My last weekend in hospital was strange. For the first time I felt like I didn’t need to be there. I was eating small amounts of pureed food, drinking, walking. I felt more normal than I ever had. On the Sunday I sat on my bed knowing that the next night I would be home. I’d begun saying goodbye to staff, hugging and crying! I had a long conversation with a healthcare assistant and the realisation of me going home hit me. I wasn’t prepared and I wasn’t ready. Who would help me if something went wrong, who would take my obs, what would happen if the hole in my Oesophagus re-opened. Hospital was my safety blanket and I wasn’t ready for it to be taken away.
The morning of 14thJanuary arrived. I was pleased to see the nurse on duty was the same lovely nurse that had been with me for previous significant events so it seemed fitting that she was there on my last day. I wasn’t expecting a grand send off but I was disappointed to not receive the usual visit from my medical team. Instead, a Dr I didn’t really know told me I was going home and that was it. I began to feel a little in the way but the staff were really kind and excited that I was going home. I wanted to get a couple of thank you gifts for the staff so after I’d had my final tubes and lines removed I took myself shopping. Everything felt so strange. I’d never left the ward without a drip or a stoma bag attached to me yet there I was, walking amongst people who had no idea what had happened to me. They had no idea about the trauma, the pain, the near death – I had suddenly become just another person.
During my nights and days, I would often have conversations with one particular healthcare assistant. In fact it was the same young lady who first spoke to me the night I arrived on Crownhill. It turned out she wasn’t a monster and was actually very nice! We often spoke about how bored patients got in hospital, how there was little for them to do. She said she wished she could create a sort of games room where patients could socialise, play games or just chat. This conversation stayed with me and I knew exactly what I wanted to get the ward as a thank you gift – I just needed to find them. After I’d brought far too many boxes of chocolates and thank you cards, I went in search for board games! Derriford is blessed with a fantastic League of Friends shop full of everything you could possibly want. I remembered the shop because shortly after moving to Crownhill , I was so hot that I asked my mum to get me a hand held fan and the only place she could get one in the whole of Plymouth (and the bit of Cornwall I lived in) was the League of Friends shop! I asked the assistant if she had any board games and she did. She found me some ribbon so that I could pile the boxes like presents and I skipped back to the ward feeling very chuffed with myself.
A few days before, I’d made the suggestion of visiting ICU to thank the staff for keeping me alive. At the time my medical team and I thought it would be a good idea to allow me some closure, so it was arranged that I would be taken down on discharge day. Armed with chocolates and thank you cards, my nurse escorted me to ICU. I was not prepared for what happened next. We walked onto the unit and I was filled with terror. I can’t explain the feeling but I felt in danger. A nurse who looked vaguely familiar greeted us and she told me that they were all so pleased that I was going home. I was crying and shaking with what I thought was pure emotion but in weeks and months to come I would realise that it was the start of something more sinister.
Back on the ward, I was served my final lunch. It had more lumps in it and was definitely more interesting to eat. I had visits from staff members wanting to say goodbye, whilst still having my obs done. And my bed was taken away for deep cleaning before it became home to the next patient. I was left sitting in a chair in an empty space, bags packed, waiting for my prescription and discharge papers. I’d watched so many patients come and go, wondering how it felt… and now it was my turn. Around 5.30pm my nurse came on to the bay with a large bag and a smile on her face. It was time for me to go. My family arrived to collect me and I wasn’t sure how I was feeling. I wanted to feel excited about finally going home, but I wasn’t feeling excited. As I left the ward, staff stood on either side of the corridor clapping and waving me goodbye. I felt like a little superstar but didn’t feel I deserved it. As I got to the end of the corridor I hesitated –I wasn’t the same person that arrived at the hospital 3 months previously, I had changed. I really didn’t want to leave, but I had to. Walking through the hospital, into the dark and out into the car park was a surreal experience. As I sat in the car I would’ve done anything to run back onto the ward. It had become my home and I almost felt like I was being kidnapped.
When we got home, everyone was excited, except me. I felt like a stranger, like I was intruding. We sat down for dinner and someone said to me “That’s it; It’s all over; You’re home now”. But that wasn’t it and it was far from over. What started as a joyous day ended in fear and confusion. My journey wasn’t over – it was only just beginning.