Content warning: this article contains references to medical emergencies, cardiac arrests, and near-death experiences.
As a big Dark Souls fan, I expect to die again and again while playing FromSoft games, but I never thought it would happen to me in real life. In early September of 2021, it did. Twice.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had walking pneumonia. At three in the morning on September 3, 2021, I was having difficulty breathing. I managed to call 911 before collapsing in my front hallway. The cops had to bag me with oxygen until EMTs arrived on the scene. I had a cardiac arrest and the EMTs performed CPR on me. They got me into an ambulance, where I had another cardiac arrest. They shocked my heart again and for one of the cardiac arrests, they jabbed me with an epinephrine injection as well. Oh, and I had a stroke at some point, too. That’s always an afterthought: the stroke, overshadowed by the two cardiac arrests.
This all happened in the span of 20 minutes. I arrived at the hospital unconscious. I was lucky because, as I found out later, it’s one of the best heart centres in the state, and is known for specialist treatments such as therapeutic hypothermia, in which your body temperature is lowered after a cardiac arrest if you don’t regain consciousness. That’s what happened to me. It reduces the risk of brain damage and can protect the lungs as well.
It’s only supposed to last between one and two days, and I was treated for a day and a half. I was also on a ventilator to help me breathe, and sedation medication so I wouldn’t fight the breathing tube. I didn’t respond to any input or move on my own for a week.
When my brother met with my care team, the social workers tried to gently remind him that I might die. He brushed them off, saying “If she dies, she dies. I’ll deal with it then.”
When he told me about this later, I burst into laughter – I knew exactly what he meant, but I could only imagine the looks on the poor social workers’ faces. They probably didn’t know what to do with him, but my brother has always been one for taking action. That’s how he shows his love, and it was exactly what I needed. He was my hero, and I’ll never forget what he did for me.
I was unconscious for a whole week, and the prognosis was grim. The doctors emphasised that if I woke up, the chances were high that I would have suffered brain damage from the stroke. My brother made himself available any time my doctors needed someone to make a decision about my care. He was tireless, and balanced looking after me with his responsibilities to his family.
About a week after I arrived at the hospital, the doctors called my brother and said they needed to talk to him about taking me off the ventilator – effectively making a call on my life. Just as he was driving to the hospital to make that decision, they called him again: I had woken up.
From my perspective, one minute there was nothing and the next I was awake. I was scared, angry, and ready to fight whoever needed fighting. I didn’t know who that was, but with the narcotics, sedatives, and whatever else coursing through my veins, I knew it was somebody.
The first conversation I remembered having was with my best friend, Ian, the second day I was awake. My brother connected us on Zoom, and I babbled about the ‘80s-style VHS trailer for Dark Souls III, quoting the tagline to him: “When you pick a fight with the devil, you better be stronger than hell.” I told him that I had done it, twice, and walked away the winner.
One of the physical therapists I met during the first few days I was awake listed all the things I could do for rehab. One of them was videogames. She said she and her son played Breath of the Wild every night and mentioned how it was good for dexterity and exercising the fingers. My brother said he thought I could handle that.
I brightened up as I thought about playing Dark Souls III again. It’s my favourite game of all time, the one I play whenever I have no other games to play or just I want to relax and do nothing. It was now, officially, rehab – I could play it guilt-free.
I spent the next few days meeting with therapists of all different kinds so they could test what skills I had lost and which ones I still had. I passed all the tests with flying colours. My doctors couldn’t tell me what the lasting damage would be – but they had been expecting brain damage and months, if not years, of rehab. They were candid with me, which I appreciated. They made it clear that it was a miracle I had woken up at all.
On the fourth or fifth day after waking up, I met with another physical therapist. By this point, I could actually sit in a chair by myself, so now the time had come for me to try walking. She had a walker, but she encouraged me not to use it if I didn’t need it. I still had an oxygen tube at this time; I had all the wires attached to me, but I was unhooked from the diagnostic machine. She gave me tips on how to walk normally as I took my first hesitant steps, and I countered her with some Taiji knowledge – I have been a student of Taiji for 15 years and I believe it was a big reason I had made it through the abyss.
One week after I woke up, I left the hospital. I was given a clean bill of health and told to check back in with the heart doctor in two months. I had blurred vision, was still swimming in drugs, and got tired very quickly. Everybody’s faces were fused together so they had one big eye in the middle of where their two eyes should be and a molten mess of a mouth. My cat, Shadow, had that effect as well when I first got home, and he was the first one to have two eyes again.
The good news was that I didn’t have to go to a rehab facility or have any therapists help me at home. My parents had made the long journey from Taiwan to be with me, and my mum helped me by cooking, doing the laundry, and taking care of Shadow. When I took a shower, she helped me dry off, and a nurse’s aide came once a week to wash my hair – that was the extent of the help I needed. I started going on walks with my parents as part of my exercise as well as some warmups I had learned from Taiji.
On the third day I was home, I picked up my Taiji steel sword, even though I knew I was pushing it. I was able to do three postures before tiring, but I was pleased that I could do any poses at all. I love Taiji weapon forms, and one of my lingering fears was that I would not be able to do them again. Three days home from the hospital was too soon, but it showed that I would be able to do it again in time.
Roughly a month after I came home, I fired up Dark Souls III on my laptop for the first time since going to hospital. I grabbed my pad, loaded up my strength-casting character, and ran her around the outskirts of Firelink Shrine, killing the hollows there just to see if I still could. I was having some issues with short-term memory loss, which could have affected my ability to play videogames, but fortunately it felt as comfortable as it always had. I had tears in my eyes as I ran back into Firelink Shrine and set my pad down. I had feared I would never be able to play a FromSoft game again, but I returned to it without any real problems. Dark Souls III is my favourite game of all time and I was home.
Three months after that traumatic night I was feeling as close to normal as I could imagine. I had all my Taiji weapon forms back and was continuing to learn the cane form in private lessons.I went back to my heart doc and he told me I was fully recovered. I met with a brain doctor, who said the same thing. If my recovery was a Souls playthrough then I’d effectively beaten it as a ‘Onebro’ and was ready for new game plus.
Before I ended up in the hospital, I had watched the latest trailer for Elden Ring at the Summer Games Fest. I got chills as I watched it, immediately planning how I would play the game when it finally arrived – what kind of Elden Ring build I’d go for, what approach I’d take with the new open-world environments. Then my medical trauma happened, and all of that expectation went out the window. I was just happy to be alive, and to have the chance to play another FromSoftware game felt like a bonus. More to the point, my outlook had changed. I had literally fought off death. I almost didn’t get to play Elden Ring, so the specifics of how I’d play it didn’t matter anymore.
Having another strange and wonderful Hidetaka Miyazaki world to explore was all I cared about. What can I say? The medical scare changed my life in many ways, including how I viewed my anticipation for this game.
When Elden Ring finally arrived last month to rave reviews, I had my heart in my throat. I’d seen the beginning areas in a few previews, but when that title music poured into my ears it all felt too good to be true. My heart started beating faster. By the time I reached Limgrave, I teared up once again. I had gone through so much and hadn’t been expected to survive. But not only did I survive, I thrived.
I picked Confessor as my character class to continue my strength-caster playstyle, and named her ‘Mulan Rogue’, the name I always use for my characters.
So far, Elden Ring has exceeded every expectation I had for it. I was worried about the open world and what that might mean for FromSoft’s deliberate level design; I generally don’t like open-world games. I didn’t think they would cram every corner with repetitive, meaningless filler, but I couldn’t imagine what they’d do instead. But the Lands Between feel alive in a way that very few other open worlds do. Occasionally, the amount of choice is overwhelming, but I’m still loving this new adventure.
There are caves, mines, and catacombs to battle through, there are giant trolls with craters in their chests, chubby amphibians that cartwheel into combat, giant crabs with deadly hammer fists, and sharpshooting lobsters. The night sky is lit by a monolithic tree of light, roving caravans move goods between fortifications, and the bosses are as bombastic and grotesque as they have always been. It’s magnificent.
And while the boss fights are tough, I’ve got no qualms about using my spirit ashes or drafting in any NPC summons I can find. I don’t feel the need to fight any Elden Ring bosses solo or without overleveling first, because I’m beating life on hard mode, and nothing else will ever be as difficult as that. I’ve got nothing to prove – I don’t need to establish my gamer creds to anyone, not even myself.
I love Elden Ring. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn close, and it’s changed how I feel about open-world games for the positive. Six months ago, I died twice, and I came back by resting at my very own Site of Grace – friends, family, and health workers helping me like the adventurers and craftsmen of Roundtable Hold. I really do feel as though I’ve been touched by grace. I call these my bonus days, and playing Elden Ring for a chunk of each one is a blessing, indeed.
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