A Close Shave

Posted by M ws On Monday, September 17, 2012 2 comments
I had a near death experience recently - one which has transformed my perspective to life quite drastically. That is why I did not manage to update my blog for the past few days. In fact, I have not been well for some time now.

Since the time I was a little girl, I have had claustrophobia which is the fear of having no escape and being closed in small spaces or rooms. According to Wikipedia, it is typically classified as an anxiety disorder and often results in panic attack, and can be the result of many situations or stimuli, including elevators crowded to capacity, windowless rooms, and even tight-necked clothing. The onset of claustrophobia has been attributed to many factors, including a reduction in the size of the amygdala, classical conditioning, or a genetic predisposition to fear small spaces.

In retrospect,  it all began in the 1960's when I used to play hide and seek with my cousins. I loved to hide in cupboards, under the bed/tables or any dark and crammed places. There were times when I was trapped within because the door was jammed or because I did not want to lose the game and so suffered in silence till I could bear it no more. Even writing about it now is giving me palpitations. I cannot describe the anxiety I feel when in enclosed conditions.

When in secondary school, I was infamous for my fainting spells - most of which was during school assembly, especially when singing the national anthem when we had to stay still or even during sports events. In sixth form, I fainted once. When I was expecting my older son, I fainted during one sports event. Of course, I have always been a 'puteri lilin' for I cannot stand the sun. Prolonged exposure to the sun gives me horrible headaches, fever and many other problems.

I cannot bear to be in an elevator that is jam packed because the dizziness and palpitations give me anxiety attacks, One of the worst claustrophobic experiences I have had would be in a train journey from Hanoi to Hue a few years ago. Then, I was given the centre bunk and I nearly fainted when I saw the bunk. I felt caved in as the space in the cabin was crammed and breathlessness, palpitations were too much for me. It was horribly unbearable and I stood for the whole duration of the journey in the corridor. Hence, when taking any flight, I must have the aisle seat or else all the fear of suffocation etc. will increase in intensity particularly if I have to take the aisle seat.

Unfortunately, I also have agoraphobia which is an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives the environment to be difficult or embarrassing to escape. These situations include, but are not limited to, wide-open spaces, as well as uncontrollable social situations such as may be met in shopping malls, airports, and on bridges. Agoraphobia is defined within the DSM-IV TR as a subset of panic disorder, involving the fear of incurring a panic attack in those environments. The sufferer may go to great lengths to avoid those situations, in severe cases becoming unable to leave their home or safe haven. This is one of the reasons why I seldom go out.

Recent events such as bombing of public places, earthquakes etc has not made it easier for me to be in crowded places.  As such, I never like to go to shopping malls or large cities.  Hence, you can imagine the fear that filled my heart when I attended public forums or even rallies. Since the last rally I attended at Esplanade in February this year which was really crowded and filled with unpleasant episodes, I resolved never to attend any rally ever again for the rest of my life.

Last Friday, I had the worst experience of my life. After my family attended a birthday dinner of a friend's mom, we made our way to the pasar malam in Jelutong to buy our favourite nyonya kuih from a young couple. As my husband drove around the area for at least three times, I was already beginning to panic. Still, I told him to wait by the roadside while I walked to the stall, I was quite appalled by the thick crowd.

Walking through the thick crowd, I really felt like an earthworm squirming my way through packed earth. On either side were stalls manned by eager hawkers calling out for customers. On such a humid evening, the deadly combo of body odour, sweat and unwashed sweaty, oily hair reeking of the potent concoction of perspiration+hair oil+ stale perfume+ aroma of food was a horrible assault on my poor olfactory receptors!

After buying my kuih, I had to tunnel my way through the crowd and I actually saw the ground moving like waves up and down. There was no way to escape and I had to endure that torturous walk. Finally, there was a gap and I squeezed my way through and walked on the grass. By then, I was very giddy and it was a miracle I drove home safely.

By the time I reached home, my blood pressure had spiked and I was so breathless. It was a full blown panic attack of the highest degree. Writing about it now is really an ordeal and I feel nauseous even at this point.

I had the full works - breathlessness, very high blood pressure reading till the monitor said ERROR which means the reading is so high that it cannot be measured. Severe and debilitating chest pains set in and it was so unbearable that I cried and cried. Even when lying in bed, I felt my shoulders and neck stiffening and then my right arm transformed into a rigor mortis state. Soon, I could not move my right arm or fingers at all. I concentrated and tried to wriggle my fingers but to my horror, I saw the veins on my right hand and lower arm bulging in distended manner and they were like ridges on my arm - green, fat and ugly. That made it worse and I panicked even more thinking I had had a stroke.

My husband called a doctor friend who advised him to rush me to hospital immediately. I had difficulty walking but made it to the emergency ward where I took an ECG test. The nurse was horrified as the blood pressure monitor showed a reading of 167/103 and this was AFTER I had cooled down. It must have been in the region of 200 when I was at home. Thereafter, they had to draw my blood. Er...I have a very low threshold of pain so you can imagine how my bp spiked again when they stuck a needle into my hand and plastered the contraption. My eyes were shut tightly when they drew blood :-(.

Beside me was another emergency case - a sixty year old man who collapsed from a heart attack. While I was hooked onto one machine, I reckon the man was probably on four or more. One was probably a ventilator as it had this airy sound of air being compressed and released, another one had the beeping sound and another made musical sounds somewhat like a video game arcade and there was another making peculiar noises.

There I was. Thinking that I would die.

And there he was, at the threshold of death, body turned blue black. I could see his worried relatives hovering around the door and his wife crying softly by his side pleading to him to wake up and not to leave. It was very depressing and I felt so sorry not just for myself but more for the man in the next bed.

I thought to myself - for a long time, I had feared dying but never ever realized it is NOT that easy to die and it is much easier to live. How lucky I was to be able to breathe and talk albeit a bit coherently and what a close shave I had had.

As the doctor examined me and waited for the results of my tests, I really treasured every second of my life and vowed to take on a positive perspective despite whatever fears I may have.

While writing this post, I missed a call from my aunt in US so I called her back via my mobile and had a twenty minute conversation with her. I am well aware that some of my relatives also have claustrophobia and agoraphobia but she was so encouraging and positive in reminding me that each of us holds the destiny to our our lives - it is up to us to resolve to take control of our lives and will ourselves to overcome weaknesses.

The past few weeks when I had been unwell, I lost so much weight despite the fact that I had been eating well and enjoying loads of chocolates. Now, I have lost 28 pounds. Early this month, I had regained 6 pounds due to the Hari Raya break but with all the physical challenges and the recent frightening episode when I almost came face to face with 'death', I dropped six pounds and am at my thinnest. On a positive side, I can wear many of my old clothes, mini skirts etc but when I look at my gaunt face minus the fats around the cheeks or neck and my thin arms, I am glad to be alive! However, the whole experience has had its toll on my husband who is now sick as well. :-( He saw the doctor yesterday and hopefully by God's grace, we will both be ok.

Health is wealth. I know it is going to be a tough journey through the sunset years but I am going to make everyday count and make sure I stay positively healthy. Writing about the experience has been stressful as I had to relive the sequence of events. I assure you that what I wrote here is exactly the way it happened with no embellishment of any sort. Coming face to face with my claustrophobia and agoraphobia is not easy but is vital in recovery.

Thanks to blog readers, friends and relatives from here and there who phoned, sent me SMS messages, emails or whatsapp messages. They knew for when in hospital I accidentally posted in Facebook a photo I took of myself in the emergency room to see what I looked like in my groggy state.

Take care, dear readers. May God bless and keep you always!


2 comments to A Close Shave

  1. says:

    CLY Get well soon.
    I have Acrophobia, fear of height. I manage to lessen the effect by constantly putting myself in position of fear but just for a short while, like looking over the ledge of a tall building or down a flight of staircase. Or walking on a glass floor. The fear is still there but it is not overpowering. I have manage to walk on a tree top bridge, once. I cheated and managed to walk the Grand Canyon Skywalk, with my eyes closed.
    Maybe I am sensitive to motion. On the the Skybridge of the Petronas Twin Towers, I could feel that the bridge swaying. Even in KLCC Suria, I can detect motion when I am on the upper levels.
    Whatever it is I am not letting it take over my life.

  1. says:

    masterwordsmith Dear CLY

    Thank you for sharing so bravely about your fears and ways of overcoming the fears.

    Er...I also have acrophobia and vertigo!

    Even reading your experience made me quite dizzy!!

    Strangely, I used to love hiking until I had my spinal injury.

    Whenever I reached the peak, I could never look down. At the same time, I have been gripped by such deep fear that I was frozen with fright. I blogged about it sometime last year in September about my Hash House Harriers run...

    Yes, you are right. We have to fight back and overcome those phobias.

    Thank you for such an encouraging comment.

    God bless your kind heart!


    Best wishes

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