my time had come when I fell off a small ferryboat and no one noticed.I couldn't swim at the time but somehow managed to reach a floating signal buoy nearby with all my might and determination not really knowing to this day how I did it.I clung on to that floating signal buoy for hours thinking I was going to be eaten by a shark or fall unconcious into the water due to the cold and drown.I remember my heart beating so fast and hard and singing all the songs I knew and regreting not saying to my family members how much I loved them and that they would never know if I died there.It was frightening.Fortunately friends waiting for me to arrive on the island worried about my abscence on the boat signaled my disappearnce to the authorities who searched and found me just after dusk.
    Thanks for letting me share this experiance.I haven't talked about it in over 10 years.

    Nothing is worth more than this day - Goethe

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  4. ELIZABETH - I humbly accept your gracious compliment. Equally, I am pleased The South African doctor persevered
    RHYMES WITH PLAGUE The gratitude had no target, just a feeling of thankfulness. And I am pleased that you got through the heart attack episode. At the time it must have been very scary for you and your family. Plus you might never have taken up blogging!
    JEAN A disturbing story with a happy ending. I am glad that my post sparked this memory. You should turn it into a fuller piece if you ever start your own blog. Mind you we don't need blogs to get writing.

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  5. Thanks for writing about this, YP. I was drawn in by Elizabeth's and Jean's accounts, too. I am glad you are all alive.

    There have been times when in the moment I thought I was close to death, but after they passed, I realized that it was fear more than near-fatal danger that made me feel thus. In hindsight, the closest call I ever really had was when I was several weeks pregnant with my daughter. I was crossing the street when a truck took a fast left-turn and skidded to a halt in front of me. I screamed, "You could have killed me!" and he just grinned in embarrassment and said, "Sorry." How often does that mundane kind of incident happen to people? Much too often, I suspect.

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  6. Whew. I was panting at the end of recount YP.

    When I was in hospital recently and at the lowest ebb, I experienced an odd feeling I've never had before or since. Weirdly, it was total peace, and a feeling of relaxed acceptance. An indication I think, that I was on the way out. At least that's what the staff said. Thank goodness for oxygen and intravenous drips and antibiotics!

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