Death is a strange thing. It happens to everyone, and yet not to everyone. It takes so many guises and travels through so many media, and yet, the end result is the same. It is so final. And yet, it is just the beginning. We hear about it all the time, every day, from friends, on the news, in history books, in the Quraan. And yet! When it does eventually come, it's always unexpected! You plan as fast and as hard as you can, but it's always one step ahead. You think you know when it is coming for you, but in the end it always takes you by surprise.
I thought I was going to die once. As in, I was sure this was it. In August of 2009, 3 days before my birthday, I came down with the flu. It would have been no big deal, except that it was the swine flu at the height of the H1N1 global epidemic. And to make matters worse, I was the first confirmed doctor casualty to get infected from a patient despite full contact precautions. I remember every small detail that happened before the fever started. I remember that Salim Almazroui had had a massive stroke and was lying in the ICU, with dozens of his relatives and friends coming to visit every day, myself one of them. I remember seeing and talking to people I hadn’t met in years. And that Farida was one of the medical residents on call that week. And I remember the 2 boys who had arrived from Iran the night before, who had sky high fever and were coughing so much that when I entered the room I could actually see all the droplets in the air. The interesting part is that my shift was about the end 5 minutes later, but I preferred to see and swab them because otherwise they would wait for another half hour until the new shift had received and reviewed all their patients before getting to them.
Long story short, I caught the virus. The mask I was wearing was already moist from use, and was penetrable. And I wasn’t wearing goggles. I saw the boys on Monday night; the cough started on Friday, and Sunday morning I woke up at 6 am with my heart racing and my skin feeling like it was on fire. Not being used to having a fever, I didn’t know what was wrong with me until I checked my pulse and found it in the range of 120-125. When I measured my temperature later in the ER (to ask for the first and only sick leave in the history of my career) it was only 38.6, but it felt like 40. It stayed with me until Tuesday, during which I couldn’t sleep, and what little sleep I did get was fitful and interrupted by hallucinations and nightmares. I couldn’t eat anything solid, and what little I got in passed out almost immediately. On day 2 I started to bleed from the nose, and was nauseous all the time. The cough was the most irritating thing. And the fact that I knew I was going to die.
I don’t know what goes through people's heads when this fact occurs to them. To me, as I lay sweating on the couch too weak to answer the phone that was ringing nonstop, I thought about what to do about this realization. I didn’t mind dying, that much I knew. But I was worried. Because whichever way I looked at it, I knew that if I died I would go to Hell. There was nothing that I had done in my life that would even give hope that I might end up in Heaven. Yes I wore hijab, I prayed and fasted and I tried to be a good person in general. But that was it. I had done nothing in my life to deserve mercy from The Most Merciful, and to escape those flesh-eating flames for all eternity. I tried to write a will, but didn’t have anything to give away. The only thing I could remember was the 35 pounds I owed Esam from Mix Max 7 years ago and which to this day I cannot for the life of me remember if I had paid back or not. When I had thought about it long enough, I tried to prepare myself for death by washing my hair and cleaning up, but just standing in the shower for 5 minutes was exhausting and I couldn’t even do that. In the end, I succumbed to my fate, and just prayed that my illness wipe away all my sins, and that my useless and shameful existence in this mortal world be forgiven and accepted. I didn’t think much about what it would actually feel like; I just knew that it was coming. And I vowed that, if I lived through this experience, I would be a better person.
Well, obviously I didn’t die, and felt like I had been given a second chance, which I shamefully admit I am not making much use of. I did contact a couple of people whom I felt I had wronged and apologized to them, and I went to Hajj. I am genuinely trying to improve many other things. However, man has a bad habit: no matter how close you get to death, you eventually forget about it. I do wonder, though if when it happens, would I go out with a bang, like Wardi, Imam Ali El-Sheikh and Princess Diana? Or would I just fade away out of existence and memory, like those figures on the list of a terrorist attack, or a lizard in the middle the desert? I don’t want to pass through this life, mortal and useless as it is, as a nobody, touching no one's life, improving no one's existence, changing nothing in the world, and leaving behind no good memory or legacy.
It's never too late. Tomorrow, the rest of my life begins.
اللهم اهدينا في من هديت، و عافنا في من عافيت، و تولنا في من توليت، و بارك لنا في ما أعطيت، و اكفنا شر ما قضيت، انك تقضي و لا يقضى عليك، اللهم ارحم موتانا و ارحمنا اذا صرنا الى ما صاروا اليه، اللهم اجعل خير أعمالنا خواتمها و خير أيامنا يوم نلقاك يا كريم يا غفور يا أرحم الراحمين، امين