Was I really that ill?

I am extremely lucky that University Hospitals Plymouth have an excellent Intensive Care rehabilitation team. Patients are supported throughout their time in hospital and once discharged, continue to receive support in their recovery through follow up communications and multi-disciplinary team appointments. Patients also have access to psychological support through only one of a few psychologists in the UK to be linked specifically to an Intensive Care unit.

Over the past 12 months, I have received a huge amount of help and guidance from the ICU rehab team. They are my security blanket, keeping me safe and helping me to understand everything that has happened. The team offers patients the opportunity to meet with a physio, psychologist and ICU consultant to talk through what happened to them, their ongoing recovery and what interventions might help in the future. This is very much a new idea, in it’s early stages, but I was offered to meet with the psychologist and consultant, to check my progress and as a chance for me to understand exactly what happened.

I sat in the waiting area within the outpatients department and overheard a couple talking. The husband was explaining to his wife how she looked in ICU, so naturally I assumed they were there for the same reasons as me. He began to show her pictures he’d taken, described all the tubes and lines etc – it was like he was describing me! The lady mentioned about a transplant and I began to understand that she’d gone to ICU having received some sort of organ transplant. I found myself feeling like a fraud – I’d only been in ICU for 10 days and surely wasn’t that ill – this lady had received an new organ!

My psychologist is almost a friend now, I have met with her that often – she’s lovely! We had a lovely catch up and I also met a wonderful young lady who is currently studying psychology (she has a bright future!). Once our session was over, I was taken to meet the consultant.

I had never met him but instantly he seemed very nice. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the meeting nor was I prepared for what I was about to hear! The consultant had gone through my medical records to find out how I arrived in ICU originally, what happened to me during my stay and to answer any questions I might have. The consultant started at the beginning: How I was admitted to ‘Derriford’ for a routine operation and a couple of days later due to complications, was given emergency surgery and moved to Pencarrow ICU.

Now, I’ve always assumed that what happened me, although unlucky, was relatively normal? Mmmm, not so!! Apparently (and this is my understanding of his words, not a clinical explanation), the Oesophagus is very delicate. Unlike many other organs within the body, the Oesophagus can’t be replaced so if anything happens to it….it’s not good!! In my case, the tear was quite large. I became critically ill very quickly. A CT scan revealed pockets of air in my abdomen that shouldn’t have been there and I was rushed into emergency surgery. My abdominal cavity was flushed with over 10litres of fluid, my right lung collapsed and the tear in my Oesophagus could only be left to heal naturally. My heart rate was incredibly fast and my body began to go into shock. [This is quite interesting as several weeks after being discharged from hospital, I noticed that my nails had dents and my hair had a ‘blonde band’ about 1inch from the root. Having asked the consultant about this, he confirmed that this was from when my body went into shock! When a body goes into shock, it starts shutting down from the outside in – therefore the lines and dents are from when my body started to shut down]. I was fitted with numerous chest and abdominal drains and then the rest was up to me……

It seems that I was about as ill as anyone could get. It was unknown if I would pull through…..but I did. I managed to fight off the shock and pulled myself through the first 24hrs. I was in a coma for 7 days, and suffered a partial collapse of my left lung shortly after being woken up (in went another drain!). I was in ICU for 13 days before moving to a high care ward for the remainder of my time in hospital.

I had no idea that I was so ill – I have been as close to death as someone could be without actually dying. I feel this is something to be proud of – I fought death and won! But perhaps that’s a little insensitive?!! I wasn’t expecting for the consultant to tell me any of this. I would play down the merest mention of me being critically ill, being a trauma patient and being very lucky.

Now I know – I WAS very critically ill, I WAS a trauma patient and I WAS lucky to survive.

I’m proud of me for surviving………

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