There’s a certain ritual which kicks in for me come September. Actually, it starts at the height of winter, as I go walking with my nose in the air, searching for the first scents of jasmine – Jasminum polyanthum.
The tiny white flowered gypsophila – which I bought up across Port Elizabeth on the morning of our wedding (I didn’t break the bank as there wasn’t that much one could procure after Boxing Day, but I got it all!) – will always be a special sight at any time of the year.
But – and blame my stunted botanical interests on growing up in a council house in a township and not in the great outdoors – the jasmine flower is my only real physical and emotional connection with floral bursts.
Mostly, my deely boppers are working overtime by August already but the fascination with those petals comes into its own by September. It’s definitely got to do with my birthday month, certainly the start of spring plays a role. I think it might also have to do with having such a short time to enjoy the beauty of a hedge-full of my favourite white and pink flowers and an atmosphere thick with the sweet smell.
This year, the change in the seasons seems to have engaged me less when, actually, this first spring post-transplant, should be the most compelling, reflecting my own re-birth a year ago, the transition – no, the jump; it was, after all, a much quicker changeover than the timeframe conjured up by this transition word – from H1 to H2.
A year ago, I was dying. When I say or write that, it seems both facile and melodramatic. After all, all of us are dying, to a greater or lesser extent. We’re living, yes, but because we’re living there is always the inevitability of dying; while living, our bodies are also in the process of aging, breaking, moving inexorably towards death – we’re dying.
But, for the vast majority of us, the moment of death is not so imminent as to occupy all of our waking hours. As a global society, we have found myriad physical, practical (and, I daresay, spiritual) ways of mitigating the prospect of death.
Death, from August to October last year, was a frighteningly real prospect for me. If you’re new to this blog, you may not know that I had been diagnosed with end-stage heart failure, with a heart ejection (pumping) level of 10 to 12 percent – compared to the 50+ percent of the average healthy person. Doctors said there was nothing more they could do for me, except keep me on medication (which required admission to hospital high care facilities) to manage the effects of a weak heart on the rest of my body organs which resulted in water retention, a disgust for food, weight loss and related issues that would only get worse with whatever limited time remained.
And then, suddenly, death didn’t present such a frightening prospect anymore. I can’t answer the question of why I wasn’t afraid of dying. Knowing that I was very ill, knowing exactly what was wrong with me, seemed to be enough for me. It gave me a sense of peace – resolution perhaps? – about living and dying which I had never experienced before.
Then, there occurred the slightest possibility that I could qualify for a heart transplant – if …
- the rest of my body was not so diseased nor negatively impacted by my weak heart to make the procedure a waste of time and resources, as well as an opportunity lost for someone else who’s condition was equally dire;
- the medical aid would approve my application for a transplant;
- a donor heart became available soon; and
- that heart was able to settle inside of me.
Perhaps because I no longer was afraid of dying, I didn’t immediately grab at the opportunity for a transplant, even as I went through the necessary procedures to ascertain if I was a suitable candidate for the procedure. But my family – based, as it mostly always has been, on a sense of communal democracy (we all enjoy the benefits as we all enjoy the obligations) – stepped in, stating very firmly that a decision to forego transplant treatment if it became available was not mine alone to make. They made that decision even when, consciously, I seemed incapable of making it. They were right, and after my transplant I gratefully acknowledged that I wanted to live, and still do.
The reality is that my family – Belinda, Heath, Becca, Kelly, Marco, my sisters Hazel, Jenny, Patti, Brenda, brothers, cousins, the entire extended family, and friends galore led by Ian, Songezo, Ron, Ora, Dom, Michael, McGlory, have undergirded my journey in an unbelievable way. There is no doubt about the value of affirming relationships at any time of one’s life, but especially in moments of crisis.
This year’s spring burst will be special, enduring beyond my birthday in the middle of September and the jasmine disappearing from the hedge and the air: there’s a second, H2 birthday, just a few weeks away.