A Near-Death Experience

Bien Hoa, 2014
Bien Hoa, 2014

(Originally written October 24th, 2014)

I am being a little over-dramatic— but I recently had a near-death experience.

It was another normal day. I was simply writing for my blog, drinking coffee, and just finished a workout. I was a bit hungry, so I went over to my kitchen, poured out a hand-few of cashew nuts, ate them in one huge chunk, and continued to work.

Suddenly, I felt around 40% of the left side of my throat swell up. It felt hard to breathe. This was the same exact feeling I had when I had my first anaphylaxis (throat swelling up) from having an allergic reaction of eating shellfish.

At that moment, the thought of death came into my mind. I panicked for a second and just thought to myself for half a second, “If this is the moment I died, what would I regret— and what is the only thing on my mind?” The only thing on my mind was Cindy— how much I loved her, and how sad I would be having her be alone (and how sad she would have of me dead).

(Fearing death) I ran to rummage through my medicine and found some Claritin, popped about 3 pills (not sure if it helped at all). I also felt weak and dizzy (perhaps low blood sugar)— so I popped a piece of chocolate (really sugary) and had a quick espresso. My plan was to have enough energy to drive myself to the emergency center at UC Berkeley (just in-case my throat would totally close and I would stop being able to breathe). I also found my epipen (that thing you stick into your thigh if you’re having an allergic reaction, which shoots adrenaline through your system and thus helps you live a little longer) and started driving to the emergency room.

I was dizzy, confused, and disoriented while I was driving (very unsafe)— but hell-bent on living. I still kept thinking to myself the promise I made to Cindy: that I wouldn’t die before she did.

I finally got to the emergency room, found a parking spot, and walked inside— sat down, and relaxed. At this point, my symptoms started to slowly decrease (my throat wasn’t as swollen, perhaps around 35% closed this time). It was still hard to breathe, but my gut instinct was that this was going to clear over— but I still wanted to sit next to the emergency room (just in case something worse happened).

Fortunately nothing bad happened, and I continued my day with Cindy, did some Yoga together, shopping at Costco, had a nice chat in the evening, a warm and relaxing ginger tea, and slept that night like a baby. It was a perfect day— even if I died that night, I would have no regrets.

What is really important in my life?

I think about this “near-death” experience. I’m not sure what would have happened to me if I didn’t take that Claritin, or perhaps if something worse happened and I actually did die.

But this experience really re-affirmed what was really important in my life: Cindy.

I often fight with her, squabble about small things, and get angry and resentful at her for stupid things that I shouldn’t care about. I sometimes value my work over spending time with her, and don’t always show my love and appreciation for her.

I never know when I will die, or she will die. I don’t want my last words to her being something negative or mean. I want to remind myself to always tell her, “I love you” — because I never know what will happen (death is so unexpected).

Living as if everyday were my last

I think I will also continue to live my life this way— as if today were the last day on earth I had. What would I do differently in my life? How would I change my focus and use my time, energy, money, and resources?

When I meet my friends, family, or anybody else close to me— I will treat the encounter like it will be the last time I ever see them (or the last time they will ever see me).

I want to live a life free of regrets, and full of love and purpose.

Also at the moment my left throat is currently still a bit swollen and sore (going to see a doctor soon) — but it is a small reminder of the fragility of life, how death is always looming, and how I should continue to make love my mission statement in life.

Thoughts on dying and photography

(Update: October 29, 2014):

I’ve been thinking a lot about this article I posted– and fortunately my throat now feels much better. I’m focusing on an “elimination diet” — focusing on just eating meat, salmon, and avocados. I have never felt better.

But anyways, I was thinking to myself— how thinking about the possibility of death, I didn’t think at all about any of my photographs. I didn’t think about all the photos I regretted not taking. I didn’t feel any sadness towards the photos I wish I took (and haven’t yet shot). I didn’t think about my fame and success as a photographer. I didn’t worry about the 0’s in my bank account. I didn’t care about all the negative things that people said about me in my life (or the positive).

Rather, the other thing I really thought about was my love for Cindy.

Thinking about this in terms of photography— I think ultimately street photography is less about the images I make, but more about augmenting my own personal life experiences. Street photography is a way for me to better appreciate the world, to live more fully, and to experience and discover more love in my life.

Therefore I think moving forward— I want to focus more of my photography on capturing love, emotion, and those who are closest to me. This can be via street photography (photographing strangers), or via “personal documentary” (photographing and documenting my own life).

Note to self: Death is always looming, don’t waste your time, energy, and resources Eric. Live as if everyday were your last.

Other articles on death (and living without regrets)

Below are some hand-picked articles that are relevant in the same topic (on shooting and living without regrets):

  1. “Letters from a Street Photographer” #1: How to Live and Shoot without Regrets
  2. Shoot Every Day As If It Were Your Last
  3. 5 Lessons for Living in Street Photography (and Life)
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