It would be easy for me to turn around at the moment and say that I hate the world, or that life isn’t fair, or even to ask why me? It would be easy for me to say that for various reasons, but for far, far more I am thankful. If I repeat myself a bit during this post, or don’t make much sense, please just hang with it. My brain is trying its best, and all will become clear within the next few hundred words (yes there will be that many, sorry…)
So many times over the past couple of weeks I have sat down to write this post – the first post I will write as a university student. Each time the piece of writing remains incomplete, no longer relevant by the time I try to start writing it again. Freshers week I had my first kiss from a guy who is now my best friend but had a bit of a boxing match with my heart before he decided that was all he wanted to be (which resulted in my first hangover) I came home to a bouquet of chocolates (yes you read that right, chocolates!) from one of the world’s most particularly fantastic human beings (it was a very well timed and very thoughtful gift!)
I love university, I mean LOVE it. I love my course so much it doesn’t feel like work at all. I made friends. So easily. And they are so nice. And I fit in. And I am loved. And people I’ve known for just a few weeks care for me more than I ever imagined. Do you know how I know that? Because of how they responded when I nearly died on them. To quote the doctor in the intensive care unit, I “really took freshers flu to the extreme”. I do that a lot, take things to the extreme.
I got a sore throat. That was it. A sore throat. ‘Healthy person’ ill, how refreshing, I thought. But I do not have a healthy person immune system. The back of my throat blistered and it bled when I tried to eat or drink. So for three days I ate nothing, while trying to juggle diabetes and take the extra sixteen tablets per day I was prescribed. Three days, that’s fine! I hear you say. No. On the third day my body won. And lost. All at the same time.
I realised I was in DKA (ask your search engine what that is). It’s a medical emergency, but the ambulance service decided that it was low priority. Fair enough, I can wait.
By the time it showed up I was unconscious and vomiting… At the same time apparently… And my friends were completely great about it. They ran, but not in the direction I expected them to. They came out of their flat(s) and did everything they could to help. The ambulance people decided my blood sugar levels weren’t high enough for me to be in DKA (a- that’s not how it works, b- they were) and decided I had taken drugs instead. There was no rush to get me to hospital and they didn’t phone ahead.
When we got to a&e apparently I was talking and with it. They moved me to resus. My blood was predictably acidic at a pH of 7.1 (that doesn’t have to mean anything to you, but it isn’t good) They started to give me IV fluids and after a while I remember this headache, an all over headache, so intense I didn’t know what to do with myself, and it felt like my eyes were going to pop out of my head. Hello Cerebral oedema (brain swelling). Through all of this, kiss friend stood holding vomit bowls and being generally magical.
And then apparently the doctor spoke to me and I didn’t move. I didn’t open my eyes. I could only groan. I vaguely remember them putting in a central line (without local anaesthetic) and I couldn’t control my own body. They put in an arterial line too I’ve been told. It was a doctor from intensive care. They’d been called down because like I said, I do things to extremes.
They phoned my mum. Kiss friend helped them find her number on my phone and they told him my brain was swelling and I continued to get less and less responsive.
They took me to HDU first apparently. The nurse in ICU told me that I stopped responding to everything at that point, that my pupils were huge and very sluggish to respond. She said they put an airway in my throat to test my reflexes and managed to position it correctly without me even flinching. And that was when they took me next door.
I woke up with five IVs going into my neck and another two into my arm. I woke up with the headache from hell and I couldn’t look at light. I couldn’t stay awake for more than a couple of minutes at a time. I couldn’t remember my birthday and I had no idea where I was. It should have terrified me, and it does now in retrospect, but at that point I felt too ill. Kiss friend was there. He has been here every day apparently, but yesterday is the only day I can remember, the only day which my brain has been able to make sense of. In intensive care my mum left him with me and she says he was there for two and a half hours. Kiss me again, kiss friend. I’m sorry I worried you so much. All I remember is his face, his warmth as he carried me from my halls to a place the ambulance could get to me more easily, his hand on mine – finger tips calloused by his guitar strings – thumb strumming across the back of my hand, his voice in the ICU when I couldn’t focus my eyes enough to see people, his hug hello, his reassurance.
And another voice, another word – meningitis. Not just a sore throat. Not just swollen glands in my neck. Meningitis.
I can’t walk. I can hardly stand. I can’t eat. But my world hasn’t crumpled. It would be so easy for me to dive into the negatives and lose myself, and sure there are many, and yes it is terrifying. Yes I miss university, yes I want to cry because I don’t want to start off another cycle of missing out on life and friendship and events and I am so, so sick of being unwell. No I am not ok with this, I just bury the part that isn’t because there is no option but to live this right now. This me is the only me I have to pick, and this me is a pretty useless rag doll. But it is held up by strings. Those strings are the people I’ve met in the last few weeks, the people who saved my life, who stopped me choking on my own stomach contents and smothered me in their coats and talked to me about strawberry laces as I took a last look at the campus laundrette.
Only in darkness do we ever appreciate the abundance of light with which we are surrounded on a daily basis. So many messages were on my phone when my eyes worked out how to look at the screen yesterday. So many people want to have a welcome home party when I break out of here. People are visiting in pairs. I have so many friends. And I have kiss friend. Kiss me again, kiss friend.
I’m laying here in this bed, finally free of a catheter etc. but unable to do pretty much anything for myself, and I’m thinking. I can see this hospital from my kitchen, we watched the sun set over it from kiss friend’s room while I sat on his lap and he kissed me. I can see the whole of London from this window. And I’m on the wrong side of the glass. It makes you think, when something so scary creeps up so quickly. It makes you re-evaluate, but these are lessons I didn’t need to learn. I already learned them. I have already been here. I have already been too close. The only difference is that this time I do not feel alone. I don’t feel lost and forgotten. Kiss friend sat outside the doors of the ward for 45 minutes today until visiting started. After him, two of my honorary flat mates brought me food which I tried and failed to eat. Tomorrow, another friend insisted on visiting, and kiss friend will be back, and my mum will come back too.
I know I have hurt people. I know my mum will have cried, but I don’t remember her being here even though it was just the day before yesterday. I’ve been told how worried people were by my mum and by kiss friend and that… That’s what hurts. That’s what makes me want to cry. Because I would rather it was me laying here than any of them. I would do anything to ease their pain… And I caused it.
I don’t know how long it will take me to get back to normal, I play different scenarios out in my brain and I force myself to accept all of them. There is no fear, there is no sadness, there is no expectation. It will be whatever it will be. It is time for me to start trying to show how grateful I am. I have messaged everyone thanking them, but I can’t say it enough times (seriously I keep having the same conversations over and over, my brain is confused) I have thanked the staff. I am thankful that I am here. I am honestly astounded. I will not dwell on the fact that I wasn’t expected to make it. I will not dwell on the fact that I’m missing lectures and assignments and I’d been studying for 5-11 hours a day up until my body mistook its blood for something more acidic. I won’t dwell on the fact that I may have to miss a lot more, and that I actually love university. I am here. I am whole. I am ok.
I still have a headache. I seem to be running on IVs (we got it down to one earlier but I’m back up to three). I feel dizzy, my eyes ache, every now and then I come over all strange. But there is no such thing as beaten. All the time your heart is alive, you are beating.
Step 23 to getting out of a rut in life:
Life is full of hiccups – moments where life doesn’t follow its usual rhythm; spontaneous things that creep up on us with no reason or warning and leave echoes well into our future. Things that jerk is awake, that startle us, that are unpleasant and unwanted and just… There. But between each hiccup, I promise, there is a breath of fresh air.
(Considering that I fell asleep multiple times while writing this and still have to read my own birth date from my wristband when I’m asked it, I don’t think this post turned out too badly? But then again, I also thought that I just had a sore throat, and that kiss friend could be more than a friend…) kiss me again kiss friend, my inhibition is dead.