It started at about 10pm on Tuesday night. A migraine.
If you’ve never had one before, it feels literally like your head is in a vice and someone evil is tightening that vice. The pain is excruciating.
I did the usual things, drank a litre of water, took pain tablets, laid as still as I could (tears streaming down my face) in bed, praying “Please God, please take this pain away” for hours.
Wednesday morning came and in spite of the blinding pain that hadn’t stopped or even decreased slightly (highly unusual because it’s worked every other time), I downed another 500mls of water, took 2 more pain killers and went off to work.
10 minutes of work and my head felt as if it was literally being assaulted by someone with a baseball bat. The pain was so intense I honestly thought I was going to die. I explained it to my boss who was really nice (thank you, God) and sent me home.
I caught the bus and thought “this is it, JD…this is either how you die or how you entirely go blind” because the pain had gone to a new territory and I honestly didn’t know what to do.
Here in Perth, we have a health line you can call if you have a big concern but can’t get a Doctors appointment. So I rang it.
“Can you describe your symptoms, dear?” the kind operator asked.
“A next-level migraine that feels like someone is hitting my forehead with a baseball bat. I can’t see. Light is hurting me. I’ve vomitted a few times. My heart is racing and my neck is stiff and won’t allow free movement. I’ve never had this before”
“Get yourself immediately to hospital. I can order an ambulance for you right now if you are unable to get to hospital yourself” the operator was adamant.
Oh shit. Okay.
Alun was asleep, so I woke him and asked him to drive me to the emergency ward.
I repeated my symptoms to the Triage Nurse in ED whose face changed to instant alarm and she rushed me into a free bay in the Emergency department. Doctors appeared within minutes. I repeated my symptoms with my hands holding my head and tears streaming.
“Let’s get a CT scan right away”
So into and out of the “big donut” I went, praying something would show up so we could fix it.
3 excruciating hours later and the Doctors returned to my bay.
“Nothing showed up on the scan, Janet – but you’re showing all the signs of a brain bleed. We’re worried you may have a bleed or are going to have a stroke (!!!). We’ve also been concerned about how high your heart rate is…you are in the danger zone at 170 (?). We have to act right now.
We would like to perform a small operation on you called a “Lumbar puncture” where we inject your spine to withdraw spinal fluid so we can study it. If there are traces of blood, we’ll know your brain is bleeding. We can also test that fluid for markers of a stroke.
I’m terrified of needles.
Needles in my arm are bad enough but you want to put one deep into my spine? Is that correct?
My fear rose from about 100 to 10,000 as I numbly nodded to what the Doctors were saying. Shaking, I signed the consent form and was wheeled off to the operating room.
They had me sit on the edge of the bed in the operation theatre and lean forward.
“We’ll give you 2 anaesthetic needles so that when we use the larger, longer needle (excuse me, the WHAT?!?) in your spine (WTF?!?) to extract vials of fluid, it hopefully won’t hurt as much.
Hopefully? You mean you’re not sure?
“Because it’s such a painful procedure (erm what?!?), we’ll only try twice and if we can’t get anything, we’ll let you rest and try again tomorrow after you’ve had time to recover”
Anxiety up to 100,000 now.
Omg this is going to hurt badly and might not even work.
“Janet…please slow down your breaths, you’ll pass out at that rate”
I was hyperventilating and didn’t know how to stop.
A male Nurse who was a stocky English man who I imagined ran a family friendly bar in the Hills of Chestershire somewhere held my hand.
That kind gesture immediately slowed my breathing down. His warm hand holding mine.
Daddy…I can feel your presence in this scary room.
“Sharp scratch” one of the Doctors said as he proceeded to put me in a huuuuge amount of pain.
I cried out.
The Nurse holding my hand rubbed over my thumb with his “You’re doing so great, Janet…just hold on”
“The 2nd needle please” I heard behind me.
Oh noooo. Here we go again.
This one felt like a sharp blade cutting through my vertebrae like a hot knife through butter. The pain…it was indescribable.
“Right. Ok” I heard the other Doctor behind me. “We’ll let that do it’s work for 2 minutes, then go in with the lumbar puncture.
2 minutes didn’t seem nearly enough time to me.
They made it sound so casual. “No big deal, were just putting in incredibly long, sharp needle into the tender, vulnerable places between your vertebrae and drawing out 4 vials (I saw them as I was being wheeled out if the operating room) of essential, life-sustaining spinal fluid. No biggie.
When the first needle went in, I cried out in pain. Tears flowed down my cheeks.
“You’re doing great, Jan” one Doctor said.
I hate having my name shortened so I felt angry – and that helped me endure the 2nd painful fucking attempt at getting spinal fluid from my tense, hurting body.
“Now Jan, (stop calling me Jan FFS!!!) I know we said only 2 attempts but we’re so close now to getting that fluid…with your permission we’d like to try again rather than wait and put you through this again tomorrow”
“You’re already here, we’ve scrubbed up for this surgery and have everything here” the other Doctor explained “It makes sense to go in now while it’s all set rather than apply for the instruments and book this surgery again…and look for another Nurse to act as chaperone while we operate”
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
I’d formed a bond with the “bartender” with rosey cheeks and kind blue eyes. I didn’t want to fucking start over. I didn’t want that looming over me all night. No matter how fucking much it HURT I should consent to a third try while I can.
So I prayed with every fibre of my being:
Please. Please Abba Father. Please guide this needle and please bring success to this attempt so I can go home. Please, God. Amen.
God heard my plea and I heard both Doctors behind me cheer during the intense pain I was in on that 3rd and thankfully final attempt.
“Doctor, vial 1 please”
Pain as I felt life being drawn out of my fucking spine.
“Vial 2, now. Thanks”
Lord, I’m thankful it worked…but how much longer? I feel like I’m going to vomit or pass out from this incredible pain.
I looked with tear-stained eyes at the Nurse/kindly Barman holding my hand. He rubbed it affectionately “You’re doing sooo good, little one. Just keep holding on” he said quietly through his mask.
Taking deep, shuddering breaths (“Please hold still, Jan”), I dug deep and found the strength to endure.
When I felt I had nothing left, I heard what sounded like sticky tape being unravelled behind me.
I looked to my Barman/Nurse who winked happily “You’re done. They’re just getting the dressings out to cover your back. You did it. You’re ok, Janet”
Oh praise God.
I was wheeled back in my bed to the bed bay I was in, then Doctors chatted in a haze over me and Nurses arrived. Alun’s face appeared and he said something about the Doctors keeping me overnight and that he’d asked his friends to put me in the nicest bed in the observation ward of the ED.
“You have to lay still and stay flat on your back for at least an hour”
Great. I’m a side-sleeper, so I’m in for no sleep at all, then. Fantastic.
Alun made sure I was tucked in under warm blankets, kissed me on the forehead and left for the night “I’ll bust you out tomorrow” he promised “Love you, Gorg”.
I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced staying overnight in the Emergency department of a hospital but IT IS NON STOP LOUD NOISES. Beeping, announcements over loud radios, staff rushing with squeaky sneakers on shiny floors, directions shouted, tired Nurses loudly “handing over” to the next shift, cleaners swishing mops and chatting about their lives.
It is virtually impossible to sleep in that.
And I was sooo tired, too.
I just cried. The crying you do when you’re angry…that kind. I hated the drip in my arm that had formed a large dark-purple bruise on the inside of my elbow and rang painfully whenever Nurses shifted it to take my oxygen levels (“very low, Janet – try to take some deep breaths”) or my heart rate (“alarmingly high”) every 2 hours. FFS.
I felt in that long night that I’d never ever feel better. Ever.
I drifted off for 20-minute slots then pinged awake, afraid and unaccustomed to the loud, scary noises.
It was an awful night.
Alun came back at 5:15am and I’ve never been so glad to see his handsome face in my life. He sat with me, brought my toothbrush, hair brush and chocolate (bless him) from home. We sat together as we waited for test results.
Doctors came by – test results were “inconclusive” so noone knew if I had a brain bleed or not. Was I going to have a stroke? Noone could rule that out or say “yes” and help prevent it. My blood pressure remained “alarmingly high” for my entire hospital stay.
The next afternoon, a Doctor told me that tests had revealed I was under “an enormous amount of stress” which was causing my body to respond by flaring up with infections, (I forgot to tell you but after the lumbar puncture my hands swelled into giant, painful balloons and have done every morning since…taking hours to go down and flaring back up overnight), showing my high heart rate/increased blood pressure and pain all over my body.
“If you don’t take time to rest for the next few months (months???)” the Doctor warned “You are very likely to have a heart attack“
“So I’ll write you a medical certificate for the week and need you to please rest”
But my Mom is here.
My brother isn’t taking to me.
Grief keeps pointing it’s gnarly finger towards my Dad’s urn.
I work full time hours so I can support my Mom’s every fucking whim.
And I’m supposed to rest? Really??? How the FUCK do I do that, Doc?
I’m home from Hospital (Sunday) and I have WORK tomorrow.
For some absolutely INSANE reason, Alun has arranged lunch with Mom today at 1pm.
DOESN’T ANYONE LISTEN TO ME ANYMORE??? I TOLD BOTH ALUN AND MOM I’M NOT FUCKING PREPARED TO SEE HER YET. For MONTHS I remember I VERY CLEARLY SAID. I didn’t stutter. I SAID NO!!!
So whyyyyy are we going to lunch at 1pm today???
The Doctors said I’m in literally fragile physical shape and Alun thinks NOW is a good time to pander to my Mom?!?
What the actual FUCK are you thinking, Alun??? Are you TRYING TO KILL ME?
I’m so fucking angry.
Today is literally my only day to rest after a long, scary hospital stay, tests that have made my lower back ring with pain, my arms are covered in bruises from needles everywhere BUT NOW IS GOOD FOR A LUNCH DATE, is it?
I hate my life, guys.
I know, I should be grateful to have a Mom, a loving (albeit maddening) husband, a great health care system, a full time job…I have what people pray for.
But my heart is rattling painfully against my aching ribcage and even without it being monitored by a machine, I can bet my heartrate is TOO FUCKING HIGH right now.
I cannot cope. I literally can NOT cope.
I wish I was dead.