“No, no, I’ll do it. I remember her from a previous admission – it was horrendous.” The doctor says, looking for a vein. They got one line in but it’s tiny, not large enough for them to give me the infusion they need to. Eventually I end up with three cannulas, but none of them last long. One of them is ripped out as the nurse tries to untangle the lines.
“I read the notes from her last admission. She gets fluid overloaded very easily because of the heart and the kidneys. She’s had an acute kidney injury and pulmonary effusions before (fluid on the lungs) , I’m worried we’re going to cause a pulmonary oedema (fluid in the lungs).” He says to his colleague, and then to me,
“Why didn’t you call an ambulance?”
“I didn’t want to bother anyone unnecessarily”
“You are no bother. Please stop thinking that and stop thanking me and apologising. You needed an ambulance princess, you’re very unwell.” I like this doctor. He makes me laugh, he jokes around, he treats me like he’s my parent. He knows how difficult I am.
I’m deteriorating. Another doctor. We’ve met before too.
“Hello? Can you hear me?” The world drifts back into focus. My heart is freaking out, the monitor has not stopped alarming since they hooked me up to it an hour ago.
“You are incredibly sick. Very seriously ill. Is there anybody we can call?” I tell her no thanks, my friends are here, “This is life threatening, I need the ICU team down here to see you. Your bloods are very very bad.” I know. I’m told that every time. I think, but I can’t breathe or move or really function.
They won’t let me walk to the toilet. They make my friends leave while they try desperately to get in a larger line. I sit on the edge of the bed, trying to breathe. The doctor walks in with an anaesthetist. He works in the ICU.
Suddenly I am floating. I hear my name, the male nurse is asking if I can hear him. I am placed on the bed and then I am floating again, “on the count of three. One, two, lift… Ok, lay her flat. I need a blood pressure and an ECG.” I lost consciousness, the male nurse stopped what he was doing and caught me, the anaesthetist grabbed me too. Together they lifted me back into the trolley, laid me flat, and reconnected me to everything. I am embarrassed. I apologise for the millionth time,
“I was told you’d say that. Honestly, don’t apologise.” I now have a reputation here for saying sorry and thank you.
My most recent bloods come back. They are getting worse. They need another line and they need it now, this one is far too small. The anaesthetist tries and fails to find a vein. He gets an ultrasound machine, which they usually do with me.
“You’re so shut down I can’t find a single vein. You have arteries but… I can’t find the veins.” I know where this is going. Another anaesthetist arrives. He takes the ultrasound machine and tries. My vein teases them by giving a tiny bit of blood, but refusing anything else when they try to fully insert the cannula.
“The bloods were worse they need the line now.” They decide to put in yet another central line. Things aren’t looking good. I feel awful.
And then suddenly my body is all just kidding! I’ll let your treatment work now. I start to feel better but I’m still rather unwell. We are all a little stunned.
I talk anatomy at the doctor while they get the stuff they need from the ICU. He points out stuff on the ultrasound and when I start talking about my subclavian vein and how central lines in my neck now like to divert up there, he says he is impressed by my anatomy knowledge. This makes me think of cadavers in the lab and my uni parents, who clearly taught me well. We talk anatomy and uni for a while, and he tells me I should study medicine. He tells me not to write it off just yet.
“For someone so intelligent, you really did let this get bad.” I explain about my mum and the fact that I didn’t want to bother anyone unless I really had to. He tells me with a Portacath and (the) earlier intervention (it would allow), I would stand a much greater chance at evading the grim reaper.
“Nope. I’m sorry this just isn’t working.” He can’t feed the guide wire through. I’ve had so many central lines everywhere that there is scar tissue that won’t let the wire pass (which he was prepared to meet, because I warned him about it). It hurts as he finally breaks through it, but he gives me lots of local anaesthetic. I am grateful the nurse gives me her hand to squeeze, especially for the painful part. She recognises me from before.
“Sorry about that.” The doctor says, my blood all over his hands,
“What are you apologising for? My pain isn’t your fault, you can’t help that I have nerves. Thank you.” I tell him. He smiles and shakes his head. I no longer need the ICU. I have miraculously and seemingly spontaneously stabilised enough to go to an acute ward. The two anaesthetists wish me luck with my studies, encourage me to use my brain for medicine one more time, and leave.
The nurse that triaged me comes to see me. So does the receptionist that told me I’d only been there 20 minutes and there were still 8 people in front of me when I told her the exact name of the medical emergency I was in, and was the reason I genuinely thought I was going to die in the waiting room. I seem to have made an impression on the staff here. They are incredibly kind people. They tell me they will see me again soon.
Sixth form friend and his girlfriend return. It’s been two hours. They’ve heard everything and it sounded scary. They said they saw a bunch of doctors in with me, and that the mother of the woman opposite went and found them and said “your friend is incredibly brave, especially with everything she’s going through. She can’t be that old?” Sixth form friend says he had no idea how bad things were until he saw it all. I am now the only person in resus. The three of us talk and laugh. I feel better. I’m attached to a lot of IVs.
I ask how they haven’t fallen asleep. They tell me the worry has kept them wide awake. I feel guilty. I apologise. They tell me to stop. He declares himself my brother, says he will drive me to every hospital appointment no matter where it is. Asks why I thought he would be weirded out. Still wants me to go to Norfolk. Isn’t scared to have me around despite the worried look currently on his face, but says next time he is calling an ambulance now he knows how quickly and how bad I get and how serious it is.
The anaesthetist with freakishly blemish/ wrinkle free skin yet greying hair (and a scar on his arm I notice where he must have fractured his humerus) returns and says goodbye and good luck again. He agrees that another Portacath or permanent line is a very good idea.
“We’re not going anywhere.” Sixth form friend tells me. They follow me round to the ward, carrying my stuff. The porter is a complete legend, and pretty attractive. He doubles for a drip stand until they find one.
“We’ll see you tomorrow yeah?” Sixth form friend says at almost 5am when they leave. He means later today. I actually can’t believe it. He tells me again that I’m his sister. In that moment, I love him like a brother. But you’re meant to be going to the beach… We were meant to go to the beach. Somehow I think me nearly dying has forced us all to abandon that plan and the importance we attached to it.
“With bloods like that how are you on a ward five hours later? You must have some sort of superpower, I’m impressed!” The nurse says, “I mean honestly… You should have ended up in the ICU. Your body is an incredible little thing! It seems to be invincible.”
And then a few seconds later,
“Do not apologise! I don’t have better things to be doing, this is not a fuss, it is my pleasure!”
A few seconds after that,
“You don’t have to keep thanking me either, they said you’d do this, it’s incredibly sweet but entirely unnecessary. Get some sleep, I’m not quite sure how you’re here but anybody else would be laid up in the ICU fighting right now. I’m blown away.”
And so, I fought, I met the grim reaper, I attracted all the staff in resus and gave everyone a fright. My heart had a five hour tantrum and quite honestly I felt like death. But I’m somehow still here. Still very unwell but in comparison to a couple of hours ago incredibly healthy. I defied the odds again. I’m beginning to wonder why I ever thought I wouldn’t (which is a very dangerous attitude to have because it makes me incredibly wreckless and care free and adventurous and bold and also blasé about my health). But hey, right now I’m allowed to feel a little invincible and incredibly, overwhelmingly lucky. I kind of am.