On The Toss Of A Coin A memoir of a near death illness… and my fight for survival
On 21st January 2009, deadly bacteria invaded my body, multiplied, spread and poisoned my blood. I had a very rare form of septicaemia. The effects were catastrophic, shutting down my organs in quick succession and nearly killing me.
On The Toss Of A Coin is my account of this horrendous illness, my fight to live and the gruelling recovery. It is filled with tragedy, love, humour, laughter and the richness of life. The five-year story demonstrates how the mind can be a powerful tool, converting a devastating situation into one filled with hope.
I was sixty-two and happily living as husband, parent, grandfather and successful dental surgeon when the bacteria ravaged my body. Rushed to intensive care, I was put on life support for ten days and my distraught family was braced to lose me. Even though comatose and unresponsive I have vivid memories of my hallucinations, thoughts and experiences. In Part 1, the reader enters the strange mind of a person in a coma.
Parts 2-4 describe the physical and emotional stages of the illness following intensive care. I remained on the critical list for several weeks. Nine toes were partially amputated and a major artery in my heart became blocked. I lost three-dimensional vision, other senses, my libido, my ability to walk and write my name. My kidneys failed irreversibly, the awful effects were unimaginable. I was kept alive by dialysis, which made life extremely difficult. I was weak, constantly nauseous and exceedingly sleepy for most of the day. A plastic tube inserted into my jugular vein for the dialysis process produced another bout of septicaemia and a battle to overcome it. Fortunately, after fourteen months, a live donor for a kidney transplant was found. She gave me a remarkable gift but I feared for her wellbeing. I also had to contend with recovering from surgery, potent side effects of the drugs needed to prevent me rejecting the alien kidney and coming to terms with the possibility of closing my dental practice and losing my income.
Despite this, I remained positive, helped by coping strategies that empowered me to be involved in my predicament rather than just be swept along as a victim. I observed what was said, the details of medical procedures, the way in which teams worked together, how people reacted to me, and vice-versa. I was both patient and clinician, which gave me a unique insight. I vividly remembered events in my life that were linked to my circumstances. They brought an internal smile, a laugh or reflection, and took my mind away from the difficulties I faced. These anecdotes are recounted throughout the book.
The long-term psychological effects are explored in Part 5. I describe thoughts the importance of life, and how, as an atheist, I was facing death. Even my view of the arts, a great passion of mine, was altered by my illness. Only once did I lose the will to live. It was impossible to face my mortality and for it not to influence my approach to life.
Appendices include sections written by my wife, one of my three sons and my kidney donor (my wife’s cousin) describing their experiences. Critical illness engulfs those close to you. They form part of the story. There is also an appendix listing my coping strategies.