Life's Wake-Up Call into Reality
(This post talks about health issues of close family members.)
October 2023 was simultaneously one of the worst and one of the better months of my life.
First the good parts: I attended my first developer conference – Full Stack Europe – in Antwerp, Belgium.
By night train, I travelled from Zurich to Amsterdam and spent a beautiful day walking through the city. The next day, I took a train to Antwerp. There I joined my group of friends from the Laravel Switzerland Meetup where we attended two days of talks all around web development.
The talks and atmosphere were great. The highlight for me was seeing internet friends – which I've known for years – in person for the first time and spending the evenings with them. (Can't wait to see some of them again at Laracon EU in February 2024).
The worst part of October was learning that one of my parents – my mum – fell suddenly very ill.
From one night to the next, she started to vomit, getting high fever, chills, became dehydrated and incredibly low energy and sleepy.
After a turbulent night, an emergency visit to a doctors clinic, antibiotics, calls with a paramedic family member, she was admitted to the hospital.
After a night on the intensive care unit and a couple of days in an isolation room, we finally got a diagnosis: sepsis (blood poisoning) and a potential for kidney failure.
For unknown reasons, a part of her intestine has gotten inflamed, which lead to the sepsis. Her white blood cells were quickly being destroyed/used up and the body couldn't produce new cells quickly enough. All the energy in her body was now being used to survive.
But as the doctors now knew, what was going on, they could apply a medication therapy and things were already looking up and getting better. But slowly, very slowly.
While recovering in the hospital, they doctors made some ultrasound scans and – by luck – found a small tumor in another part of her body.1
Through the wonders of modern medicine, she recovered relatively quickly – more on that later – and could leave the hospital after a 8 days.
Now, 8 weeks after the incident, she is basically back to normal. She goes on her regular walks around her neighboorhood and – if the weather and temperature allow – she goes on her three daily bike rides around her village.
This was the first time in my life, that a parent was in a life threatening situation.
At first, I dismissed the signals and thought this is nothing serious. Like many people, they have a cough or a runny nose from time to time. No big deal usually. (And they went to a gathering just a day before; maybe someone has infected them with something like the flu.)
Only on day 2 I got worried; quite a lot actually.
My Apple Watch reminded me, that my resting heart rate during the whole period jumped by 10 points from 55 to 65. I was anxious, unable to concentrate on my work. I was generally in a sad mood.
My mind wondered into scenarios where my mother wouldn't survive this and I would loose her. Those were the saddest moments where I just let the thoughts wash over me and I let all emotions out.
However, I was thankful that I've developed a good habit in the past few years of going to the gym every morning. Lifting heavy weights for an hour; run or bike a couple of kilometers each morning aired out my brain and helped me cope with this situation.
Most thankful I'm for my father. He listened to his gut reaction and thought "this isn't something that will resolve on its own".
At first, my mother didn't want to go to the hospital. She also thought, this is something minor that can be cured by staying at home. But my father managed to convince her otherwise and brought her to the emergency room of the nearest hospital where a team of professionals could care for her.
After her situation stabilisied, a doctor questioned my mother, if she is in the hospital on her own accord or if she was forced to come here by someone.
She told the doctor, that her husband brought her here. The doctor mentioned, that her husband made the right choice, as she probably wouldn't have survived another day or two and home.
He saved her life.
I'm also eternally grateful for my cousin P, who works as a paramedic. My father and I could talk to and text her about the ongoing situation, she made suggestions what to do next, what to ask doctors. She also asked how the recovery is progressing, and what is coming next.
She also gave me a very good advice: "Don't google too much".
After we got the diagnosis, P told me, that my mother would now go through different phases of recovery and that X and Y will happen. She sent me links to medical dictionaries that explain everything and told me, to "not look further into it; you're Mum will be okay".
Only now – weeks later – I started to search the web for "sepsis" and found Reddit communities where folks wrote about the loss of a family member due to a too-late diagnosed sepsis.
I learned how deadly a sepsis can be and how fast everything can go.
This reinforced the gratefulness I have, that she survived this and that my father had the quick reaction, to bring her to the hospital. And obviously to the entire hospital staff who treated her.
As mentioned, she recovered quickly. A common trait in my immediate family. My mother has quite the willpower. If she wants something get done, she will put anything behind it and will see it done.
During my visits in the hospital she mentioned, that she has a positive outlook. "Things will get better from here". "I could walk for 5 minutes today; that's better then yesterday". "Others here have it worse. I'm happy that I can speak, read and eat on my own".
Back home, after another week of rest, she already started on – what I call – her recovery plan. She can't be restless, so she started doing some short daily walks. From her front door to the end of the street and back again. Everyday a couple of steps further.2
After another week, she already felt fit enough for a walk around the neighborhood.
8 weeks later, when it's not raining or snowing, she now goes on one of her regular daily bike rides around the outskirts of her village. 8 weeks later! A similarly aged gentleman in my local gym was in the hospital for 10 weeks after he got a sepsis. And my mum is already cycling and walking around again.
This rapid recovery phenomenon is something my mother, my father and I have in common.
I barely get sick, but when I do, I recover from it quite quickly (like in a single day)3. Same with my parents.
I always wondered if this is just lucky genetic accident, and if there's like a scientific program researching this. Would be more than happy to donate my "recover quickly"-trait/gene to humanity.
But what does this all have to do with a "wake-up call"?
This year I felt unusually tense. The pressure at work was constantly high. I didn't take the vacation days I wanted to. I felt burnt out from my open-source work.
I felt trapped in my day-to-day loop of "sleep → gym → work → eat → sleep".
This health-scare by my mother reminded me that life isn't all about work. Life is also not about internet fame by being funny on Twitter or creating a cool project on GitHub.
Life is about being with loved ones and enjoying the time we have on this floating rock in space. Explore new places. Meet new people. Eat new food. Do something nice for a stranger.
In 2023, I prioritized spending more time with friends than I did in 2022. I definitely want to continue that in 2024.
To bring this rambiling blog post to an end, I want to tell you this:
Hug your loved ones. Spend time with them. Tell them – or force them – to drink enough water.
If you haven't talked to them in a while, call them right now and ask them how their day or week went.
You never know if this will be the last time you talk to them.