Part 12 – The challenges I faced in critical care
The art of mindfulness
In my eye’s children are the best at practising the art of mindfulness, it’s when we enter adulthood that we tend to lose this essential life skill and ironically it’s in adulthood where we need to use this skill the most.
I have tried to be more mindful over recent years through activities such as mindful eating, enjoying nature, reading when I find the time, listening to music more often and through yoga and meditation. I did the mindful in may, pause for a cause challenge some years back and raised money towards providing clean drinking water in Rwanda.
Even though I have found many benefits from being more mindful and present, I have easily slipped back into the hustle and bustle of everyday life and not maintained my practice.
Being a patient in critical care was the time that I feel that I mastered the art of mindfulness in no way that I have done so before, this wasn’t a choice for me, this was survival!
Using mindfulness as a coping strategy
I used mindfulness as a coping mechanism when I was a patient in Critical Care for a number of reasons;
- pain relief, to get me through the pain of sitting upright in a chair for 10 minutes each morning.
- to get me through the day until visiting time and seeing my family and friends.
- to keep my spirit up and to remain positive.
- to cope with the worry of potentially needing further surgery.
- to cope with the worry I had about ever getting out of hospital.
- to manage to have a shower unaided for the first time.
- as an escapism technique to manage the stress and anxiety of what had happened to me. It helped to stop me from worrying about what would happen when I would get of the hospital, about work, finances, life in general. I was literally trying to survive every minute of each hour, each day.
I was focussing on getting through the next 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes etc.
I wanted to share some of the physical challenges that I faced when I was in critical care so that you can get a grasp of what I went through.
Walking to the bathroom
As part of the surgery I had a catheter fitted, so it was a sign of progress when I had it removed. However at this stage, I still couldn’t walk and I was drinking so much water to help with my recovery, so each time I needed the bathroom which was often!
I had to press my buzzer and the nurse would bring me a wheelchair and take me to the bathroom – imagine having to do this many times throughout the night. It was difficult to sleep and recover in the hospital as it was.
Not enough strength to shower myself
In the early stages I had to rely on complete strangers – the nurses to help me shower and dress. I had lost my ability to do basic everyday tasks that I use to take for granted. This was a huge realisation of the severity of what had actually happened to me and this was a painful reality for me!
Now I don’t know if this was my stubbornness or my warrior spirit kicking in…but I was determined to be able to do things for myself as soon as possible.
One morning I was in extreme pain and couldn’t even sit upright in the chair for 5 minutes, my back in particular was in extreme agony due to the fluid not draining from my brain properly. The nurses gave me 3 types of strong pain relief, I can’t remember them all, but I remember one of them was codeine and I was injected with something.
Anyway I was determined that I was going to shower myself on this particular morning…so the nurse wheeled me to the shower room and helped me out of the wheelchair. I just remember struggling to drag my body out of the wheelchair and onto the shower seat, I didn’t even have the strength to stand for a shower at this stage.
The painkillers must have been so strong that I didn’t even feel my drip rip out of my arm. I only noticed when I saw a pool of blood on the floor. Lets just say that this was a lesson learned for me and another reality check for me.
The beeping of machinery
The many different pieces of machinery that I was wired up to, this kept me awake on so many nights.
It felt that these observations were taking place a million times within a 24 hour period, they would shine a light in my eye’s at all hours of the day and night waking me from my sleep and ask me what date is it? what year is it? do you know where you are?
They even threw in an additional question later on in my recovery of who’s the Prime Minister. Lol
Lack of sleep and exhaustion
Due to the observations, constant distractions, fatigue from my brain injury and having to get up constantly in the night to use the bathroom.
I couldn’t walk for the majority of the time when I was in critical care and only managed to hobble around clinging to walls when I was finally discharged from the hospital. I learned to walk properly again when I was discharged from the hospital with the help of my mum and a team of physiotherapists.
Short-term memory loss
My short-term memory did take a long time to come back. I had the support of an occupational therapist when I was in the hospital and we did cognitive brain function tests – we saw an improvement when in the hospital which was great!
Constant blood samples
This process was draining every ounce of energy from me for obvious reasons but also because my veins are hard to find (I get this from my dad), so the process of taking blood samples was incredibly long and painful|! One day it took two phlebotomists and nearly 30 minutes just to find a vein where they could extract enough blood. This then led to me having a pic line fitted, which is a whole blog post on its own!!
In addition to the physical challenges, I also faced emotional challenges and these were the hardest to overcome. As the sedation wore off, my memory started to improve and I became more aware of my surroundings, the reality of what had happened to me started to kick in!
I started to notice the other patients arriving in such a critical state, it was frightening! I remember one woman that was admitted and when I would eventually be able to walk roughly 7 metres to the bathroom, I had to walk past her bed…and I honestly I couldn’t tell if she was alive.
This frightened me and that’s when the thoughts started to creep in of; will I survive this, will I get out of here alive? This brought to life the reality of what had happened to me and made me think of how I must have looked when I first arrived.
The Doctor woke me from my sleep by removing staples
I just remember it being very late at night and I was sleeping. I was then woken from my sleep very abruptly to the beeping of machinery around me and a doctor saying something along the lines of;
“Your brain is failing to drain fluid properly.”
She then proceeded to inject me with something, remove the staples from my head and cut my head open.
To this day I don’t know what she did but she did something with the tube that was inserted to drain fluid from my brain after my surgery. She then re-stitched where she had made the incision and I went back to sleep.
It was much scarier than what I’ve given it justice for here, it just happened so quickly and because I was woken suddenly from my sleep and with me being on so much medication – my memory of this incident is a little blurred and I’m actually thankful for that because I just remember a huge sense of panic at the time.
Fake it till I make it mindset
This led me to what I call the fake it til I make it mindset! The doctors would do their rounds at 8 am every morning and when they arrived I would find every ounce of energy in my body to sit upright in my bed, speak with them and smile.
I was literally praying every single morning before they arrived that they would give me the news that I wouldn’t need to have further surgery to have a VP shunt fitted, they were monitoring me for what must have been over a week to decide if I needed it. As I was suffering from severe headaches and extreme pain in my back and spine, sitting upright for 2 minutes was unbearable and near impossible at times.
What is a ventriculoperitoneal shunt?
A ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt is a medical device that relieves pressure on the brain caused by fluid accumulation.
VP shunting is a surgical procedure that primarily treats a condition called hydrocephalus. This condition occurs when excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) collects in the brain’s ventricles. CSF cushions your brain and protects it from injury inside your skull.
The fluid acts as a delivery system for nutrients that your brain needs, and it also takes away waste products. Normally, CSF flows through these ventricles to the base of the brain. The fluid then bathes the brain and spinal cord before it’s reabsorbed into the blood.
When this normal flow is disrupted, the buildup of fluid can create harmful pressure on the brain’s tissues, which can damage the brain. Doctors surgically place VP shunts inside one of the brain’s ventricles to divert fluid away from the brain and restore normal flow and absorption of CSF.
The good news I was praying for
Finally, I received the news my family and I had been waiting for. My brain was now able to drain the fluid successfully and there was no need for me to have a VP shunt fitted. This was the best news ever!April 4, 2018 7:30 pm