A Reason to Breathe

Big Shot, Little Shot and I spent the weekend at his parents’ house up north. It was a typical weekend for us at the “Batcave”; busy in the shed, in the sun and in the beer fridge.

On Friday evening we arrived at the Batcave to be greeted by two strangers; a man with a strong handshake and a classic Californian accent, and his Canadian partner who stood at least two heads above me with long, flowing blonde hair. They had arrived here by chance; they’d purchased a set of racks for the roof of their camper from a family friend, who had brought them over to fix one of the broken bolts. There were always people over in the shed with all sorts of machines and crazy contraptions to be fixed. It’s what Big Shot’s family were known for. Give his dad anything that doesn’t work and after an hour or less of tinkering it’ll be good as new, costing you a box of his favourite beer. Even his mother, Nanna Batman, at the ripe old age of 78, would be capable of fixing a truck on her own. It’s a trait I’m glad Big Shot has inherited, and one I hope Little Shot does too.

As it has always been with most waifs and strays who stumble into The Batcave, one evening in the family shed was not enough for these traveling folk. The couple ended up staying a few nights leading up to Sunday, when a large family gathering and hangi was planned.

On Saturday Big Shot and a few friends took the couple to a locals- only diving spot to collect shellfish for our dinner. All day I had been looking forward to a feast of shark and fresh fish, and when I saw the mussels ready to be eaten out of a bucket, I grabbed a handful and half a lemon and indulged in their salty goodness. It had been ages since I’d had a nice seafood meal, aside from the tuna and salmon pizza Nanna Batman had baked for our lunch. During my pregnancy I remember craving shark like a madwoman, and I’d probably ingested about half a Mako before Little Shot was born!

A minute after I’d finished digging into some shark steaks an finishing off the mussels I started to feel a little light- headed, so I went inside to lounge out on the couch. It didn’t take a minute before I felt an ache in my neck and my eyes and nose started to itch and run. In my head throbbed that dull ache you get on the third day of a bad cold, although I’d only felt this way within the last minute and a half. After wasting half a box of tissues on my running nose I decided something must be up. My chest was tightening and my voice had a wheeze to it when I spoke.

“I hope I’m not reacting to something,” I told Big Shot, who was already Googling my symptoms. He hadn’t really spoken to me since our argument. It was a totally unnecessary quarrel- the typical debate over stressful finances. Nothing really worth fighting over, but we were both as stubborn as each other when it came to holding grudges.

While he scowered the Internet for my diagnosis I dragged my body back to the shed, my fist stuffed with tissues, to ask the Americans for some antihistamines.

They happened to have some, and when they came back in to find me a couple of minutes later, what they found sprawled out on the couch before them was probably enough to make them want to throw the pills at me and run. I looked like a possessed zombie; eyes swollen, gaping mouth spurting drool, convulsing and gasping, and clawing at my throat, which had tightened up to allow barely a breath to enter. At my side was Big Shot, desperately shouting through the phone to the emergency services, who insisted an ambulance would be arriving shortly.

When you can’t breathe, a minute feels like an hour. I’d say the little air I did inhale was the equivalent to one normal breath every two minutes. As the oxygen escaped me my brain began to float. Very quickly I was finding it hard to focus on my surroundings, and suddenly I was floating a foot from the couch.

A whole half hour later, before I knew what was happening, there were two drifting faces above my own. By this stage I had long ago stopped breathing through my nose completely, and something plastic was now covering my mouth. The two faces swung before my eyes like pendulums and fused into one, and I realised the person this face belonged to was speaking to me. He was part of the fire service, and he had placed an infant-sized oxygen mask over my mouth. It was at least three sizes too small, but it was better than nothing. Ten more minutes and I wouldn’t have made it. The American man was about five minutes from slitting my throat and stabbing a plastic straw into it, so I am glad the emergency services decided to show up when they did.

Amongst the buzz of paramedics moving their skilful hands and crazy machinery around me I caught sight of the one thing that startled me back into reality and helped me to hold on. Little Shot. He was patiently watching, concerned for the person he called “mummy” who was being stabbed with needles and hooked up to machinery. I wonder now what he thought when he saw that, and a huge part of me wishes he hadn’t.

I was escorted on a stretcher into an ambulance, and my chest by this point felt so constricted I was fighting with everything I had left in me just to bring this oxygen into my shrinking lungs. While this was happening I heard a voice ask what to do with the huge emergency bag, and the paramedics told them to just place it on top of me as they carried me out. In my head I was throwing a fit. “Are you frickin kidding me?! I can barely breathe, and you want to place something heavy over my chest?! Clever.”

The next thing I knew I was laying head-first in an ambulance with three IV lines sticking out of my limbs and the only thing I could think of was Little Shot. I prayed for him, I think, more than for myself. He must have been so scared. With the little strength I had left I managed to wiggle my toe. “I’m alright.” And with that I was gone.

I vaguely remember the helicopter ride, but it was not the typical romantic flight I had pictured for Valentine’s Day. Apparently at one point I had stopped breathing completely. My chest went from sounding wheezy to completely silent. After a while I came to and I was even able to breathe a little through my left nostril. I remember thinking, “Lord, please don’t let me pee in front of these guys. These meds they’re pumping me up on are making my bladder go nuts and I haven’t gone since before dinner.”

In the hospital I was able to speak one or two words at a time, but I wished the doctors would shut up and let me focus that energy on my breathing, and not on answering their stupid questions. “What is wrong?” “I dunno, Einstein, what do you reckon?!” Again my nose closed up.

One silly nurse tried to give me a pill orally, drowning my throat with water, blocking up every possible entrance way for air. It came straight back up. This was not going well.

Hooked up to heart monitors and a nebuliser, I must’ve looked like Frankenstein’s wife by the time Big Shot bolted into the emergency room with Little Shot in his arms. It had been an hour since I’d seen them and my breathing was now almost stabilised, though still very shallow and weak. I was so overjoyed to finally be in their presence that I almost forgot the urge I still had to pee.

Although I had enough oxygen going to my brain to be able to think clearly, there were still a few times that night when my throat decided to suddenly tighten up again, and the process of needles and drugs would all start over, until finally I could remove the mask and breathe on my own.

That night I spent in the intensive care unit was frightening. My mum and brother drove two hours to come and see me, arriving in the middle of the night, but I wasn’t allowed visitors staying with me in the room. I wasn’t allowed to breastfeed, and I wasn’t allowed my baby sleeping at my side, as he had done for his entire life, so Big Shot once again took on the role of Superdad.

I think I managed an hour of sleep with the help of an oxygen mask strapped over my face, and in the middle of the night I had to use the breastpump to dump my steroid and adrenaline- infused milk.

Little Shot was very well behaved. Driven by starvation he ended up taking a bottle of formula before bed, and we could tell by his expression he was highly unimpressed. To him, this was probably the baby equivalent of Pepsi in comparison to Coke. It’s just not the same.

The next morning I still struggled to breathe on my own a little, but this was a vast improvement from the evening before. After smothering Little Shot in kisses, my mum took him to get another bottle and Big Shot and I slowly wandered through the corridors and into the hospital’s chapel. Here I took a moment to give thanks for what our family had just experienced. I was thankful for the strength I was given and for the love I felt.

Coming that close to death was an eye opener. I realise now there are more important things in life than material, money, and holding grudges. Family and loved ones are the things that truly matter in this world, and every breath we take is worth more than gold.

We stood in the chapel a moment longer. Just us, hand in hand. Basking in the light of Sunday morning which broke through stained glass and touched our faces. In that moment I realised how much we needed each other. He was my rock, and I his salvation. And God, I loved him.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Princess.”
“You take my breath away.”

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