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.
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.