People often refer to an ‘event’ or ‘moment’ that changes their lives forever. Mine came after a frightening sport experience a decade ago. How did I feel when I thought my time was up? On getting a reprieve in life, what have I done differently?
Ten years ago, I was approaching 30 which was the average life expectancy age of Cystic Fibrosis (CF)* sufferers as it was then – something that had hung over me my entire life. I had physically battled the condition by my sheer determination and will to survive. Having no spiritual faith, I tended to be angry at God for my suffering.
I kept CF hidden away, especially from work and sport colleagues as I didn’t want to be stigmatised as ‘sick’ and be treated any differently.
But my relentless desire not to be beaten had taken its toll, and I was physically worn out and had all but used up any remaining inner strength needed to carry on the fight. I had seen the majority of my fellow CF friends pass away before the elusive 30 milestone which made me question how long I could survive.
On Saturday 25 November 2000, I was due to play field hockey for my club, London Edwardians, at Old Cranleighans Hockey Club in Surrey. I had just come back from three weeks of intravenous treatment and had forced my way back into the first team squad. The week before, my Mum had told me that one of my closest friends with CF had sadly died after complications following coughing up blood and this was up-most in my mind.
During the warm up run I coughed so hard that I ruptured a blood vessel in my lungs and began coughing up blood. I kept it secret from the rest of the team except for my good friend Julian Hale, who knew about my health.
We got in a huddle for the team talk and I was asked to start the game as a defender. Suddenly everything was in slow motion – similar to the madness of a car crash – was this blood a pre-cursor to my own death? Was it like this for my CF friend before her demise? Was my body finally waving the white flag?
“Enough is enough. You can’t fight this illness anymore. It’s your time now. You’ve done more than anyone expected. No-one will ever forget what you achieved in your life!”
It was very surreal but at the same time calm and delightfully peaceful. I felt completely at ease with the world. It was a beautiful sunny autumn day with blue skies – almost heavenly – like I was ready to be received above.
It seemed fitting that if today was the day that I departed this world, then so be it and playing the sport I loved was the ultimate way for me to go rather than malingering in a hospital bed.
“Come on Wotton; for one last time… take it all in – birdsong, warmth of the sun on my face, smiles of friends and their laughter… life is beautiful!”
I had a flashback to Mohammed Ali’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight. After feeling the superhuman power of George Foreman’s punches in the first round, Ali stood in his corner waiting for the bell to start round two. He had a look in his eyes where he knew that this was his moment of destiny: he’d need to reach down into his very soul to find out whether he could defy the odds and win the fight of his life.
I walked onto the pitch with tears in my eyes but I was never going to back down and not play – this was my fate and a relief at last from a 30 year battle with a relentless and unforgiving disease.
I was going to go out on my shield…
Heaven is a place on earth
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” was Mark Twain’s quote after hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal. And so it was for me…
That day I did survive the game and I stopped coughing up blood by halftime so it wasn’t a fatal hemorrhage – little did I know that this was the first day of the rest of my life.
The heaven I thought that I was going to that day was actually here on earth and I instinctively knew that the time had come to find new ways of battling this condition as my physical approach on its own was never going to be enough.
The poignant nature of this life affirming event had such an effect on me that ever since it has dictated how I approach living with CF.
A month later I began dating Katie, which in turn led to marriage and our cherished son Felix.
Six months after the incident, I felt drawn towards some level of faith and Christianity – Hebrews 2:15 liberated me: ‘free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.’ I now felt released from the shackles of impending doom that had imprisoned me all my life and instead of blaming God for my illness, I asked him to help me conquer it!
Through this newly discovered inner peace, I realised the potential of and developed my mental approach to battling CF to compliment my on-going physical intensity.
Indeed, this near-death experience was the catalyst for me to flip my mindset from a fear of living to a desire to live for much longer. I had been at death’s door and come back from the brink – this strengthened my belief that even at my lowest ebb with the odds stacked against me, there is usually a way to overcome.
‘Dying to live’ neatly sums up my ‘life event’ ten years ago and how I have approached life since – mind, body and spirit.
READ ALL ABOUT IT – My story and blog featured in the Guardian G2 Health section on 15 February. Click here to view the article…
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Look out for my next post as I countdown to my 40 year milestone…
* Cystic Fibrosis is one of the UK’s most common life threatening inherited diseases, affecting over 8,500 people. The condition affects the internal organs, especially the lungs and digestive system, by clogging them with thick sticky mucus. This makes it hard to breathe and digest food. Each week, five babies are born with the condition, however, each week, three young lives are also lost to it. There is currently no cure for CF. However, existing gene therapy trials in the UK are bringing people with the illness closer to a form of cure but CF is not that well known and would benefit from more public donations.
For more information and to find out more view the CF Trust Website