It’s exactly ten years ago (as of Nov 28th that is), that I came home from hospital after having been incredibly near death, and in an induced coma for a month. I am writing about it to remind myself of what I’ve come through, and in the hope that I will lean more towards positivity in the years to come. I remember for a few months after recovering, feeling euphoric as I knew I was lucky to be alive. I’m not sure when that feeling faded, but the truth of it still exists. This is my coma story.
I was feeling awful, full of cold when we prepared to go to my daughter’s friend’s birthday party. I was used to colds feeling dreadful; as a chronic asthmatic, they affected me far worse than most, and usually ended up meaning at least a week off work and antibiotics for the resulting chest infection. I debated crying off as my joints were aching, I couldn’t stop my eternally runny nose, and my head felt fuzzy as hell, but I knew Rosie would be disappointed. I downed some Lemsip, packed lots of tissues and off we went.
I can’t remember much about the party itself, apart from standing aside feeling lethargic whilst talking to the birthday boy’s Mum (a good friend whom I’d known since we were 16), and kids screaming and running around as they tend to at these things. I remember dragging myself to bed that night feeling worse, and knowing that a chest infection was on its way. I also remember thinking that this one had progressed fast; I’d only caught the cold the night before. I made sure I had my salbutamol inhaler and spacer device by my bed; as an extra precaution I got my nebuliser out just in case. I told my husband I was very wheezy and anticipated a bad night. He was a little bit grumpy about it as he went to sleep. After trying for a few hours to get comfortable, I finally slept for a while by resting on all fours (people with respiratory problems will know what I mean by this – sometimes the only way to open your lungs a bit more is by aiming your head lower than your hips and resting on your knees; I’m not sure how it works but I think it opens your chest cavity to allow more oxygen to enter your lungs or something like that – it just makes it a tiny bit easier to breathe when you’re struggling.)
I woke up in the early hours of the morning. I could barely breathe at all. I was wheezing so loudly and profusely that it sounded like my voice had split into three. Every breath was painful. I knew that I didn’t have the breath to even take in a puff of inhaler, and that’s when I knew I was in trouble. My fingernails had taken on a blue tinge, and although I couldn’t see them, I am told my lips had too. I woke up Charlie and told him I thought I needed hospital. He grumbled out of bed and down the stairs, as though I was personally responsible for ruining his day or something. (By the way, don’t get angry at him for this; he is a grumpy man by nature and the grumps get worse when he’s worried – I have long since forgiven him as I recognise now why he was behaving that way – I’m just telling the story as I remember it.)
I rang an ambulance and they could hear the wheeze and the way I was struggling to talk. They said someone was coming over straight away. Charlie then called my parents to come over and look after Rosie so he could then follow on to the hospital. I spoke to them briefly. I remember saying something along the lines of, ‘don’t panic, but my asthma’s really bad – I’m on my way to hospital. I’ll be fine.’ Famous last words there.
My memory of the rest of that day or so is in tatters – this is the after-effect of having had so much anaesthetic for so long – it creates holes around the event that I sadly can’t get back. I also suffered some brain damage over the whole period due to lack of oxygen, which has left permanent holes in my long term memory and affects my short term memory to this day. However I’ll go over the rest as best I can.
I remember a tiny bit of the ambulance ride – I know they turned on the sirens so I remember thinking, ‘oh, it must be more serious than I thought’. As we reached the hospital, Charlie arrived – my Mum and Dad had got to our house pretty fast and were getting Rosie dressed and sorted. It was cold as I was carried out in a wheelchair with an oxygen mask around my face. Apparently I spent a good day or so in the assessment ward, having nebulisers and trying to stabilise my oxygen levels. After that time period, the doctor assigned to me told me nothing was working, and that they needed to put me under sedation and hook me up to a ventilator to help me breathe. Again I don’t remember this, although as I write it, I admit to feeling flashbacks of the panic I must have experienced when told this. I signed a consent form, apparently. I also said goodbye to my husband, my parents and my daughter (who had arrived at the hospital by this time). It was the last time I would speak to any of them for a month.
That’s when things for me got weird.
To be continued.