It was the closest I have ever been to death…
In February of 2008, almost 14 years ago, I came down with a severe case of pneumonia.
I spent a week in semi-delirium from lack of oxygen, alone in my apartment. I had no appetite, no energy – I was out of breath with every movement.
I had friends and family checking on me, but I did not realize how sick I was – reduced oxygen does strange things to your brain. I was not thinking clearly.
A few days in, I had the wherewithal to realize I needed to see a doctor. So I went to a walk-in clinic, only to be told I had a bad cold and sent home with prescription cough syrup.
The cough syrup did not help. One evening, I felt a painful jarring in my lungs after a particularly bad cough attack, like something inside of me broke.
I was terrified.
I knew I needed to go to the hospital, but I was afraid. Instead, I called a close friend who ordered me to: ‘Call 911 right now; I’ll be right over.’
Thankfully, my friend was with me when the ambulance came and took me to the hospital.
I needed to be admitted, but due to hospital overcrowding, I had to spend the first night in the emergency room.
The ER was chaotic – I was surrounded by wave after wave of trauma, fear, anger and even violence.
At one point, a large, inebriated man had to be put in restraints in the bed beside me because he was literally trying to attack the nurses.
I was relieved to finally be admitted to a regular ward the next day, where I spent five days receiving lung therapy and an onslaught of antibiotics.
My parents traveled to Calgary from Lethbridge to be with me. My dad had to return to Lethbridge after a day or so, but my mom stayed in my apartment so she could visit me and take care of my cats.
On the morning of day five, a doctor declared me better and ready to go home. I had been off the oxygen for a day or so and my blood oxygen level was back to normal.
I was convinced I could go back to my apartment in Calgary, recover for a few days, then get back to normal life. Luckily, my mom insisted I come home with her to Lethbridge.
It turned out, I was not ready to go home – despite a normal blood oxygen level, I still had a raging infection in my lungs.
I ended up in the Lethbridge hospital mere days after I arrived home.
Several days of antibiotics and oxygen did nothing to ease the pressure building in my lungs – the infection was causing a fluid build up in the lining of my chest cavity, making breath difficult, painful, and at times, a Herculean effort.
I needed a chest tube in order to drain the litre and a half of fluid. After a couple of days, the pain eased, the infection subsided and my breathing returned to normal.
It took months to fully recover, and to this day, I still feel a twinge of pain due to scar tissue build up at the location of the chest tube.
During the ordeal, I had two distinct moments of what I now think of as soul recognition.
One was during the first night spent in the emergency ward in Calgary. A rare calm moment among the chaos allowed me to close my eyes and attempt to rest.
While sleep eluded me, I was able to relax after a time. My fear dissipated and I was suddenly overcome with an overwhelming sense of calm. I heard a voice say: ‘Kerri, let go and let us take care of you.’
I knew the ‘us’ was not only the doctors and nurses at the hospital, but my guardian angels, a reminder from my soul that I am never really alone.
The second instance of soul recognition came a week or so later, when I was at home in Lethbridge, sitting in my dad’s recliner (a coveted spot) in the basement of the house I grew up in.
Having been transported down South with me, my two cats – Flurrie and Thor – were laying at the foot of the recliner.
Their comforting presence, the presence of my mom and dad, the familiar surroundings and knowing I was physically being taken care of allowed for a prolonged sigh of relief.
I was at home – I was able to breathe again…
Back to the Black Bear
As described in part one and part two of this three-part blog post, last year, on October 1, 2020, I encountered three black bears in a small BC town – two in an alley during the day, and one (the Big One) after dark.
I described my encounter with the Big One as one of the most profound experiences of my life.
Those are strong words, I realize, for an experience that lasted 10 seconds.
I have been fortunate to have had some extraordinary experiences observing and photographing black bears, some of which have been highlighted throughout this post.
It might seem odd to count a mere 10 second encounter amoung them.
However, when I met the Big One on the street that night, maybe I was closer to death than I realized?
Perhaps if I did not have the wherewithal to take a wide berth, placing the vehicle between us, I would have dipped just enough into his territory to trigger an attack?
Maybe this was the second-closest I had ever been to death?
Despite being accustomed to an urban setting, my surprising presence could have evoked the bear’s defensive instincts.
While there are rare predatory attacks, black bear attacks on humans typically result from surprise encounters – humans inadvertently get too close (like I did); bears defend their territory.
Despite the fact that I considered myself somewhat educated in bear safety, I did the exact opposite of what I was ‘supposed’ to do.
I did not run, but I walked very quickly. I should have stopped, got my bear spray ready (which I had, but was not carrying at the time) and backed away slowly.
This is what I had learned to do, should I ever encounter a bear in the wild.
But I was not in ‘the wild’ and there was no thought involved – instinct was guiding my actions, not intellect.
I suffered little more than a mild adrenaline spike and an increased heart-rate for mere seconds before I was safely back in my room.
There was no lingering fear, no thoughts of ‘what if’, no trauma whatsoever – just the realization, after looking at my dream journal and remembering my dreams, that:
“These remarkably beautiful animals have always been with me in some form, whether in my reality, imagination or dreams, subtlety urging me to embrace my innate courage, adaptive knowing and DESTINY.” – Kerri Martin, Part One
DESTINY = Trust Yourself
My experience with black bears, highlighted by the close encounters of Oct 1, 2020, have proven that I can trust myself.
When intellect and reason fails, soul-based instinct kicks in, allowing for appropiate action and an understanding that everything is unfolding perfectly as it should.
This space leaves no room for regret, judgment or fear.
While my experience with pneumonia 14 years ago pales in comparison to what so many victims of Covid 19 have suffered, I understand what it is like to lose my breath.
I sense that most, if not all, humans know what it is like to lose our breath – if not physically, then emotionally, spiritually, energetically.
The state of our world can be terrifyingly suffocating right now.
Not only have we been knocked down by a global pandemic, there is overwhelming divisiveness entrenched in the fabric of our society.
We see it on the news, on social media, everywhere – bad people doing bad things, selfishly elevating their own needs above the needs of humanity.
It seems hopeless, BUT…
My ‘near-death’ experiences, both with the black bears on Oct 1, 2020 and the pneumonia in 2008, have proven to me that there are other dimensions to our world.
Fourteen years ago, perhaps I needed a prolonged health crisis as kind of an inner ‘kick in the pants’ to force me to look inward and remember.
Today, the presence of animals in my life serves the exact same purpose, but in a much less traumatic, much more enjoyable, manner.
I am so grateful for the multitude of animal messengers who show up in my dreams and reality, like black bears.
It is all in the Cards
The desire for a prolonged sigh of relief, as experienced while recovering from my illness in my dad’s recliner 14 year ago, is what drove me to move back home a few months ago – from Calgary to Lethbridge.
Not only am I surrounded by close family and friends, I feel the presence of my dad, who passed away over four years ago.
I am back home and I find myself reflecting on my story, as told in the form of this blog – myriads of animal stories digitally imprinted into the world wide web.
My experience with the Big One is just one of countless profound experiences I have had with wildlife over the past decade or so.
The beauty of photography for me is – I have visual evidence of thousands of encounters with wild animals who I know, with absolute certainty, to be messengers from beyond.
My dreams have revealed this truth – I have had so many dreams about bears, not to mention weasels, owls, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, lynx, frogs, toads, grouse, falcons, ravens – the list goes on.
Every time I am in the presence of a wild animal, it is literally like a ‘dream come true,’ OR – manifestation of my wildest dreams – they visit me in my dreams.
In whatever form they appear – reality, dreams, imagination, images, art – the appearance of wild animals are like beacons from our soul, inviting us to embody the divine characteristics necessary to live in a more present, grounded and holistic way.
In the spirit of honouring these magical beings, I am excited to announce a new endeavour:
Animal Wisdom Cards
An invitation to explore the rich layers of your psyche through the essence and energy of wild animals.
Please sign up for my blog using the form on the top right (or scroll below if you are on a phone) if you would like to be notified of news and information on my new card deck. AND stay up to date with future blog posts.
If you have stuck this one out til the end, thank you for taking this journey with me.
Until next time, continue loving life an everything wild 🙂
This is so well written! I love the meaning behind your love of animals 🙂
Thanks so much Sam! 🙂
Love this!! Had no idea about your profound health crisis. Glad you have recovered! Living in Trail I see lots of bears and spot lots of scat on my morning runs. Have been carrying bear spray all the time. Realized I never want to get close and after seeing a bear one morning run realized I’d be better off carrying an air horn which many locals carry as well as bear spray. I hear them go off in areas of the city where bears are spotted. Happy to scare one off instead of fearing one gets so close I’ll need the bear spray!! Highly recommend as part of your wildlife adventures.
Ummm YES!! I would love to come to Trail some day – I don’t know why I didn’t think of it last year when I was in the area. Thanks so much Karen. I’m happy you are surrounded by bears 🙂
Any time you are in the area you know you have a place to stay! Would love to host you.
I had a similar encounter, but in the wild setting. I had my DSLR camera, but I still didn’t take a single pic from it, took only from my phone. I was on a trail in Big Bend NP, and suddenly around the corner a black bear was straight looking into me…i was 3ft away…I backed off…and gently increased my pace. Hope I had remained calm, went to a vantage point and took some nice long shots on a 600mm.
What an amazing story! Thanks so much for sharing and for your kind words 🙂