Hospital can be a warpy sort of place.
Small things become huge things and then big things don’t matter anymore.
You’re OK one minute, then a ball of inconsolable tears the next.
For me, the only way to cope was to surrender to it.
Otherwise, the prospect of heart surgery would have driven me insane. This post is about acceptance.
Visitors from another planet
Having people around you is good for mental health. My visitors and nurses kept me from going crazy with my thoughts. Messages of support from friends and family were important too because I could read and re-read them at any time. So, thank you. (You know who you are!)
At St John of God Hospital, Murdoch (SJOG), visitors to the Coronary Care Unit (CCU) are restricted by hospital policy but honestly, I couldn’t deal with a barrage of visitors or even phone calls so this suited me perfectly.
I only saw my sister, my brother (briefly visiting from Brisbane) and my husband.
My husband would turn up after work with fresh clothes for me, food, news from outside. He was organised with his to-do list. He looked so tired.
My sister visited during the day, travelling some distance to bring me fresh fruit, things to read and news of our mum who was finally in a care home but slowly dying. My poor sister had a lot on her plate in April 2015.
I have a friend who’s an anaesthetist. She was working at SJOG one night. She spotted me and my husband through the window –
“What are YOU doing here?!”
Once she got over the surprise at seeing me, we ended up talking and joking, like the Coronary Care Unit is a totally regular place to meet up.
I remember feeling really good that night. Almost normal.
I’d like to say that giving in to my fate was heart-breaking, but my heart was already kind of broken. The IV drips, blood tests and emotional tidal waves were endless so it just became a matter of –
Oh well. Hit me. Go on. I’m already punch-drunk and hypotensive.
Here’s what metaphorically broke my heart
- I couldn’t see or talk to my mum in her new care home. She had dementia and a terminal illness. She had no idea what was happening to me
- I had to withdraw from my post-graduate studies
- I absolutely could not reconcile what had happened to me
- I felt a weird and strong reconnection with my father (he died of a heart attack)
- I saw people I love crying and hiding their distress because of me
But it wasn’t all bad
- I finished reading a Jodi Picoult novel (My review on Goodreads)
- Medication forced me to rest and relax. One afternoon, I had a blood pressure reading of 78/36 and heart rate of 42 bpm – I was barely functioning
- I didn’t have to go to work or do overtime
- I didn’t have to finish my university assignment
- I learned so much
- My little niece painted some fabulous art to put on my wall
- The kindness of strangers
- I learned to stop trying to control everything
- I inspired many people to go to their doctor for heart check-ups
Meanwhile though, another CCU patient was facing his own challenge. Remember that guy, my neighbour I mentioned in the last blog post?
Two Scary Nights in the Coronary Care Unit
Around midnight one night, my neighbour’s ECG alarm went off. This occasionally happened during my stay, but were false alarms.
Not this time.
I’ll never forget these words, yelled by the nurse in the corridor:
Suddenly, a commotion.
Alarms. Sirens. Rushing. Running. Trolleys with equipment came out of nowhere. Noise. Shouting. Bright lights. Adrenaline.
My neighbour was moaning loudly in pain and distress.
But I was numb. It was unreal. I just lay there and tried to send my neighbour what feeble good vibes I could muster up.
Not once did I think this could happen to me. But actually yes, this could have been me.
The next night, it happened again. Thankfully, it was not as bad.
Here. Take my life and rearrange it.
My last day at St John of God Hospital Murdoch fell on my wedding anniversary.
In the morning, my husband and I enjoyed a cup of tea in the hospital café foyer. Unfettered by my heart telemetry unit for a mere 30 minutes, this was scary liberation.
“We’ll make up for it next year,” we promised each other.
My cardiothoracic surgeon operates at another hospital, so I went to my third hospital in 9 days.
When the ambulance officers arrived, I refused to go on a stretcher. I sat in a wheelchair all the way. Go me!
I really didn’t want to leave the security and familiarity of SJOG.
Those lovely nurses and doctors who held my hand while I sobbed my sick heart out.
Those who patiently explained heart surgery and heart anatomy. They tried to answer my endless questions.
They helped me feel calmer, less angry, more accepting. Ready for the next stage of my heart journey…. The CABG.
I can never thank those people enough. They remain in my repaired heart forever.
Inevitable end-of the-blog-post Questions:
- How do you recognise when it is OK to give in?
- Letting other people take control over you feels really disabling. Has this ever happened to you? What did you feel?
- What use is crying?
- Is “Mercy” the worst novel Jodi Picoult has ever written?
I’m enjoying your feedback! Let’s open up a discussion on the blog!
Reading. Because you don’t want to give up
The difference between giving up and giving in.
Recommended! This lovely blog post is about letting go. It’s by Dr Amy Johnson (clinical psychologist) in her blog called Tiny Buddha.