Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Thoughts for a Friend

I do not ordinarily mix business and personal, nor do I often stray from my tendency to maintain consistent subject matter on each of my blogs or my many internet profiles. However, as this particular blog long ago wandered from the realm of photography and art, it is just as well suited for the occasional philosophical rambling or socially-conscious rant as it is for personal reflections. 

This is the latter.


"Belief in fate is only failure to realize all our actions have a purpose."

Though this message may seem positive, remember that some purposes are ill-intended, and some actions will not lead to the desired results.

This particular quote is actually one of mine, pulled from a rather lengthy post of mine in a discussion thread on the old VenomScape Forums (now styled "NullCoding's 'venomscape'" and existing in a mothballed state) regarding religion. I do not recall exactly what aspect of religion was being discussed - perhaps it was as simple as "are you religious?" or a more complicated question of a distinctly philosophical nature, as the members of the forum and I were often prone to asking and subsequently discussing at great length.

While I cannot currently locate the original thread, I definitely recall one of the major contributors to that particular (and, indeed, every) religious and/or philosophical discussion being one Nikolaas Kardinn. At the time, Nik (as he prefers to be addressed) was no more than fourteen years old, provided I am correct in placing the date of this discussion between fall of 2009 and winter of 2010.

Nik was born on 4 May 1995 in Anderlecht, Brussels, Belgium, to a Flemish father and Franco-British mother. His mother was technically only a citizen of France at the time of Nik's birth, but due to EU law that has since been enacted, she (like all other native-born citizens of EU nations) is technically afforded rights of citizenship in both the UK and France (as well as Belgium). Because of his cultural and ethnic heritage, mostly on his mother's side, Nik was given two full names at birth - Nikolaas Matthijs Kardinn and Nicolas Matthieu-duBois Camerier. Only the former (Dutch) name is officially recorded, and thus is by default his legal name.

Nik was affectionately called "Nico" in his childhood, but was taunted occasionally because that sounded like "neko," the Japanese word for "cat" Though the two words should ordinarily be pronounced differently, they sound about the same in a typical Dutch accent. Nico became Nik.

Despite growing up in the idyllic and peaceful-looking Moortebeek village just outside the Brussels City Center, Nik's early life was not easy. His father left his job at a major urban construction company after the negligence of several relatively inexperienced workers resulted in an accident that hospitalized him for nearly four months; despite making a full recovery, he opted to seek employment in a different environment. This was not initially successful, and Nik's father remained unemployed for two years. His mother worked two jobs, but was actively seeking to move out of Belgium.

In 2003, Nik's family moved to Birmingham, England after Chris Kröger, a distant German cousin, suggested that Nik could work in his music store and that his parents would likely find employment as well. This proved correct, despite his parents' initial reluctance to leave their home country. After searching for a place to live, they settled in Northfield.

Nik began working for Chris' music store when he was only ten years old, supplementing his parents' income but also keeping much of his earnings for himself. His mother found work as an administrative assistant, and his father as a salesman of primarily Jaguar and Land Rover cars. This is the way things were for several years, up to and including (and a bit beyond) the time I first met Nik online in late 2006.

However, recall that Nik's life was not without problems. Though it did not crop up in our first few conversations (why should it have?), I soon found out that Nik has a rare and apparently untreatable Circadian Rhythm Disorder, or CRD, which, as he put it, "made life bloody hard." CRDs are disruptions in the "biological clock," and can be naturally-occurring or else brought on by poor sleeping patterns or habits over time. Little is known about them overall, even with modern science where it is, and though I do recall one instance on VenomScape of Nik briefly describing his condition (including a name that at present escapes me), his particular case remains almost entirely a mystery.

Nik had trouble sleeping as a baby, which is not at all uncommon. He also didn't sleep very much as a toddler, and indeed did not sleep much as a young boy either. However, it was not until his later primary-school years that his condition began to manifest itself as it does today. Nik would sleep for at most six hours, never much longer, after which he would be awake and active for roughly thirty-six hours before sleeping another six hours or so.

This causes him to observe what is effectively a completely different calendar; his "days" are generally forty-two hours in length, which makes it impossible for him to attend a normal school or hold a steady, daily job.

Despite his bizarre sleep-wake cycle, doctors consistently gave him a clean bill of health well into his teens. Initially, there were concerns that his neurological and/or physical development could be impeded by his lack of sleep, but several polysomnograms concluded that his brain activity was normal during sleep and in fact he attained a very high quality of sleep, with natural REM cycles, among other things.

Nik grew to embrace his condition, once saying "I can't really change it, now can I?" He even considered touting himself as a "medical mystery," intentionally providing challenges to renowned doctors and neurologists the world over. In reality, Nik became more and more withdrawn. He did not often leave his room or his house unless he was working at Chris' music store. His eating habits were not very good; since he was awake for on average just under three times as long as the average person, he ate seven to nine meals a "day" depending on his appetite.

Nik also has a very fast metabolism, though medically speaking it is nothing abnormal. As such, he maintained low weight and a very low BMI, and continues to do so. He was briefly a vegetarian, though the lack of protein in his diet (he strongly dislikes tofu) caused him to become very weak and low iron intake made him anemic. Physically, doctors can find no signs of adverse effects on his health resulting from his CRD in any way. Presently, at the age of 17, he stands 5 feet 9 inches tall (175 cm) and weighs about 145 pounds (66 kg).

However, Nik's health could definitely be a great deal better. He was and is very open about his lifestyle and habits, despite being a generally private person, so I know a great deal more about how he lives than how he thinks. Nik started smoking at age twelve, stealing cigarettes from his mother, who had taken up the habit when Nik was two years old. Though also a smoker himself, Nik's father had cut down a great deal, citing rising tobacco prices and restrictive laws being enacted in the UK.

Chris Kröger caught fourteen-year-old Nik smoking a Davidoff cigarette in an alley near his store one day. Rather than exhibiting the expected signs of surprise and disappointment, Chris exclaimed "where, er, how'd you get those? They're bloody expensive!" to which Nik replied, "At the store, and sure they are - but you pay me well enough." Chris (who was also a smoker at that time) agreed not to tell Nik's parents, but warned him that if they did find out, he would sooner back them up. Chris kicked the habit in 2011 after developing bronchitis made worse by the long-term effects of a fifteen-year smoking habit. He was in hospital for two weeks, where smoking was obviously prohibited, and upon being released decided that withdrawal symptoms would fade soon enough and he was better off without cigarettes anyway.

Nik's parents separated in early 2008, though they have not (as yet) formally filed for divorce. He lives with his mother in their Northfield home; his father lives elsewhere in the West Midlands, though I do not personally know where.

Nik's mother discovered his smoking habit, and though not pleased, admitted she had no right to make him quit, as she had no plans to do so herself. This was the first of several admittedly poor parenting decisions on her part.

Nik picked up another bad habit from his mother - drinking. Heavily. It started innocently enough - at 16, he was legally able to purchase and consume beer provided he also ordered food. Chris happily bought him beer and liquor as well, and they frequently drank after or even during working hours (the store was rarely, if ever, busy). His mother also supplied him with alcohol through her own stash.

Nik's mother was always a heavy drinker, but he was not conscious of the full extent of her alcoholism until his early teens. Despite swearing he would never drink, Nik eventually found he quite enjoyed alcohol, as it did not affect him at all the same way as it did his mother and others whom he knew. In fact, alcohol seemed to be about half as potent to Nik as an ordinary person. But because he enjoyed the sensation of "being at least mildly tipsy," Nik would usually drink practically twice as much as a "normal" person would to achieve the desired results.

On 13 January 2013, while Nik's mother was spending time with family in Wales, he invited a friend over after hearing that he was in the area. Sean Evans, who had known Nik since he first moved to Northfield, said he would definitely drop by between 7 and 8 PM.

At roughly 1930 GMT, Sean arrived at Nik's house. He had called Nik's mobile several times, but gone to voicemail, and had also sent several texts, which were marked "received" though he never got a reply. Confused (more than worried) at this point, Sean knocked at the door. He waited a minute and knocked again. He began to worry at this point. Knowing Nik hated the sound of doorbells, he rang it anyway, but still no answer.

At 1947 GMT, Sean called Nik's girlfriend of nearly five years, who wishes to remain anonymous at this time. He asked where Nik was, to which she replied "at home," clearly confused as to why Nik's friend was calling her at work. When Sean informed her that he was unable to reach Nik in any way, she became very concerned and briefly explained the situation to her boss, who allowed her to leave immediately. She arrived at Nik's house at 2003 GMT; her 2002 Peugeot was caught on two different red-light cameras in the process.

Using her spare key, she opened Nik's house and found it dark inside, though the outside light was on (in that area, commonly considered to mean somebody is home). She and Sean went upstairs, where they found Nik face-down on the floor of his room.

There was nothing to immediately indicate any reason for this. Nik had never used hard drugs and indeed never even smoked marijuana. There were several empty liquor bottles, but they were dry and Nik's girlfriend recalled them being in that exact position the day before. He had no noticeable bruising and was not bleeding, indicating that he hadn't fallen very hard or was already sitting or lying down when he lost consciousness.

Sean immediately phoned emergency responders, who arrived within ten minutes and rushed Nik to Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Upon arrival, he was declared unresponsive and unconscious pending further examination. Nik was breathing on his own, albeit shallowly and irregularly. He was hooked up to life support.

Nearly three full days later, doctors stated that Nik was no longer unresponsive, as he was exhibiting normal responses to sensory stimulation, but that brain damage was still a possibility as it was rather difficult to determine how long he had been unconscious.

Nik regained consciousness briefly on 19 January 2013 for almost an hour. Though he appeared unable to move or speak, he was clearly looking around the room and aware of his surroundings. A nurse asked him to blink twice if he could hear and understand her, and he did. He attempted to lift his head, but couldn't. He sighed in apparent frustration and fell asleep soon after.

When doctors tried to wake him later that evening, he was unconscious again; this time, however, attempts to revive him were successful given the results of tests and diagnostics performed on him during his time in hospital.

He was initially very confused and disoriented, though he is speaking coherently with doctors and hospital staff and has been fighting to remember exactly what happened leading up to his eventual collapse (of which he says he is unaware).

"Actually, I had not had a drink that day, I don't think. I don't really remember what I did do that day, though. My last memory is feeling suddenly quite ill, with pain somewhere in my abdomen, I think...I tried to sit down, but the headache got worse, and I think I lay down to try and sleep at some point. I suppose that's not what my body had in mind."

The exact sequence of events is as yet not completely clear to me, unfortunately, but from what I understand, it goes something like this:
  1. Nik begins to feel quite ill and his vision suddenly blurs sometime in mid-afternoon
  2. He loses strength to stand or talk (or use his mobile phone) soon after, and sits down on the floor
  3. Feeling worse, he lies down hoping whatever is happening would pass
  4. Sometime after that, he loses consciousness
  5. His body begins to go into insulin shock, causing a blood sugar spike (down)
  6. Nik's organs begin to operate at much lower efficiency, with limited supply of energy (had this been sustained, he would have suffered multiple organ failure in a matter of hours, from which recovery would be next to impossible)
  7. Nik is found and rushed to the hospital
  8. He is treated for over a week, after which point he is conscious and responsive with no apparent brain damage whatsoever, indicating that he was not deprived of oxygen for long (or at all)
But somewhere in that hospital stay, Nik underwent surgery to remove nearly twenty percent of his liver. It had failed. His much-larger-than-recommended intake of alcohol, coupled with his weakened immune system and already low blood pressure, had put far too much strain on his liver in too short a time. Additionally, because he is awake so much more than he sleeps, doctors postulate that the "real age" of his internal organs may actually be much older than seventeen, meaning they were operating at normal "awake" capacity for twice to three times longer than the average seventeen-year-old male.

Assuming this theory holds water, that would mean Nik's liver was acting like it was anywhere between about 34 and 51 years old - definitely old enough to fail, especially considering his massive alcohol consumption. Doctors were shocked to hear of how much he drank on a daily basis; one said it would likely be enough to cause complete and likely fatal liver failure in an ordinary adult within a matter of months. Indeed, Nik was consuming between 100 and 150 euros worth of hard liquor a week (about $200).

Needless to say, his whole life will change now, as will mine. If I do ever visit England, specifically Birmingham, I will likely not drink with Nik at some pub. Hopefully, I won't drink with him at all!

At this point, I am exhausted from writing what is essentially Nik's life story. He has always wanted me to write his biography, often praising my skills as a writer and speaker as well as a lyricist. We have collaborated on songs in the past, and will do so again; he has helped with vocals on my songs "Pied Piper" and "Inventive," the latter of which was based on his own original lyrics. But he still joked often that I should chronicle his life's adventures, much like was done for Alexander the Great (the bard's name escapes me).

I still expect great things from Nik, that much is for sure. I initially panicked, as I have lost friends before and do not wish to lose any more - certainly not at this time in our lives! But thanks to advanced medical science, he is going to be alright.

I hope this reflection finds you all well. Remember that your choices will always affect you, whether you know it or not, sooner or later, for better or for worse. Remember that some purposes are ill-intended, and some actions will not lead to the desired results.

Finally, I do hope Nik enjoys reading this. For someone who claims to be self-conscious, you sure do love being talked about ;) (just one thing people - promise not to pay too much attention to him, or he'll get cocky!)

I will end with what I believe are fitting words from my song Rauha Aina Kanssanne, written in May of 2010 to show support for another friend going through hard times. Much of the song is written in Finnish, though I do suppose a translation to Dutch is not out of the question!


Peace be with you always,
Through the turmoil all around.
You're walking backwards down a road
Where the future's still unknown.

No one has to tell you not to
Live your life like a scrap on the cutting room floor.
So cleanse your mind,
And let it shine.

- Jaska B, 23 January 2013

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