“I think I almost died.”
It’s just one of those casual car conversations, the best kind. You have no idea where the subject began or how it meandered all over the place, taking as many twists and turns as the vehicle itself.
“When I had my surgery. I think I almost died.”
Still seeking a diagnosis, my first surgery last year was meant to be exploratory. Let’s take a biopsy of my ovary, the less-nasty-looking one since we’re pretty sure the nasty one is a goner. Let’s see if it comes back from pathology as cancer or just… a cyst. Or something strange but benign.
My paperwork from that appointment says that my exploratory laparoscopy was converted to a laparotomy (open surgery) and oophorectomy (the removal of an ovary). I didn’t know this until later. I woke up from surgery feeling like I’d been sideswiped by an ocean liner. The ovary had exploded, they’d had to cut me wide open, the tumour capsule opened in my pelvic cavity, and I lost a ton of blood.
I’d already had two transfusions of blood and would need another, an iron transfusion, a couple nights in the hospital. Whatever chaos happened in the operating theatre went home in my body.
My mind did not feel like it had almost died, but my body did, and it took me a long time to reassure myself that the danger had passed. I felt really bad for a really long time after this, even recovering from a second surgery before feeling better from the first.
To treat the cancer, I’ve done lots of traditional western medicine and some natural or alternative medicine. Pros and cons for both, but at least the doctor’s orders come with the doctor’s support and the doctor’s studies. Going on a plant-medicine journey often means you’re on your own.
I was able to purchase a protocol of full extract cannabis oil (FECO): 60 grams in 90 days. I had started a protocol before but could not afford to complete it until funding came through. Finally, my new medication came and I was able to restart the regimen.
And then I almost died again.
I mean, kind of. Ego death, at least.
I tripped so hard on this high THC medication that I didn’t even see stars, I become one.
That night, I started the FECO at a high dose because I’d been up to a gram per day before and assumed I would not have to start from scratch with my dosing, which recommends an amount of oil half the size of grain of rice. You don’t need to skip to the end—I’ll tell you up front that I was wrong.
That evening, I’m wide awake and anxious but trying to sleep. Hark! What’s this? Inspiration for a Doppler article? Better jot that down in my note app.
And from there on… Well, I saw god. Became god. Became an actor in a sitcom, a cartoon character, a bundle of broken bones, a ribbon of golden light, a black hole, and whatever is on the other side of a black hole. No, really.
And I think I died. It felt like a seizure. My body twisted and pressed against the bedframe to the point that I broke it, and I felt like my body was not under my control. It was an incredibly frightening evening for all involved, as I was visiting my friend at her home and my partner was there as well.
They had to call the paramedics because their beloved Kathleen was throwing herself against the walls from the bed, screaming, laughing maniacally, like a twirling whirling dervish.
The paramedics came and one called me sweetheart and got called out on using terms of endearment for patients.
Here’s the thing. I have a history of trauma, which EMS were informed about on the phone and upon arrival. I have a lot of boundaries when it comes to men. I don’t like being called diminutives by men and I don’t think women need to tolerate that. I was tripping into the next galaxy so I didn’t hear this, but unfortunately I did later hear the other paramedic call me ‘dear’.
He immediately caught himself, apologized, and said it was a force of habit.
And I call out (from the floor, mind you, where I’ve just thrown myself, contrary to gravity), that “It’s not a habit, it’s a CHOICE!” in one of my rare but apparently delightful moments of lucidity.
I did learn that the Huntsville paramedics have a team of female staff that is available to anyone who should request it. This is something that is so good to know, and also so good to offer. I found the experience of men in uniforms and masks very disconcerting, even knowing they are there to help.
After this, after I slept for a couple days, after the bed got fixed, after other versions of events were shared, I allowed myself to conclude: I think I died. It felt like that in the moment, and when the moment passed, I realized it wasn’t just the adrenaline or the THC or anything making me feel this way. My brain had a near-death experience, just the way my body did almost exactly a year before.
I want to share this with you, readers, because throughout my hiatus from this beloved column, you have been checking in with me, sending me notes, donating to me, even bringing me food. You have been here. And I’ve been hidden away. I’ve been afraid of what I wanted to say, which are always big, scary things to try to say. I’ve been afraid that there’s nothing to say: I don’t want to write about COVID, I don’t want to talk about the hellish divisions I’m seeing absolutely everywhere.
But I do want to talk to you all. What do you want to read about? What do you want to say but you’re too afraid? What do you need to hear?
Because I learned a lot from these two death-adjacent experiences, one bodily and one mentally. I learned that our voices are light, that our voices wake others, warm others. I witnessed my own voice as a type of light switch that, when flicked, made the darkness scurry, and allowed others with voices to speak their own truth and spread the light even further. It felt that literal. It’s not that I have nothing to say…
It’s that it’s everything.
I learned that what feels like habit is simply choice. Declining to choose is still voting for the status quo. If force of habit has you using language you don’t approve of or that you’ve recently learned isn’t appropriate, just change your mind! It’s that easy. THC makes it easier, I guess. (Do drugs responsibly, people.)
I also learned that just because you don’t know if people are reading or if they like what they read, doesn’t mean people aren’t out there, taking your words into consideration, and maybe even changing their world, the entire universe, because of them.
I learned that death is just something that happens all the damn time. I’m not afraid. I want to live—I decided.
Thank you for having me back. Thank you for reading. It is everything.
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Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her column, She Speaks, has appeared in the Huntsville Doppler since 2018. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, volunteering with Muskoka Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services, and her role as a front-line counsellor at the women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development. She was longlisted for the 2020 CBC Short Story Prize, short-listed for the 2019 CBC Nonfiction Prize, and received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. When she isn’t writing, she’s designing a tiny house which she intends to be the impetus for a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.