Millimetres from death: I am accountantby
Lucy Cohen recounts how a near-death experience prompted a reflection of where she was in her career. Her answer was more than a little surprising.
On 1 April 2021, I almost died. While out walking my dog, my right leg suddenly cramped and stopped working.
At the time, I assumed it was a hamstring tear or a bad glute strain – as an ex powerlifter I’m accustomed to injuries. But it turns out that multiple arterial blood clots had lodged in my legs, almost entirely blocking my arteries and preventing blood from travelling to my foot.
I don’t fit the profile of a person to suffer an arterial blood clot and so the thought never crossed my mind. In fact, it was only due to a series of serendipitous events (a savvy osteopath, a proactive and cautious GP and my own medical anxiety) that on a Friday afternoon I had a call from a slightly panicked doctor that my bloods had come back “a bit off” and so arranged for me to be admitted to hospital immediately.
Once admitted, my right foot was almost blue in colour, freezing cold and – it turns out – had no pulse. Even then, blood clots were not at the front of the consultant’s mind. He explained it was more likely to be an injury or an infection. Arterial blood clots don’t often happen to fit people in their 30s.
Except that it happened to me.
The look on his face when he explained my various scan results will stay with me forever. He explained that I was lucky that I hadn’t lost my foot. And even luckier that the clots (more than five) had got stuck where they did. Had they travelled to my bowel, brain, heart or lungs, I would likely not have survived.
He described that a “shower of clots” seemed to have appeared from nowhere. Had they not settled in my legs but had instead gone wandering off elsewhere, I most likely would have suffered multiple organ failure on the spot.
After that bombshell, I was prescribed a course of hefty anticoagulant injections that I have to administer into my stomach every night (delightful!) and discharged while various tests and appointments were made for me.
So I returned home to process the information that I had almost died.
What does a person do with that information? I had always wondered what I might do if I heard some life-changing news like that. Would I cry? Fall to my knees in anguish? Sit stoically and nod?
Nope. When it did happen to me, I didn’t really do anything. There was no dramatic music, no tears, no cinematic wide shot of me looking concerned yet beautiful at the same time. I mean, damn, I didn’t even get to do a Fleabag-style breaking of the fourth wall.
I just carried on with things.
After a day off to make up for the weekend of lost sleep in hospital (literally the least restful place to try and recover from anything), where I had been scanned, zapped, monitored and prodded – I just went back to my life as normal.
Right now I’m in a strange limbo. I’ve undergone what seems like endless tests and, so far, nothing of significance has been found. The more tests that are performed, the rarer the diseases they are testing for become. Like the cocktail list at an all-inclusive resort that you spend your week working through as they become steadily more alcoholic and less tasty. And so each time something is ruled out I feel relieved that at least it’s not that awful thing, but concerned that it’s something weirder and rarer.
And of course, there is a chance that we’ll never find out what happened and it was just a total omnishambles of a fluke – a serious case of bad luck. Aapparently your body can do all kinds of weird stuff for absolutely no good reason and some of that weird stuff can literally kill you. Marvellous.
At the moment I’m Schrodinger’s human. Simultaneously terribly ill and absolutely fine.
I won’t lie – it has been a lot to wrap my head around. Maybe I’m in a state of denial right now, but I’ve coped with all of this remarkably well, if I don’t say so myself. I suspect that, in no small part, it’s because I’ve been able to work.
The only thing that has been my constant throughout all this has been my work.
At first, I was absolutely horrified by that realisation. Jeez – am I really that person who is so defined by their work that they have no other identity? Even staring down the barrel of death, am I really that person who wondered what was happening in the business? When faced with that spooky fella with a cape and scythe, am I really the person who says “let me just send this quick email and then I’ll be with you. Sorry Death, what was it you were saying?”.
Well, no, I’m not ‘that person’, but yes, I was itching to get back to work. And, it turns out, that’s because that I actually love what I do. As family and friends looked on in disbelief, chastising me that I hadn’t taken any time off, I was happily thinking up the marketing plan for the next year.
Because what I do gives me purpose. Granted, right now having that focus gives me something I can control in my life; a form of control that is vitally important given the state of limbo and uncertainty my health is in. But I also love what I have built. It fills me with pride to see how the company has grown and how the team has developed over the years. It thrills me that we keep improving what we do and are creating tech innovations that can transform things for the future.
It turns out that I actually do practice what I preach. I’ve built a business centred around happiness.
My life is busy, unpredictable and demanding. Yet it seems that I don’t want it any other way.
I was offered the golden excuse – I almost died. I had the perfect out. A moment where I imagine many other people would jack it all in, up sticks and live on a tropical island (alright, that does also sound pretty appealing). But I didn’t. I chose to keep doing what I do. I wanted to do it.
I have built a life that fulfils me and gives me purpose and happiness. And my business has been a huge part of that.
Creating a business with my happiness at the centre of it allows me to set my own hours, take only the meetings I choose, work only with the people I want to work with. I can focus on the things that bring me joy and delegate or refuse the rest.
This year sees Mazuma celebrate its 15th birthday. Maybe if I had almost died ten years ago, I might have felt differently about carrying on. While I was going through all the pains a growing business experiences, I most certainly did not feel like I was living my best life. But right now, I do. And it transpires that not even a life-threatening series of blood clots can put a damper on things for me.
As for my mental health, I’ve learned something incredibly valuable.
I have absolute proof now that anxiety is a liar. Of all the things that have kept me anxious and worried over the years, the most serious thing I could have worried about didn’t even cross my mind.
Bugger off anxiety – you didn’t see this coming did you?
So next time anxiety rears its head, I can point to my medical record and tell it very firmly to get lost.
Bugger off anxiety – you didn’t see this coming did you? Not only that, but I have proved to myself that in an actual real-life crisis, I am incredibly capable. It’s just the things that my anxiety fabricates that tend to floor me. Now that I know that to my very core, somehow this has all been a little easier to handle.
There’s something strangely liberating about this whole experience, despite me currently being somewhat of a human pin cushion as well as a medical mystery. Deep down, we’re all a lot stronger than we think we are and it really is true – there is nothing so far in life that you haven’t survived. I carry that mantra around with me with renewed meaning at the moment.
I don’t recommend almost dying as a tool to assess if your life is going the way you’d hoped. But if you were to almost die, would you keep things the same?
Unless your answer was a resolute ‘yes’, maybe it’s time to build something different.
As for me, I suspect I’ll be dining out on this story for a long time yet.
For more from Lucy, catch up with her AccountingWEB Live show People Matters. Each episode focuses on topics that empower team leaders, such as learning to say no more often and staying on course in a world of distractions. Lucy will also be a guest on Monday's Any Answers Live where she'll be discussing the topic - how to get your accountancy mojo back.