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A Close Shave Contemplation

Brian Phillips, August 2001

Recently I was busy preparing to return to Melbourne and had begun the day with a long swim and felt fit and healthy. Whilst kneeling down packing my suitcase I felt pain in my knee and saw that it had split open with puss and blood emerging. I was puzzled because I hadn't cut or scraped it previously, or been bitten by an insect. I thought it would ‘just pass' and continued.

A couple of hours later I felt unwell, my knee had swollen considerably and a deep red line had made its way from knee to groin. By the time I reached the airport I felt I was freezing. I put on enough clothes for an English winter whilst I sat amongst the tanned travelers in their summer attire.

On arriving in Melbourne, my doctor said that I needed penicillin but would have to come back the next day as the surgery was out of supplies! So I went to bed to wait it out. My skin was sore from large purple rashes spreading rapidly from my armpits and groin. I vomited, fluctuating between uncontrollable shaking and rigors that made the body hard as rock. "Hang in there till morning" I told myself.

Fortunately, at this stage my sensible wife intervened over the telephone and instructed my housemate to take me to hospital (otherwise there probably wouldn't have been a next morning for me). He carried me into intensive care with a temperature of 39.6 degrees, dangerously low blood pressure and kidney failure. They put eight litres of fluid into me within a couple of hours. At 3 am they performed an emergency operation to ‘wash out' the infection from my knee as I was in serious danger of going to the Bardo.

I remained in intensive care for two days. When my family visited, my daughter took one look at me and vomited and my son promptly fainted. I was moved to the ‘High Dependency Ward' where (to my dismay) my fellow patients were on the brink of death. One fellow had suffered a stroke, a collapsed lung and a heart attack in the one day. Another chap died in front of us. "They must have me in the wrong ward" I thought (or rather hoped).

I was diagnosed as having Streptococcus A, but a particularly nasty strain which pumps poison into the body and eats the flesh (it must have been sorely disappointed searching for food on my skinny frame). Due to the unusual severity of the infection, the Royal Children's Hospital began research on it.

The entire time that I was lying there, one thing kept going through my head over and over again: "Of course I am experiencing this suffering - this body, these aggregates are in the nature of suffering. They could exist in no other way; they come from contaminated causes. This is the result of my own karma and delusion." I wasn't distressed, my mind was quite calm. I just kept thing "Of course, this is no suprise."

Each doctor was keen to emphasise how lucky I was and that only my fitness had kept me alive. The orthopedic surgeon happened to add that amputation above the knee had been a very real consideration! What I actually suffered was ‘Acute Toxic Shock Syndrome'. The doctors assured me it was a very unusual case and one that is extremely unlikely to occur again. So after all that, I've come away with only a scar on my knee and some very immediate material for the death meditation.

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