The following real life changing event unfolded in 2007 in the town of Langebaan on the west coast of South Africa. It took 8 years to find the words to describe this experience…
I tried to get out of bed early that Sunday morning after a sleepless night caused by a strange and progressively intensifying pain in my chest. Getting up was no good as everything began to spin and I collapsed a few meters from my bed. The pain was becoming unbearable. I had no idea what was happening to me.
The ambulance brought me to the local hospital where they took me through a routine of checks. The pain was getting worse every minute and breathing became difficult. They couldn’t find what was wrong with me. Looking up from my bed in that emergency room I saw question marks in the faces of the hospital staff. One doctor, while observing the bulging and erratic pulse in my neck, remarked: “this is very interesting”, not very reassuring. My chest felt like it was being filled with acid and my lungs enmeshed in razor wire. Each inhalation became more and more excruciating. Nobody had any answers. Nobody could help me. I was loosing my ability to breathe. My system was beginning to shut down.
Finally the doctors concluded that the issue had something to do with my heart and they decided to have me rushed to a hospital with a cardiology department in Cape Town. I had to endure a journey that would take at least an hour and since my condition had not yet been diagnosed, no medical intervention was permitted. Things were rapidly going from bad to worse.
By this stage I was unable to inhale whatsoever and my body was becoming starved of oxygen. How was I going to survive an hour? And even if I did endure this nightmare journey, would they even be able to help my once we got to the next emergency room? I was suffocating.
Scenes of my life began to flash through the twilight of my fading consciousness. Was I on my way to reconnect with my mother who had died a few months earlier? My beloved wife was racing to meet me at the hospital. What if I didn’t make it there alive? What about the vision I had for my life? Dying in this ambulance was not part of that picture.
I knew I had to prevent panic from sinking its venomous fangs into me if I was to get through this ordeal. Surely it was not my time to go. Then, like a bolt of lightening, suddenly it struck me that breathing was essential if I was going to survive (obviously), but since I could not breathe physically, I would have to imagine breathing and pretend that my body was getting sufficient oxygen. Crazy, but it was the only option that made some weird sense to me at the time. I began imagining that my chest was expanding and receding as I pretended to inhale and exhale.
Would this really help? The pain was still intensifying. What’s the point? Then I remembered the famous adage: pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Suffering in this case was what I was doing in my head – hopeless and helpless thinking. I knew that in order to endure this, I had to stay out of my head and be present in my body. So, I kept my attention as much as possible in that ‘breathing body’ of mine and in order to not be swept away by suffocating thoughts, I just let them be…
Whatever gave me the idea that I could imagine breathing, also reminded me that thoughts are harmless, unless you believe them. Believing those scary thoughts that were flooding my mind was feeding the panic. In choosing to observe my thoughts coming and going, instead of believing them to be true, the panic was disabled. The pain was there, but my mind was no longer making it worse. I became highly present and felt as if my consciousness had expanded beyond my body. I began to sense myself ‘being breathed’. Then it occurred to me: “All will be well.”
At the emergency room I got wired up to a heart-rate monitor and soon I had a diagnosis – pericarditis – an acute inflammation surrounding my heart which was treated rapidly by injecting a large dose of anti-inflammatory. I cannot explain the relief! Not only was the pain gone, I was still alive! A couple days in the intensive care unit helped me to really appreciate that.
To this day, I know for sure that had I not have used that life-saving technique, I would not have made it to the point where medical intervention could help.
Since then, one of my passions has become helping people overcome panic attacks and performance anxiety using approaches like the one that helped me. Of course, most people who experience panic and anxiety can actually breathe, although their way of breathing at that time is part of the problem. Thus, when they learn to breathe in a more resourceful manner while broadening their mode of perception (peripheral awareness), they begin to experience themselves ‘being breathed’, which in turn helps them to remain cool, calm and collected.
That ambulance emergency and my journey through life subsequent to it has enabled me to appreciate more fully that “Life is not be measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.”
You are capable of more than you think, because you are more than you think you are!
Thank you for reading this. I hope it inspires you to cherish each breath…
* Download a free MP3 where Jevon teaches a technique like the one that saved his life *