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Sep 2nd, 2016 Share: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn

The Day I Could Have Died

On February 29th I stepped off a plane after spending two weeks traveling for speaking engagements in Europe. The next morning I woke up with a slight pain on the left side of my body. It felt like I pulled a muscle.

That day I took an Uber, drove to San Francisco and led a full-day workshop together with Google for Entrepreneurs. By midday the pain got so sharp that I started google’ing the symptoms (as one does). The most likely explanation seemed to be pleurisy — an inflammation or irritation of the lining of the lungs and chest. The suggested initial treatment is an anti-inflammatory.

By lunch time I sneaked out of the workshop, headed to the next drugstore and bought some Ibuprofen. A few pills later I felt at least good enough to finish the session.

On my way home, curled up in an Uber, texting with Jane I decided to redirect the driver to the nearest urgent care unit. The team there rushed me in, got me x-rayed and about an hour later I was diagnosed with pneumonia.

Just before the doctor was about to write a prescription for antibiotics to treat pneumonia, with me in severe pain, he started mumbling to himself “You should not have this” and ordered a CT scan — “just to be safe”.

Once the results from the CT scan came back — it is nearly midnight by now and I am in severe pain, the diagnosis changed to pulmonary embolism; a blockage of the pulmonary arteries in your lungs, caused by blood clots. I have no risk factors for this. I am insanely healthy and fit. There is no reason I should develop this condition. “I should not have this.”

The doctor starts injecting blood thinners into my body and tells me to come back the next day to define the long-term treatment plan. The next 12 hours are insanely painful for me — in the morning I couldn’t stand the pain anymore and had Jane bring me back to the urgent care unit. Once there I got rushed into a treatment room, put on oxygen and preparations were immediately taken to get me into the emergency room at the local hospital.

The next 72 hours I spent first in the ER and later in a care unit, getting strong blood thinners injected every couple of hours.

And with that — it was all over. Pain gone. Felt normal pretty much immediately after leaving the hospital. About a week later I checked in with my primary care physician. After she looked through my files, she deadpanned: “You are lucky that you are alive.”

Apparently it was a somewhat risky situation where blood clots could dislodge and caused a stroke. But here’s the thing: Throughout this whole episode and even today I was never scared or frightened. If anything I was just in pain and wanted the pain to be gone.

I have been thinking about this for a while now. People find it odd that the prospect that there was a chance I couldn’t have made it doesn’t seem to register for me. It still doesn’t.

If anything — this is what I learned (and why I wrote this whole thing):

You, reading this post right this moment, doing so wherever you are and in whichever circumstances you are in, is the result of millions upon millions of small decisions. Decisions you took, decisions your parents, and the parents of your parents and their parents took. Think about this for one second and not be in awe how strange the universe is.

And — everything in your future is random. I could have died that day. The next time I cross the street I might get knocked over by a car. I just can’t know. And I can’t do anything about it.

Your past is shaped by an infinite amount of tiny decisions. Your future is random.

All you can do is appreciate the moment and put your best foot forward.

As Ray Lewis so eloquently said: If tomorrow wasn’t promised, what would you give for today?

Godspeed my dear friends.
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