S Hartwell, 1984

(Most of my nightmares are surreal, but this was a real nightmare which used my real life and real people as the backdrop. I was grateful to wake up after this experience.)

"You have only two days to live," the doctors told me.

They said it clinically, as though stating some universally known truth such as "the sun is hot."

"The feeling of nausea you describe is the sensation of internal haemorrhaging," cold, clinical facts repeated like an automaton, "We suggest you enjoy yourself - the end, when it comes, will be quick and without warning. Until then, you can live normally "

Normally? How can I live normally for two days knowing that the blood vessels in my brain were a timebomb and that no-one could defuse it?

". Eat as you like, drink - to excess even, smoke - it won't make any difference at this stage. Experiment with drugs if you wish, they can't do any additional damage at this stage."

I remembered all the times I'd played "what would you do if you had only five minutes to live?" (applied to "if the nuclear bomb warning went off"). Most people intended to die of sexual exhaustion first though they would have to find a partner and the downside for women was that most women would be vapourised before having an orgasm (please Mr President, can you give us twenty minutes warning so I have time to climax first?).

But humans are creatures of habit. I decided to live out my two days as though nothing had changed. My emotions seemed deadened, as though part of me had been cauterised or cut away. I felt empty and as hollow as though someone had torn my guts from me. I also felt the multitudinous pinpoint haemorrhages leaking their life-giving redness into my bowel and lungs, felt the small ruptures enlarge and join up into long rents in my blood vessels. I felt sick.

Gary was the first person I met back at college and he offered me his lecture notes to copy up.

"It isn't worth it," I told him cheerfully, "I won't be sitting my finals."

"You're leaving?"

"I'm dying," I said - cold fact - "I have two days at the most."

My words seemed not to hit him. He laughed in an embarrassed, apologetic way. I began to laugh with him, laughing at my own impending death as if it was all make believe or a sick joke. As I did so, I could feel the inner alveolar surfaces of my lungs rupturing, leaking blood and fluid into my lungs. I coughed as I was robbed of breathing surface. Blood flecked my painted lips and tasted metallic in my mouth. My throat felt ragged.

"Oh my God, you mean it," he breathed (my God, let me breathe, I was thinking) and he looked stunned.

I could only nod as inside me I could feel my vena cava leak its blackish airless blood into my body cavities, bathing my organs in escaped fluid.

Words rushed through my mind, at the most at the most at the most. They filled my head like a train rushing headlong, like a swelling tide, like the tide of meningeal fluid leaking through the membranes and finding a channel behind my nose and down my throat. Their steady flow, bitter in my mouth, choked me; bursting haemorrhages filled me; images tumbled through my starved, depleted brain, crowding out the real world into muffled greyness.

My words came stickily from my mouth, dripping blood as I tried to form coherent words.

Breathless words from suffocating, asphyxiating, drowning lungs.

Famous last words .

". At the most."

. And with a dying, gurgling, choking voice, I died, drowning in my own body fluids.

(I was very grateful to wake up - gasping for breath - from this dream.)


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