Herewith thoughts on what dying feels like, plus a picture (really) of Siberia.
What happened was, on the way to Yokohama I started coming down with a cold; it turns out that in the Vancouver I was leaving behind, more or less everybody was getting it. It’s vicious, but it didn’t really start to bite until the TAG meeting was about done.
Waking · The night before I flew out, the cold and the jetlag kept me from more than a couple of snatches of sleep. Towards morning, I twisted somehow the wrong way and threw something out, like red-hot iron up my spine into my neck. On my back, I had a moment of deep fear when I realized I couldn’t sit up, which could be a real problem in a hotel in a country where you’re an ignorant illiterate; especially when you’ve been reduced to inarticulate croaking by brutally painful laryngitis. But I managed to work through a half-dozen wincing squirms and get sideways leverage and thus up.
Then the cold bit down with a wave of hacking and sneezing, each spasm hurting the neck enough to jar loose tears, making the congestion worse, a bad positive-feedback loop. No painkillers, no decongestants and no sleep. This was an hour earlier than I’d thought I’d need to get up, but I went to work and used every second of it—no time for breakfast—getting showered and packed and out the door, all at half-speed. Those pictures of Mount Fuji and the glass building, I could hardly hold the camera up.
Transit Peril · The crowding and climbing at the station were nearly disastrous; a rushing sarariman knocked me sideways, my body twisted hoisting luggage, and for a second the hot white pain pushed my mind aside and I wavered on the steep concrete steps head spinning, but fear won and my good hand got a grip in time on the railing and the dropped luggage didn’t even roll downstairs. One of those wonderful/terrible Japanese cold strong sweet canned coffees on the platform was a rough kind of therapy, but the next couple of hours to Narita are pretty fuzzy, there may have been scenery out the window but my head wouldn’t turn that way.
Relief · Good things started to happen; just inside the airport was a Starbucks where I got a nice unchallenging bellywarming scone and latte—call me a parochial gaijin honkey gringo, baby, I can take it—and a few more steps revealed a pharmacy, I was baffled by the Japanese labels but when I wheezed “Ibuprofen” the motherly manager smiled and set me up and I gulped a handful of anti-inflammatory goodness.
Later, on the plane—I lucked into the very decent British Airways “World Traveler Plus” class—the waves of pain receded some, and clearer-headed, I realized that I’d been operating on just a corner of my mind. I guess that if you’re unlucky this is what the intermediate stages of dying are like, working through the pain and still managing to function, more or less; until you can’t.
And yes, I’m a wimp, this was just a pinched nerve compounded by upper-respiratory infection and jetlag. There are people walking around with terminal cancer and phantom-limb pain and migraines, and lots of women labour in childbirth for twenty-four hours or more. Still, I’ve been hit hard by a car and broken a couple of limbs otherwise and this was a bad combo.
Siberia · It was good I’d got the pills and the comfy seat, because that Narita-to-Heathrow leg is a mofo, eleven and three quarter hours, hours of slow crawl over Siberia, hours of rivers and trees and valleys and no mark of the human hand visible from the jet; and all snowy. Above, an icy Siberian river winds from nowhere to nowhere.
There’d be a few different bad kinds of death you could find out about down there; a place where you’d want all your wits about you. Between then and now it’s been lousy, but I’m home now with Lauren and the kid and it’s good to be alive.