Everything is okay the first time we ring emergency services. We’re at a party, someone’s stinking drunk, and that someone has opted to combine “stinking drunk” with “resolutely determined to drive his car home.” Nothing doing.
We’ve all been drinking, but I happen to live with a human blessed with the constitution of a racehorse and a high threshold for nonsense—both saving graces when sharing space with me. He’s often the Voice of Reason when things get out of hand. Tonight, too, he’s the person who calmly hides keys, blocks cars, and gives a level statement to the police.
Enough excitement. We sober up walking home well over an hour in the rain. We arrive home, soaking wet and tired, just before sunrise.
Two hours later I’m woken up by a yelp. I kick through the mist of sleep and hit M. He’s drenched in sweat. And spasming. Foaming at the mouth. He’s having a seizure.
He’s having a fucking seizure.
I’ve shared the same space with M for years. I’ve hauled his diabetic ass to the hospital more than once. But I’ve never watched him having a hypoglycemic episode. I’ve never seen him having a seizure.
Here’s the thing about waking up to find someone seizing like a live wire in bed next to you: you think that they are dying. I’m terrified. Convinced the moment he stops twisting, he’ll stop breathing and I’ll have three minutes before brain death kicks in.
Where is my fucking phone?
I tear through the flat. Flailing. Scattering things. Trying not to panic. Panicking. Open my flat door to scream “help!” into the hallway. No response. Thanks. Where’s my fucking phone?
My phone! M has stopped moving. He’s unconscious. My stomach crashes into my feet. Everything turns black and fuzzy. He’s died and I can’t do anything, and now I’m alone, and fuck.
999. Is he breathing? Yes. Yes. Yes, he’s breathing. That’s good. Very loudly. Raspy. Positive he’s breathing. Probably won’t die. Please send a medic. Please don’t let him die on me.
Seven minutes later, the doorbell rings. It feels like longer, and also shorter. M is awake now. Brought back by the rush of stored glycogen your body feeds you in a desperate attempt to save your life. Woke up like the adrenaline shot in Pulp Fiction, eyes wide and gasping. I’m trying to force him to eat sugar. It’s not working and I’m trying not to panic.
I panic. I run down the stairs and the flat door locks me out. Me and the medical help. M’s brain is drunk on whatever the opposite of a sugar high is and he won’t let me. I sit in the stair with the medic. Wonder how responsible I’ll feel for M’s death.
Spoiler alert: he doesn’t die. Eventually, he realises I’m probably not out to get him, and he lets us in. The medic gives him sugar. An ambulance arrives. The drivers tell me how pretty the flat is. They seem genuinely confused that it lacks a kitchen and that I don’t seem to have any toast on hand.
M’s brain starts connecting dots again. He returns to the human I know and love and spend basically every day with. I start to breathe again.
But I can’t close my eyes. Getting to sleep that night is terrible. I’m terrified it’s going to happen again and I won’t be able to do anything to fix it. That I’ll wake up to him dead next to me.
I feed myself information: dead-in-bed syndrome is a thing. Seizures generally only last a minute or two. Longer could potentially lead to brain damage. The body releases emergency glucagon after falling unconscious from low glucose levels in a last-ditch attempt to save itself from brain death.
I look up first aid courses. Send M to the pharmacy to reorder a glucagon injection kit for me. Stock the flat with emergency sugar rations I could be certain I wouldn’t eat when suffering from a snack attack in the middle of the night. (Non-fatal, but still terrible.)
There’s a sudden vulnerability I feel I’ve never felt before. I’m all of a sudden acutely aware of how easily someone I love can just vanish, without any warning, without giving me a chance to say goodbye. And I can’t do anything to fix it. I can’t control it, and I don’t know when it’ll happen.
This is a profoundly unsettling feeling. I feed it information. I try to rationalise it away. It works, almost.
And then, the next day, my dad has a heart attack and dies in his sleep.
I can’t do anything to fix it. I can’t control it. I never got a chance to say goodbye.
Someone I love has just vanished.