“Whoever you are, what have you done with me”? This was something I found me asking myself every day. Although I was settling in at home, it still didn’t feel right. I found myself looking at the time, thinking back to the ward and what happened at set times. In the evenings, at 8pm I would think to myself ‘handover time, they’ll be ‘round to do my obs soon’! The days went by but it felt as though something was pulling me in a different direction, trying to remind me of something or trying to make me see things differently. One evening I happened to watch an episode of one of my favourite hospital programmes. Suddenly, my brain and body felt as though it had frozen. In a scene, someone had gone into cardiac arrest and the machines were beeping lots of different noises. For what felt like forever, but was probably just seconds, I was transported back to somewhere else – but I didn’t know where. My daughter asked if I was ok and she said I was white. I told her I was fine and forced a smile. But I wasn’t – I didn’t know what just happened but I knew it wasn’t good.
I would wake up every morning, in pain from where my body was adjusting and healing. Every morning I would wake up thinking I was in hospital, but I wasn’t. The days began to merge into the same, long monotony of feeling like I didn’t belong but pretending that everything was ok. I just didn’t understand why I was feeling like this – I should’ve been happy to be home, but it didn’t feel like my home, the hospital had become my home. My wounds were still healing, one taking longer than it should and along with seeing my local practice nurse, I had to return to the hospital one morning as there was concern about a hole in my abdomen not closing. I didn’t hesitate when they said I would need to go – walking onto the ward felt so safe and familiar. By coincidence I was seen by members of the team who had treated me previously. They were happy to see me and to see how well I was doing. After checking me over, they mentioned that they rarely got to see patients again after treating them and that to see me was lovely. They asked me how I was getting on at home and I took the opportunity to mention about not feeling myself. They said that it was no surprise, given how long I’d been in hospital and that it would take time to adjust. One asked if I’d been contacted by the ICU follow up service, which I hadn’t, so it was suggested that I contact them as it may give me some closure. At that point I didn’t understand what speaking to the ICU team would achieve but when I got home I rang the department and they agreed to send me a follow up questionnaire.
My unexpected visit to the hospital had given me a boost, even if only for a short while. I was getting better and I was at home. I needed to focus on that and forget about being in hospital. But it wasn’t that easy. I felt as though I’d become 2 people, almost like being reincarnated. The Lou I knew before, who walked down to theatre 4 months previously, was not the Lou who was now sitting here. It was the start of a tumultuous battle with my former self and who I was now.
2 weeks after my first outpatient visit, it was time for my next. Exactly the same thing happened as before, only this time worse. I arrived in outpatients and immediately just internally combusted! I couldn’t sit down, I remember leaning against a wall, everyone looking at me. I was breathing rapidly, crying and I just felt terrified and confused – why was this happening? A colleague of my consultant who was less than helpful saw me. He said I was just nervous and that he didn’t believe any of this was to do with my trauma or being in a coma. He passed it off as me just getting myself wound up. I felt really stupid. I wasn’t being like this on purpose, I had no control over my feelings or emotions and that’s what scared me the most.
After this visit, I began spiralling downhill rapidly. I became angry. Sights and sounds would freak me out. I became vacant, drifting off into my own little world. I began having flashbacks of my deliriums – I could picture everything vividly, exactly how it was. I would imagine I was on the ward, began going to bed and waking up at the exact times I did in hospital. But all the time I kept this hidden, trying to carry on as though everything was ok, battling with Jekyll and Hyde. Then one morning I received a phone call from the ICU department. I’d returned my questionnaire and they were asking me to meet with the ICU psychologist. Alarm bells began to ring – why did I need to meet with a pscyhocologist? Were they going to section me? Had I said or done something alarming? I was invitied to an appointment…..in outpatients!!
The same thing happened as the previous times, but this time it was much, much worse. As my husband dropped me off to park the car it was as much as I could do to get myself through the door. He didn’t know I was terrified. I remember walking through the doors and feeling myself well up with tears. My breathing became shorter and shorter and a tightness gripped my chest. A voice in my head told me to get a grip so I took a deep breath and walked into the waiting area. But getting a grip wasn’t happening. I felt as though I’d risen out of my body and was watching myself from above. I was pacing up and down, heart racing, feeling hot and sick. People were looking, staff walked passed but nobody asked if I was ok. My husband arrived and was shocked to see the state I was in, I was trembling with anxiety and more than anything, I couldn’t understand why I was being like it.
Suddenly, a very friendly looking person came towards me. It was the psychologist. She could see the state I was in, held out her arm and scooped me up. Her smile told me that yet another journey was about to begin.