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I am not sure if it is a function of my age or a by product of having children but I have noticed recently, how painfully aware I am of my own mortality.   I noticed it first when flying with a tiny child (on an aeroplane I hasten to add).   I sat rigid with fear as we took off, suddenly aware of all the things that could go wrong.   I have flown my whole life (I commuted by plane for six years from the States to my boarding school and home again six times a   year, for heaven’s sake) and always rather enjoyed it.   I even derived a small amount of pleasure in the overcooked food they serve in little tins to be eaten with a spork…   suddenly there I was with a small person in my arms imagining all the things that could go wrong.   The lurching as we took off, the speed, the clanging noises all filled me with fear.   The smell… could it be something gaseous and poisonous?   The people around me… were they shoes bombers masquerading as business men?   The pilot… did he know what he was doing.   No, REALLY?   I even went through in my head if it was better that we two would die together rather than me dying leaving her behind…   

At about the same time, I noticed that I could no longer handle roundabouts or amusement park rides with the same cavalier abandon I used to enjoy.   I can even imagine the worst when driving my car now, what if a lorry veers off the road?   A wheel comes off my car at high speed?   At home I am even suddenly aware of fires and floods and what if the wind blows the chimney through the roof?

This all came to a head this summer when my gorgeous (if slightly hyperactive) younger daughter shimmied up our front wall posts (either side of the path in the front garden) the night before we left on our family holiday; creating a human bridge, and demanded that I walk beneath her legs. ‘Get down.’ I said in a long suffering way. She refused, I was to go through or not get back in to the house. Much hilarity. ‘Get down.’ I said a little more crossly. She refused and finally I decided (as most mothers do) that it was easier to humour than to fight her. I started to walk under her legs when her wellies slipped on the wet bricks (it was raining, this is London after all and we have just had the worst August on record) and she swung down, her firm little skull smacking against my nose in a sideways slightly crushing action.

I heard a loud crunch. My knees buckled. The blood started to squirt. I saw funny colours, possibly stars. I sat on the wet pathway, my head spinning.

My husband took me to various emergency clinics until we ended up at St George’s which has a specialist ENT unit. Not, I am sad to say, open on a Saturday night. I telephoned the girls from the hospital to reassure my poor daughter that I was alive and not angry with her; telling her I loved her and understood it was an accident. She said ‘yeah, but I have to go and change clothes because we have a show with singing and dancing to show the babysitter, so bye’.   Heartless little hussy.

We waited and waited and eventually a nice lady explained that the thing with nose injuries was that you could ‘just’ push them back in the first half an hour (long past) or ‘manipulate them’ within the first week (but after the swelling reduces). After that, the injury sets and you are faced with rhinoplasty or a nose that is ‘not THAT disfigured’ (in her professional opinion). It was the night before the family left for a three week holiday in Hungary.   My husband said, rather sweetly “It’s not that bad…” but we both knew that I was going to have to stay behind and get my nose manipulated before I could join the family.

I have never been without my whole family for a week before.   It was a very strange thing, sort of like being without a limb, I imagine.   I wandered about the house looking for things to do.   I can’t remember the last time I saw the bottom of the laundry basket and the airing cupboard has never been empty before.   I ironed everything…   I even scrubbed the kitchen floor.  

Finally it was the day for me to have my MUA (Manipulation Under Anaesthetic).   I was sitting being a big brave girl in the day surgery unit – on my own…   my family were all away and it was the middle of August so even my (selfish) bezzie mate was off on holiday.   Now, I have to say that I am usually pretty matter of fact about these things (and had turned down kind friends and neighbours offers to take time off work and accompany me).   I am not one to lose my head or become hysterical…   but I was totally (and quite calmly) convinced I was going to die.   I admit I have never had a general anaesthetic before and perhaps this is all part of that, but I sat until my operation in a waiting room, listening to the nurses phoning for victims who had already been operated on to transfer them to ICUs because “things didn’t go quite as well as we’d hoped” thinking I was going to be sick.   I wrote a letter to my daughters telling them I loved them to be read on my almost certain demise.   I even emailed my oldest friend in Cyprus to instruct her about my memorial service (lots of laughing and dancing and champagne and singing – preferably culminating in a rendition of “slipping through my fingers” from Mamma Mia) and what to do with my body (donate to science once all the useable bits could be salvaged and reused) and who was to have my car.   I even convinced myself that during the op itself I may be knocked out, and unable to move, but still aware of everything they were doing to me (which I decided may even be worse than death and could result in my dying from the shock anyway…).

I contemplated making a run for it more than once, trying to figure out how far I would get in a gappy hospital gown on a London street, happily abandoning my clothes, before someone brought me back.   If this had been a case of pure vanity, I am sure I would have gotten used to looking slightly more Owen Wilson than Meryl Streep, but I was warned that a floppy septum may heal either way blocking a whole nostril which would cause problems in the long term. It also explained the strange and painful vibrating feeling when I sneezed and the vaguely irritating whistle I experienced when I breathed. I really had to go through with it.   In spite of the fact that I was GOING to die.  Leaving my children.  And my husband.  And the dog.

I didn’t die, you will be surprised to hear, but I wonder how common that conviction is?   Is it because we are now responsible for children and feel their need for us so acutely?   Is it because most of our grandparents have shuffled off this mortal coil and our parents are getting older and we suddenly see the in controversial inevitability of aging and death?   Are we one generation closer to the oldest and with our own kids beneath us see how the cycle of life continues regardless of our fear?

I am not sure, but I can tell you that I long for those carefree invincible days when I could face anything without a second thought.   And hope that I manage to give my children that same confidence in their immortality… to a point.   Perhaps with a little less climbing thrown in…




Posted on Wednesday, September 3, 2008 at 07:01PM by Registered CommenterLucy Symons | Comments1 Comment | References3 References

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Reader Comments (1)

A very human sentiment Lucy. The older we get, the closer we are to death's door. What ever responsibilities we've accrued over time weigh heavier and heavier on us.

And yet, when I read accounts of those who are diagnosed with terminal diseases there oftentimes develops a resolve to face death with dignity, or lightness of heart.

I think we all have that capacity to rise above the weight of this mortal coil. Is it only once a tragedy has occurred that our capacity is realized?
September 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterScott Clark

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