I SPENT NEW YEAR’S EVE IN A MAKESHIFT TENT outside Hoag Hospital in Irvine, Calif., wondering whether my next breath would be the last.
I had good reason: my Covid symptoms were getting worse, causing my throat to conspire against my lungs. Every breath felt futile, like climbing a hill made of quicksand. I was cold, shivering under blinding spotlights, waiting for the doctors to do something, anything, to ease the suffering or end it.
And then I took a breath. It hurt, as in eyes watering pain hurt, but I took it anyway. And then when I had no other choice, I took the next one, and the next. I didn’t focus on breathing anymore – I focused on just one breath, just one inhale, as best I could. The next breath was all that mattered.
I’m doing better now, and for that I’m grateful. I’m still having trouble breathing, requiring some external support and multiple inhalers. My condition may be temporary or it may be indefinite – Covid doesn’t make any promises.
I first learned this life lesson almost 30 years ago, when I could have died from a tumor in my head, and still could die any minute if I have another bad seizure (thanks to the side effects of the removal of said tumor.) But so what? Life is never guaranteed. That’s why it’s supposed to be precious.
You get the next breath. That’s it. You get the next breath and the next one and the one after that, on and on until the breaths are spent.
Don’t worry about what you would do with your last breath, with your final moment. Don’t look so far ahead that you can’t see what’s right in front of you – a family who loves you, friends who care about you, a world that gave you its oxygen to breathe in the first place.
Just take it all in, one breath at a time.