I didn't last long at home. One week exactly, that's all, and a strange week it was too. I went to a concert by Northern Sinfonia at the Sage Gateshead on the Saturday after I was discharged and picked up a cold from one of the many congested people in the audience. I could feel it scratching away in my throat by Sunday evening. By Monday I was beginning to cough and felt the bugs clawing their way south to my lungs. on the Tuesday I had to go and have bloods done at the GP surgery to rule out diabetes or thyroid problems as the cause of the neuropathy in my hands. I had a rubbish night on Tuesday with coughing, but nonetheless went to RVI on Wednesday morning for cataract surgery on my left eye. I expected them to turn me away because of my cold and cough, but the surgeon just said, 'Let me know before you're going to cough so I have time to pull the instruments away'!! I duly obliged - I didn't want to be his first accidental brain surgery patient, however good an eye surgeon he is. Fifteen minutes out of surgery and back on the day ward, with hardly time to feel relief that the operation was over, I had a call on my mobile from my GP. The blood tests I'd had the previous day showed I was 'dangerously hypernatraemic' with a sodium level of 152.
'Okay ... what do I do?'
'I don't know. We don't usually see levels this high. I'm going to call the hospital for advice. Are you feeling ill in any other way?'
'Um, yes, well it's hard to say because I'm full of cold and it's going to my chest so my breathing isn't that great, and I'm literally just out of cataract surgery.'
A moment's silence.
'Right. Okay. I'm going to phone the hospital and I'll call back soon.'
'... Okay ... is there anything I should do with my diet?'
'No, that won't make any difference.'
End of call. Anxiety sets in. I come to the conclusion that it's not a good sign when your GP phones you in a panic with no real idea of what to do.
She rang back five minutes later saying the hospital advise urgent repeat blood tests, and she'd made me an appointment for 4.30pm. so then I had to make sure I could leave the hospital to get to the GP surgery in time so had to tell the nurse on the day ward what was happening. That sent them into a bit of a spin, but also meant I got my eye drops prescription quickly and could leave. I'd texted my mum and step-dad (J) to tell them about the call from the doctor and then the appointment, and they came up to the hospital straight away. We went home and then a little under an hour later I was having my bloods redone. And then a bit of an anxious evening as I wondered what was going to happen.
...And then my cough changed to a really fruity rattle and rasp, and overnight the wheeze set in. It was a terrible night with very little sleep, and although I had an appointment booked with the GP for the following morning, I knew I wouldn't last that long so called the surgery, got an appointment for 10.10am that day (Thursday) and reluctantly checked and replenished supplies in my hospital suitcase. J drove me the four streets to the surgery and waited in the car.
The GP I saw has her room directly at the end of the corridor from the waiting room and she had her door open as I made my way towards her. She waved to me and gently said, 'Bad day?' I wheezed a yes, sat down and she closed the door behind me. She called the ambulance before she even got her stethoscope out, then stuck me on a nebuliser even though I'd just had one at home. I shed a few tears at her mention of hospital although I'd known it was coming. I just didn't have the mental or physical energy for this, and I hardly felt like I'd had any time free from hospital. She was gentle. She sympathised. There wasn't much more to be done. The rapid response paramedic came, closely followed by the ambulance crew. In the meantime I texted J to let him know what was happening, he phoned Mum then came into the surgery, and one of the other doctors - my usual - popped in to see what was happening and said, as if it were a normal occurrence (which it kind of is), 'Ah, you've got Becky G in here.' He gave me a gentle smile and left as the other GP came back in with a letter for the hospital and an update for the paramedics. We left the surgery and I was scooted off to A&E on blues and twos.
A&E was heaving. Mum said the waiting room was chock-a-block and people were lining the corridor on trolleys and chairs. I was in resus, where there were four beds but five patients - a RTC victim and another asthmatic having to take turns in the bed space next to me! Thirteen 5mg salbutamol nebs and several 500mcg ipratropium nebs later, and the starting of an aminophylline infusion, and I wasn't really any better, but after five hours I'd breached the four hour national treatment time target for A&E so was whisked off to the Emergency Assessment Unit (EAU) at RVI by two paramedics and a nurse escort.
EAU was heaving too, with a very disoriented and distressed old lady with dementia running around searching for someone called Maureen, and the nurses having to try to contain her when they were short-staffed to begin with. the doctors were busy too and really slow of the mark with me, so while the nurses were doing their best with the demented lady and seven other poorly patients in 'monitoring' (as well as other patients in the unit), they were also trying to keep a watchful eye on me and could see that I was deteriorating. They called ITU outreach to come and see me. Then the junior EAU doctor came to see me and he called the registrar, who came and put his stethoscope to my chest and immediately recoiled, exclaiming to no-one in particular, 'Oh dear.' He looked scared and didn't listen any more. The junior doctor called ITU. The nurse called the EAU consultant. The consultant said to call ITU again, get an urgent chest x-ray, and give me IV hydrocortisone. The nurse came and gave me half of the hydrocortisone injection then left, went to the nurses station where she promptly fell to the floor and had a fit! Another nurse gave me the rest of the injection and the ITU registrar came to assess me, immediately saying that I needed to go upstairs. My transfer to ITU was a little delayed by the nurse's fit, but not by too long, however it caused quite a stir as you may be able to imagine. As I was arriving on ITU the patient in the room next to mine was so disoriented through illness that they were getting aggressive, punched a nurse in the face and apparently broke her nose! The staff did well not to be too distracted, and I have to say that despite my previous negative experiences of RVI, this time ITU staff were very good and I had a very lovely nurse - Bonny - and a great student nurse - Kate - looking after me. I very narrowly missed being ventilated, but stayed in ITU for four days nonetheless before being shipped across the city again to Ward 29 at Freeman Hospital, where I am now. I was still pretty ill when I came here, the cold having turned into moraxella pneumonia, and then they also grew pseudomonas in my sputum. I've been and felt very ill and it's taken a heck of a long time to settle, needing to be on the aminophylline infusion for twelve days this time and only just feeling like I've really turned the corner yesterday. To be perfectly honest I wasn't convinced I was going to survive. in fact there was a point when I was in EAU when I suddenly became certain that I was going to get a little bit better before getting much worse and then die. It was an odd certainty, that clearly turned out to be wrong, but I think perhaps that certainty spurred me on to draw on every ounce of strength I could get from anything and everything. I texted friends and asked them to pray. They did. I survived. I feel lucky to be alive, very lucky. And I remember thinking, 'I'm damned if I'm going to die this close to getting my degree. I don't want the only letters after my name when I die to be R.I.P.'
And now I'm recovering. Still in hospital, but mending. However, it's been an awful time, and fast on the heels of my previous admission with a stressful, ill week between them, and I've felt very much like what is emblazoned on the hospital gowns I'm put in when I'm admitted and wear for several days until I can be bothered with my own pyjamas - 'Hospital Use Only.'
By the way, my sodium levels came back down to normal - high normal at 143, but normal - on their own. That's all a bit of a mystery, but it certainly caused some anxiety.