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Posts Tagged ‘ICU’

Memory

I’m in the hospital. The air is dry and I’m thirsty. On the small, rolling table beside my bed is a plastic cup filled with ice water. The table is within arm’s reach, but I cannot reach it. My arms are not strong enough to lift that far up and out. I cannot pull the table closer. I cannot lift a cup of water. It might as well be a mile away.

I tell myself that the ICU nurses have better things to do than give me water, and close my eyes and try to sleep. It doesn’t work. My throat is so dry it hurts to swallow. I decide to buzz the nurse. I have a call button clipped to the bed.

But when I look for it, I see that it has slid down beside me, and is now resting at my right bicep. When I bend my right arm at the elbow, the clip is too low and too close, right up against my arm. I try to reach across my body with my left arm, but I am too weak to stretch it far enough. My left hand lies on my right arm, too heavy to go further, the bell tantalizing inches away. Right up against me, it might as well be a mile away with the water.

Okay, no nurse. I turn my attention back to the water. I can press the buttons on the side of the bed to raise myself up more. I do so, and it brings me closer to the table. I lift my left arm at the elbow and hook my hand onto the underside of the table, bringing it close enough for me to actually reach the cup.

That’s when I realize it doesn’t matter how close the cup is. It is full of ice water, far too heavy for me to pick up myself. I contemplate trying it anyway, but visions of a lap full of ice water and no way to get a nurse stop me from making the attempt.

I still cannot get a drink. Frustrated beyond measure, I try to call out to a nurse. I hear voices outside my room. Can I make them hear me? My voice is weak from weeks of intubation, pneumonia and a collapsed lung. I call out, “Hello? Is anyone there?” They don’t hear. The voices recede.

I look at the clock. There is at least an hour before J is supposed to visit. I love his visits not only for the familiar company, but because I have a dedicated pair of functioning hands. He has nothing else to do when he is with me, and has endless patience with feeding me, giving me water, fixing my pillow.

I can lift my head, but can’t lift my hands up high enough to adjust a pillow. I can’t hold a book or magazine. I can’t scratch my own nose. I can’t feed myself. I can’t sit up on my own or roll over. I can’t get my own drink.

A machine behind my head starts to beep. I have two central lines – IVs going into large veins in my chest – and several bags of medications dripping through them. If a bag empties or something goes wrong, such as an air bubble in the line, the machine beeps. The frequency is normally annoying, but this time I am delighted. This means a nurse has to come to see what is wrong.

A few minutes pass, but finally a nurse bustles in to check on the alarm. She greets me and announces that she needs to change an IV bag. I ask if she can give me a drink and fix my call button, and she says she will after she finishes with the IV. I’m almost there.

She finishes with the bag and casually moves the table aside, picking up the cup and holding it so I can drink from the straw. In my eagerness, I suck up water too fast, and start to choke. As I splutter, she moves to the other side of the bed and easily unclips and re-clips the call button, asking me to check if it is now in reach. It is. My lifeline to the rest of the world is back.

She gives me one more drink before she leaves, and I envy her ability to pick up a cup full of water with such ease. I watch her walk out of the room and wonder if she is aware of how lucky she is, to be able to just walk where she wants. I swear that if I regain that ability I will never, ever, take it for granted.

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Six Months

I just realized that today marks six months since I woke up from the coma. Huh.

I still get to the top of a flight of stairs and am impressed with myself. I wonder when that will get old?

I’ve been finding lately that I’ve been getting these sudden flashbacks (for lack of a better word) to when I was in the hospital, in the ICU particularly. I wake up and remember waking up in the hospital at night and being unable to reach the bell for the nurse, then lying there helpless and desperately thirsty, with a cup of water right there, only I haven’t the strength to pick it up. And waiting and waiting for a nurse to come in. Or I’ll get in the shower and remember the first time I showered in the ICU, how I was unable to reach my own head to shampoo, and how exhausted I was afterward. Or I’ll be cutting my toenails and get this memory of how I would snag the bottom of my pyjama pants with a hand while I sat up in bed, and pull my leg up towards my body to stretch my muscles, determined to have enough flexibility to cut my own toenails by the time they needed cutting (I succeeded  – thank goodness toenails grow slowly).

It’s like I can’t shake the memories of my own helplessness. It’s the control freak’s worst nightmare, really.

Lately, I’ve been having lots of people tell me how good I look, how healthy.  “So, you’re all better now, right?” they ask. Nope, I tell them, but I’m getting there. There are a surprising number of people who seem oddly vested in me being ‘all better,’ and respond to this by saying, “But you’re pretty much all better, right?” 

Truth is, I still wear out easily, although I am not resting as much as I was. I can now open jar tops that the children can not. I have a hernia and my colostomy is acting up, and even if I cannot have the colostomy reversed, I’ll need surgery to fix it and the hernia. All is not well and I have many ups and downs. I wonder why so many people keep saying so forcefully, “But you’re fine now, right?” Maybe that’s how a happy ending is supposed to go. Girl wakes up from coma and then her health problems kinda drag on isn’t nearly as inspiring as Girl wakes up from coma and 6 months later is back to her old self (which, frankly, wasn’t that great either, but we won’t go there now).  

The worst thing what we have taken to calling “coma brain.” I have forgotten stuff and continue to forget stuff. The kids will say, “Remember when we went to S’s house for dinner and Boo didn’t want to eat, etc..” and I’ll have no memory of it. I’ve taken to telling Boo, “I don’t remember that, although I’m sure it happened,” because she sometimes takes my forgetting as a denial that it happened.

I had trouble adding 2.5 + 2 + 1.5 this morning. Lots of trouble. It took me three tries. Mostly I have the sense of humour to blow something like this off, although obviously it can be very frustrating. I’m assuming it’ll improve with time, that it is the lingering effects of all the sedatives they poured into my body and it will fade. I try not to think of the brain cells that may have permanently gotten fried.

Mostly, I’m grateful that it’s only things like 2.5 + 2 + 1.5 that I have trouble with, and that I seem to still remember all the important stuff. And that I can still walk the dog and take the kids to get school supplies. I’m tremendously grateful that my children don’t seem any worse for wear from their ordeal. Boo will still cheerfully tell me about things that happened while I was in the coma. Asher still claims that his last birthday was his best one, “You know, except for the part where you were in the coma, Mom. Because even my teacher gave me a cool present and she never gives anyone presents.” (I said to him, “Wow, imagine what sort of cool gifts you could have gotten if I’d died!” He said, “Yeah! Oh wait, it probably wouldn’t have been worth it.”) Maya has matured tremendously and her anxiety has leveled off somewhat, which I suspect has something to do with facing one of her worst fears and getting through it.

And those stairs. I still can’t get over those stairs.

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This post is easy as I am writing it from home. I am not home permanently. I am allowed out for a few hours at a time. I got to be home for Friday night dinner, which was great. The only difficult part is going back.

I realized that there has been no clear explanation of what happened to me. Well, let’s just say narcotics are bad, bad things. I was taking narcotic painkillers for the fibromyalgia. I figured out several months ago that the stupid things don’t work and it was time to wean myself off them. It’s not a quick process, but I had made significant process. What I didn’t know was that my colon was becoming impacted. (I don’t want to go into too much detail, given the nature of the topic, but turns out you can get a great big clog while still pooping, sometimes even regularly.)

So, I ended up with a little hole in my colon. This is bad. The evening it happened, I developed a really, really bad pain in my abdomen. I have regular bouts of excruciating pain caused by my irritable bowel which I deal with by getting a really hot bath until it passes. Thinking this was what I was facing, I got in the bath. The pain kept getting worse and worse. I’ve had two kids without any medications and that pain doesn’t hold a candle to how this felt. I finally asked J to phone 911.

The ambulance people were awful, but maybe I’ll complain more about that later. At least I got to the hospital. I was in the ER for about 12 hours while they figured out what was up and sent me to surgery. They missed the hole at first and by the time I went into surgery, they were facing fixing a 12 cm tear. Needless to say, those 12 hours were among the worst of my entire life. The pain was extreme and (correctly) they wouldn’t let me have anything to drink. I believe at the end I was literally begging them to just make the pain go away.

The surgeon came and explained I had a hole in my colon and needed surgery. He also told me that he didn’t know if he could pull me through in front of my mother. Ah, that famous surgeon lack of bedside manners. I was in so much pain I literally didn’t care. I was just waiting for unconsciousness. But my poor mother just got to deal with the extra fear that added during my surgery.

It didn’t go well. Actually, that depends on your perspective, since afterward, the surgeon apparently told my family he was surprised I survived it. So in that regards it went well: I lived. But I went into septic shock and my organs began to fail. I ended up in the ICU on every kind of life support imaginable.

I was in a coma for the next 18 days. It was touch and go for a while. It is bizarre for me to contemplate because by the time I knew about it, I was on the mend. All my friends and family were clearly traumatized by the experience and even though I was at the center of it, I emerged emotionally unscathed. The body is pretty scathed though (how come that is never used at the opposite of ‘unscathed’?). But I’m trucking right along in physio and can even walk, very slowly, up the stairs. My tentative release date is April 9th, months earlier than initially estimated.

I’m a lucky woman.

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