The numerous pictures that friends put on Facebook of their basketfuls of mushrooms make me melancholy. Mushroom picking was an indispensable part of my childhood and youth, and I know I will never do it again. Not because we live in a country without mushrooms (I am sure there must be some further up in the North), but because mushrooms are banned from our home.
It's exactly twenty seven years ago, twenty seven years of borrowed time. I have never told this story outside the closest circle of friends.
It was a bright sunny autumn afternoon, and I took Julia in her push-chair to the little wood right outside our house, to the secret places that my father had marked on a pencil-sketched map. I didn't even have to go to the secret places because there were zillions of mushrooms all along the road. I know every mushroom there is to know, so I came home with two huge bags. The stepchildren were visiting, and I made a stew. It was so good that we finished it before Staffan had a chance to taste.
I was viciously sick early in the morning. I knew it was the mushroom stew, and I remembered an inscription I had seen on a tomb with four names and the same date: “They ate mushrooms”. I alerted Staffan and told him he had to take us all to Emergency, me and the three children. He laughed. He said I knew all mushrooms there were to know. He said people didn't die of mushrooms. The kids were sick too, but we probably had a stomach flu. It was not until late afternoon that I persuaded him to call Health hotline. At ER they were unimpressed, took blood tests and gave us barf bags. Then suddenly they were all panic, perforated me with tubes and syringes, gave me a revolting black liquid to drink and took me away to a ward, while the kids were taken to the children's clinic, and Staffan, with baby Julia, went with them. I didn't see them for quite a while, but I was too sick to care.
The doctors and nurses took me seriously, but I had my own concerns. Although I hadn't yet missed my period I knew I was pregnant. I asked a nurse to take a pregnancy test. She must have thought I was brain-damaged: dying, and asking for a pregnancy test. I didn't know I was dying. A writer friend asked me afterwards, almost envious: what was it like? Typical writer to be curious. An experience we all go through sooner or later, but few have the privilege to share.
If it is a comfort, people apparently don't know they are dying. Also you imagine that a deathly poisonous mushroom makes you die quickly. When I didn't die quickly, when I stopped throwing up after a day and a half, I entered what is called ante mortem euphoria. I wasn't in pain, I wasn't hungry or thirsty or sleepy. I couldn't read or listen to radio, but it didn't matter. Convalescent patients feel bored. I wasn't a convalescent. Time did not exist. Time no more. Daylight came and went. I lay back and felt peaceful.
Far away in another galaxy, Staffan had been told that he was practically a widower. I phoned him that evening to say that I felt great and longed to go home.
If I had stopped to think, I would have figured it out. They took off my wedding ring. They brought over my son from the children's clinic to say goodbye. (The kids made it, they were staying for observation). They were pumping gallons of drugs into me. I had a nurse by my side 24 hours. The nurses kept asking whether there was anything I wanted. I wanted a pregnancy test. On the fourth day they had to open a large blood vessel in my throat to put in more tubes. Not even that made me suspicious. I was beyond comprehension. When they told me on the fifth day that my pregnancy test was positive I cried. As it turned out, it was not the mushrooms, but the antidotes that killed the baby.
On Saturday, a week after my mushroom-picking walk, they took off the tubes. I felt ravenous. I hadn't eaten anything since that mushroom stew. They let me go home over the weekend. I was tired and grieving my baby. I was also worried because I had missed a PhD seminar. This gives a sense of my denial.
Obviously I am alive. The kids and I were a cover story of a major medical journal. Anton was born a year later. I almost never think about it. But mushrooms are banned from our home.