When a cough turns deadly!

It’s been an absolute age since I last blogged. Normally the only reason I can come up with why there’s been big gaps between posts is that I’ve just been faffing and procrastinating too much, but this time I’ve got a really good excuse, and that’s because I’ve been ill. Not the ‘feeling bad for a few days, and then back to work’ sort of ill, but the ‘This isn’t looking good’ sort of seriously ill type of being poorly!

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post ever since I came home nine days ago, but whilst the mind has been willing, the body sadly hasn’t been as doing anything, no matter how small, is so flipping tiring. This might take even longer than usual to write, but writing about my experience of being ill will be cathartic and besides watching back to back Netflix films loses its appeal eventually!

Right, let’s do this!

It all started two days before we broke up with a sore throat and a cough. It was the end of a long term and it’s pretty common for anyone working in a school to succumb to end of term lurgeys. A few days of guzzling Benylin and sucking Tyrocets should do the trick and then I’d be able to enjoy my Easter break and be fighting fit for our long awaited holiday in Cornwall. But it didn’t pan out that way.

Over the weekend the cough worsened. It was a dry hacking cough that just wouldn’t stop, especially at night. Mr R got irritated by the fact that my cough was a bit feeble and that I wasn’t putting enough effort into it, but the fact was I couldn’t. My chest felt so tight and it hurt to cough. I started wheezing and for some reason convinced myself that I had Whooping Cough. Little did I know that something far nastier was manifesting itself. Something I never thought in a million years that a healthy, if unfit, me would ever suffer from!

Monday came and the pain in my chest was agonising. I felt as though a huge weight was crushing down on me. Fortunately Mr R had decided to take a day off.

And that’s when I said “You  need to take me to A&E right now”

I don’t know whether it was because we made our own way to the hospital rather than coming by ambulance, but we had to wait in the waiting area for around ten minutes before I was called. It seemed like an eternity. I was in agony and very, very scared. Once I was through to the treatment area it was all systems go and I was surrounded by nurses and doctors. I was still very distressed, but there was a part of me that felt so relieved that I could now let these calm, reassuring experts take over and no longer have to think for myself. It really was a case of putting my life in their hands.

Initially there was a thought that I might have had an MI or aortic aneurysm, but after a CT scan both were ruled out and a diagnosis of pneumonia was made. As I’d been taking immunosuppressants for the poorly leg, the reason why I may have got pneumonia was because my immunity was compromised, but then again, maybe that wasn’t the reason at all. I doubt if we will ever know for sure.

Later that day I was transferred to a ward where my condition quickly deteriorated. I was really struggling to breathe. You can’t believe how scary it is not being able to breathe until it happens to you. Nothing else matters in the world except trying to make your lungs work. At that point I seriously thought I was going to die.

I was quickly whisked to Intensive Care where I spent the next two days. I have few lucid memories of my time there. I just remember a surreal time of hallucinations, paranoia, fear and a desperate need to sleep. I became scared of being in a bed, I believed I was in a room full of beds filled with dying people. There were bars surrounding my bed and I was desperate to escape. To this day my vision of the intensive care unit at The Great Western Hospital in Swindon is that it was in a war-time hut like building and that I was transferred to Saturn ward sitting in a cream leather office chair! Being critically ill and pumped full of drugs really does mess up your head! How reassuring then that you are seen by nurses from ITU after being transferred to a ward and given the opportunity to talk through your experience there and to ask questions. It helped immensely to know that what I experienced was quite normal and that they would come and visit me as long as I needed to talk about my short but terrifying time with them.

The hallucinations took a couple of days to fade away once I was transferred. It was oddly reassuring to see a waistcoated mouse under my bed, a pink elephant’s head instead of a tap at the basin, and script that would cover the walls of my single room. I still wasn’t sure where I was exactly and it wasn’t until a few days later that I finally believed that I was still in Swindon.

I may have been out of ITU but I was still very ill. Everything was a huge effort especially breathing. I panicked if I was in bed, so spent my nights sitting in a chair. I gained almost two stone in weight due to excess fluid in my body. Fluid literally poured from my legs and I feared for the ulcer that had only just healed after three years of getting the damned thing to do so. Oxygen therapy left me with a mouth devoid of any moisture and me begging for ice to suck on. Drinking didn’t help despite gulping down glass after glass of water.

I couldn’t have chosen a worse time, except maybe Christmas, to have fallen ill. The long Easter weekend holiday meant that having a chest drain inserted was probably delayed by a couple of days. The moment it was in and almost 1500mls of fluid drained off, my breathing became that much easier. I think it was at that point that I felt that I’d turned the corner and that I was on the slow road to recovery.

I spent almost four weeks on Saturn ward. I moved beds four times. One of those moves was after midnight from my single room to a four bedded bay. I had three trips to x-ray at 2am, a very uncomfortable ultra sound of my heart and two chest CTs. I was a nightmare to get blood samples from and my temperature refused to slip below 37C. Sleeping at night was fitful. Sounds are amplified at night, patients need attending to, and new patients arrive from A&E. By the time dawn broke I was ready for the day to begin again. The hospital food was far from awful. The choices at lunch was always really good and I can honestly say that I thought the lunches were actually really quite tasty. Supper was always soup and a sandwich. Fine for a short stay but just too repetitive for anyone staying in for a long stretch. Thank goodness for lovely visitors who bring in crackers and cheese!

We all know that the NHS is in crisis. Every day we read articles in the papers and watch the news and current affairs programmes telling us that targets aren’t being met, the lack of funding,  of nurse and doctor shortages and how our aging population and lack of social care is impacting on the number of beds available for routine and emergency admissions. But putting aside all of the issues and problems on a national level, I have nothing but praise and appreciation for the wonderful care I received throughout my time in Swindon’s Great Western Hospital. At a time when you feel vulnerable, isolated and at times scared, it’s the reassurance, skills and professionalism of the nurses that you come to depend on. The thoughtfulness and smiley faces of the HCAs that help keep your spirits up. The doctors who remember that even though you look a wreck and are feeling like crap, talk to you about your treatment as the intelligent person you are and listen to your thoughts and opinions. To the porters that crack jokes even at 2am. I am indebted to all of these wonderful people who work bloody long shifts, often without a break because they just haven’t got time to stop, and go home totally shattered mentally and physically only to return some hours later to do it all again.

I’m writing this from a perspective of my experience and from the care I received during my stay in hospital, but I had plenty of time as an observer and watch the goings on within my four bedded little world. I might have given up nursing years ago, but as the saying goes, once a nurse, always a nurse, and I found myself observing the care given to the elderly patients I shared my room with. There was only one incident when I found myself  silently tut-tutting to myself  about lack of care, but that was from a HCA on loan from another ward, and besides she’d already put my back up by her patronising manner towards me. At all other times the much more needy patients than me were given the best of care and were treated with the dignity, patience and respect they deserved even when they were at their most trying.

I’m at home now. I’ve a way to go before I’m fighting fit again. Exertion of any kind is tiring. Climbing the stairs is a struggle, but I’ve downgraded from climbing the equivalent of Everest to Mont Blanc. Maybe next week I’ll be tackling Ben Nevis. At the moment I’m self-administering intravenous antibiotics through a PICC line and having to put up with a horrible metallic taste in my mouth because of them. I’m frustrated because I want to run before I can walk and I’m in need of a darn good haircut, colour and a facial. But I’ll get there, and life will get back to normal. I will get coughs and colds again, but hopefully they will just come and go as they did before. What I want now more than anything is to put this whole horrible episode behind  me.

I’m sorry it’s a bit of a long rambling post. You probably haven’t even made it this far. Who really wants to hear about other people’s illnesses? But I wrote this for me as well as for you, and it’s good to write again. Before I go I want to thank my wonderful Mr R who has been through this journey with me. He had to deal with the scary possibility of losing me, watch me suffer and try to cheer me up when I felt at my lowest. He has been my rock through all of this and I love him dearly for being him. I also want to thank my wonderful friends and family for being so supportive and bringing in ice lollies in cooler bags, hot chocolate from Costa, dry shampoo and having to witness Poo Man! You have all been just truly brilliant!

So that’s it. Hope it made sense. If it didn’t I can still use the excuse that I’m not quite my old self yet!

With love

Brigitte xx