I realized recently that I have not updated this blog with the craziness that has ensued since my second-to-last post, “I Am Not Okay.” I was inspired to write about my recovery, but kept butting heads with writer’s block and just could not figure out why I couldn’t get a finished thought onto the page. Then I realized my readers will not have a clue what I am talking about without providing them with some context, and poof! My writer’s block was no more. So, consider this post the preface to the next.
(I will say, this hospital stay will go down as probably one of the most difficult times in my life, so stay tuned for forthcoming posts that go more in depth into what I was experiencing then.)
A week after the aforementioned blog post I was flown into the ER by a close friend, who I had called abruptly after the onset of another panic attack– my second that day. Though I was glad I was not alone in the emergency room, my friend (bless his sweet soul) had to run back and forth between the lobby/waiting area and the nurses station for me: “My friend needs a wheelchair!” “My friend needs a barf bag!” “My friend is going to faint, I need a nurse!” (Hey, at least there was a free valet who knew how to drive stick, right Rob?) It was chaotic, and soon I was whisked away from him and was swallowed by the hospital.
I am going to write a separate post solely dedicated to my incredible nurses. I owe my doctors bigtime for handing me my life back, and I owe my nurses a hell of a lot more for handing me my sanity back. From the moment I was wheeled into triage, I knew I was finally in good hands. My health had been so bad, and I hadn’t acknowledged just how bad it was. (At this point I was fainting just by sitting on the toilet for an extended period of time, and hadn’t been able to keep solid food in days.)
When I was admitted to the hospital, the doctors informed me that I was so malnourished and dehydrated, my body was in starvation mode. Makes sense, I kept thinking to myself, as hunger pangs ripped through me. I was positively empty, my body at war with itself. When I laid down, my body rocked with every beat of my heart, which my anxiety interpreted as me dying, and panic would inevitably set in. Three days into my stay I learned this was due to my severe dehydration, and from that moment on was hooked up to constant IV fluids and magnesium. My body now stays still as my heart beats.
The worst part about this hospital stay (and, ya know, it already wasn’t great) was that we were now in a global pandemic, and Vanderbilt had started seeing patients with COVID-19. (I later learned that the first two confirmed cases in the state of Tennessee were patients at the very hospital I was in, at the same time I was there.)
It was terrifying. I wouldn’t allow myself to go on social media much at all, because any news about the virus scared me into an anxiety attack. And the last thing you want to hear during a panic attack is the monitor on your pulse and oxygen beeping bloody murder. Which, of course, wouldn’t get turned off, because the nurses were busy dealing with potential COVID-19 patients. At one point, on my first full day in the ER, I pressed my nurse call button 16 times within 45 minutes before someone came into my room to help me through a panic attack/colon spasm. I had also tried screaming in the direction of the door, hoping someone in the hallway would hear me, but the halls were also full of patients and bustling nurses. Yelling was no use in a busy ER room with its door closed. I couldn’t get myself to a bathroom on my own, so I had to let the pain wreak havoc on my body while I hyperventilated.
It turned out, my ER nurse was assigned to a patient who may have been in contact with the virus, so she had to suit up anytime she needed to go into that room. It was a lengthy process, which meant I had to wait longer than I normally would have. To say it was frustrating was an understatement. But my nurse was absolutely incredible, and somehow managed to handle all of my needs as quickly as possible, never forgetting a thing. (It’s also humbling to need someone wipe your ass for you. Never will I ever think poorly of nurses. They are the real heroes.)
I wound up staying in the hospital longer than I should have, partially because of the day of my arrival, and partially because one of my tests ended up needing to be redone. I was admitted to Vanderbilt Hospital’s Emergency Department on a Thursday night, and was admitted to hospital itself on Friday afternoon. Because of the tests I needed, there wasn’t time to complete it on that Friday, and they didn’t do these particular procedures on the weekend, so I had to wait until Monday to have my tests done. They were going to kill two birds with one stone so that I wouldn’t have to be anesthetized twice.
I remember waking up from the anesthesia on Monday afternoon to hear my mom telling my nurse that they couldn’t complete the second procedure. I was heartbroken. The prep for these procedures was not easy, and having to do it three days in a row (I started on Saturday, with my second test happening on that Tuesday afternoon) was like being thrown into hell over and over. I’ve written a lot of poetry about that Tuesday. I was as empty as I’ll probably ever be, and just completely disheartened. I cried most of that day. Or stared at the walls. Or tried to let my mom help me feel better.
It’s moments like those that I look back on to mark my resilience.
While I was in the hospital, there was a “one visitor per patient” rule, and on the day I discharged they announced no more visitors were being allowed into Vanderbilt Hospital. It was horrifying. I have never felt so isolated and lonely than I did during the gaps between visitors at the hospital. Often, my parents and my partner’s schedules would overlap, so I had to choose between seeing my boyfriend or seeing my mom or dad. (Also at this time, our cat had developed a post-op infection after being spayed, so my partner was having to choose between taking care of the cat or visiting me in the hospital.)
But as hard as all of this was, it all became worth it once my new gastroenterologist came into my room, sat next to my bed, and explained in detail what was going on with my body. She discussed what she saw when she sent her little video camera through my intestines, and helped me visualize why my body was causing me so much pain. Better yet, she told me how I can fix it.
She gave me her undivided attention for over an hour (unprecedented in hospital history!), answering all of the pages of questions I had written for her. What happened next? She signed my discharge papers.
I left the hospital on Wednesday, March 18th. The Nashville Safer at Home order began Monday, March 23rd. What has happened since has been a blur of ups and downs, in dealing with recovery of a chronic illness during a global pandemic, due to a virus I am considered high risk of contracting.
However, as difficult as it has been, it has also been an incredible period of growth for myself and my body. I am experiencing relief for the first time in my life. My body is doing things I never thought it was capable of.
Maybe a month before I went to the hospital, I told my therapist that I just wanted a break. A break from this battle with my body, a break from feeling overwhelmed by work and a lack of creativity. Next thing I know I spend a week in the hospital and am gift-wrapped a forced break: I am in the “high risk of catching coronavirus” category, and am not allowed to return to work until the world becomes a bit safer.
While, of course, I wish it were due to different circumstances, this time in quarantine has allowed me to come back to myself, my values, and my creativity. My mind has all this free space now that it’s not occupied with pain or anxiety, and it is being filled to the brim with creativity, hobbies, passion projects, and stronger relationships. I cannot wait to see what I can do as my body continues to heal and recover.
I hope everyone is staying safe in this difficult time. I am immensely grateful for all of the medical professionals that were on my case, and that I am sure have been putting themselves at risk every day since to care for their patients. The world cannot possibly offer these selfless professionals the gratitude they deserve, but we can certainly try. Thank you to both of my teams of doctors, and the amazing nurses who took care of me from start to finish. You are all my heroes.
Please stay tuned for future posts about my journey through recovery, and my time in the hospital.