Regaining your life inch by inch.

You may have noticed a certain dropping off in blogging activity of late. This was caused by me being in hospital for three weeks. I went to bed as fit as a fiddle but when I awoke the next morning, I felt as weak as a kitten. My usual reaction to catching flu or something viral is to go back to bed and stay asleep while my body fights the infection. If I sleep long enough, my body will always fight it off.

This time, it didn’t happen. All I did was sleep day and night and on the occasions I came to, felt even weaker. By the end of the week, I couldn’t even walk. Much as I hated burdening an already overstressed health service, it was obviously time to call for an ambulance.

The old nostrum that every story has to have a start, a middle and an end is very practical advice for any writer. You’ve had the beginning and since I’m alive and writing this, then this serves as the ending of this particular tale.

My memories of what happened between those two points is disjoint, fractured, fragmentary and at times hallucinogenic. The boundary between dream time and what I’d see in the brief moments when I’d awaken became blurred. The doctor handling triage at emergency reception gave me a thorough hands on examination and ordered a barrage of tests. His conclusion was it wasn’t a stroke or heart attack but I was still essentially paralised. Paralised is probably not the right word – more like so tired and weary that I could barely move. Not corona either but something viral, in which case – “Get him out of here and into isolation straight away.”

I woke up momentarily in a nice room containing only one bed, though it had what looked like a nice en suite bathroom. Since I couldn’t move, it would be of little utility to me. By this stage I’d a cannula installed in each arm with various bags drip feeding various liquid medicines into my system. When one bag was empty, it was replaced by another one containing a fluid of a different colour. I could get pills down, but only with the greatest difficulty.

My blood pressure, heart rate and temperature were measured on an hourly basis and while those activities weren’t being done, a lot of blood samples were being drawn frequently. I was beginning to feel there was a very hungry vampire secreted somewhere in what is a very large and labyrinthine hospital. I was wheeled out in my bed for a barrage of tests involving various types of scanner which as far as I could see just made a variety of irritating noises when I was either shoved inside one or just being scanned by one.

Having worked my entire life on problem solving, I recognised what was happening – the shotgun approach. You try everything and observe carefully the results of each one. If there’s no noticeable improvement, try something else. If it seems to be working, double the dose. I was finding I could stay awake in the day, which was an improvement.

After a few days in purdah, I was wheeled out and into general population, which is to say a ward containing several men of various ages with various ailments. It was better because at least I had some company, but in my condition, couldn’t interact much with them. There were a couple of old men living in the dementia zone who spent most of the night either wailing nonsense for hour after interminable hour, which made sleeping difficult, or them trying to get out of bed and leave the ward to go home.

They were carefully ushered back into bed until they’d try the exact same same thing 10 minutes later. Over and over. I had to marvel at the patience of the nursing staff. They were well-trained, professional and above all cared. Later on in another ward, a man beside me had just been diagnosed with having a brain tumour the size of a grape. He looked to be in his late forties but was a lot older according to my wife, very fit, cycled 10 miles a day, two lovely daughters and a grandchild. The nurses, about the same ages as his daughters, had obviously been told to keep an eye on him in the aftermath of the bad news and as the three of them listened to him talking about whether it would be operable or not, he suddenly burst into tears in mid sentence. In an instant, all three were over him, cuddling, and patting his back and saying soothing words until he quickly regained control again.

All three had moved as one without a moment’s hesitation.

In my time in what I called the scream ward because of the dementia sufferers, some strange things happened. The first was upon arrival there, I was told I needn’t wear a mask. All the staff did, but none of the patients did. The second, which I hadn’t heard about, was that towards the end of my stay there, they’d backed off the no visitors rule. I woke up to see a man diagonally opposite me had his wife in his bed cuddling him while their two children about 4 and 6 took turns hugging their daddy. Until I found out later about the change, I thought I was seeing things. That would come later. That rule change did a lot for morale.

I felt envious as I’d given orders that I didn’t want any visitors at all and kept my mobile turned off. If it was going to be bucket time, I wanted them to have better memories of me than some wretch immobilised in bed. At times, I just wanted for it to be over. Clean and quick. That night, the screamers woke me in the middle of it. or maybe they didn’t. To this day, I’m not sure which. By this time I’d mastered all the ways my bed could be adjusted and arranged it so I was sitting upright and with the aid of the night light could read. It was Michael Crichton’s autobiographical piece Travels. I was fortunate to be reading it when my wife stuffed an emergency rucksack with it. Some books resonate strongly.

I was deep in the book when I felt eyes on me. Looking up, I saw three women were standing in the aisle dividing the beds on either side of the ward. They were ordinary, comely women and they were all staring at me and smiling in a kindly fashion. It was as if they knew me well and were showing understanding of what was at times a very lonely fight with some hard choices.

I knew they couldn’t really be there so either I was seeing things – next step permanent residency in the scream ward – or it was a dream. I once told friend that I didn’t dream and he replied rubbish. Everybody dreams every night, it’s just that your head scrubs them away just before you awaken. It’s a protection mechanism. There’s also a biochemical reason, which I won’t go into. Thinking it over, I suspect he was right. Some of those lucid dreams are not good, so with no prospect of ever going back to sleep after one, I slip downstairs, make a coffee, put on some quiet music in the study and begin writing until the dawn chorus announces itself.

Knowing they couldn’t be real, I’d get back to reading but every time when I looked up again, they’d have been replaced with a number of new people gazing at me with the same small smiles on their lips. At one point, a little 6yo was standing with them. I reached out to my side table and split open one of those mini-packets of Gummy Bears one of the grandchildren had sent in for me. When you’re 4yo, giving away a packet of your precious Gummy Bears to cheer up granda is a generous sacrifice.

Having split open the packet, I spread the sweets out on it. She took one step towards them and stopped with a big smile. I knew she wasn’t real, she knew she wasn’t real and therefore couldn’t eat a Gummy Bear, but when I awoke the next day, the opened packet was there on the side table which I invited the nurses to help themselves to. I come from an old islander race who believe in signs while at the same time dismissing them because I know we live in a deterministic world, but when they occur, we always pick them apart carefully looking for meaning.

I remembered every detail of the incident, and although I recognised few of them, the ones I did, I knew for sure were dead. I wasn’t sure if it was a sign saying be prepared to join us, it’s not so bad, or perhaps the direct opposite. Don’t worry, this isn’t your time yet, you’ll pull though. At that stage, I felt the former outcome much more likely. I never saw them again, and thereafter when I awoke in the night it was always with a faint hope they’d be back again. I’d warmed myself on the affection they’d somehow beamed at me.

A few days later, I was moved to my third ward. Why? I don’t know. First impressions weren’t good. When you’re lying immobile on a hospital bed, people begin to forget you’re there. You become the invisible man. There was a young man in the bed beside me, about 24yo I’d judge, who was getting the diagnosis from a consultant. He’d leukemia and the most aggressive variety. To his credit, the consultant was doing a lot of reassuring – don’t worry, there’s a lot we can do nowadays. It brought back memories of me saying variations of the same comforting BS to someone I knew wouldn’t see another sunrise. Ghosts don’t haunt you, it’s memories that do that, and there’s none worse than the tragedy of a boy dying so young.

Although there was a curtain drawn around his bed, I could hear every word, every pause. I was at my lowest at the time and didn’t want to hear that conversation, but I couldn’t run, I couldn’t close my ears. At the end of the diagnosis, the kid thought about it for a while and asked if the could see his parents. With that at times immediate acuity of youth, he could see the writing on the wall. “Of course, I’ll arrange it immediately” the consultant said. A trifle too quickly. When I woke up next morning, he was gone and replaced with the brain tumour guy, who turned out to be a very personable man. He was knowledgeable about a lot of topics and we both enjoyed many conversations, laughs and jokes together.

Going around the ward, there were no screamers, one empty bay on our side of the ward, opposite us were three beds. One filled with what looked like a very young man who was actually 29. He’s just had a very big operation for scoliosis, was now waiting for a heart valve transplant and couldn’t have weighed more than 7 stone, but he was quietly cheerful and liked to chat. He made custom guitars for a living.

In the middle bed was a builder guy who was recovering from an operation to fuse two spinal disks. His back had been giving him hell for years but work was work. His immediate problem was he wanted a smoke. To my surprise, all he had to do was fill in a form and then he could have a smoke outside the hospital boundary. Instead of walking miles, he found out where the staff had a quick puff and joined them as the need arose.

In the third bed was a young man who worked in the computer business and was being treated for Lymphoma, which is a cancer that attacks the body’s immune system. Sometimes a diverse group of people click, and it makes life much easier. If someone dropped something, someone else got out of bed to retrieve it for them, small things like that. Despite all the ailments we were a happy bunch, because each of us had no illusions, we all had a long and rocky road to recovery ahead of us, if we made it at all.

Apart from a steady stream of drips and tablets, I felt I was going nowhere, especially as any time I tried to move about in the bed, a nurse would appear and tell me to just lay there and my strength would come back. I set a trembler alarm on my mobile phone for 3am at night. It took me three exhausting nights just to learn again how to sit up in bed by myself for the first time in two weeks. You’ll never know how good that felt. The next thing to learn was how to bum shuffle myself down the bed where there was a break in the bedside barriers to stop us falling out.

Eventually I could work my way down the bed and sit with my feet in tantalising inches from the floor. These things are all about making what is subjectively a massive effort for very small gains, but they all get easier with practice and start to mount up as they connect up together. It’s baby steps stuff. Just keep repeating that little step until you’re confident. The next big one was sliding off the bed to stand with the back of my thighs resting against the bed and a fierce grip on the side and end barriers of the bed. “Be careful mate”, came a voice out of the darkness. My secret shenanigans weren’t as secret as I’d thought.

My next target was not leaning against the bed and after a few days, not holding on so tightly to the barriers. When I was comfortable with being able to stand unaided, I started walking a “U” course around my bed keeping a grip on the bars all the way around. After completing the first one, I had to sit down on the bed for a half hour to get my pulse and breathing back under control. After a few days, I could do a lot of “U”s without either a rest between each and not holding onto the bed bars but still in grab distance. My first solo was walking to my neighbour’s bed. I got there slowly and very carefully, a whole four feet or so, and after a rest, made the return journey. When I was comfortable with repeating that adventure over several nights, I walked to the second bed and back.

Within a week, I was up and ambulatory, and just trying to build back up my stamina and distance. In a way, I became a victim of my own success. On the same day I was moved to the physio ward, which I knew was the last stop before checking out, my friend was checked out purely so he could attend the surgery of an oncologist who specialised in tumours of the brain. As we reached the ward’s exit doors, we both turned around as one to wave bye bye to the other lads. The shitty feeling we both had was we were breaking up something good and leaving behind us three good men who were down.

I did two nights in the physio ward before a physiologist freed up to start working on me. Compared to the last ward, it was a bit depressing because it was exclusively populated by the bedridden. There but for the grace of God, and some natural stubbornness, go I. In my time there, I never saw anyone get out of bed. I spent my time walking up and down the long corridor, working on my stamina and balance. It was coming along, albeit slowly but the going was getting easier.

When a physio finally turned up to examine me, I told her I could walk unaided. “Show me.” I dutifully walked the length of the corridor a few times. “Have you tried stairs yet?” “No, none around for me to practice on.” That got a quizzical look but she chose not to enquire further. She took me to the physiological exercise room where there were various bits of apparatus, including a construction of a stairs. I shot up the stairs, turned around at the top, and walked back down. She said “If all my patients were like you, I’d be out of a job.” She gave me some booklets accompanied by some solid advice, but she obviously signed me off.

I was discharged that afternoon.

©Pointman

A stay in hospital.

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Comments
31 Responses to “Regaining your life inch by inch.”
  1. Juliet46 says:

    Welcome back. Thank God you are recovering. You have been greatly missed.

    Like

  2. Margaret Smith says:

    Indeed, welcome back. I guessed you might be unwell and hoped it wasn’t too serious. Looks like it was serious so it’s a relief you are back. Take care! We need you and your insightful posts.

    Like

  3. Tim. says:

    Yes, glad you’re back. I’ve been worrying.

    Like

  4. John says:

    Glad you are safe.

    Like

  5. just stevie says:

    It was just the other day when I thought…I haven’t seen a post from you in awhile! We are, unexpectedly at times, subjected to the reality that life is brief no matter how well we have taken care of ourselves! And for some of us, it creates a cornerstone of sorts, that re-directs our path going forward. It’s definitely a course that cannot be fully explained to others unless they’ve been there. I suspect that God in heaven has a plan for you…a very special revelation…that I’m hoping will come forth in your future posts. Because I know that you haven’t finished working thru this ordeal. Be encouraged going forward…walk with God! 🙏

    Like

  6. Michael says:

    I can relate,
    I had an ischemic stroke that left me bedridden and paralyzed on the left side in march 2019, getting back to normal took three months of bloody minded determination. I was fortunate that my grey matter rewired itself and apparently I also grew new blood vessels in my brain according to the scans. The feeling of clawing ones way back to normalcy is not to be forgotten, I have regained full neurological function but view the world and my relationships through a different lens now.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Stephen Sasse says:

    Good to have you back

    Like

  8. Paul says:

    Happy to see you are still among us.

    Like

  9. Vivien Dwyer says:

    Nice to have you back. I’m a great believer in use it or lose it. Which is why I worked hours on my hand after a stroke. It worked and my hand still works too 🙂

    Like

  10. Peter Shaw says:

    Pointman, I’m sorry to hear of the ordeal you have gone through and wish you all the best for a full recovery. We are living in very interesting times and I’m sure you don’t want to miss the show! Warmest regards from NZ.

    Like

  11. cdquarles says:

    Thank God :). I had my own tale of near death nearly two years ago, when I threw a pulmonary embolus. Since then, I’ve had my eyes worked on (glaucoma and cataracts) and leg arteries (I’ve had several auto-immune illnesses over the years, so I have the aftermath of arteritis plus the effects of venous thrombosis.

    I’ve been on mild immunosuppressants for more than 20 years, so I am at higher risk of catching the bugs that circulate and have done so at times. Still, so far at least, if I’ve been exposed to Covid, I’ve not had any bad effects, so far.

    Like

  12. Annie says:

    Goodness! I wondered where you were. Well done for such determination to recover and best wishes. Annie.

    Like

  13. Selwyn H says:

    Welcome back Pointy. Your regular dose of reality has been sorely missed. I came off a ladder a few years ago and crushed a vertebrae which required a week’s stint in hospital. You are so right about the sense of camaraderie established with other patients in a ward and then missing them as they disappear for treatment and discharge.

    Your experience was much worse than mine and I wish you all the best for a full recovery.

    Like

  14. Power Grab says:

    Bravo, Pointy! 😀

    It’s amazing how helpful even small advances are! Just making a small advance every day can get us back in the game.

    My dad was a physical therapist. Lots of times the advice he gave us seemed like it was too minor to make any difference, but I understand better now.

    Like

  15. Graeme No.3 says:

    Wonderful news that you are back.
    All my best wishes for the future

    Like

  16. The Quiet Farmer says:

    Welcome back, glad you were just too stubborn to call it quits. God bless you and yours.
    I think you have a lot to catch up on around the political ridges, nothing much is the same anymore
    Greetings from Down Under.

    Like

  17. Simon Derricutt says:

    Pointy – I had wondered about the hiatus, but as with Wind in the Willows, the sudden disappearance of someone for a period is not generally remarked upon, at least when they return. Sounds pretty severe, though, and you’ve made a bit light of the recovery process.

    When you look at the complexity of our biological processes, maybe the surprising thing is that we don’t get ill more often. I’m glad you made it through this episode and are fairly back to normal. A nice new set of pictures presented without comment on the right, even though they usually have a comment when the mouse is hovered.

    Like

    • Pointman says:

      Hi Simon, the picture widgets on the RHS column seem to have developed a random bug beyond my control, so I found a few workarounds, though the results are mixed to say the least.

      Pointy

      Like

  18. Behind Enemy Lines says:

    Ah, mate. Trust me, we’re with you.

    Like

  19. beththeserf says:

    Keep well and blogging, glad yore back!!

    Like

  20. JohnTyler says:

    “Not corona either but something viral, in which case – “Get him out of here and into isolation straight away.”

    Well, join the club; you wind up in the hospital (or in my case, the emergency room followed by several doctor visits) and when it’s all done, you realize the medical professionals never quite figured out what caused your problems.
    No need to get into my medical issues (mostly all cleared up) , but I have learned from experience that unless the doctors can actually find something in the test results or X-rays, or MRIs, they are reduced to guessing.

    An interesting way to kill time is to look up online the causes of some ailment; when they list a dozen or more causes, it’s a round about way of them saying they really do not know what is the real cause,
    More confusing ; when a symptom of an ailment is listed as a result of a certain deficiency (say of a mineral or a vitamin), and that same exact symptom is listed as a result of an EXCESS of that same mineral or vitamin, well,…. for god’s sake.

    Keep moving, keep active, drink lot’s of H2O (but not to the point of hyponatremia !), eat right, and hope for the best.
    And yea, stay out of hospitals, that’s the easiest place to pick up some infection .

    Like

  21. OldNick666 says:

    Missed your blogs for the past couple of weeks. I always enjoy them. Glad to hear you are well again and on the mend.

    Like

  22. Mark Russell says:

    Glad you survived, always appreciate your perspectives! Take care.

    Like

  23. Pointman says:

    Thank you all for your kind wishes. I’m just about recovered, but have to take a couple of day visits back to the hospital for more tests. Thank you again.

    Pointy

    Like

  24. workingman says:

    Glad to hear you are back Pointy. I went through something similar back in early 2018. Feeling incredibly weak, although not as bad as you. Endless bloodtests, scans, even had a Angiogram that thankfully showed all was good with the heart.
    The final verdict was I had some type of viral infection but they did not know which one. Took me 4 months to gradually get back to full strenght.

    Like

  25. Glad you are back. Take care.

    Like

  26. John Garrett says:

    I had (incorrectly) assumed the radio silence was attributable to disgust.

    Welcome back. We need you. You have important work to do.

    Like

  27. philjourdan says:

    Thank god you got better! Did they ever put a name to it?

    We are glad to have you back. Post when you want. And take to long walks with the wife!

    Like

  28. vieras says:

    When the world went crazy, I was checking your blog because if anyone, you’d be the best at hard core common sense, ruggedness and decency. When you were quiet, I hoped that the virus did not get you.

    I am super happy to have you back. Good luck my virtual friend.

    Like

  29. gallopingcamel says:

    Thank God that your eloquence remains so that you can help us understand an increasingly irrational world.

    Like

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