Has anyone here ever faced a "primal death"?

I can’t think of a better phrase to describe what I’m thinking of here; what I’m asking is whether anyone here has ever been in danger of dying from one of these causes:

  • Lack of food or water while away from civilization.
  • Exposure.
  • Assault by a wild animal in the wild.

I’m thinking of a time where you become quite, quite aware that you are an animal and if your most basic needs aren’t met, you’re going to die. Soon.

Does almost drowning count? (not in a pool)

When I was 19 and traveling in Mexico, we wanted to swim out to this island in the middle of a lake. Well it didn’t look that far, but I’d never really swam out to an island before so my judgment was suspect. It turns out it was pretty damn far… at least a 30 minute swim, and the water was cold and choppy.

I really wasn’t practiced or in shape for such a long swim. When we were about halfway across, I started getting that feeling of muscle fatigue that you get when you lift weights and your muscles are so tired that you just can’t bear to lift your arms any more. That was when I had an “oh shit” realization that I was in very real and serious danger. The possibility of death became palpable and it was terrifying - there was nothing but water all around me.

Two of my friends, the more athletic ones (there were four of us in all), were quite a bit further ahead of us at that point. I called out for help. The other guy swam over, who had had the foresight to make a small makeshift life preserver by tying off the legs of his pants and flipping them upside down onto the water to create an air bubble. I grabbed onto it and instantly felt relieved, thinking we could paddle the rest of the way. But at that point he panicked and started calling for help.

Eventually a small boat came near enough to hear us and rescue us. I remember feeling very ashamed and embarrassed for having to be rescued, especially since the other two of our friends made it across themselves. But ultimately he did save my life even though we kind of hated each other. (and despite almost dying we swam back again when we were done, but this time I took my pants off and did the same life preserver trick. Staying calm and relaxed helped too)

Many times, winter mountaineering.

Not sure how actually threatened I was, but once I definitely felt my blood go cold once at the prospect of a wild animal death.

I was doing astronomy in a secluded area one dark night. While staring up at the sky searching for a certain star, there came a menacing growl from somewhere behind me.

I abandoned my carefully calibrated $2000 telescope, dove into my car and didn’t come out for an hour. When I did, it was just long enough to throw everything in the trunk and get back in the car.

Never did find out what growled at me, but whatever it was, it put the fear of death into me immediately.

Two times near drownings. One in which I was scuba diving and in which I’d bet most people WOULD have paniced (I am surprised I didnt). Other one being nearly drowned by the person I was trying to rescue.

One nearly falling to my death (at least I probably would have made national/international news doing it at that particular spot).

The one that probably had me closest to death was hypothermia. In that case, it seemed to be a particularly pleasant way to go compared to the others.

And a couple of times where had I not been paying GOOD attention to my surroundings , someone else would have been very likely killed by my moving car.

Backpacking alone in tibet, I ended up in a nomad camp. All nomad camps have tibetan mastifs chained up as guard dogs. These are scary big dogs that are all muscle. I was in the camp with maybe 5 nomads, and 15ish herding dogs milling around. The mastif was chained up, straining his lease, frothing at the mouth barking, and about 50 feet away.

After about 30 minutes of standing around and talking, I look up and that mastif was about 10 feet away and silently charging me. All the little herding dogs immediately taught me the meaning of “dog pile.” So, I’m backing up and kicking out with my boots, the mastif is trying to bite me (and chewed some of my pant legs), all the other dogs are snarling/barking/trying to bite me, and I’m frantically trying to draw my 18 inch long Tibetan knife out. One of the nomads grabbed the mastif’s broken chain (as the mastif is still trying to bite me) and another guy used a big branch the size of a baseball bat and started pounding on the mastif. The other nomads also grabbed sticks and laid into the herding dogs. It took about 10 blows to make the mastif back off and still snarling and lunging trying to get at me.

Scared the holy crap out of me. If I had been alone, I would have gone down and been literally chewed to pieces.

After they rechained the mastif and made sure I wasn’t mauled, then everyone had a good laugh. Best entertainment around after having met their first foreigner. :slight_smile:

Buried in a snow drift, on a closed ski trail, unable to move, sound (i.e. my yells for help) completely absorbed by the snow, and no one close by to hear me anyway. I was pretty well certain that 12 years were all I was gonna get.

I finally got the wrist loop of one ski pole through the end of the other, and poked it up to dangle outside the drift. I wasn’t really expecting anyone to see it, but thought it might help them find my body. Strangely calm experience. A lady who was hiking down after losing a ski saw it, and alerted the ski patrol. (Soon thereafter faced the additional possibility of death by West Point man. . .)
Also, around age seven. Not a near death, but gave me the persepective you describe. I was attacked by a huge hill of red ants. (Brother and cousin had tricked me into walking into it.) They had swarmed to my waist before I knew they were there, and then suddenly all bit at once. I have had the gift of living my life knowing that I’m not necessarily at the top of the food chain.

Oh, and bee stings leading to anaphylactic shock. Not being able to breathe will get your attention right away.

When I lived in Aptos, I used to run in The Forest of Nisene Marks.

Got chased by wild pigs on several occasions. Big ones.

If drowning counts, then two near-drownings as a kid. One in a lake where apparently I’d strayed too near the “out of bounds” area, stepped in a sinkhole or something such that I dunked under and couldn’t regain my footing or breath, and began flailing; my uncle saw me in distress and hauled me out of there, coughing up water and exhausted. The other was falling through ice as a young kid, and managing to scramble to a part of the ice that stopped breaking away under my attempts to haul myself out.

In Gabon, I was confronted while on foot by a Forest Elephant about 15 feet away. I and my assistant were walking along a road looking for birds when the elephant suddenly appeared at the edge of the forest next to us. We jumped into the bushes and hid until it went away. Fortunately it was not in an aggressive mood. One of the other members of our group was charged by an elephant at another site (but luckily was able to get away), and we had our minibus chased by a couple of males once. Elephants had killed several people in the area fairly recently.

In Kenya, I camped at a site in Samburu National Park and was awakened a few hours after dark by a battle royal between a pride of lions and a pack of hyenas a few hundred yards away. In Panama, camped in the Darien wilderness, I heard a jaguar growling at night as it circled our tent about 20 feet away. I was probably not in immediate danger either time, but didn’t get a lot of sleep those nights.

I was probably in more danger at another camp in the Congo, but didn’t know it at the time. We had a bathing spot on the river near the compound where I was staying. Not long after I left, someone else at the site was attacked by a Nile Crocodile at that exact spot, and lost an arm. It gave me chills when I heard about it to know in how much danger I had been, since the croc had been in the area at the time I was there.

When I was in college we were working in a marine lab that was surrounded by a dense forest. We were once driving along on a dirt track and we saw a big wild pig by the track, and I leaped out of the van and chased it. We ran until I cornered the pig in a thicket. The pig stopped and turned and chased me back to the van.

**Ms. Attack **was once trapped in the wilderness in Labrador for a long time with no food, and on another occasion had bears destroy her campsite. She’s also had a close encounter with a polar bear. Yes, she is awesome.

I had a couple of sharks come nosing around when blue-water diving, but only to the point that we had to smack 'em on the head with billy clubs. My boss was chased out of the water by great whites on two occasions.

The most primal experience with death was when I came down with malaria- and not the just your average malaria. This was Plasmodium Falciparum, an evil creature that will easily kill you in 48 hours. This stuff literally makes your red blood cells explode at the same time. It ravages each and everyone one of your organs, and can cause catastrophic organ failure before you even make sense of what is happening.

I had been celebrating the end of Ramadan at a friend’s house when I began to feel tired. I figured it was just the heat, and I took a little nap on a mat while my friends cooked up the goat. By lunch time, I knew I was sick, so I excused myself and stumbled home, a little dazzled by the shimmering white sands of the road. Once home, I passed out for some unknown period of time. When I woke up, I was in pain. I felt like I’d been in a major car accident- over and over again. My body hurt down to the bones, through every fiber of muscle. I tried to think it out, but my mind was already clogged up in a malarial fog. I kept thinking it was my old lumpy stick bed that made me hurt like that. I couldn’t figure it out. I drifted in and out for a bit, not really grasping why I felt like I did.

Then the headache began.

And I got a message from my lizard brain. The loudest, clearest, most unmistakable thing I’d ever heard. I have never known anything so surely as what I knew at that moment. I knew it absolutely, with every fiber of my being. It was a fact. I couldn’t believe it more if God had spelled it out with fire in the sky.

It said to me “What you are sick with will kill you. This is fatal. You are going to die, and soon.”

Thankfully we have modern medicine, so instead of dying (which I am still absolutely sure is what would have happened) I stumbled outside, moaned “I have malara, it is serious.” and passed out on a rock. My neighbors got me on a motorcycle taxi, and I managed to confirm the malaria and start my medicine. After a week or two of shivering comically in the hundred degree heat and shoving huge quivering piles of goat meat into my manically iron-craving anemia wracked body, I was better, give or take a few new quirks that’ll keep my liver and spleen interesting for the rest of my life.

Anyway, weird feeling, knowing so surely that you are going to die.

Malaria is one of the biggest killers on this planet- killing one million people and making 250 million people sick every year. Even when it’s not killing children it is robbing healthy people, young and old, of their health and energy. People where I lived got a case or two of malaria every year (you do build up some immunity, which is why it could kill me so easy but not my neighbors.) Malaria has been on the rise since the 1960s and it’s predicted that it will double in the next decade. We have the tools to prevent it. We came close once. We could do it again, and do it right this time. Right now, it’s just a matter of will.

In retrospect, I probably wasn’t in any danger of dying - but when I was a little kid, I went to a neighbor’s house to ask him if he wanted in on the neighborhood game of flashlight tag. This kid - maybe a couple years older than me - thought it would be hilarious to chase me around me his basement with a lit barbecue lighter. I knew, absolutely, that if he caught me he’d have lit me on fire.

Fortunately, I managed to run home. Kid’s parents made him apologize - I should have pressed charges. Damned psycho kid.

Canoe trip, drinking too much, wearing tennis shoes, strong current. It was terrifying.

Hiking (alone) through Horseshoe Canyon in Utah: 60 years old, out of shape, not used to anything strenuous.

123F (50.6C) heat, very little shade; total exhaustion; migraine; cramps in both legs; lower back spasms; rationing food and water; unable to get phone signal to call for help; didn’t see another person all day; beginning to hallucinate.

I just ***knew ***I couldn’t make it out of the canyon without help (it was an 800-vertical-feet climb); kept picturing those cartoons of skeletons crawling through the desert. Couldn’t rest up overnight, then climb out (cold night-time temperatures, rattlesnakes, insects, other varmints). Finally made it out by sheer agonizing willpower. And as it got dark, I used my iPod as a flashlight, to keep from losing the trail.

I didn’t know at the time: It was in Horseshoe Canyon where, a few years earlier, Aron Ralston had to amputate his own arm to free himself from a huge boulder.

Biggest mistake: not telling anyone where I was going, or when to expect me back.

Toad Lake, camping in the Shasta-Trinity Forest. Alpine lake, about 7,000 feet elevation. Four campsites spread a quarter mile apart around the lake, a solid half mile hike in from the station where you park. We were the only campers up there.

Sitting around the fire with my wife, I hear a large rustling sound. It’s a bear reaching for the bag of trash we had hung from a tree limb 60 yards away. Since there’s plenty of fish around for the bear, and since we hadn’t cooked meat and got there too late to fish yet, I whispered aloud what attracted him to the garbage.

That’s when my wife said “Oh, I wonder if he smells my tampon.” :eek: That’s right - she was having her period and didn’t think this was worth mentioning to me. We hauled ass the half mile towards the car, climbed in and saw the bear sniffing our trail, slowly approaching about 30 yards from the car. I cut my camping gear losses and drove the hell out of there.

A good friend of mine went on photo safari in Africa many years ago. He spent a night in his tent outside of the regular lodge at a game park (they were given the option by the guides, who all slept indoors which should have been a clue).

At some point during the night two lions began approaching his tent. He very quietly woke up the guy he was sharing the tent with and they zipped the door cover closed so the lions couldn’t see in through the bug mesh.

Tentmate was panicking and talking about making a run for the lodge. My friend convinced him that this would result in dying after a short sprint.

So they knelt down and waited, quietly.

The lions then began sniffing around the tent and eventually sat up against it and snoozed. My friend said that’s about the most scared he’s been in his life. They didn’t dare move a muscle or make a sound. They had to squat there for hours. He needed to pee and held it for a long time.

Eventually the lions moved on, the sun rose and the guides came out to check on them.

Oh wow. I’ve gone camping quite a bit in bear territory, and never once thought of that. Huh.

Well, not me. But a young doctor I knew, from her student days, was killed by a black bear a few years ago.

Link #1

Link #2

Even now, four years later, I have trouble getting over the bizarre irony of an educated, sweet, cultured young woman meeting her end at the hands of a wild bear.