It’s been a funny old year so far. I’d even go as far as to quote the queen circa 1992, ‘annus horribilis.’
The media has drawn our attention to the death of icons such as the eclectic David Bowie to the down to earth, humble and loveable Victoria Wood. Both of whom were a big loss in our household alone.
But it’s not just the excessive number of personalities who have passed on that has caused this year to be difficult. Everyone seems to know somebody who is suffering in some new way. I know people who have lost numerous loved ones, had horrific health diagnoses or broken up with long term partners. Yes this is the norm and it happens all the time in life – but in 2016 it seems already that none of us are safe from this contagious darkness.
Personally I was actually getting on quite well and thinking what a great year I was having. Strike that I was grateful it was a normal, uncomplicated year. Last year was a stinker for us so the fact that things were swimming along nicely was a good feeling. As a busy working mum and carer, I had changed my mindset after a period of difficult health before Christmas and suddenly everything seemed easier. I was looking after myself well, exercising, eating good food and treating myself with the utmost respect.
Then three weeks ago I started to cough. I had a couple of fevers. Actually one of them was really bad – my teeth started to chatter beyond my control. I couldn’t stop it and it was actually quite scary. But being the pull yourself together kind of person I am – I had a few paracetamol and pootled into work. Granted I felt a bit under the weather but I carried on regardless.
When I got home, the fevers started again, right through the night. Damn it I realised I must have the flu. Fast forward five days (including a missed bank holiday) and I still didn’t feel much better. So, unable to make it out of bed to the surgery, I called the doctor and he confirmed it in a very brief conversation- yes you have flu, stop taking painkillers and sweat it out. Fine I thought, so that’s what I did.
But the fevers got worse. I was confused. Breathless. Up all night. Unable to eat. On the Friday, after well over a week of enduring flu like symptoms I dragged myself to the doctors. I was planning to ask for a sick note for a few more days off work. When I walked into the GP’s office, I burst into tears. I explained my symptoms and within five minutes of checking me over I was lying on a bed with a nurse, breathing in additional oxygen while I waited for an ambulance.
It turns out I didn’t have the flu at all. I had a severe pneumonia. My heart rate was dangerously high and my oxygen rate dangerously low. I was extremely sick.
The problem with being a mother or carer or busy person is you sometimes forget to look after yourself. You are not really allowed to be ill, you are the healthy one, the one who is there for everyone else, the invincible presence.
Now I am well into my recovery I have reflected a lot on what happened that week. Why didn’t I just call 999? Why didn’t I call the doctor out? Why did I think Google was a good way to diagnose my symptoms? I remember feeling really confused and out of it. I kept telling myself I was being a hypochondriac, to hurry up and get better so I could mark my year 10 exam papers, to get a grip.
Even though I was at home trying to rest and get better, I managed to totally neglect myself.
If this had been my hubby, I would have called 999 after 24 hours. There is no way I would have let him suffer for a minute longer than he needed to. But I guess that is because he is already vulnerable, his immune system compromised, he is sick enough for me to react quickly.
A little like the GP I spoke to at first, I wasn’t expecting to be seriously ill. I am a healthy 37 year old woman – why would I think anything was badly wrong?
So May has been a horrible month for me and I do feel a little bit sorry for myself. But what this experience has shown me momentarily is how people who are really ill must feel. I’ve never felt the suffocation of a debilitating illness before. The indignity of a stay in hospital when you are tied to a machine and at the mercy of the nurse’s call. The pure frustration at not being able to breathe properly or walk upstairs without assistance.
I have always sympathised with my husband but I kind of get it more now. And the admiration I felt for him in his daily struggle has risen tenfold.
The other thing I feel has changed for me is how I feel about the NHS. I’ve always thought it was a marvellous machine but the way I have been treated is fantastic. Not just in the GP who diagnosed me and packed me off to hospital, or the various doctors and nurses who treated me in hospital. I am particularly impressed with the aftercare. I thought I would be left after leaving hospital to get on with it. But quite the opposite has happened. I have seen my GP several times, he calls to check on my progress regularly and the hospital have called me back in to check I’m fully recovered in a few weeks time. I don’t feel I need to worry as they have it all in hand- I just need to rest, recover properly and take good care of myself.