Physically, I began to mend from the asthma attack, but emotionally, I was very shaken. I hardly slept for days, too afraid to turn the light out, have the door shut, or relax enough to let sleep take over. I had at least to be able to hear the nursing staff or anxiety would swell inside me. The events of the attack, of my time in A&E, EAU, and ITU played through my mind again and again. I repeatedly relived the trauma, and the lack of sleep meant I had even less energy either to fight it or deal with it. I had a total of ten hours sleep in the first eleven days of the admission, many nights not getting any sleep at all. 'Tired' does not describe how I felt. Neither does 'exhausted.' It was torturous. Even when I did manage to snatch a little sleep, I dreamt about what had happened and never awoke feeling rested.
Although still completely worn out and sleep-deprived, by the second Saturday of my admission I was beginning to feel a little better. Not great, but my lungs were easing and I began to think that maybe it wouldn't be too long until I got home. I was well enough to have the catheter removed, which had been in since I'd arrived on ITU, and a little after midnight on that Saturday/Sunday the nurse took it out. It was a relief because I'd often been able to feel it in my bladder, lightly scratching my insides.
Catheter-free, I managed to drop off to sleep sometime around 2 am, but I woke again at 5 am. I didn't feel right. I got up and went to the loo - my first reclaiming of toilet rights - and then I knew that things weren't right. There were all the signs of a UTI: pain, cramping, smelly urine, malaise distinct from the sleep-deprivation. I told the nurse.
By 8 am I was getting cramping in my bladder and abdomen at times other than when I went to the toilet, and then I felt like I'd been punched in the lower back. It was getting rapidly worse. I needed painkillers. I had very few inner resources to deal with the pain and I couldn't help but cry with the pain. But that was nothing. Within a couple of hours I was in agony. Everything kept seizing up. Spasms starting either in my bladder and working their way up to my kidneys, or starting in my kidneys and working their way down to my bladder. The most intense pain I've ever had, nothing touched it, and all I could do was cry out in agony. I was shivering with cold, but my temperature was up near 39C so the nurse removed my blanket, opened the window, and put on the fan. She took a urine sample, sending some to the lab for analysis after dipping it on the ward first and finding that it showed 'very positive for everything that shouldn't be in it.'
I spent the next thirty hours or so crying out in excruciating pain, my body lurching from one spasm to the next, feeling like I had razor blades and ground glass in my bladder, and someone pounding on my back with a baseball bat. I had a severe case of pyelonephritis. The doctor started IV fluids and IV antibiotics, regular and 'as required' painkillers, and antispasmodics. Nothing worked quickly, and all I could do was lie on my side calling out in pain.
Then the weird obsessions and hallucinations started. First of all it became vitally important that I remember the name of the cat in the James Bond films. I couldn't remember. I had to remember. It was vitally important that I remember. After hours and hours of racking my mind it came to me. At least, I thought it had come to me. I sat up and called out 'Odd Job'. Of course, now I know/remember that this isn't the name of the cat, but at the time it satisfied my necessity to remember it. Then I kept becoming aware that I was chuntering to myself. I couldn't tell you what most of it was, though I do remember lying facing the wall saying, 'It's disgusting. Really disgusting. Dis. Gus. Ting.
During the Monday I was sure there were two three-and-a-half-foot tall cockerels in the corridor. It didn't surprise me and they didn't seem out of place, but they were really noisy. They shouted out incessantly: 'COCK-a-doodle-doo! COCK-a-doodle-doo!' I've since worked out that this was some weird interpretation my brain was making of the nurse-call bell, but at the time it was two over-sized cockerels that wouldn't shut up.
That night I got scared, really scared. I couldn't see it, but I knew that somewhere there was a mermaid for which I was responsible. I was being told to feed it fish. I couldn't do it. It seemed wrong. It seemed like cannibalism to feed fish to a mermaid. I didn't know what the consequences would be of refusing to feed fish to a mermaid, but I decided that I'd have to bear them. And then I wondered if mermaids actually did eat fish because, after all, big fish eat little fish, so maybe I would just be starving the mermaid for no reason. The ethics of it all bothered me greatly, and I was afraid of what would happen to me for refusing to do what I was being told I must. I was genuinely scared. I know it sounds funny now. I know it's laughable. I know that it's ridiculous to wish that I'd seen 'The Little Mermaid' so I knew what Ariel had eaten. I know all that now, but at the time I was afraid. At the time it was far from funny. And because I remember that fear and anxiety so clearly, the humour of it is detracted for me.
Although it was all very real, I gradually came to realise that maybe it wasn't quite right. My brain felt wonky. It was the high temperature and the toxins in my blood from the kidney infection, but of course I didn't know this then, and I was scared.
Over a period of days, the weird thoughts and hallucinations faded, and the pain began to ease a bit, but it was completely exhausting and I was drained. I had nothing left. I cried. My tears didn't taste right. No salt. I still cried. In fact I was so completely done in that I didn't have the energy to stop my tears. I wasn't dead, but I wasn't alive either. I was in a state of existence. I have never felt quite like that before. It wasn't like the feeling of existence in depression ... it was deeper, physical, entire. Never in my life have a felt like I had absolutely nothing, that the only 'thing' I might have is God. Never have I been so physically and emotionally crumpled that I didn't have the energy to hold myself before God and ask for his mercy. I was entirely reliant on my friends to hold me up, to pray for me, and for God to see their faith and have mercy on me because of it. I sent a text to friends at church asking them to pray, telling them, 'I need the strength of Lazarus when I have the strength of a worm with no wriggle.' I was broken and crumpled. I was a heap. I had nothing and could do nothing. I really didn't know if I had the energy to live, or if I did live, had I the energy to get well? I lay in the bed, tears cascading down my face, trying to accept that I was completely dependent upon God's grace, knowing that I could offer Him nothing, and feeling completely devoid of anything.
Very, very, very slowly I began to surface. A combination of the medications and my friends' prayers saved my life. Again. But recovery was slow, and it took a long time from there to get well enough to come home. Eventually I did, but in truth I was still a way off being well. I'm still not 100% physically, and I'm far off 100% emotionally. I'm still exhausted, and I'm still not sleeping well. If I'm honest, I feel traumatised by the whole experience, and it's perhaps more difficult because part of me feels as though I should be used to this kind of thing by now. I'm not used to it. I don't think I ever will be.