Wednesday, 6 October 2010

A Year Ago, Part Two

Carrying on from A Year Ago, Part One -

The doctors decided that they were going to sedate rather than anaesthetise me - I've had a few operations before, but this was something new! The doctors told me that they'd probably have to intubate, just to be safe, and honestly I was quite scared. I have a horribly sensitive gag reflex - it's a standing joke that when I see things like bird or dog poo, or - thanks to living in studenty areas - the occasional pavement pizza, I struggle to keep my breakfast down.

I can only compare the procedure experience to some kind of Beatles music video - everything was pink and floaty, with lots of voices murmuring as if they were underwater. There was a lot of tugging at my face, and I remember them struggling to replace the drip and stabbing me repeatedly in the foot!

I came to in intensive care - while I'd been under, they'd struggled to get the tube down my throat, and had to perform an emergency tracheotomy. I am not certain if it's a reaction to sedatives, but I've always found waking up from surgery a distressing experience. I feel like all I want to do is cry and cry - and bless the poor nurses having to deal with me threatening to sign an AMA (discharge against medical advice) form if they didn't let me go. All this while being hooked up to a drip and numerous other devices, with a bit of plastic tubing holding the hole in my throat open, and two bags to collect the products of the surgical drains. What can I say, I'm dramatic when medicated.

Intensive care really lives up to its name. Anyone who thinks that we're hard done by with the NHS, think again - I'm talking at least one nurse per person, the whole time. My parents and Patrick were so impressed by the nurses - not only did they provide excellent care, but they kept everyone fully informed and just made the whole experience less crappy. The original plan was to keep me in intensive care for at least three days, but I was moved to a regular Ear, Nose and Throat ward after just one. All these years that I've spent being pissed off at my body, hating flabby belly and dimpled thighs, and it turns out that it's absolutely state-of-the-art when it comes to what really matters - keeping me alive and healthy.

I spent a further four days in the ward, but it felt like so much longer. My tube came out, and taking that first breath through my mouth again was the strangest feeling. If you start to swallow, try to take a breath in, and release the swallow to let the breath in, you'll feel something similar.

The weirdest thing of all was my complete loss of the ability to taste basic flavours. Patrick brought me Marmite sandwiches and marshmallows - I still couldn't open my mouth very wide, so I had to rip the marshmallows into small pieces to fit them into my mouth. Unfortunately, the marshmallows tasted of nothing but egg, and the sandwiches, well, nothing. I lost a stone and a half over the whole experience, simply due to getting bored of eating! It almost makes me wish that my sense of taste was something I could switch on and off - hovering at a post-wedding comfort weight of 195 lbs is not something I want to do for long.

Before they let me go home, they had to remove the surgical drains. Surgical drains are little bits of thin plastic, almost like an inch-long drinking straw flattened out, that they stitch in place at the site of infection, to encourage the pus (I warned you, didn't I?) to drain out of your body. They attached really attractive bags to collect what came out, as can be seen in this delightful picture:

I carried on with the Lucozade after I came off the drip, in an effort to get some calories in while I wasn't eating, and Patrick was horrified to notice one of the bags filling with an orange liquid. It turned out that, due to logistical complications, whatever was in my mouth was seeping out through the holes under my chin! Rather disgustingly, once the drains came out, I was able to squirt water from the holes. It would've been a great party trick, but alas! I am all healed up now.

Speaking of the drain removal - what an ordeal! The first came out fine, a junior doctor with far too much make-up snipped away all the stitches and pulled. The second one... Less so. She snipped the stitches and started to pull... And pull... And pull. Owwwww! You know the hideous scene from The Grudge (later parodied in some kind of Scary Movie) when the girl without a lower jaw appears? That's what I was thinking about. I was thinking that this Doogette Howser in false lashes and inch-thick foundation is about to rip my frickin' jaw out.

Thankfully I kicked up a bit of a fuss, because when a lovely nurse came to give it a try, she noticed an additional stitch that was still attached, and managed to sort it out. If that dreadful woman had continued pulling, I dread to think of the damage that could've been done. Maybe not as bad as this...

But still.

The nurses were awesome. Most were West African, a few were Eastern European, and fewer were English. I guess the X Factor generation thinks that nursing isn't glamourous enough, but really, what job is? To be as chipper and hard-working as those ladies were every day, in the face of so much sickness - not all of which is going to get any better - is pretty darn cool. There could be improvements to the banter - being told "free wax on the NHS" every time I had my bandages changed began to grate the more sensitive my poor skin became!

I took a further three weeks off work after coming home, and Patrick was just so good to me - keeping on top of the housework, buying me grapes that I would slice in half to eat (my jaw flexibility took some time to recover) and letting me take the best position of the sofa so that I could sleep with my torso upright. I honestly don't know what I would have done without him. If we were testing out the "in sickness and in health" vow in advance, he'd have passed with flying colours.

A strange thing about the healing process - they don't actually stitch up the tracheotomy site once they've taken out the tube; they just let the skin sit back together and heal itself. The skin on top of the site is quite thin, and I can feel the ridges of my trachea more clearly than at other points on my neck. That may sound weird, but I'm a bit of a geek when it comes to that sort of thing - I am fascinated by how we work. If it weren't for the pay, the hours and the six years of university, I'd have loved to be a doctor!

So, fast-forward to today. I have scars, but I'm amazed at how proud of them I am; how little I wanted them covered up on my wedding day. I am a non-smoker, and I honestly never thought I'd be able to say that. There's nothing quite like a morphine clicker to get you through nicotine cravings! Patrick is a non-smoker, too, so not only do I have the gift of life, but I have the gift of him by my side. 

I thank God for my sister-in-law - at what stage would most of us call for an ambulance for ourselves? I'd feel so foolish unless I could see blood. There's some nerve damage on the left-hand side of my face, and for a few months, the bone could be seen where the drain had been. All in all, I've been so lucky.

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