Three Deathbed Realizations

There are certain situations that approach the limit of what it is possible for us to experience as human beings.


In December of 2015 I was laying in a hotel bed in Mombasa, Kenya. I had been poisoned. Then I had my money coerced from me at the beach on the Indian Ocean. Somewhere along the way I had picked up an unknown bacteria that was destroying my entire digestive system. Things weren't going that great.

The philosopher Karl Jaspers came up with the modern concept of the limit situation. He talked about four things that can bring it about when taken to extreme levels: fright, guilt, finality, and suffering. The thing is, these all go together.

I was going in and out of consciousness. My ability to walk, or even to stand, had left me. I had been vomiting. I remember rolling over and vomiting off the side of the bunk bed I was in, and seeing blood in the vomit. I thought, "That's not good." It's not the only place that blood had been coming out of.

I think I passed out for awhile after that. I remember the guy I was with telling me that there was blood in my vomit, and that I was probably going to die. He was going to leave because he didn't want to have to deal with me. But, if by some miracle I survived, he said I could stop by his house on the other side of the country if I wanted to. Then, he left.

The door to the hotel room was metal. It shut with a clink, and I heard them lock it from the outside. I looked up at the window. It was small and high on the wall. You could move something over to it and get access. But, there were metal bars over the outside of the window. Plus, it was on the second story. Not that it much mattered since even if the window was open I wouldn't be able to walk over to it. If the door wasn't locked I could conceivably crawl through it, maybe. But, it's Africa. The first person that saw me in that condition would have taken my phone. The second person that saw me would have taken my boots. Escaping my cage wouldn't increase my survival odds even if I could do it.

I was trapped, abandoned and alone, physically and mentally not very functional, and vomiting blood. I had been left for dead.

I'd been in some tough situations before, passed out alone in the desert, stuck on an icy mountain cliff, but it seemed like this was the one. There was a little table next to the bed I was in. At some point my phone had made it there. I decided to give my mother a text while I still could. I had no idea how to say goodbye. I think my text went something like, "Things went bad. I'm not doing too well. I don't think I'm going to make it out of this one." It's not the greatest last text to a loved one ever written, but I was barely hanging onto consciousness while writing it. I hit send, and passed out.

I was going in and out. There are two times that were unique. Once, I'm not sure if I was awake or not, but I thought I woke up, and floating directly above me was a person. A semi-luminescent woman with fluttering white clothes. She was parallel to me, and very close. She stared into my eyes for awhile.

The other time I just felt regret. Like I could have done better in life. That I should have done it differently, should have done more. There were three specific things in my life that came to the fore.

I had always felt like writing, but I never really had. I shied away from it. Fear of revealing myself to others, fear of revealing my self to myself. I felt like I had something to discover there, and I had denied it. I wished I had written.

I had always spent so much time working multiple jobs and studying that I missed a lot of fun events. I missed a lot of family events. I missed trips. I wished I had taken the time to do more of that.

I had been in love once. It was great, for awhile. Then it ended very poorly. I had a number of romantic relationships after that. Varying types of relationships. But, I wasn't fully emotionally open. I wished I had allowed myself to feel at a deeper level.

Sometimes people talk about what they would regret if they were on their deathbed. They use it as an exercise to try to guide their lives. But, actually being there was different than I had ever imagined it would be. It was specific. It was specific to my life and what I had and hadn't done up until that point. Since then I've done those things. So today my deathbed regrets would be different.

My tale of getting out of Africa is more adventurous than my time in the deathbed. As for health, my tale of trying to recover from the ordeal for years afterward is more epic. But there is nothing quite like the experience of laying in my deathbed. It made me realize the significance and importance of trying to live in such a way that I won't be confronted by guilt and regret in my last moments, about things I failed to do in life. A lesson I have not forgotten.

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