The signs are all around us, but we often become blind to them, choose to ignore them, or kid ourselves into believing they don’t apply to us. What am I talking about? Life. something far too many of us take for granted.
*Please note: some of the issues addressed in this blog could be quite confronting to some readers*.
I have sailed along for the last four decades and not really thought too much about this. Yes, some things have happened that have made me re-evaluate my life priorities – but nothing has majorly made me reassess the whole meaning of life itself until now.
When you stare death in the face, multiple times in close succession, you cannot NOT be affected.
After my first emergency surgery on my left leg, I was brought back from theatre to HDU – the high dependency unit. I had never been sick enough to be here before on any of the previous hospital visits at any other time in my life.
In HDU, there are 4 beds and 2 nurses per room. Each room has a nurses station so there are nurses there 24/7. They never leave your side. On the first night in HDU I was the only person in the room, until another patient was brought in. There was quite a commotion when he arrived, he clearly did not want to be there, or was in some discomfort, or something I am not sure. The curtain was drawn across the end of my bed but I could hear everything. During the first few hours the patient went into full cardiac arrest. There was suddenly a full room of medical staff, lots of noise and shouting, and a considerable effort was made to save that man’s life. I listened to him die. Right there – a few metres away from me in the same room. It really sounded like there was nothing that they could have done. Listening to that whole situation play out, when you have just recieved emergency surgery and are not feeling that flash yourself, is incredibly confronting indeed. I was absolutely hysterical.
A doctor came in to talk to me after it all went quiet, to make sure I was going to be ok. He was aware how traumatic it would have been for me to listen to.
I cannot remember how many days I had now been in hospital or how many emergency surgeries I had had so far, 2, maybe 3? I was still in HDU and now the room had 4 patients in it. The layout was such that usually the curtains were partly drawn most of the time, lots of machinery associated with each patient (at one stage we counted it, I was on 10 separate IV infusions at the same time). That said, I could usually at least partially see both patients opposite me on the other side of the room, even if I could not see out of a window. The nurses station was directly opposite me on the other side of the room.
On the night in question, a patient had been brought into the room in the late afternoon. I could see from the numbers on his machines that he was not in good shape. when he first arrived he was partially conscious and able to utter odd words to the visitors by his bedside. They were there all day and late into the night.
At some stage late in the middle of the night, alarms on the machines started to go off. At first the nurses were tending to him while the curtain was still open. Then, as things went downhill, the curtains were drawn. I could hear that the patient had become unresponsive, the nurses and doctors were still there, then eventually it was all quiet. This was not a good night for me either. I had entered the twilight zone that was full blown drugs withdrawal. (That topic is addressed in another blog) I was calling the nurse – I needed their help asap. They usually came within a moment or two in HDU. On this occasion there was a delay but when someone eventually came to help me, the nurse whispered to me that she was sorry it had taken so long, the gentleman opposite me had just passed away.
I remember thinking (amongst the feeling of absolute heartbreak and completely distraught at witnessing another death just a few metres away from me) that that gentleman had had visitors all day since he arrived. He chose to go during the night, when it was quiet and the visitors had gone home. I am convinced that was a conscious decision by that patient.
I had been in HDU almost a week at this stage. I had had all four emergency surgeries and was still experiencing the pregabalin withdrawal. I had not seen out of a window for the entire time I was in hospital, so on this day, when a patient was moved out of HDU, I asked for the bed bay that was by the window. That placed me directly opposite the patient that was brought in next. I was still in HDU because they were struggling to keep my blood pressure up above the target number required to give the new graft the maximum chance of holding and not re-occluding again.
This patient was described by the staff as stable but very unwell. He was a lot younger than anyone else that I had seen in HDU. He had a young wife who was by his bedside. This patient was fed up of his current predicament. He did NOT want the medical intervention, he did not want the drugs, he did not want to live this current life that he was faced with. He was very unsettled indeed and required a constant watch. Eventually he was sedated and returned to ICU (intensive care).
Yes, this visit to hospital has changed me. Completely. Unless you have been faced with a situation that is threatening to your own life, or aspects thereof, you quite simply cannot understand how much this affects you. I am hoping that I can at least in part try to explain, so that you never waste another moment of the life that you have been given.
The only person who I have talked to who understands is my father. He has been through two emergency procedures that threatened his life, and they changed him also.
Life is more fragile than you know
I have seen it first hand, at close range. By the time I rached emergency surgery #4, I remember lying on the operating table looking up at the theatre lights and feeling completely terrified. I asked the anesthetist to please make sure I don’t die. His reply before he put my under (again) was ‘that is not even anywhere remotely in my plans’. My next memory after that surgery was seeing the ceiling tiles whizz by as I was being wheeled from theatre to the recovery room. I made it! I thought to myself. I f***king made it! I am still here!
My mother died at the age of 66. My good friend died at the age of 33. When is your time up? Who the hell knows. I walk this earth at the moment thinking oh my gosh. I must be over half way through my life. That does not leave much time left.
What happens when you die?
I often wondered what happened when you die. I have decided that I now know. You simply go to sleep and don’t ever wake up. That is how #2 went. I was witness to it.
So every morning, when I wake up I give thanks for a new day before me, I give thanks for the fact that I still have two feet and have a brand new day full of 24 hours that I can do whatever I want with.
What if this was your last day on earth?
Imagine – if that was your last 24 hours – ever. What would you do with them? You should put even just a tiny touch of that into each and every day.
Do you have the right to complain?
No. you have another day. neither of those two patients I witnessed have another day.
I almost left that hospital with only one leg. My life would have been changed for ever. Do I have the right to complain? I could… but I won’t. Yes, some serious sh1t happened that should not have happened. It almost caused me to lose my left leg. But am I still here? Yes. Are you still here? Yes. Are those two patients still here? No. And patient #3? I asked a doctor was he going to be ok – after they had taken him back to ICU. The reply was that they just did not know. So does he have another day? I just do not know. But I have, and I will be sure I will be making it a good one. And you should too.
Can you predict the future?
No. it might seem a dumb thing to ask but so many people say well it won’t happen to me… but it did. Did I think back at the start of July that later that month I would be first fighting for my life, then second, fighting to keep my left leg? No. I had no clue.
But now I have been given another chance. Whatever happens next, and whether I have one leg or two, I am still here to see another day.
And for that I will always be thankful.