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!

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