“I’m sorry” I repeat myself again as one of the doctors leaves the room. Three against one isn’t fair, even though we’re all on my side. They are all on the same page, a page I am yet to read, and the anxiety buzzing through me wants as few people to witness my reaction as possible. I don’t like the fact that they are all one step ahead (actually, I don’t like any of this, and I want to run away, but I can hardly walk so…)
I look at her. She smiles in a way that should be reassuring, but that, like most smiles, I am sure is masking something. He presses his lips together in a friendly manner and tells me to stop apologising as their colleague leaves the room. These two, at least, must stay. I do my best to settle into the situation, and tear at the piece of paper I don’t remember picking up, in an attempt to calm my nerves. I am staring down a double barrelled shotgun, and they are loading their voice boxes with lead pellets to fire. This needs to happen. I tell myself, as I heave in another breath that takes a lot more effort than it should, and try to ignore the ache in my chest, both symptoms that have been hanging around for days.
“Well you’ve managed to stay out of hospital since we last met, that’s good.” He says. I stifle a laugh and a sob at the same time. He has no idea what I have been going through on a daily basis, no idea that I have ground to a halt, or that a couple of days ago I thought I was dying and somehow pulled myself back by doing a lot of stupid and dangerous things with my medication that I shouldn’t have done. Such are the joys of invisible illnesses, unfortunately we don’t wear our internal organs on our sleeves. I smile.
“But you have since you last met me” She says. I’m not sure how to respond, but I think I say something.
We spend a few minutes dancing around the subject of university and how I’ve been managing things. I try over and over again to open up to them, but I can’t talk. So I take multiple long pauses, and I eventually tell them it’s not been too great. The words fall out of my mouth in a mumbled tangle. We skip on. Not the reaction I wanted. I wanted help. So I try to get my point through to them again. And we continue our little dance for a few minutes until I look up and realise they are both silent, and they are both staring at me in surprise. Or rather, they are staring at the version of myself that I keep behind closed doors, the me that isn’t me. And I realise they are staring because I’m crying. Not sobbing or anything, but it isn’t stopping either.
Interesting. Infuriating. These tears aren’t meant for these people. I don’t trust them. They don’t know me, they know my insides.
“I didn’t think it would be this hard” A voice. Mine. Shut up, I think. But the me that isn’t me continues to speak,
“I knew it would be difficult but it’s affecting everything, every aspect of my life.” Don’t say it. Do. Not. Say. It
“I… I can’t do it.” Oh for goodness sake. My mouth has chewed through its leash and seems to have gone on a rampage. I don’t really feel like that, do I? It’s so pathetic of me… And yet… They don’t think that it’s pathetic of me. So we stop, we reverse, and we steer our conversation in a different direction.
“I just want to sit my exams.”
“When are they?”
“May.” Problem. They are a week and a bit away. I have spent most of my days sleeping, fighting for breath. I usually eat up to 9,000 calories a day and I’ve been losing weight, but for the past few days I haven’t had the energy to eat. Breathing is too exhausting to have any reserves left for other functions. I’ve been dizzy. I’ve been sleeping on the floor because I fall there and can’t move for hours. I am so tired, not I stayed up until 6am binge watching tv shows or I stayed awake for 72 solid hours panic revising tired, but a tired that occurs when your body is shutting down on you. And I’ve been hiding it. This issue has now upset my heart. It’s beating way too fast despite my tablets. Also interesting, but nothing to do with these guys.
So we talk some more, occasionally interjecting with some medical stuff about how we might attempt to manage the very unique situation (which is amazing, because a few months ago he had no ideas). I stare at the door. I can’t look at either of them because my tear ducts seem to go into overdrive when I do, so I just focus on the (hideous shade of) pink gloss paint on the door, and continue to tear at the paper in my hands. We talk some more about how things have been. I can’t read the look on his face, and each time I look at her there is that smile, which half irritates me because this is nothing to smile about, but also relaxes me a little (which I guess is its desired effect).
He leaves the room, leaving me with her. She’s a little easier to talk to, and I test the waters by talking a little, but nowhere near what I need to let out, which makes me want to kick myself. She relays it to him when he walks back into the room, and he listens like he actually wants to do something. So we talk about the impact everything is having on me. And my mouth goes rogue again when they ask if I’ve ever considered doing anything stupid.
“Sometimes I just want it to stop, and I don’t care how.” They both look at me, and I don’t really know where the conversation goes but a voice I recognise as my own says, “I was scared. I’m scared.” I trail off sheepishly, embarrassed, ashamed. But they seem to understand, and reassuring words smooth over the awkwardness I expect to follow as if there is nothing to be ashamed of at all. He leaves the room again for something else
“I’m terrified. Every night I’m worried I won’t wake up.” I’m also worried that I depend on people like them, who have given up trying before and left things to fate. But what I really want to say is that I’m worried that on some nights I’m not worried that I might not wake up.
We talk about trying new medications and discussions with other consultants involved in my care. And then we get down to trust. Why don’t I trust them? I can’t talk about all of the reasons why, I can’t talk about the scenes in a paediatric ward that I visit in my nightmares and flashbacks. I simply remind them of how their staff didn’t prescribe me the medicine that kept me alive on one admission late last year, and how I nearly died as a result. As always, he apologises for that. I don’t want his apology. I want him to take away the mental scars of coming that close to death when you’ve been pleading with people (and been ignored and dismissed) for hours.
“I’m glad it was me and not anybody else.” Stop talking mouth, you’ve done quite enough, and also not enough, because you don’t work when I want you to!
“It’s disgusting, it shouldn’t happen to anyone.” Neither should a lot of things. Ideals are perfect, but the reality that generates them is not. (wow brain, that was deep!)
We talk more about new medications to try, in order to try and manage the problem a little and try and prevent any more emergency admissions or ICU stays. I again ask if the appointment is nearly over. We’ve been sat there over an hour and a half, I think. He writes me a prescription and they both praise me for turning up. She says she’s proud and that she’ll see me next week. He says it was nice to see me out of intensive care and that he will see me in the next clinic.
I walk out into the corridor, and everything feels so normal, so calm, unlike the trauma of being in that room and of the conversations I had. I couldn’t deal with some topics of discussion, so that will wait until next time. Maybe then I will tape my mouth shut and block my tear ducts.
At last, the people I’ve been looking to for help have figured out how to do so. Any and all ideas are now welcome. I walk through the hospital, my cheeks tight with evaporated tears, and I can’t believe nobody else is crying. How can they be so calm, how can they be so unaffected by what just happened in that room? Why is the sun still shining, why does the tree in front of the main entrance still have blossom thick on its branches? How can that man light his cigarette without his hands shaking like mine are. Why is nobody else stunned?
Because nobody else knows, you idiot. Nobody else could even comprehend. I heave more air into my lungs, and my aching heart gratefully racing on (should probably get that seen to). I return to my uni room, and am surprised to find it also unaffected by the tornado that just tore through me. I am in the centre of the storm, with all my emotions tearing things apart around me. But not this room. I heave in breath after heavy breath into my aching chest, and I return to my parent’s house, unable to move, aching all over, so tired of this immense effort of breathing. I wonder why I’m doing that to myself, coming back here after escaping to uni. Until my dog runs out to meet me and my heart grows wings and I figure out how to fly with the warmth of his fur between my fingers. I was wrong. We can do this, my dog and I. Us against my body. Us against nature. Us against the world.
Where modern medicine fails, there will always be Labradors. Thank goodness!