The Air That We Breathe


It was a 6-hour operation that should have taken 3. Somewhere between the Ether and the theatre, I became aware of the tension between the anaesthetists. He, roughly putting the mask on my face, she, pushing his hands away and removing it from the other side. “Carole”, I heard her say in the far-off distance, “we need you to breathe”.

As I lay in a faraway land, I had absolutely no ability to move any part of my body.  I’m not even sure I was in it.  I had so little strength, I couldn’t even open my eyes.  But the tone and urgency in her voice told me, that if I didn’t breathe then, I never would again.

With as much will as I could muster, which was next to nothing, with all my might I drew in the tiniest air into my mouth.  It didn’t even reach the back of my throat.  “Breathe Carole”, she said with eager hope, and with enormous effort, I took in a huge breath of air fully into my lungs and held it there.  I still couldn’t open my eyes, or move, moments later I drifted back into unconsciousness.

I’m not going to say I was near death, the truth, I believe, is that at such times we are often brought nearer to life, to make us rethink and value it more, and when push came to shove, I consciously chose it. Of course, the whole incident was brushed under the carpet by the surgeon, who made a guest appearance five weeks later, but the words of the anaesthetist and that memory remained.

My belief system, thank goodness, isn’t built on other people’s programs, expectations, or socially enforced obligation, it’s built on my direct experiences. I’ve witnessed smart, logical, practical, rational people have metaphysical encounters, that their mind finds it hard to cope with. They are sometimes left spinning, urgently seeking a rational explanation, turning quickly to drink and drugs when they cannot.

In all grounded logic, in life, I’ve noticed that people leave their bodies for essentially two reasons. The first is that they are in such extraordinary amounts of pain, that no defence in the mind seems able to protect it. A time when it seems to me that insanity might be a defence in itself. A place where we dwell, when heartbreaking losses in our reality force us to take up refuge in the labyrinth of the phantasy unconscious. The second reason is when we depart this mortal coil.

Personally, my experience in the operating theatre was just one of many like it. Given my ordinary and extraordinary life events, when it comes to exploring the mind outside the body, I have accrued frequent flyers.  And readers will have to wait for my biography to read some of the rest.  If there is one thing I’ve come to understand, though, that I’m sure of, it’s that the first and the last sense we possess is sound, and the simple calling of someone’s name is often all it takes to bring them back to life. That, and the air that we breathe.

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