I choose life …

When I came into hospital I thought I had already made that big decision. Do I want to do whatever it takes to save my life? My answer was yes. Of course. What I didn’t realise was that I would have to make that choice again.

On the day of my operation, I wasn’t supposed to be first on the list for surgery but someone else was late. With a pink dressing gown over my NHS hospital gown I rushed to the end of the ward to join some of my medical team.We walked briskly to the operating theatre along a confusing set of corridors. Early morning light streamed through square 1950’s style windows across sage green floor tiles.

As we chatted, I glanced out at the hospital grounds. It didn’t occur to me that this would be the last time I would be able to walk for a more than a week.

The adrenalin rush reminded me of work, when as a reporter you’re sent to a breaking story. There’s a buzz of not quite knowing what’s next. Plus I was feeling excited to be finally, hopefully, getting rid of the cancer.

The op, I was told, would be several hours long. Maybe five hours at the most. So I was prepared for it to be awful. My team were looking for the pea while this princess was well asleep. Sadly they found a whole lot more than just a tiny tumour. They discovered some of his bigger and nastier friends plus plenty of his little mates too. So much for the pea theory. As it was such a big op I was in theatre for pretty much the whole day.

But (and how I like these buts), they got it all out. The surgery was a success thanks to my brilliant team (and I’m not just saying that because I know some of them are reading my blog!). All the cancer has now been removed.

Amazing news. But physically I felt awful. That night was bad and the next day not much better. The pain was harsh but all that mattered was that they’d got the cancer and mum was at my bedside. Now surely the worst was over.

That morning I was given a load of painkillers and easily dozed off. This was a dangerous sleep that I was drifting into.

At some point I started to dream about a group of people. I could hear their voices in the distance. It was like they were in another room. Slowly I began to work out what they were saying. It took a while to realise that this group of people were actually talking to me.

“Can you hear us Helen?” They seemed to ask.

Yes of course I can hear you all, I thought to myself and ignored them.

“Helen, open your eyes.”

I was totally unaware that anything was wrong. I just felt relaxed and happy in a bubble of unconsciousness.

There was also a male automated voice. It was saying something like, if the patient doesn’t respond, start CPR. The computerised voice sounded angry. I couldn’t understand why I was hearing this. Or what the fuss was about. On and on all the voices kept talking to me.

So I opened my eyes.

And in doing so, I chose to live.

It turned out that I had stopped breathing because of a bad reaction to the painkillers. Apparently my body started convulsing and the emergency crash team was called.

That’s how I ended up in intensive care.

I was hooked up to a bank of machines. These computers didn’t talk. Instead they bleeped. Now I was petrified of both sleeping and the monitors.

I was told that the drugs which had caused me to become unconscious would take a while to leave my body. Every time a sound went off I thought I had stopped breathing.

Almost delirious from exhaustion, that night I was haunted by hallucination-like dreams during the scraps of sleep I managed to get. Every five minutes that passed felt like two hours.

My bed faced away from the windows. It was hard to tell what time of day it was. Intensive care  was a bright white environment with large fluorescent lights in the ceiling. I knew it was eventually morning when there was a shift change.

It was the worst night of the my life. But it was over.

Despite feeling incredibly ill, I was determined that now my recovery would start.

It was tough. I could hardly move, small things like a nurse washing my face would leave me shattered and I found it difficult to focus my eyes on anything for long.

Ever so slowly and painfully I improved until that amazing moment when I was considered well enough for the toast.

Finally, a week after the op I was allowed to leave intensive care.

As my bed was pushed towards a normal ward it felt like we we were doing a victory lap of the hospital. When we came to the corridor with the square 1950s windows full of light, I was so happy that I cried.

Everyday since then I’ve been gradually getting better. It’s taken a long time but finally I feel like me again.

I’m an optimistic person anyway, but after the past couple of weeks I appreciate even more than ever just how precious life is.

23 thoughts on “I choose life …

  1. Helen, you write so vividly, I almost feel I was in the room with you. And all the hair is standing up on the back of my neck. What a horrific ordeal. What will-power, to Choose Life at that point. Your post makes me want to hug the nearest stranger…!

  2. So so so pleased they got it all Helen. You are such an inspiration Helen you’re such a brave and strong woman. Mandy SW xxx

  3. more power to you, Helen. As Philippa wrote, your blog was a very vivid account. Onwards and stronger. Wishing you the berry best. JamesWorldNews

  4. So great to read an update Helen, you have been through so much but you are still smiling and still looking gorgeous. I do hope today is your last day in hospital – maybe now you’ll be able to get some sleep ! Just make sure your mum doesn’t wake you up at 6am for 9am breakfast !!! Safe journey – watch out for any speed bumps x x x

  5. So glad you’re feeling strong enough to write again! Hang on in there, Helen – you’re an inspiration!

  6. Dear Helen, I’m so glad you are feeling better! I’m thinking of you every day and sending only positive thoughts your way. I almost forgot how great you style of writing was. I was there with you, I almost wasn’t breathing while reading this post; your writing made me be you, the doctors, your mum. Can’t wait for your next post. And I agree with Mandy – you are an inspiration. One could have never guessed what have you been through – you are so positive, brave, calm, but full of energy. I’m happy to say that this horrific ordeal hasn’t changed you a bit!

  7. Helen, finally catching up with you via this wasn’t my plan but here we are. I’m thinking of you and hope things get better and better. Well done for writing about it, inspirational stuff x

  8. Helen,

    You write so beautifully and the description feels like I’m standing there with you. So glad they got it all out. Best wishes for a full and speedy recovery

  9. You write so beautifully. So powerfully. Yet all I can do is respond with (well-meaning and sincere) cliche. We’ve never met but I wish you the very best. This stranger will be thinking of you.

  10. Welcome back Helen and keep getting stronger. When you’re writing every day, I’ll know you’re really better :)

  11. You’re amazing Helen! What a terrifying experience… and so brilliantly told.
    I hope you get your strength back soon.


  12. Thank you for sharing your ordeal with us, Helen. It’s a reminder that what you’ve gone through cannot be regarded as routine, and that the drugs administered must be treated with respect. What a scary experience: I’m so glad you’re strong enough to write about it.

  13. Real. very real.
    Fantastic honesty
    i want Keith to introduce me to such a focused, positive mind. :-)
    keep up the improvements.

  14. How amazing you are, Helen! I remember once commenting on how beautiful your handwriting is and here I see how what you write is also pretty special. What an ordeal but I feel privileged and empowered to read your story. Thank you for sharing it and all best wishes for your continued recovery xx

  15. Helen, you’ve been through the mill ! I heard about your illness on Twitter, re-tweeted by Kathy Clugston, who I work with as a SM at the BBC. I’ve had a few ops over the last 15 years or so, generally a lot less ‘eventful’ than yours, but I know the waking-up-with-tubes thing. On the other hand I took to painkillers like a duck to water, what a bummer that the drugs that were supposed to be keeping you happy had such a bad effect on you. I know you’re going to write down the exact names of those drugs so that you can feel sure you’ll never be given them again. I’m a firm friend of the NHS but I trust myself to relate my medical history to doctors better than any set of records.

    I hope you’ve got a radio. As I write, I can hear Sarah Millican telling Saturday Live how much she loves Cliff Richard’s ‘Wired for Sound’. She didn’t realise it was about audio; she thought the line “I like small speakers, I like tall speakers” was “I like small people, I like tall people.” Now that she’s realised, she wonders whether Cliff wrote songs about other domestic appliances, kettles maybe.

    Even after what you’ve been through, you’re still writing like a dream: surely the best of signs. I reckon one of the main paradoxes of being a hospital patient is that, although you have more time on your hands in a day than you previously had in a fortnight for such indulgences as reading books from cover to cover, or uninterrupted TV and radio programmes – plus, to be frank, a massive incentive to distract yourself – you can quickly feel irked by the passivity. How brilliant are laptops and smartphones? – they should be a standard part of the kit, right next to the jug of water and the oxygen.

    I’ve always suspected there’s an inverse relationship between the niceness of the hospital and the length of your stay: you get stuck for weeks in crumbling old wards but, when you find yourself in a nice, bright, clean room with lovely nurses and a comfy bed, they turf you out sharpish! I’m probably the sort of appalling patient who becomes institutionalised really easily. Being looked after by a small, rotating army of cheerful people bringing drugs and food – what’s not to like?! So I won’t wish you the shortest possible stay, I hope you’re in hospital for exactly as long as you like and need, and that they let you out at exactly the moment you feel the first hints of stir-craziness.

    We’ve hardly ever worked together, but I’m keeping a corner of a radio car warm for you, and a flask of weak tea. =D

  16. Helen you are incredible. Your writing really tells the story. Such an inspiration and what determination. Wishing you strength and positivity every step of the way. I watched you work effortlessly in an edit suite not long ago and can’t believe that you had this ahead of you. Very very moving and very inspiring. Thank you.

  17. Helen, if there was ever a non fiction novel worth reading, this is the one! Your story and inspiration is completely and utterly compelling. I now know that there will be a happy ending and I look forward to it. X

  18. I’m touched reading this and I’m wishing you well. It brought a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat. Keep up with the positive mental attitude. It will help you far more than you can even imagine xx

  19. Keep choosing to live Helen. The world’s a better place with you in it. All the best and lots of love,

  20. Helen, you’re a winner. You’ll get through this. Get well soon. I predict another revolution in Kiev in a year’s time – get yourself into shape by then, or who else is going to cover it?

  21. inspiring tale, Helen. come join me in peru as soon as you’re well – plenty of stories to be told here! :) xx

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