Thursday, 29 October 2009

Dead Woman Walking

I WAS RUNNING out of excuses for crying but still the sobs exploded out of me. ‘It’s just my hormones,’ I wailed to my husband, Alexio. ‘I’ll be all right in a minute.’
But who was I kidding? I was on my way to hospital to have my gallbladder removed – and I was terrified.
Alexio squeezed my hand. ‘You’ll be fine, I promise,’ he soothed.
I forced a smile. Logically, I knew the risk of me dying on the operating table was practically nil.
Far less anyway than the one in four chance I’d had of snuffing it when I’d had acute pancreatitis.
One of my gallstones had come out of my gallbladder and got stuck in the duct, meaning my pancreas was eating itself.
Now, the only way to make sure it never happened again was keyhole surgery. ‘You’ll be out of pain, and you won’t even have a big scar,’ my surgeon said, as I settled into my room.
Fear surged through me. ‘Are you sure I can’t have it done awake? I cried. The surgeon shook his head. ‘Now put on your gown and I’ll see you after the operation.’
My hands were shaking as I pulled off my clothes after he’d gone. ‘It’s a routine operation,’ Alexio said, helping me into the backless gown. ‘In a couple of hours it’ll all be over.’
True – so why did I think I was about to be put to death by lethal injection? ‘What if I don’t wake up?’ I panicked. ‘Or if something goes wrong during surgery?’
What if these were my last few minutes on earth? 
I was gulping back air now as fresh sobs erupted. I couldn’t stop staring at my six-month-old baby, Anais, asleep in her pram, and my curly haired son, Deme, playing at school. What if I never saw them again?
‘I love my life,’ I wept, grabbing hold of Alexio. ‘I love you and the children. Tell them how much I love them.’ Alexio smiled. ‘You can tell them yourself later,’ he insisted.
I heard a noise behind me. Two nurses were here to take me down to theatre. 
‘Ready?’ one asked and I began to cry even louder.
‘No,’ I said, clinging to Alexio. But I’d signed the consent form. I couldn’t really back out now.
So, tears spilling, I kissed my husband and baby for what I thought was the last time and followed the nurses.
They were just a blur of blue, I was crying so hard. 
The theatre was at the end of a long corridor, with a small bed for me to lie on.
Everyone was wearing scrubs and facemasks. My breathing was laboured now from terror. ‘I’ve got two small children,’ I told the anaesthetist as he tapped the veins in my left wrist to bring them to the surface.
I was still crying as he inserted a cannula through which to pump the drugs. ‘You will tell me when you’re going to put me under, won’t you?’ I said, and then I felt a cold whoosh of liquid in my arm and everything went black…
I took such a deep breathe in, I sat up. It was like a baby’s first breath. Full and noisy. I was awake. ‘You’re in recovery,’ a nurse said.
My mouth was so dry I couldn’t speak. But I’d survived. I wanted to stay awake, to punch the air with clich├ęd relief, but my eyes were too heavy…
When I came round again I was in my hospital bed. ‘Welcome back,’ Alexio said, kissing me.
I turned my face to his and saw a jar filled with around 60 stones – all black, round and as big as Maltesers. ‘Eeewwww, that’s my gallstones,’ I mumbled. Then my blood pressure dropped, my stomach churned and I began to vomit over and over again.
I didn’t care I felt so awful. At least I wasn’t hungry – I didn’t want to make a mistake while still drugged up and eat those stones. I don’t think I’ll ever touch chocolate again!

Friday, 23 October 2009


EVERYONE WAS staring as I was pushed along the dingy corridor. One woman even gasped when she saw me.
I glanced up at her, and watched her flinch, almost hugging the wall, as my bed was wheeled past.
‘What’s wrong with these people?’ I thought, annoyed. ‘Haven’t they ever seen anyone sick before?’
After all, I was in a hospital. Then we stopped by a window and I caught a glimpse of my reflection and understood.
A monster was looking back in the glass – a woman with purple skin, red rimmed eyes, and drips and tubes springing out of punctured veins.
‘Is that really me?’ I thought, blinking. I should have been shocked, but I was still in so much pain, I didn’t care what I looked like. I was just grateful to still be alive.
I’d been rushed to hospital nine hours earlier in an ambulance after collapsing at home.
I’d been sick over and over again and had been in agony with machete-type pains gouging their way through my insides. For a moment, I’d thought I was going to die.
Now, five morphine injections later, I was hoping I wouldn’t. I had pancreatitis – a potential killer.
A gallstone had come out of my gallbladder and blocked a duct. It meant my pancreas was eating itself.
Doctors were pumping me full of antibiotics, fluids, and painkillers to stop me becoming the one person in four who died from this ridiculous condition.
Now, I was on my way from the resuscitation room to the High Dependency Unit, where I just longed to sleep.
It was 10pm, but it felt like I’d been awake and in pain for days.
‘Hello Karen,’ a nurse smiled as I entered a brightly-lit white ward. A surge of fear lurched through my chest.
The other handful of patients were all on machines, hissing and whirring, with masks over their faces, and a nurse each checking them every few seconds.
‘They all look critically ill,’ I panicked. ‘What am I doing here? I’m on the mend. They must have brought me to the wrong place.’
But before I could protest the nurse was checking my pulse, my temperature, reading my notes, and summoning a doctor over to asses my condition.
I tried to hear what they were saying but they were whispering.
Besides, I was now being hooked up to an observation machine, which was pumping out information about every part of me. ‘We need to give you oxygen,’ the doctor said, sticking a tube up my nose and ordering me to take deep breaths.
It had a funny smell, but cleared my head. Then the nurse was sticking more drugs into the tube coming out of my left arm. ‘What’s that?’ I mumbled as the room began to spin. ‘Something to stop you being sick,’ she replied but I couldn’t focus on her.
She was just a blur, shifting along with the world. I felt drunk, but without any of the fun before the spinning bit. ‘Close your eyes and go to sleep,’ the nurse soothed, and I let my eyelids become heavy…
A siren was exploding by the side of my head. I snapped my eyes open and saw the alarm on the machine beside me going off.
‘Apnoea,’ it kept flashing. Groggy, I tried to think. Through the druggy fog, I remembered what it meant – I was forgetting to breathe in my sleep.
Suddenly I was wide awake, breathing in the oxygen, watching my nurse examining the machine.
‘It’s OK now,’ she smiled. ‘Go back to sleep.’ But how could I? My body might forget to breath again, and then what? I wanted to cry. This wasn’t fair. I’d been rushed in with pancreatitis, in the worst pain I could imagine.
I was all alone here with my husband and two beautiful children at home.
Now, I couldn’t even relax in case I died in my sleep. It wasn’t fair.
So I vowed to stay awake, but there were so many drugs in my body and I was so exhausted eventually everything would go black…
Each time a shrill alarm would jolt me awake. Sleep apnoea, the machine would predict, and scared, I’d shiver in my hospital bed, willing morning to come.
‘The machines are highly sensitive, don’t worry,’ the doctor told me. But what if I didn’t make it through to the next morning?
I watched the clock, dozed off and was woken by the machine. Terrified, I’d fight sleep again, but lose. It was exhausting, scary and, paranoid from the morphine; I was convinced I wouldn’t survive the night.
So I couldn’t stop smiling when daylight peeked through the ward windows, and the clock hit 6am.
I’d got through the worst. ‘How are you feeling?’ my nurse asked, removing the oxygen. I grinned. ‘Alive,’ I said. What could be better than that?
Even better news, I was about to be moved to a ward. ‘That must mean I’m getting better,’ I thought, relieved. ‘Not long and I’m getting out of here.’
An hour later, I was pushed out of the HDU. I was still purple and ugly, on morphine, had IVs coming out of me, along with a catheter, and couldn’t even have flowers because of the risk of infection.
But I was on a ward – and was even given a phone to tell everyone where I was. ‘You don’t do illness,’ my gay bff wrote as soon as I texted him.  
I laughed. ‘Well I still don’t,’ I replied. ‘I only do near death experiences!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

A Kiss Before (Almost) Dying

LYING IN THE bath, I stared down at my scars. One had virtually disappeared, the other was a silvery sliver you had to hunt to see. But the one by my belly button was still purple and raised – a reminder of where the doctor had cut into me to save me from dying. It’s a year ago today that I was rushed to hospital in an ambulance. I had the full works – flashing blue light, siren, and paramedics all around me working to keep me alive.
I don’t normally go over old ground when I write. But it had such a profound effect on me, I still have flash-backs about this most days. It’s also the reason why I rushed my little girl – now 17 months – to the same hospital last night when she started vomiting and didn’t stop.
Luckily she only has a virus but it brought back the horror of having a one in four chance of not making it out of the hospital.
So I’m sharing it again now – from the same bathroom -  exactly 365 days later…

Plunging into the scalding bath water, I screamed.Normally, the heat melted away the pain machete-ing through me.
But this was far worse than the spasms I usually had. Now, a broken-bottle of agony was being rammed into my belly, the jagged edges jabbing again and again.
‘I can’t take any more,’ I thought, beginning to cry.
I’d been having pain attacks once or twice a week since being diagnosed with gallstones a few months before. That’s what I’d thought this pain was too when it started an hour earlier. But it was too strong, too severe.
‘This isn’t just gallstones,’ I realised as another pain ripped into me, so strong it made me gasp for breath. 
I opened my mouth to call for my husband Alexio but a fountain of vomit spewed out.
‘Aaagh,’ I muttered, lurching forward in the bath as my shoulders and stomach jerked and I was sick over and over again.
I saw the contents of my stomach, floating around me, and heard my five-month-old baby Anais crying in the distance, but I couldn’t do anything.
My body was nothing but flesh and bones being devoured by pain, my mind fighting the urge to collapse so this pain went away.
I must have lay there like that for 10 minutes,
then, suddenly, the door burst open, and there was Alexio. ‘Help me,’ I mumbled, taking in his shocked face.
‘You’re going to be OK,’ he said laying me on the cool tiled floor and covering me with a towel.
I shook my head. ‘Call an ambulance,’ I told him. ‘Now.’ My husband looked down into my eyes. It was just a split second, but he understood.
This pain was too big, too much for me. If I gave it any more freedom, it would overwhelm me.
And over the background squawking of my baby, I heard him dialling 999. I slumped then, relieved. This was out of my hands. I didn’t need to fight it alone. Someone who could take away the pain would be here soon.
So that’s all I thought about – that paramedic arriving with his bag full of tricks to make me feel better.
One minute passed, then another. ‘Where are they?’ I muttered. ‘You need to get me dressed.’
Alexio somehow dragged my limp, clammy body into a skirt and t-shirt – and finally the paramedic was here.
‘Pain relief,’ I cried as soon as I saw him and the ambulance crew.
He checked me over, then announced: ‘I need to get you to hospital now.’
Then, with their help, I was stumbling outside, into the ambulance. Alexio had to follow behind with and our baby. Luckily, our son, Deme was at school. 'Alexio,' I screamed, as the door was about to shut. He glanced over and I blew him a kiss. Who knew what was going to happen... Then blue lights flashing, the ambulance rushed through the city traffic and I begged for drugs.
‘I’m giving you morphine now,’ the paramedic said. ‘You’ll feel better in a minute.’
I waited, but the pains were still slicing through my insides. ‘More,’ I begged, and he gave me another shot.
It didn’t touch the pain, neither did the gas and air I was inhaling. ‘The hospital can give you a stronger dose,’ the paramedic promised. I was giving up now though, too weak. ‘I just want to go to sleep, I thought. ‘Not feel this pain any more…’
My name was being shouted. I was being jabbed in my arm, in my thigh. I opened my eyes. I was in the emergency room in A & E, with doctors and nurses around me, all working to take this pain away, to find out what was wrong.
‘Is the pain going?’ a doctor asked me. I shook my head. Apparently, I’d had five shots of morphine already, but it didn’t work on me. ‘It’s meant to confuse your brain so you don’t feel the pain signals,’ the doctor explained.
I’d never wished to be confused before, but I did now. Then maybe I wouldn’t feel this overwhelming agony, that made every part of me judder, or see the teenage boy who’d been stabbed having his clothes cut from him just feet away.
I wanted Alexio but he wasn’t allowed in with the baby.
The medical team were muttering around me, talking to each other in NHS-speak, but I’d watched Casualty all my life and could understand.
They thought I’d had a heart attack, but knew it was something to do with the gallstones.
Besides, I was going to be OK, I just knew it. So I listened to the little voice in my head running a commentary about what was happening while the pain took over my body.
‘You’re not going to die here,’ it said. ‘Not now. And certainly not of gallstones. That’s a ridiculous thing to die of.’
Then the doctor leant over me. ‘You have pancreatitis,’ he explained. ‘One of your gallstones has come out of the gallbladder and blocked the duct. Your pancreas is eating itself.’
It was a potential killer – 25 per cent of cases died. I nodded, understanding now why it was so painful.
‘We’re going to pump you full of antibiotics, then when you’re stable take you to the High Dependency Unit.’
That was one above an intense care unit. ‘Can I hold your hand?’ I asked one of the nurses.
I was scared – not of dying. That would be a relief from all this pain but of never seeing my husband, little boy or baby girl again.
An image of them together, smiling, flashed before me and I wanted to fight, to get better and get back to them. 
All I had to do was get of this resuscitation room, into the HDU and survive…
More tomorrow!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

For This Award I'd Like To Thank My Gran, Doctor, Goldfish, Hairdresser...

LUCKILY I HAD my tissues at the ready. Not that I was crying in that mascara-bleeding Beauty Queen OMG-I’ve-just-won or that out-of-control-for-once Gwyneth Paltrow accepting-an-Oscar kind of way. But I needed something to wipe the giant smile off my face.
Because I’d just been told I’d won not one but two awards for my blog. They’ve got special titles but I’m just going to call them Blog-Oscars and start thanking my hairdresser, stylist, my music teacher, the man down the road who just waved at me and dedicate it to my babies, my husband, my goldfish and Buttons the cat who died when I was at university. Don’t get me started on my inspiration…
This is the first time I’ve won anything for years.
I’ve been up for awards before during my career and spent the evening clutching friend’s hands under the table to calm my nerves.
I’ve bitten my lips until they nearly bleed but I’ve always come away with the same thing. Nada. Well nothing worth having. A runners-up certificate to go with all those highly commended gymkhana rosettes gathering dust in my mum’s cabinet.
She was a highly-skilled horsewoman when she was young and thought I’d naturally inherit her equestrian skills.
The only thing horsey about me were my bandy legs and my ability to go over a jump solo after my mare refused.
Still, I dusted myself down and tried again – something that’s proved to be useful ever since.
It’s what kept me going when I entered Blue Peter competitions and was the only one of my friends never to get a badge.
And it taught me resilience when I entered myself into a beauty contest at the age of nine and came nowhere after the audience and the judges thought I was a boy.
That’s when I decided to stop trying to be like everyone else and do the things I liked. So I started writing short stories and poetry.
My teacher Mr Sidney encouraged me and secretly entered them into national competitions. And guess what? I won one. OK, it was only a pen but I still treasure that today. And now I have something else to put into my ‘trophy cabinet’ and I can’t stop grinning. So a big thank you to Linda at 'You've got your hands full' for my ‘I love your blog’ award. The rules are I have to pass it onto 15 other blogs I like which are…drum roll…
And finally, another thank you (sob) to perfectly happy mum for the cool meme. The rule for accepting this is easy: One question - one word to answer. Difficult but fun:
Where is your mobile phone? table
Your hair? frizzy
Mother? feisty
Father? dead
Your Favourite Food: Italian
Your Dream Last Night: scary
Your Favourite Drink: fizz
Your Dream/Goal: security
What room are you in? kitchen
Your hobby: blogging
Your fear: pain
Where do you want to be in 6 years: beach
Where were you last night: home
Something that you aren't: lucky
Muffins: blueberry
Where did you grow up? sussex
Last thing you did: this
What are you wearing: jeans
Your TV: loud
Your pets: dead
Friends: loud
Your life: chaotic
Your mood: mercurial
Missing someone: paymaster general
Vehicle: tube
Something you're not wearing: tights
Your favourite store: bank
Your favourite colour: pink
When was the last time you laughed: saturday
When was the last time you cried? yesterday
Your best friend: dependable
One place you go to over and over: past
One person who emails you regularly: mr junk
Favourite place to eat: mcdonald’scarpark (does that count as one?)
And I happily pass it on to:

And if anyone has a Blue Peter badge they don’t want can they send it to me! 

Saturday, 17 October 2009

DIY Beauty And The Beast!

IT WAS a bad day in the mirror. A red-eyed monster with Einstein-inspired wild hair stared back at me. 
Dark circles under my eyes, straggly brows and the hint of – oh no! – a moustache made me grimace. Long, wiry hairs poked out of my tights and I was too scared to even think about, let alone look at, my bikini line.
‘What’s happened to the woman who sometimes looked like a woman?’ I gasped.
She’d vanished after weeks of surviving on three hours sleep a night. I could barely keep my eyes open most of the time.
So how was I supposed to groom, preen and glamorise myself while in a mummy-with-a-teething-baby coma?
Normally, I’d have taken myself off to a beauty salon for a head-to-toe beauty MOT.
But my career had been credit-crunched.
For the last few months I’d had to sacrifice new clothes, highlights, blow-dries and professional waxing and plucking for DIY fashion and beauty care.
Which to be honest meant showering every day and binging on cheap junk food so I had an entire new range of stylish clothes to wear – my fat wardrobe.
‘I’m a recessionista not a fashionista,’ I told myself, rooting around in the bathroom cabinet for my wax strips and tweezers.
‘Hairy legs attack,’ I muttered, warming up the strips in my hand, plonking them over the carpet covering my shins and yanking hard.
‘Mmm, not bad,’ I smiled, inspecting the bumpy chicken skin left behind. ‘At least there’s no hairs and it didn’t hurt too much.’
Buoyed by my home salon success, I set to work shaping my eyebrows into fashionably thick arches.
‘Now top lip,’ I said, cutting my leg wax strips into smaller slivers.
I rubbed the strips over my top lip again and again to make sure the wax covered every little hair. Then I pulled with all my strength.
My eyes watered so much I could only see a blur of red inflamed skin where the offending moustache had been.
‘Nearly done,’ I sighed, turning my attention to my bikini line. I was tempted to shave, but remembered the rash and terrible itching as the hairs grew back from my teenage years.
No, best to be brave. So I slapped on the warmed-up wax strip, waited and yanked. ‘Ooooowwwww, ooooouch,’ I screamed. Half the delicate skin had come away with the hair. Blood and bruises quickly flooded the waxed area.
‘I’ll just trim lightly,’ I told myself, slapping another strip on the opposite side. ‘A Brazilian would kill me.’
That side hurt just as much and bled even more. My bits looked like they’d gone 10 rounds with Rocky – in every one of his films. ‘I won’t be wearing a bikini or undressing in daylight for years to come,’ I shuddered.
But at least I was trying to look feminine. ‘It’s not that bad,’ I told the woman in the mirror as I dabbed concealer over my top lip, under my eyes, below my brows and dug out some giant pants to my freshly-plucked bits wouldn’t chaff against my size 16 jeans.
‘Presentable at last,’ I said, slicking on lip-gloss. My son was at school and it was one of the afternoons my little girl went to nursery.
‘I could have a look round the shops,’ I thought, feeling confident. ‘At least I’ll know what to wear when I can afford to be fashionable.’
It was fun mooching around on my own for once, without having to worry about warming up milk or sniffing Anais’ bum every 10 minutes to see if her nappy needed changing.
I was feeling great – and then I bumped into another mum. Her child went to my son’s school. ‘How are you?’ I said.
She looked me up and down. ‘I’m OK. Where’s the baby?’
I told her all about Anais toddling and starting nursery. ‘She’s such a big girl,’ I said, proud.
She nodded. ‘And who does she look like now?’
I smiled. ‘She has big blue eyes and she’s got my hair.’
I was so proud of her blonde curls and couldn’t wait for her hair to grow so I could put it up in cute bunches.
The mum’s mouth pulled back into a sneer. ‘Oh, she said, ‘so it’s frizzy?’
I didn’t know what to say, and just stood there, gawping.
Unperturbed, she turned to go. ‘Oh well nice to see you,’ she smirked. ‘And let me know if you want the number of WeightWatchers. They’ve started up a local branch, apparently. I know some of the other mums are going so you’ll be in good company.’
Cheek! I’ve never really liked her but been polite for my son’s sake. But now she’s a full on mum-enemy. Be friendly to her at the school gates again? Fat chance!

Have you been insulted by another mum? How did you get revenge? Please let me know before I bump into her again!