In August 2007 I was in a rather good mood, recently given tenure as a university lecturer in mass media, I was living in central London and enjoying it a lot, my close family was in good health and generally things were ‘great’. However, living on your own makes you do things that in all likelihood wouldn’t prioritise otherwise and I, among other things, as a precautionary measure, take a general blood test every year to make sure I am ok in that respect. I do it when I am in Greece in the summer and then start my ‘academic’ year. This time I left it a bit late so I was about to get the results a couple of days before I was to return to London. So, the doctor’s office called me and suggested I go and pick them up but asked me to go in person. The doctor, a well spoken and very friendly woman asked if I had anything unusual happen to me before the tests, maybe any stomach issues, any injuries and so on, of which I didn’t have any. The reason for the questions was that all the cancer-related indicator levels in the blood test were way higher than normal. This, for those of you who are shocked if someone is rude to you or if the car repair estimate is too high, actually IS quite a shock to the system. The doctor did try to reassure me that it was probably due to some of the other reasons that may cause those indicators to go up, but wasn’t quite persuasive in explaining why ALL of them were so high, which, by the way, is a very useful question to ask on such an occasion – prepare for vague answers if you are in Greece. The doctor suggested I retake the test, which now needed to happen a few days later. SO, here I was with two A4 pages of blood exam results indicating I may have cancer and a few days to ponder about it. My first thought was ‘thank God I don’t have a family to take care of, what would happen to them?’ Then I thought about my existing family, parents, sister, brother in law, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, who, while they don’t exactly need me, won’t find this very easy to deal with. Let me qualify this here, all the above thoughts were not linked to me being ill in and out of hospitals for an indefinite period of time, they were linked to me dying. At 36. This is when movies tell you your whole life passes in front you. Well mine didn’t. A few things did, including what I remembered from my first day at school, showing, on the way back, my first school mate which one my house was “come and bring your football ok?”, I remembered the day I found out I got into my first choice university, my first girlfriend (…actually quite a few after her too, including one who is now dead), first time I had sex – this is a really weird thought, “I may never have sex again not because of old age but because I’ll be dying shortly”, then I thought, actually, if it turns out I am indeed dying, I’ll just make sure I spend the remaining time …appropriately, that’s this problem solved at least- then I thought I’ll need to take care of inheritance, so, most real estate I thought I’d leave to my nephews and I’ll leave a few things to friends and that’s that done, and so on. (Here is some food for thought: Have you ever thought about the implications of leaving things to your parents, should you die before them and you have no children?). I also thought that I was going to ‘go’ very fulfilled, as I felt I have ‘made it’ professionally and a very deep personal level. Not so much because university lecturing is a dream job – if you think it is, you have never done it full-time – but because for me it was a completion of a huge ‘leap’ a few years earlier where I left everything behind to pursue a dream and it became real. One thing that I later thought about was that among these thoughts there were none about anything negative. No fights, no hard feelings, none of that. I also did not have any unfulfilled desires – things to do before you die. I have never swam with dolphins, even though two of them came very near me and a girlfriend swimming in the Aegean (they were rather unimpressed and left shortly after…). Still, I do not see it as a must-do experience, as I am sure neither do most dolphins. I have not climbed Kilimanjaro and I am sure it is an amazing experience, but never wanted to do it. Same goes for a lot of the ‘100 things to do before you die’ of which I must have read at least 100 different versions, a feat which in my view deserves a place on the list, even though admittedly not particularly high up. My highest score in any of them was 63, so, a dignified mark, “pass and proceed to next level” in university jargon, very appropriate here, I think :-). (note: I have never worked out the attraction of sky-diving. You jump off a plane. Gravity brings you down. Did you have a different view of the effects of gravity before you did that?)
Anyway, back to my blood test. Being relatively rational most of the time, I took these to my cousin who is also a doctor (…a real doctor of Medicine, not one with a doctorate like me, or like Dr. Dre – even thought I am not sure about Dre’s qualifications). She found them strange, but said to retake them was the right thing to do. She said a mistake might have happened, or I might have eaten something that my system didn’t quite agree with, you never know. I didn’t exactly buy that. Digestive issues registering in the same manner as cancer? So much for the marvels of modern medical science.
Still, I had a few days to consider life without ‘tomorrow’. In one way, I really can’t say I got the ‘full monty’ as I was not sure this was the case (hey, it is June 2012 now…) but got the free sample and I had no option but to try it on. So, this is how it fits me: It feels great to have lived – and continue living very honestly because it radiates ‘light’ into this notional darkness of the ‘unknown tomorrow’. I think I need to qualify this a bit: when you have things going for you as a person, it is great to be honest to yourself and everybody else about what it is that you are, you are not, you are doing, you are not doing, what you hope and so on. It feels great to be able to have fun with most things, (work included) as it makes everything better in many ways. It feels great to want to do things, put effort, evolve, learn and change. This probably also keeps some people ‘young’. It is great to have things or places or people or situations that inspire you. As a matter of fact if you can see ‘clearly’ enough, most people, places and situations can inspire you, some areas in Birmingham being a possible exception. It is great to have a ‘bubble’ of people in your life who you like and they like you back and you can see them often. I’ll stop here before this turns into a self-help blog, this is not my intention. Closing the paragraph loop, an honestly good ‘now’ worked well, you see a potentially dark tomorrow with different eyes. This was my experience.
A few days later, I went to retake the test. The doctor said that there might have been a mix-up with the blood samples – the results were from a different sample. I did retake it and indeed this time all the results were excellent. I went back to my usual state of mind and emotion probably within a few minutes. I had made sure not many people knew about the whole thing as they would have been very worried so I continued with most things as I would have, should none of this have happened. I had sex that night hoping my then girlfriend won’t spot/mind my mind being completely elsewhere, and after all I couldn’t vouch for hers always being there either :-). And then it hit me: Somebody else must have been given my results. Somebody whose cancer indicators are possibly very high, needs to take action very quickly, and had been told that his/her results are ‘excellent’ – even though I don’t know why at that point I assumed that the sample mix up would have been two-way only and not a total screw-up, maybe because I was having sex at the time. Obviously, this was a sex-killer (as in, it killed the sex on that occasion, I am not saying that the results belonged to someone committing sex-related murders, I have no such evidence). We then gave it up and watched Con-Air, which looked much better under the circumstances than the last time I had seen it.
another cinematic masterpiece starring Nicholas Cage…
P.S. I did think about calling the post ‘On Life, Sex and Death’ but then realised that a blog that can be described as me …writing on LSD is not an accurate representation of things. Not in the slightest. I may, however, re-name it at some point!
And now that I think about it, one thing I do want to try and is on my list is the zero-gravity flight http://www.gozerog.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=experience.welcome- maybe soon.
P.S. II the ‘comments’ bit is at the top of the post, is facebook messaging so much more fun? 🙂