I have a friend who always tells me “Expect the unexpected!”, yet somehow I never do. I’m not prepared for things to shift under my feet like sliding sands, landing me on my ass in the middle of a mess. Expect the unexpected. Wise words for life, because life is in constant flux and though we might feel as though we’re in control at any one time, it’s a bit of an illusion – we never know what might happen next.
This was brought home to me forcefully last weekend, when after a perfectly normal Saturday morning getting my hair cut and seeing my Grandad, I collapsed in sudden, blinding agony (scaring WonderAunty no end and causing her to show her superhero colours), was rushed to hospital in an ambulance, and ended up living squinched up in pain between doses of painkillers until having abdominal surgery on Monday because the doctors couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong.
The Ten Things of Thankful I had been going to write that afternoon, fell utterly by the wayside. I couldn’t even bear to write on Facebook that I was ill because the thought of trying to manage well-wishes and notifications and enquiries as to how I was doing, was just too much. I spent most of my time that weekend curled up into a tight prawn-shape, pressing my hands as hard as I could into whichever bits of me were unbearable. When the meds started running out, I ended up hanging off the bars of the bed rocking and crying in pain whilst mum looked on with such sadness in her eyes that she couldn’t do anything. That was the worst thing, because she was at an utter loss as to how to help, so she sat. I couldn’t do anything to stop her sadness – I could barely think. I just cried.
I lost four days to hazy, pain-fugged, medicated confusion – a maelstrom of nil-by-mouths and blood pressure checks and “PLEASE can I have more painkillers?” and waking up to find I’d fallen asleep again. In that time I was SO thankful to Mum and WonderAunty, who visited me each day and asked all the questions I hadn’t the presence of mind to, kept me company, held my hand, cheered me up, kept me sane. And brought me food (for the times when I *was* allowed to eat), because hospital catering for vegans is sketchy at best.
There are many ‘worst things’ about the occurrence of the Unexpected, and this experience covered (and is still covering) quite a lot of them, plumbing several depths with regard to pain, loss of dignity, loss of normal function, loss of health, attacks of depression…but there were SO many silver linings. I think I lived the entire weekend cocooned in them, and since now is the time to share them, I have an ENORMOUS list of probably many more than ten, but we’ll call it two week’s-worth and be satisfied, because I really have NOTHING else in my life right now.
1 – WonderAunty, for her care and patience and cool-headedness in the face of Sudden Awful Unexpectedness (i.e. discovering me on the floor upstairs, writhing in agony*, barely able to speak, and Dealing With It). She got the ambulance, and me into it. She brought me all my things from home, so I had everything I needed in hospital, and kept people up to date so I didn’t have to think about it. She visited me, cheered me, and brought me home on Tuesday evening when I was discharged. Since then she has been my constant companion and keeps me on track with my painkiller regime and lets me nap in her office (so she can keep me company) and looks after me supremely well.
2 – Ambulances, because bloody hellfire, there is NO way I could have gotten to hospital without one, without being very unsafely squished into the back of a car, and BETTER, they have gas-and-air, which made me feel far far away from the pain for long enough that they were able to strap me down for the journey (still yelling), before they took me out and I turned back into an upside-down bedrail-clinging, rocking-prawn.
3 – Mum, who took over from WonderAunty in the ambulance, came with me, kept straight on what the doctors were saying and helped me understand what was going on. She reorganised her life for four days so she could come and see me for all the visiting hours she could, so she could be around when feedback came from the surgeons on what they’d done and what they found (I was still too woozy to ask sensible questions or take much in), and she went to fetch people to help me when my ‘call the nurse’ button stopped working. She sat with me and kept me company a lot, and did as much cheering as she possibly could to someone rocking-prawned, in lots of pain, and largely uncheerable.
4 – Good hospitals – I’m so SO lucky to live near to a hospital (and luckier still to be under the care of the (I don’t care what people say about it, I think it’s bloody marvellous) NHS) and that there were first rate facilities in which to be assessed and cared for. Good grief, what people must go through where there’s a bad hospital. Or no hospital. Just…it doesn’t bear thinking about. At all (*sadface* because now I’m thinking about it and I know people DO go through this, and worse, with shoddy or no facilities and that’s why so many people die in poor places and it’s just not good enough).
5 – Nurses, who I think might be angels. They were kind and compassionate and veryverybusy but still had time for me and treated me like a human being, well, like an individual, rather than just ‘a patient’, and were just WONDERFUL in every way. Like, really wonderful. They encouraged and had all the answers and offered help and most importantly, had the painkillers.
6 – Painkillers. I’ve now inhaled them, ingested them, had them injected, and absorbed them from inside places stuff was only meant to go OUT of…but they’re ALL good. Especially morphine. I liked that one a LOT. (6a – being pain-free, when it happens, is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!!)
7 – Walking, which is something I had largely taken entirely for granted until I couldn’t do it (because you can’t when you’re a rocking-prawn), but I had to uncurl and do it, agonisingly slowly, using a zimmer-frame because I couldn’t bear my own weight without help (because OWWWWCH!) up and down a loooooong corridor each time I needed to pee. Well. Each time after the nurses realised that I’d use the commode all weekend if they let me, and I’d be at worse risk of DVT, so they stopped letting me). (7a – now I’m home, the toilets are closer and don’t have cardboard pans full of other people’s piss in them. Nor do *I* have to pee in a cardboard pan so my ‘output’ can be measured.)
8 – Showers, because even if you have to cling to the disabled handrails to stop yourself falling down, and you have to try to keep a cannula covered in a tied-on plastic apron to stop it getting soggy, and you have to zimmer-frame yourself into and out of the shower…it’s SO MUCH BETTER TO FEEL CLEAN. It’s also nice to finally get the red dye off your hair, which was going to be the Next Thing On The List, right before you collapsed in agony…
9 – Friends, who have been ‘with’ me through the whole thing, either in my phone, over whatsapp, through Facebook, or in Real, coming to visit me and check on me and take me wobblingly out for my first ventures back into the world (I’m meant to keep moving to help the air (which they pump into you during a laproscopy) dissipate, because it’s damned uncomfortable to have it all still trapped inside me – apparently it might take a week or so to be gone). I have been SO lonely, especially since coming home, and little interventions and interactions and small visits have HUGELY helped.
10 – Sleep because not only does it help with healing, it stops me being awake to feel the hurting, and it stops me being awake to feel the lonely or the sad or the hopeless or whatever stage of post-anaesthetic illness-induced badness I’m going through, and it means that I have enough energy to do the Next Thing. This week I’ve achieved big things like walking unaided, getting meals for myself, taking showers by myself, putting letters in the post-box, getting some groceries…all with much-needed naps in between because doing anything is completely exhausting. Sometimes even talking is exhausting.
11 – PEOPLE, who I miss terribly and think about lots, because I think there’s definitely something to ‘trauma bonding’ and I feel I made quite good friends (kind of) with the other women who were on my ward, and the nurses, and I miss them and hope they’re doing okay. That was another thing which was AWESOME about hospital – there was ALWAYS someone around. Lots of someones. All the time. It was LOVELY. I actually felt really upset about losing them when I heard I was being discharged. So I had a nap…
12 – Springtime, which has been merrily going on outside while I’ve been tucked away in blankets, slowly uncurling into a more personlike shape who groans and moans less when she moves. I was given a photography challenge to distract me and get me outdoors, and THAT has been fantastic and a small enough ‘ask’ that I’ve succeeded at it for the past two days.
13 – Celebrating people, which I discovered the other day is a REALLY good antidote to feeling down and lonely and left-out and envious, because it brought me back into focussing on the good things which my friends are doing, and the wonderful aspects of how they are, and appreciating and acknowledging what they’ve done which is awesome, and sharing it with other people so that everyone can join in the happiness, and that worked really well for a day when I was pretty well in the dark. And it kept me distracted. And slightly forced people to talk to me because I’d tagged them in something. And they really liked it and it was just nice to do a nice thing which cheered them up. Sometimes you have to make your own light.
14 – Sleep, which I need to mention again if only to remind myself I need to go and do it NOW, because it’s late and I’ve rambled and I’d kind of forgotten how much I’ve missed this whole writing thing, and YOU ALL, and the interaction and connection of the Blogosphere, and I’m a little bit craving it and a lotta bit addicted to it and dammit I just have missed this, missed you, SO much, and I don’t want to stop but I need to because I need to keep healing and sleep will help with that.
15 – Love, because it’s held me and helped me SO MUCH, from whichever quarter it’s been shown, this past week or so.
16. This hop, which got me back to my laptop (which until this evening I had been hiding from, too skeert because of the sheer volume of what I’d missed and had to catch up with) and it’s SO good to be back. SO so so so so good.
*I always thought it was a fanciful literary expression, an overexaggerated descriptor. I’ve now done enough of it to know it’s precisely what it says. It’s horrible. Utterly, utterly horrible. May you never experience it (or, as WonderAunty and Mum would also likely add, ever have to see someone else doing it).