Apart from the cat, Zach, I live on my own. I have lots of good friends, but I often spend long periods of time on my own, usually because my friends are either away or because they work. I don't actually mind spending time on my own as I've always been one of those people who can happily occupy themselves and don't need others around me to generate energy (so I'm a typical introvert really). No, the title of this post comes from the experience of being seriously/critically ill with my asthma.
When you are taken into hospital in any emergency you are quickly surrounded by an awful lot of people. All concerned are usually very good at telling you what they're doing, why they're doing it and generally what's going on, all of which help to keep calm as well as informed. Because I've been in asthmatic emergencies so many times I don't actually need people to tell me what they're doing as they do it, because I already know, but strangely it still helps ... I think it's the contact ... the recognision that I am a person in the middle of the trauma in front of them. However, despite this, these have also been some of my loneliest times.
It's a strange state of affairs being surrounded by people, actually being the centre of everyone's attention, but still feeling incredibly lonely. So why so lonely? Well first off there's the fact that by the time I get to hospital I am almost always too breathless to speak. I am awake, aware, fighting for breath, fighting for life, and trying to convey all the information I know the medics need to treat me. This is why I keep all those laminated cards of vital details, medications, letter from my consultant etc that I mentioned in a previous post - it limits what I have to try to say at times that I can't speak, but gets the information over clearly and succinctly. Great, but I'm still in a position where I can't converse effectively with the people who are around me. I am being stabbed with needles, endless needles. I am being given copious medications. I am having my obs (observations - blood pressure, temperature, pulse/heart rate, oxygen saturations) done every 10 minutes. I usually have an ECG (heart tracing) done. X-rays are done. Oxygen masks of various kinds, delivering O2 in slightly different ways, are switched in attempts to improve my oxygen saturations (amount of O2 in my blood, which should be above 95%, but have been known to go as low as 69% in me in the past). All of this is happening to me as I just try to concentrate on breathing and staying alive. I stay calm because I know that panicking will only make things worse, but in doing so I have to distance myself slightly from all that is going on around me ... all that is being done to me ... all the people who surround me. Fear, though, can thrive when isolated from others who can calm and comfort you.
There is exhaustion too. When you've been fighting for breath for hours on end you soon get worn out. Those detatched people around me are telling me to stay awake, and every time I close my eyes they call my name and tell me to open them, that I can't go to sleep yet. I am so tired that I want to cry, but I can't do that because it'll make the asthma worse, so I tuck the tears away somewhere inside myself and keep them hidden from myself and from those around me. Another distancing.
I'm sure that everyone has experienced that echoey distance of far off voices when you've almost drifted off to sleep in a room with others chatting away. That's a little what it's like. You hear it all going on around you, and you are physically there, but mentally in some far off place that is insular. I wrap myself up in my thoughts. I draw upon the introvert in me to survive this isolation amongst others, but it's hard, and all I want is to be able to breathe and to be either asleep or alone. I am less lonely when I'm alone.
When I physically begin to mend is when I want company. Not immediately, as this is when I want and need to sleep, but a few days later I need to feel the comfort of those around me. I need friendship; physical contact that doesn't entail medical intervention; conversation; to have people sit with me even if we don't say anything. This is when I appreciate time with people and their commitment to me despite my illness. Sometimes it's when I remember the intense loneliness I felt during the emergency. Sometimes it's when I let out a few of the tears that I stored away during the emergency.