First published on Babyrambles blog, 14th December 2011
I’m wearing an oxygen mask and struggling to breath. My lungs feel like broken rocks in my chest. My heart is pounding like the hooves of a galloping horse. People surround me, they put needles and wires in my arms and ask me questions. When did I start to feel unwell? Where is the pain? Can I rank the pain on a scale of 1 to 10?
I tell them 9, with 10 being childbirth. The pain is in my shoulders, back and chest. It’s excruciating, I can’t lie down. I sit propped up in a bed with machines beeping around me in the semi-dark. I can’t move. My brain is on fire. I can feel the heat and hear the crackling of flames raging through my head. Around me I see little statues made out of wire: animals, a ballet dancer. I see faces. They’re on machines and boxes. Cats dart underneath my bed and the curtains. I can see one of my own cats curled up on the floor nearby. Nice of him to visit me in my hour of need.
I know I was taken to intensive care at midnight because there’s a clock above my bed. By 4am I want some peace, they let me rest for a bit. An hour later a tight mask is put onto my face to force oxygen into my lungs. It’s like being strapped to a wind tunnel. I panic, I’m told to try and relax, it will only be on for an hour while air is pumped into me. I’m told I may have to be sedated and ventilated to let my lungs heal but they’ll see how I get on. A feeding tube is pushed up my nose, it reaches the back of my throat and I gag. It coils up at the back of my throat so it’s pulled out again. Luckily I escape the tube.
The next day things are calmer. I still can’t move, but I can cough. I have to cough. My lungs are full of brown sludge and I need to cough it all out. I’m given a suction tube to help take all the gunk away. For the next few days I sip water, cough up sludge and take small naps. My temperature soars up and down as I fight the infection. It’s impossible to sleep properly. Sometimes my body sleeps but my burnt out mind refuses. I can hear everything going on around me but I can’t move or respond.
My husband, mum and sister visit. Their familiar faces are a lifeline to me in a world of medical equipment where there’s no daylight. There’s little difference between night and day. One day I’m told there’s a general strike. Another day I’m told Advent has started. It all seems like another world. I try my hardest not to think about the children.
I’m vaguely aware of other patients around me. I hear them cry out in pain and fear. I hear patients fitting and vomiting. I hear someone being resusciated. One afternoon someone dies. Being in this place reminds me how poorly I am.
But I’m lucky being in this place. Had I lived at another time or in another country I wouldn’t have made it. I’m getting the best medical care possible and although I’m scared I know I’ll be okay.
At the end of the week I’m transferred to a high dependency ward. My time in intensive care is over. I still need an oxygen mask, I’m still bedbound and I’ve lost so much weight I can see my bones through my skin. But I’m on the long road to recovery. I feel slightly better each day. And as my bed is put next to a window I’m overjoyed to be able to see the metallic grey December sky.
Postscript: I’ll always be indebted to the staff at the Royal Berkshire Hospital intensive care unit who not only kept me alive but also gave me brilliant follow-up care to make sure I made a full recovery.