One of the things that has really hit home over the last few months, as I've spent so much time in hospital, is that my illness is progressing. I have known for a long time that I probably wouldn't live to be 100 to receive a telegram from the Queen (or perhaps King, by then!), but with each new problem, it seems increasingly likely that I may be lucky to make it to 50.
I've lived with severe 'brittle' asthma for almost all my life. I also have severe allergies. Either of those could kill me. While thatt makes it a bit scary when I have an asthma attack or anaphylactic reaction, most of the time I can forget about those and put the thoughts of death to the back of my mind.
More recently, as my GI tract has shut down, my autonomic dysfunction has become more pronounced and my blood sugars have become more difficult to control, I have needed more day-to-day medical support.just to remain stable. I have a jejunostomy tube for medications and low-volume feeding, and a Hickman line (permanent IV line) for medications and IV fluids. My team are gearing up to start me on parenteral (IV) nutrition, which carries with it many risks. Risks of bloodstream infection (septicaemia), liver damage and blood clots, to name just a few. I know that these risks are small in comparison to the guaranteed complications of starvation and malnutrition, but they are still significant.
I can accept the restrictions that my illness has placed on my life. I am still so grateful to be alive, and to have the opportunity to experience this wonderful world. But I don't feel ready to die. Not now, and not in five or ten years. Probably not even in 20 years. There are still so many things that I want to experience. I want to grow old with my husband. I want to see our friends' children grow up, and to have nieces, nephews and godchildren, and to be there for them. I don't want to miss the conversations, the celebrations; even the bad times. I want to be there to comfort my husband, friends and family; to grieve with them in the sad times and rejoice with them in the good.
I am not afraid of death. I just don't feel ready to stop living.
My husband and I are very open with each other about this. We both know that I have a life-limiting illness, and we live accordingly. We seize our opportunities when they arise - who knows what might be impossible for me by next year or the year after? We talk about funeral plans and end-of-life decisions for both of us. We discuss the things that are important to us about medical care, our thoughts on remarriage, what we want to happen to our bodies after death, and how we want to be remembered.
During one of these conversations, I asked my husband how he copes with the thought that I will die before I'm old. His response?
"I will love you for as long as I have you. And then a bit longer."