Open Heart (Part 2) - No pain, no gain

Something inside so strong


The effort to keep my eyes open was so much that I did think of closing them for good and just slipping away. It all felt possible, the draw and the temptation to sink lower was immensely strong but the pull to stay alive and keep in the world of the living was winning the tug of war.

There seemed to be an endless supply of blood transfusions which I think helped keep me grounded, in the truest sense.

Gradually, I became aware that I was on a ventilator, I couldn’t swallow, move, talk or breathe, the ventilator was breathing for me. Perhaps due to previous mouth cancer, or maybe it’s just a weird phobia, but I don’t like people coming near to or touching my face or throat (put that in your Valentine’s card, Hallmark). Remember that game people played on holidays in the 1980s, where grown-ups would line up and pass along an orange from neck to neck with their hands held behind their back, you know the one? That is my worst nightmare. I’m almost certain it convenes the Geneva Convention on Human Rights. The game is also just plain old weird, and looking at it with Covid eyes, it’s a repulsive germ-fest for repressed degenerates. But hey, each to their own. And yes there is probably holiday footage of me playing this very game.

I was on the ventilator for 10 hours. By hour 10 I attempted to remove it myself, which may have precipitated the nurse rushing from the room to get the OK from the doctor to extubate me from it’s clutches. Don’t try it at home folks. If you’re on a ventilator, it’s for a damn good reason and if you are going to be on it for any length of time they will sedate you, you won’t be aware.

I have a vague recollection of my husband, Dom, coming to visit me in the ICU. In my head I waved animatedly at him, I jumped out of the bed and sauntered towards him full of chat and was surprised he didn’t hug me or respond, not even a high five. He told me later that in reality I barely moved in the bed where I was connected to lots of machines, he stood beside me, I couldn’t speak, I half opened one eye and slowly raised a finger (that sounds about right).

During my ventilation, when I was unable to speak, I attempted to communicate to my nurse that I was in a lot of pain. I was in ICU isolation, just me and my nurse buddy. I think I caught her on a bad day. She sat at the end of my bed for 12 hours like a pissed off Florence Nightingale. I’m not sure of the ergo dynamics of the room but whatever way it went, everytime she stood up, she banged into my bed. I’m sure she had no idea the bed bumping was agony for me, if I could I would have paid a million dollars there and then to have her stay in the Four Seasons for the night where she could bump beds with the best of them.

I made the fatal error of tapping the side of the bed to get her attention. I couldn’t speak and I didn’t know what plane of existence I was on, let alone where the nurse call-button was, she was also two feet from me. Florence was not impressed, she was standing over me at the time, holding my file. In a scene straight out of the Three Stooges or Wile E Coyote where anvils and pianos drop from the sky onto the unsuspecting doofus below, Flo dropped the file on top of me. Unlike a cartoon doofus I couldn’t hop around and yell ‘why I outta’, I couldn’t even cry out because of the bloody ventilator, I could however feel the tears running down my face.

Florence noticed the tears and played a game of charades with me until she worked out I just wanted painkillers. Once the tube came out I made sure to smile and thank her constantly, as she held my life in her hands, but I wasn’t too sad when the night nurse arrived and a rotation of different nurses would become my 1:1 over my 4 days in ICU. They were extremely kind and patient people, and I do appreciate that job is unbelievably demanding and not everyone can do it... not looking at you, Flo.

I had stayed in ICU longer than expected, it wasn’t time to leave the hospital, but it was time to get some roommates. 

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