People talk about “near death” experiences. How they see a bright light and get amazing amounts of clarity, maybe think of the people they love. They talk about how life changing it is, how it focuses them on what they want and need in their lives. At least that’s the clichéd version seen in film and TV.
My near death experience started a year ago today. There was no bright light or clarity, there wasn’t even much fear, at least not for me. For everyone else there was a lot of fear. A lot.
A year ago today I was eighteen weeks pregnant and I had contracted swine flu, though at the time nobody knew that. I was ill. Very ill. My mother in law came round and found me lying on the sofa in agony, throwing up, and feeling faint. She was frightened for me and phoned my dad.
When my dad came he was worried enough to phone my mother, which isn’t something that has been known to happen often as he’s not the worrying type. My mother got me seen immediately at the doctors, the doctor phoned the hospital. This is where memory starts to get hazy for me. It’s patchy, I remember bits, but mostly what I’m retelling is things that I’ve been told by those who were there.
My mother phoned Jonathan at work and he came out early, then together me, my mum, Jonathan and Miss Rose headed to the hospital.
I was blacking out. I remember very clearly begging Jonathan to look after Rose for me. To love her, to cuddle her. Whether those words actually made it out or were just in my head I honestly don’t know, but I know I thought I was going to die, and I know I needed him to promise he’d love her.
My mum was driving and shaking me to try and stop me passing out, behind me Jonathan was holding my head trying to stop it going down. I remember my mum smacking me to wake me up. Both of them intently trying to stop me disappearing. But mostly it’s a blur of blackness. My mum drove up the hard shoulder of the motorway, whizzing past the traffic at the side, and saying “fuck this.” Rose was in the back wondering what was going on, frightened.
Once we got there and I had been wheel chaired in I was hooked up to tubes and machines, my blood pressure was super low, my temperature was super high. Blood tests were done, machines were beeping. I remember my mother in law arriving and gently stroking my hand. I remember her promising she’d look after the children. I remember a nurse trying to take a blood test and going wrong twice, blood spraying over her and the floor, and me watching it in slow motion.
I remember begging Jonathan to take me home. I remember his face set rigid. I remember my mum telling me no, I had to stay.
I was moved into high dependency and held there being tested for things, IV bags pumping into both hands. Jonathan was allowed to stay with me. I needed him with me and they made allowances. I later realised it was because they weren’t sure I’d make it.
Repeatedly I begged them to check the baby and each time they refused. They had to stabilise me or there was no point checking the baby. I had to be okay for the baby to be okay. I later found out they had assumed the baby wouldn’t have survived anyway.
The next day I crashed hard. I was unconscious and Jonathan was watching doctors and nurses circling me, trying to revive me, my blood pressure dangerously low, my heart rate plummeting, machines blasting warnings. Jonathan was watching me die. He was trying to work out how to tell my mum, how to tell Miss Rose. How to raise her without me there, how to help her cope with my death. He’d accepted the baby wasn’t going to survive and now was having to come to terms with the fact I wouldn’t survive either. He was working out how to say goodbye.
This was one year ago. I’m typing this at home with Baby Boo in my arms, a healthy and perfect seven month old who not only survived but wasn’t damaged by it. Jonathan was at my side every step of the way and he still is. Every subsequent hospital stay he was with me. He was holding my hair back, he was helping me drag equipment to the toilet and helping me on and off. He was cleaning me up, helping me eat, watching me sleep.
Everything is okay now. Better than okay. My family is gorgeous, my relationship is wonderful, my career is starting to go places. My dedication I saw in my partner, my mother, my mother in law, these wonderful people who put their all into caring for me and my children in my time of desperate need, have given me a sense of such security and safety. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
And yet I’m not over it.
I feel like I should be. I feel like I should have moved on. It’s been a whole year now. I’m here, my baby’s here, my family is together. But I’m not over it.
I’m still afraid. And I know Jonathan’s still afraid.
My immune system never recovered fully. My body never got back to full strength. Fighting off the bug whilst sustaining a pregnancy was too much in some ways and I’m left weakened. I catch every bug going and I catch them hard. I’ve been collapsed on the ground vomiting whilst Jon’s cleaned me up and cared for the children. I’ve been violently shaking before passing out whilst Jon’s held my hand and tried to keep me safe. I’ve been so dizzy that I’ve fallen down the stairs. I get ill. I get really, really ill. Whilst it was a year ago and life has moved on, I keep getting hard reminders of how close I came. How close I could still get.
I’m not over it.
There are practical things I can do to manage that fear. I’m taking steps to legally protect my family; making sure Jonathan retains control of the children and the business. I’m trying to keep myself healthy as possible, I eat a healthy diet (chocolate aside) and drink lots of water.
But if I get ill again? What if next time it’s the real thing? What if when Jonathan thinks he’s watching me die he really is?
My children will grow up in this cruel world without the woman who loves them more than anything else on this planet. Without the woman who would give her life for theirs. They’ll grow up without me and I have so much to give them. So much to do for them.
I don’t want to leave my babies.
Last year I almost died. I almost left my babies behind. In some ways the year since then has been the best of my life. In some ways I am the happiest I’ve ever been. In so many ways now is a wonderful, wonderful time to be alive.
But in some ways I am so afraid that when I lie awake at night it’s all I can think of. I can’t get it out of my head. Last year I almost died and there’s nothing stopping me from being there again except chance and luck.
I’m not over it yet. I don’t know if I ever will be. I don’t want to leave my babies.
You can check out all my contact info an links on www.jjbarnes.co.uk, I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so you can get in touch on there, as well as find links to all my work. There’s also www.sirenstories.co.uk which has all the work by both myself and Jonathan McKinney and loads of extra content such as background stories for different characters. If you want to subscribe on Patreon, its just $1 a month to help support our work and it also grants you access to our extra podcast a week, you can go to www.patreon.com/sirenstories.
Thanks as always for reading, and I’ll speak to you soon I hope!