Ebony Bamber had to cancel lunch plans with her mum because she had a headache.
That afternoon, she collapsed in her bathroom, crying out in pain.
“I remember just wanting it to stop … and then I fell unconscious.”
Ebony’s younger sister, Gabby Khan, went to check on her and broke through the bathroom door with a sinking feeling that something was wrong.
Shortly afterwards, Ebony was rushed to hospital and transferred to Adelaide in a critical condition.
“It was very sudden … I was in shock for days,” Gabby said.
“Ebony was the only one in our family who had never gone to hospital or had any health issues.”
A month later, Ebony, a Barkindji woman who was 27 years old at the time, woke up hundreds of kilometres away from her Broken Hill home after undergoing emergency brain surgery due to an aneurysm.
“They told me that I had a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM),” she said.
“It’s like a ball of tangled blood vessels that had ruptured, and there was bleeding in the brain but they had to wait until I was strong enough to remove it.”
After being in a coma for the duration of May 2021, Ebony could not walk, talk, eat, drink, swallow or type.
Some days she did not know who she was.
During her surgery, doctors had to remove the back of Ebony’s skull, and in the months following her aneurysm, she contracted meningitis.
“My brain had a massive swelling of fluid in the back where my skull is missing,” she said.
“The doctors decided not to put my skull back in as, if they did, the meningitis would have spread throughout my whole brain and killed me. I’m very lucky.”
‘Social butterfly’ with clipped wings
In a matter of minutes, Ebony lost her independence, her freedom and basic human abilities.
“I had a really big social life. I was social butterfly,” she said.
Before the aneurysm, Ebony bartended at Broken Hill’s iconic Palace Hotel, and when she was not at work, she was raising her son, who is now 13 years old.
One of the most difficult challenges for her was not being able to support him, with her mother stepping in while Ebony healed.
“He didn’t open up to me about how scared he has been until one night we had a power outage and were left sitting next to each other in the dark,” Ebony said.
“I’m getting back into socialising now but not as much, and I’ve had to reassure my son that the worst is now over, but it’s way different now.”
A ‘sparkling’ near-death experience
Ebony said her near-death experience was something she always wants to go back to.
She described it as a painless place where she felt light, like being “made out of sparkles”.
“I always have visions,” Ebony said.
“It was a whole other dimension and sometimes when I dream it’s like I’m there, but then I wake up and feel heavy all over again. Heavy and light.”
Near-death experiences are often described as being spiritual or cosmic, with some people concluding they are being taught lessons about their purpose in life — something Ebony fully believes in.
“I think it has taught me that I was meant to be here,” she said.
“It was so good there that I do want to go back, but then I think, ‘Hang on. I’m here. Why am I here when I could be back there?’.”
Recovering with grace
One year on, Ebony cannot turn her head when she walks, and cannot see out of her left eye due to brain damage.
Despite doctors fearing she would not come out of the coma well, she steps closer and closer to fully recovering.
Ebony attributes much of her recovery to a positive attitude.
“But I soon realised that if I believed that I couldn’t do it, then I definitely wouldn’t be able to do it.
“You don’t have to handle these things with grace and I feel like I’ve handled it with grace.
“Now I’m really glad it’s happened [so] instead of saying, ‘Why me?’, I say, ‘Try me’.”
Community helps by raising funds
Ebony has been back and forth to Adelaide several times for follow-up appointments and surgeries, particularly for her eye, with the regular trips costing thousands of dollars in travel and hospital visits.
She was not able to receive financial assistance from health institutions like the Maari Ma Aboriginal Health corporation, because she was told she did not qualify.
“Mum was told to meet certain requirements, you have to have diabetes, be over the age of 40, and [there’s] nothing about an aneurysm,” Ebony said.
But the overwhelming financial and emotional support from her community meant she was able to afford the costly operations, and new glasses to help get her sight back.
“They helped a lot when I was in a coma. They did a GoFundMe to help pay for my mum and my son’s accommodation in Adelaide and another one to get me back home.
“A family friend knew I was struggling financially to afford my new prisms to fix my double vision, so he offered to pay the $1,000 to get them.
Now with a new lease on her changed life, Ebony wants to immortalise her thoughts and experiences in a book, which she believes is a big part of why she survived.
“I’ve always wanted to write a book, because my son was very sick when he was born. So I was going to write a book about that,” she said.
“But now there’s just so much that I need to say.”