Yesterday I made it to Great Yarmouth with my friends. My fellow third wheel knew I wasn’t well but I felt better compared to how I had been that morning.
I will sum up the amazing experience in pictures
After the pier I ate chips while sitting on a bench with my fellow third wheel because I couldn’t walk any more. Less than ten minutes later an ECG machine is telling a paramedic to attach defibrillator pads to me (my heart rate is 160).
He calls for backup. The backup do not share his urgency. Despite me telling them what is clearly wrong with me, they don’t call ahead or use blue lights. When their ECG machine tells them to attach defibrillator pads they don’t bat an eyelid. I sit there with my heart thundering away at 158bpm – it is clearly irritated by this health hiccup. Even when they hear my history they still don’t grasp the urgency. In London they blue light way less than this, the same in my home town. I wonder if this is an indicator of things to come. It is. We wait in a corridor when we get there. They take me to majors instead of resus. I vomit blood. Various doctors see me and have to take away the bowls I fill in front of them. My fellow third wheel is amazing about it all; he puts his hand on my shoulder while I am being sick, he takes away bowls and gave me fresh ones, he buys me the drink I am craving.
I told them they wouldn’t get a line into my veins. They can’t see any, but they can feel the scarred areas on some and stab blindly, ignoring me. This makes me feel utterly helpless. They get a line in after a couple of hours but can’t push it all the way into the vein because it is so scarred and my venous system has collapsed. The line blows after half an hour. There is still no urgency, despite them knowing that my blood pH is 7.1 (7.35 is an emergency, 7.4 is normal).
They move me round to resus five hours after my arrival, after an anaesthetist has spent 45 minutes scanning my veins to discover they had all collapsed or were scarred. They decide I need a central line, finally acknowledging what I told them I usually end up with. While I wait to go up to theatre, I am in resus… Just as I began to become completely out of it. Within ten minutes I go from with it, to unable to move, respond, anything. The medical doctor who knew how serious things were a couple of hours ago has been running around everywhere trying to kick people into gear. Eventually all I can do is groan in response to her. I start to drift in and out of consciousness but even when I am conscious I cannot talk. She asks the nurse why I’m still not in a heart monitor as she requested, why she wasn’t updated, and I hear the panic in her voice as she hurries off.
“We need intensive care involvement”
A nurse comes down from theatre to escort me up there. I come round to her talking about me but I can’t talk to her. She is appalled that she’s been put in this situation to deal with such an unwell patient alone, and calls someone more senior down to see me. Neither of them are happy. They say I am too unwell to go to theatre but without that line I am toast and their consultant tells them to bring me up. A doctor from intensive care comes down to assess me.
“She can’t wait for a central line look at her. We need to put in an IO (needle fired into your shin bone) NOW. Here. Or we’re going to lose her.” He says at the sight of me. It is weird to hear conversations like this take place over your bed. I don’t feel ill any more.
“We can put an I.O in up in theatre.” The nurse says.
There are urgent, panicked conversations about how close to death I am, how they can’t afford to wait because I will die. I continue to drift in and out of consciousness.
“We’re losing her. We need to go. Now.” They clip the monitors onto the side rail of the trolley and run with it. They shout at people to get out of the way, they misjudge a bend and crash. All the time saying they don’t have time. We get to theatres and other surgical staff and doctors who are waiting at each set of doors (to hold them open) run with us. They talk to me but as I drift in and out of consciousness I cannot do anything to respond except sometimes groan. They are panicking. I’ve never seen so many doctors around a person or so many in such a state of panic. They can’t find the I.O gun, a panicked voice says they can’t wait for a central line. It says my breathing is shallow and laboured and rapid. Something is screaming. It is the heart monitor. My heart screams with it.
Someone puts a cannula in my neck and someone else grabs an IV bag and squeezes it while holding it above his head, forcing its contents into me as quickly as possible.
I feel like I’m flying and falling and then there is nothing. I do not have the energy to breathe. A voice shouts over everyone else and says my name and asks me to “take some deep breaths for me darlin’.”
Everything goes black.
I come around to even more of a commotion and in the middle of a failed attempt to insert a central line. It is the third time they’ve tried apparently, and they want to put in a PICC line instead but they can’t because the veins there have disappeared. There is so much scarring from previous central lines that they struggle to get the needle in the vein. It fails again, I told them earlier not to try my neck. They’ve fed 25cm of guide wire into soft tissue underneath the vein. I can hear the panic. A woman keels next to me, her face level with mine, holding up the drape with one hand and a bowl by my face with another. I must have vomited while I was out. She talks to me. She is friendly. Everyone around her is on autopilot in response to the disaster occurring inside of me, but she is human. They eventually get a central line in after multiple attempts. I’ve already had a bag of IVs. A voice keeps telling me I will start to feel better soon. It isn’t positioned correctly, it goes up into my shoulder instead of into my heart, as I had explained to one of them in A&E earlier that it would. They are so desperate they use it anyway eventually. They know they can’t get anything else.
An intensive care doctor and a couple of the people involved in the mass panic take me round to intensive care. I’m out of it. Can’t move, can’t speak. Can just about breathe, although my oxygen saturation keeps dropping to the low 80s (%). There is a man’s voice that calls me darling and sweetheart and tells me I am doing great. The voice shouts when a nurse pulls at the only working line I have in my neck. My brain feels like it isn’t working. Nothing makes sense and I don’t know what to do and none of me will do what I’m trying to ask it to do. Eventually I manage to groan. The doctor who freaked out when saw me in A&E pauses at the sound of my groan. He asks me to squeeze his hand and finally, at last, I manage to twitch a finger. I’ve had two bags of IVs by this point, and it has helped significantly. I hear him let out a sigh of relief. He rushes in and out of my cubicle for a couple of hours, changing what I should have infused and keeping a very close eye after how unwell I was when he first got to me. Half an hour after treatment starts they check my pH. It is 7.0. Almost fatal, I am told (even though I’ve had a 6.82 before (which actually should have been fatal and somehow wasn’t)). My body temperature is falling because I’m too unwell to maintain it. The solution is a bear hugger (inflatable heated blanket thing pumped with warm air).
My fellow third wheel appears and I can’t talk to him, I think I am but in reality I just groan over and over. He stays all night. They give him a pillow and send him to the waiting room and he sleeps on three chairs pushed together. I still can’t talk properly when I first wake up, can only groan, but slowly my brain remembers how to human. My fellow third wheel appears. He sits with me, patiently trying to figure out what my slurred and croaky words mean. He goes to meet the lovebirds to get some of our stuff but says he will pop right back. He does. He changes his trousers and sits right back beside me with a book. I can just about talk now. Short responses. All I’ve done all morning is sleep but not really sleep. When the nurse talks about making me eat a doctor tells her
“She’s had an awful night, don’t wake her for food, just leave her.”
My fellow third wheel explains everything that went on last night. He explains where he slept and still shows no indication of leaving and I can’t quite believe it because I didn’t think such a human existed. He says things such as:
“You had a nosebleed when you got here (ICU) and they FREAKED OUT because they thought your brain was swelling.”
“When I got up here last night you had two entire pillars of IVs attached to you so this is an improvement.” (I am at this stage down to 4/5).
“They told me I could see you if I wanted but that you were very out of it… You really were, you could only groan.”
“They just said your bloods are still bad but heading in the right direction.”
“You made quite a lot of people freak out.”
“You were fine and then you were drowsy and then they were talking to you and all you could say was (mimics my groan). They seemed pretty calm in resus.”
Right now I can hardly keep my eyes open, I feel awful. I’m stuck in intensive care and I can’t even lift my head off of the pillow or lift my legs. I am helpless, people are having to do everything for me. I have a cannula in one side of my neck and a central line in the other. All I want to do is sleep… But did you think any of that would make me break my daily blogging streak?
This time he nearly got me (the grim reaper). It was closer than I’ve come in a long time. I shouldn’t have made it and yet I did. I feel incredibly lucky. My fellow third wheel is still here with me. He won’t leave my side. I’ve never had a person be like that before. I think we may now be friends for life.
My team in London know I am here and I’m hoping they do something because people are right when they say my body will not do this again. I looked fine and then my body gave up compensating and became as unwell as it should have been. It was battling away for six hours (they took me to theatre at 1am, we got there at 6:45pm and knew my pH was way too low at about 9pm) and it was exhausted, so much so that it could not maintain consciousness or body temperature.
I don’t have the energy to be scared but I am rather alarmed by the whole thing.
Unfortunately, there is no way but through.