Lessons From A Near Death Experience: A Survivor’s Story

Posted: July 15, 2015

In this post, another survivor writes about the lessons from a near death experience she had. Also about what she learned about the simple pleasures of life. 

This post is part of a special series on Survivor Stories, where we share and celebrate the stories of women who believe they are survivors.

We are all survivors, each fighting a different battle, but fighting nonetheless. Faces seldom show the pain within and the art of hiding one’s agony has been mastered to a level beyond comprehension. The stories of survival surface after the sun goes down, in moments of solitary reflection and sometimes in the company of friends over a couple of drinks. Well, I have rarely shared mine too, not due to any inhibition but for the sole reason that my conscious mind has repressed the memory and doesn’t let it surface easily.

Today, I explained to myself that it is okay. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and whether I acknowledge it often or not, it has strengthened me and changed the way I look at life.

I was in the final year of medical college when I started suffering from massive headaches. Dismissing them as stress-induced ones, I took strong analgesics. It soon progressed to muscle aches and then the rest of the body started showing  symptoms. Diagnosed as typhoid, I was admitted to a local hospital. Within a couple of days, my condition deteriorated and I was referred to a higher centre.

I looked horrible; my neck was twice the size, my body was bloating and my liver failing

I looked horrible; my neck was twice the size, my body was bloating and my liver failing. Of course that worried me all the more as I understood what was happening to my body, being a medical student. The scarier part though was to see the fear of my death in my family’s eyes. While I was being transported to the ‘higher centre’, I could see the pain in my parents’ eyes despite the brave front they were putting up. Slipping in and out of consciousness, I could just see troubled faces and apprehension. The feeling was worse than the physical pain I suffered due to the disease.

As soon as I was wheeled into the emergency department, I saw a sign on the wall that I read with a great difficulty. It read ‘This too shall pass!’ It is said that little words can make big differences. That is exactly what happened that day. I just started saying to myself, ‘I shall not die, not today, not like this. This too shall pass.’ I don’t know why but it made me feel a wee bit stronger. Soon the doctors diagnosed me with a rare, potentially life-threatening condition called DRESS syndrome.

I was in the ICU for a month and I had many highs and lows during the time. I was not given an access to a mirror but looking at my hands and the rest of the body, I understood that my skin had turned dark, I was bloated and disfigured and my family was scared that I would not able to bear to see my own reflection. Near and dear ones came to see me and had a look on their faces as if they were there just to bid goodbye.

My father gathered my family around the bed and said what I shall never forget, ‘We are a family. We shall come out of this together.’ I could have hugged and kissed him then but was too weak to. The love and devotion of my family helped me keep a smile on my face through the painful turmoil. Just before discharge, the doctor said to me as I thanked him, ‘Thank your family. It is an amazing one.’

The arduous journey didn’t end here. I felt like a new-born. I had survived but the illness had wrecked havoc with my body; I had to literally start learning how to walk again. I lost a lot of hair, I still looked weird but I also felt a lot of change in my personality. It felt like a second chance at life. It took me almost a year to get back to a ‘new normal’ and through this journey, I learnt a lot:

  • Life is too short and too uncertain. You must not wait too long to do what you really want to.

  • It is in situations like this that you truly come to know who really matters in your life. Cherish your family.

  • Determination and faith can do wonders. They did for me!

  • Don’t waste your life on regrets. Forgive and move on.

  • Don’t think too much. Just do whatever pleases you.

It has been 11 years and I still have a few residual problems but the near-brush with death made me value my life more. I live my life a little more each day now and am thankful for all the little pleasures in life.

This is a poem I wrote while recuperating:

I’ll stumble and fall on every stone?

No, I defy you destiny, I know I should.

I dare you to try me more than once.

I have always stood for all I am or could.

Attempt to hurt me as much as you can,

I will not shed a single tear.

Bring to life the scariest nightmare,

I harbour in me but no fear!

Take away my joys, bestow me with agony.

I’ll cherish my every sorrow.

Gift me endless darkness if you so wish.

I’ll not give up, today or tomorrow.

Snatch away everything, all I love.

I shall still stay alive.

Challenge me to any odyssey, any ordeal,

I am a survivor, I shall survive!

surviving illness image via Shutterstock

A doctor, a healthcare administrator, an ever travelling army-wife and a hands-on mom

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  1. Shivani you are a fighter and I believe that. Your story will inspire a lot more people to face the toughest challenges and come up in life.My best wishes to you

  2. Doc heart touching story !! U are a true fighter !! You’ve actually not fought, rather decided to fight !! I’m always a strong believer of – Work hard for what you want, because it won’t come to you without a fight !!
    After reading your story on top, I truly believe that words are more powerful than most people think !! They can give hope to the hopeless and strength to the weak !! Even in the darkest moments of our lives, a few words of hope can bring light and give us strength to stand up and try once more !!
    2 things before I end expressing myself, I would want to thank your family members for being a great support to you, and playing an important role turning you into such a nice human being – I’m glad I know you !!
    Secondly, “This too shall pass !! “

  3. Nandini Gupta -

    Wow ! Hats off Doc ….there are no words that can express how I feel right now….we have known each other for almost 30years and through every new blog of yours I still am discovering you .

    It’s an honor to know you 🙂 ….you are personification of “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going!”

    ‘This too shall pass!’ ….makes alot more sense now 🙂 …earlier I had one sided view of it …that sorrows will pass but now it inspires me to leave be every moment …

    Thank you

  4. Love you my sweetheart, you are a inspiration not only for me but so many people who will read this blog…you are immensely talented n courageous woman love you……

  5. Hi Shivani I can so relate to this survival story coz I have been in a similar situation. Yes you do come out a different person… Yes your personality does undergo a definitive change…. But what is commendable here is your ability to express yourself and inspire others in a positive way… As always beautifully written.

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