Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Baby Elephant

The remainder of my stay on Ward E1 was very regimented and routined; Woken at 6am for obs.  Breakfast at 8am. Family arrive at 9am. Physio session before lunch. Lunch at 12pm. Occupational Therapy session. Visitors at 2pm. Dinner at 5pm. Visitors, again at 7pm. Family leave at 10pm... Then I attempt to sleep.

A couple of days before I was allowed to go home from hospital I was approached by the ward sister, and asked if I would like to visit the wards psychologist.

I have had previous experience with counselors, as in the past I have suffered from anxiety and depression caused predominantly by exams, and exam pressure. This was the reason I chose to leave university. 
When leaving High School to go to college, I had no idea what A levels I wanted to study, or whether I wanted to study them at all. All I'd ever wanted to be was a hairdresser or work in the beauty industry, but I achieved good GCSE results, and was told by teachers and other adults that I would be wasting them if I went in to hairdressing. So naively I took their advice and decided to go to sixth form college... It was where all my friends were going after all. 
I suffered, miserably through my first year of sixth form, all the while losing my confidence, not wanting to see friends, doing badly on tests (which is something I had never done before.) I was arguing with my Mum constantly, and I was gaining weight and not bothering with my appearance. 
I remember feeling lower than low, the only way I have ever known how to describe it is feeling as though my brain was filled with a dark cloud, and a weight filled my chest as though I had a baby elephant standing on it at all times. 
I briefly turned to self harming. There's no way to explain what makes a person do this. You don't simply wake up one day and decide, 'I want to hurt myself.' All I remember is being in the shower, crying my eyes out, which by that time was something of a norm, and digging too deeply with the razor  in to my leg... I felt no pain. I felt nothing. All I could do was watch the blood run from my leg, and breathe a sigh of relief. 
I quickly loathed myself for what I had done, and stuck toilet paper to my leg to suppress the bleeding, knowing I couldn't let anyone see what I had done, and promising myself I wouldn't do it again... But I did do it again... When my brain felt like it couldn't hold any more worry or pain, I went to the bathroom and released it myself... Never wincing, no stinging... Nothing.
I am very fortunate that my Mum realised what I was doing before it became a full blown habit (luckily I have no scars,)  and after crying with me, and me finally expressing to her what was going through my mind, she booked a Drs appointment and within hours I was seen.
I sat and cried my eyes out to the Dr and finally poured my soul out in to the open. The Dr told me to quit college immediately and she got me on a waiting list to see a Youth Counselor. 
Amazing doesn't do justice in describing the work Youth Counselors do. Through my 4 months of sessions with my counselor, I was able to rationalise that it was OK for me not to be happy at college, and I was allowed to make my own decisions. 
You'd think I'd have learnt... But I was young...
After 8 months of recuperation, and getting my life back on track... I decided to finish my Alevels. So I went back to college, and hated every minute, but I was stronger, and I did it... This then made me decide to go to university.
As I've told you before, my first year of university was amazing. I loved it. I loved the lessons, the teachers, and I adored the new friends I had made... But exam time was the same. I was physically ill at the thought of having to do my exams. I couldn't sleep, I cried all the time, and my thoughts were leading down that dark path again. I tried, I really tried to convince myself that I could do it, it was only the exams that were doing this to me, but I just wasn't strong enough. 
I completed the first year of my degree with a 2:1, something which I tried to make spur me on to complete the degree, but in the end I was too poorly.
One night, when Mum and Dad had gone to bed, I was sat on my laptop, talking to Chris, who was in Barcelona at the time. The tears began to stream from my eyes, and my vision became blurred. My brain felt as though it was being squeezed, as though someone was trying to make it burst, and while typing on the keyboard of my laptop, I couldn't seem to type anything that made sense. My fingers were just tapping the keys at random, while I stared blankly at the screen seeing nothing...
I woke up on the floor, my laptop lay askew next to me, my face was drenched in tears, my head pounding...
There I was again, sat in the Drs, weirdly in the same room, that I had been sat in just over two years before... I was proscribed anti depressants, while the Dr sat with me, her eyes glazed with tears, my Mum sat opposite my smiling through silent sobs, while I once again admitted defeat.
I went to have more sessions with a counselor, this time, I decided there was no going back.
The counselling, along with the antidepressants, were the perfect cure for me, I needed something to level me out, as all my life I have been nothing but a worrier, a ball of anxious nerves (though many people wouldn't realise this... I became professional in the art of hiding my feelings.)

I am not ashamed to admit that I need a tablet to help me feel normal, because the relief I felt when the baby elephant had been lifted off my chest, makes me want to shout it from the roof tops.
After another 8 months or so of convalescing, working part time, and finally becoming 'me' again, I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a hairdresser, and I was finally content...

18th October 2011

After discussing it with Mum, Dad and Chris, I decided I would see the Ward psychologist...

Tuesday, 17 July 2012


Mum didn't leave my side while I was in hospital, unless it was to go home to sleep. It was as though the cord had been re-attached and I was a tiny baby again. I was completely dependant once more, and my Mum wasn't fazed by it one bit. Her role as Mother and protector was now the only job she was interested in. 

The glue that was holding everything together, stopping my Mum from falling apart, doing everything in his power to keep everything as calm and normal as possible... My Dad. 
Though Mum took the lead when it came to speaking to Dr's and nurses, and being the one to take care of my personal needs, Dad was always there, is always there, one step behind her. My Dad has this amazing power to make people smile, even in the most harrowing, and traumatic of times. From my first hour of being in hospital, he's been there to lighten the mood, and keep peoples spirits up... Keep people going.
Dad was the one who accompanied me to have my ultrasound scans. The dopplers on my leg and neck. 
As the porter pushed me down the windy hospital corridors Dad held my hand the whole time... Daddy's girl. He chatted away to the porter, just as Mum had always done, asking him about his working day, and empathising with the long hours. As I held my Dads hand a surge of pride ran through my veins and radiated my heart. He had been so wonderful, just as he has been my whole life. It wasn't until then that I had really understood and appreciated how he had been. I was his daughter too, his baby, and he had to register the information that his baby had had a stroke, just as my Mum had. Yet I hadn't even spared a thought for how he was doing, how he was processing the news. But my Dad is my superhero. He seems to be able to handle anything, taking it on the chin, and go with the flow. As he held my hand while we travelled down those haunting, hospital corridors, I don't think I have ever appreciated my father more. 
We arrived at our destination, and the Porter parked me against a wall behind another patient in a wheel chair, and left saying he'd be with us shortly. Dad laughed at where I had been positioned... I suppose me and this poor other patient did look like cattle ready for the slaughter, waiting patiently in our queue.
Dad knelt beside me, grasped my head in his had and kissed my ear. I leaned my head on his shoulder, and he asked me how I was doing. I needed my Dad. I don't think I had realised it until that morning, the morning of my ultrasounds. All I could think was, 'What would I have done this last week without my Daddy? How would we have all coped without him?'
The patient parked up in front of me was wheeled in to a room to our left, and almost immediately after she was out of sight, my name was called, and Dad wheeled me in to the room facing straight ahead of where we sat.
The room was dark. We were greeted by two women. One a short, middle aged nurse with a protruding bosom and a kind smile, the other a young, blonde woman, wearing a white jacket, who could have only been in her early thirties. The jolly nurse ushered us further in to the room and towards the bed that was situated next to a complicated looking machine. Both the nurse and technician introduced themselves and and explained what would be happening in that darkened room. I was told that they were going to scan up my calves and around my neck, with the ultra sound scanner, (this was something I had only ever seen being used on pregnant belly's before.) The nurse told me that I would have to take my trousers off, and looked at my Dad as if telepathically telling him to leave the room... I didn't want him to go. I didn't want my Daddy to leave me. I never wanted to be alone any more. 
I told the nurse my Dad could stay. I was going to be wearing knickers after all, and he's my Dad! The nurse smiled at us, as if it was a pleasure to see this 'Father/Daughter' relationship, and she proceeded to help me pull my trousers off, and Dad helped me on to the bed.
The lights where turned off completely in the room, and there was only the glow coming from the screen of the intimidating machinery. Dad looked on, arms folded, stern, interested, as the technician began to scan up and a long my leg, digging deeper in certain parts, and stopping to process images on the machine. I watched the screen, seeing only black and white. 
After thoroughly scanning my legs, the technician moved on to scan my neck. She mirrored her previous actions, digging deeper in crevices, making my tongue bulge in to the walls of my throat. I know they were looking to find some sort of sign of abnormality, but their attempts came to a conclusive fail. They couldn't find anything. My arteries were perfect... I suppose this was a good thing but still... No answers. Dad seemed happy, but mirrored my frustration in still having no answers.
I was helped back in to my trousers, and Dad secured me back in to my wheel chair, fiercely wrapping my dressing gown around me, protecting me from the cold... Protecting me from everything. 
The efficiency of the porters was always a question mark, but exiting the darkened room, our eyes battling with the light of the waiting room, there stood the porter we had been acquainted with just 20 minutes before, leaning on the wall, whistling away. The three of us made our way back to ward E1, a journey I was becoming so used to, yet still with no answers, no new information to give to my Mum, no conclusion... Dad never letting my hand go.

I love you, Daddy.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Basil Ganglia Nucleus

Waking up with stinging eyes, and sore sinuses, the ward was a busier place than it had been the last two days. There was a buzz around the nurses station as Monday morning loomed over Ward E1. The florescent light seemed even harsher this morning, and it bullied my eyes in to a squint, as I watched a nurse come bustling in to my room dragging along with her that oh so familiar machine. Knowing the routine I had my arm held out ready and waiting for the cuff to be wrapped around it, and I dropped my head to the side, allowing the thermometer access to my ear. She seemed satisfied with the results and left me to my thoughts. 
I shut my eyes, and listened as the nurses gathered for their morning update. If I'm honest, I enjoyed this start to my day. It was interesting hearing the goings on of the ward; what patients were staying, what patients were going. I heard information on any night time disruptions, and whether there'd be any newly admitted patients that coming day. Although I was comfortably safe and very happy in my little cocoon of a side room, it felt good to hear what was going on else where, I didn't feel so ostracised, and out of the loop... I sort of felt part of the Ward E1 'gang' hearing about the other patients.  
After having the previous week off, Dad had to go back in to work that Monday, and I also forced Chris to go and do a couple of hours in uni. He had his January exams ahead of him, and with it being the last year of his degree course it was vital that he didn't miss any more lectures. Both Dad and Chris promised me that they'd be at the hospital as soon as they were finished, and I was happy for them to be getting on with things as normal, though I felt sorry for the forthcoming questions I was certain they'd be bombarded with.
So it was just Mum and Anna who appeared from around the nurses station at 9 o'clock that morning. As usual I had already had my brown bread roll with jam and butter, and apple juice for breakfast, and I had Lorraine Kelly's smiley face staring at through the small television screen. Mum helped me out of bed, and collected my wash bag, and we made our way slowly to the bathroom. Meanwhile Anna plonked her self on the big comfy chair, with her college art book laid out in front of her, but with no intention or purpose to use it. 
Mum sat on the lid of the toilet seat and chatted to me about the events of the day before, as I sat in the shower chair letting the warm water stream over my head, muling over what she was saying. As was now usual, she washed my hair for me, and scrubbed my back, and then when I was washed from head to toe, she cuddled me in to a hospital towel. 
Her hugs had so much meaning in them, and I understood and welcomed them gratefully. I needed my Mum more than I had ever needed her. The unnerved and frightened feeling I had adopted yesterday, when I was told I might have to be moved on to a ward, still hadn't quite left me. What if they had moved me? Mum wouldn't be here with me now. She wouldn't be the one washing my hair and helping me in to my bra and knickers... It would have been a stranger. I needed the woman who brought me in to this world, the woman who raised me and who was part of the partnership that made me into who I am. I just really, really needed my Mum. 
As she wrapped me in that towel, her hug told me that she understood, and I knew then, that she wouldn't have had any body else doing the job she was doing. 

Dry and clean, with my hair knotted in to a plait, we re-entered my little room to find Anna scrambling to look like she was attempting to do some college work. Mum laughed and rolled her eyes, as Anna gave her a cheeky look. The time will have been about 10.00am, no sooner as I had sat on my bed I was forced to look up as there was a knock on the door. My consultant who I was now familiar with was standing thee with two registrars and the ward sister. The four of them entered the room, and greeted my Mum and Sister as they did so. 
The consultant tiptoed around the subject of asking whether my sister would mind leaving the room while he spoke to my Mum and I, (he's a very polite, and kind man) and Anna, though with a subtle eye roll, headed off to the day room, dragging along with her, her art book and pencils.
The consultant began by asking me about myself, about my life style and about the events in my life leading up to Tuesday 18th October. I was confused as these were already questions I'd been asked multiple times, but I obliged, and ran through everything he'd already heard. He then went on to ask my Mum about our family history, heart disease, heart attacks...strokes? Mum reeled off the people in my Dads family who had suffered heart attacks, and were plagued with high blood pressure, many of whom were heavy smokers. She  then went on to tell the consultant that my Grandad, my Mum's Dad, had inhabited this same room, only 2 weeks before I was admitted, due to suffering a very mild stroke. The difference between me, and my Grandad... he's 83, I'm 21.
With a grave expression manipulating his face, the consultants voice softened as he said, 'I'm asking you these questions again, as we have received the MRI scan results and they also confirm that you have had a stroke, in the right part of your brain, in the 'basil ganglia nucleus.'' I stared at him as he went on to say, 'We still don't know why this has happened, so I am going to run another series of blood tests to try and find an explanation. I am also going to book you in for a doppler scan of the neck and leg.' As he reeled off a list of the blood tests he wanted doing, some apparently were repeats of what I'd already had, I watched as his registrars took notes at a rapid pace, not stopping to look up, and their pens never leaving the paper.
I looked at my Mum, and tears filled my eyes and spilled over on to my cheeks. Why was I crying? He was only confirming what we already knew... I think a part of me had hoped that the MRI scan would maybe come back with another explanation as to why I no longer worked properly, but not so deep down, I knew I was being silly. I think the fresh tears were acknowledgement of what reality I was living... I had to accept this now. 
As the consultant finalised the details of what he wanted doing with the registrars, he focused on me, and my tears. He walked closer to me and put his hand on mine, and didn't question why I was crying. I attempted a laugh and apologised to him, explaining my hope for a different outcome of results. He smiled back in sympathy, and told me the words I have now, nearly nine months on become so used to hearing, 'You have age on your side.'
The four people stood before me, concluding their notes, and discussing the next steps, and with a kind smiles, and gentle shakes of the hand, Mum and I waved them off on their ward rounds.
Mum kissed me on the cheek, squeezed my hand, and confided that a part of her had been hoping for a different answer too.  

Anna trundled in with her book and pencils, and slumped into a chair, her eyes raised at Mum, ready for a confrontation about how much work she had achieved, in her time away from us. My Mum and Sister began in their little sparring match of words, acting out their age old argument about homework, Mum giving Anna her death stare, Anna taking no notice whatsoever. 
Watching the two most important women in my life acting just as they would at home, made me laugh out loud. Disregarding the meeting I had just had with my consultant, I allowed myself to be immersed in their normality, if that's what you can call it, and strangely...I felt normal too. 

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Losing It 2: The Worst Day

As I sat there and sobbed, I looked around at my friends, their eyes filled with sorrow, quiet tears dripping from their eyelashes. I turned, and with my desperate eyes I looked at my Mum, she wasn't crying, her eyes told the story of a protector, a heroine. Her face was stoic and I could tell she meant business, she politely and calmly told the nurse, that she was not happy with her daughter being put on a ward, and how could she find it acceptable to place a 21 year old in the company of very poorly and elderly patients. She went on to ask the nurse, did she think I didn't have enough to cope with, and was there no way that this other patient couldn't be placed somewhere else.
Through my anguish, I was so proud of my Mum. Usually she is a woman who just accepts things and goes with the flow, she hates confrontation, and finds it easier to just please other people sometimes. But on that day, my Mum was a lioness, her back was up, and it was as if she had bound a giant paw of protection around me, her cub.
The nurse said to me, 'There is no way we can let you discharge yourself Rebecca, it's too soon for you to leave the hospital.' I felt my heavy chest heaving, as though there was a brick lying in each lung. My whole body felt weighed down with despair. I stared up at the nurse, dry sobs exiting my mouth, and told her, 'I can't move, I just can't...please.'
Whether it was the strict words from my Mum, or the fact that my pleads had ground her down, or whether she had finally welcomed some realisation to the situation I was in, but the nurse finally accepted my request, and said to me, 'I'll see what I can do.' She left the room, and I was never bothered with the anxiety of having to move again. I later found out that the patient who needed use of my room, had in fact been moved to a completely different ward due to her symptoms, so the overwhelming upset I had been put through had in fact been unnecessary, much to my dismay.
Although I had now been told I could stay put, the room, my room, no longer felt safe. It was now occurring to me that it could just be taken away from me at any time, and what if it did happen again, and my Mum or Dad weren't there to protect me. I had never wanted to be in my own house, in my own bed, surround by my own familiar things, more. Mum had phoned Dad and told him of the drama that had just taken place, and he and Chris decided to make their way back to the hospital. They were far from impressed.
My friends were in my company. They had wiped their eyes, and were now shocked at how the nurse had delivered the news. They did their best to cheer me up and make me see that I was now not going to be moved any where, but I had been pushed beyond the positive and upbeat barrier I had been attempting to uphold.
My brain felt as though it was drowning in sadness, my heart being strangled grief. I was grieving for the old me. Until then I had held on to hope, hope that maybe, just maybe, I'd wake up, and as quickly as my body had been damaged, it would repair in the same speed. But that wasn't going to happen. I was surrounded by the friends that were the last people to be in the company of the old me, and they were all the same, they would leave the hospital and carry on as normal, nothing had changed for them. My whole world had changed, and there was no set date as to when I would be fixed, there was no definitive answer... there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
Mum and Dad took charge of the rest of visiting hours, and held polite conversation with my friends, while I attempted to input where possible.  They left telling me they'd text me and that they would see me soon, and I gulped a ghost of a smile, as I watched them leave.
I had nothing to give...
Dad and Chris wanted the full story of what had happened with the nurse, and I allowed a small part of my mind to listen as Mum relayed the story, while the majority of my brain held thoughts far removed from the present. I sat in the hospital chair, as usual surrounded by my family, but all I could do was stare in to my mind, my eyes glazed, my ears not registering fully. I feared opening my mouth to speak, knowing that once I did I would practically vomit all of this pent up emotion that had recently took shelter in my body.
I allowed my head to fall on to the hospital table that was parked in front of me, and I closed my eyes, tears spilling from the corners, and dripping in to, and tickling my ear. Chris sat beside my and stroked my hair. They all did their best to console me, telling me I would get over this blip and carry on as I had been doing. I tried to believe that they were telling the truth, but at the same time couldn't imagine how I could possibly come back from feeling so low.
That same night Mum walked me to the toilet just as she usually did, and Dad and Chris were talking to one of the nurses at the nurses station. On my way out of the bathroom, I felt my self wanting to collapse. A nurse grabbed the closest thing to a wheel chair (a commode) and allowed me to fall in to it.  Two nurses rushed me in to my room shutting out my family, and lifted me in to bed, they handed me my buzzer and told me to call them if I needed to get back out of bed, and to not attempt to do it on my own. They left and my family re-entered to say good night to me. I clutched on to their lingering stares as they waved and smiled their way out of my room, and as soon as I knew they had gone I buried my face in to my pillow and sobbed.

That was the worst day.