Life is full of little surprises. Banana skins. Obstacles.
Back at work we would groan each time a manager told us how exciting the “challenges ahead” were. Usually of course meaning more work, less staff or money. Such is life.
But we try our best to plan, to avoid unnecessary problems, give ourselves the best chance to do well or achieve the outcomes we desire. Sometimes we are lucky. And I do think it is just that. I don’t think that if your plans don’t work out, it is always because you didn’t plan well enough. I really don’t. Of course sometimes yes, you come away realising what you should have done differently, what didn’t go quite right. But nine times out of ten I think the sneaky SNAFU that messed it all up is just mischeivous fate hiding behind a door, ready to trip you up.
Quite literally, in my case.
I am writing towards the end of my third month after taking redundancy from my “full time” employer. I always intended to give myself few months off, do decompress, and find my feet – recover somewhat from the stress of the last few years. I had such lovely plans for those months off. I was going to get fit, finish writing my best seller, walk every day, paint, and generally be an all round renaisance woman.
But it didn’t quite work out that way. Firstly, some minor surgery I had been waiting on, was suddenly scheduled, much sooner than I expected. Before, in fact, I finished work. Meaning that my carefully crafted plans for finishing stuff up and handing over were also messed up. But then came recovery – which didn’t run smoothly, a minor infection and strange reactions really put the wind up me. Woke a sleeping demon that I had sensed, sometimes, lurking below the surface of my thoughts. “Health anxiety”. Is it just a nice way of saying hypochondria? Or is that different. I don’t think I have every illness. But if something seems feasible, possible, I want to know if that is it. Especially if it is dangerous – so that I can be sure if I, and the health professionals looking after me – are doing what we should be doing to stave off, you know, death.
I have flashbacks to the surgery. Or more accurately, the spinal anaesthetic. Which was horrible, but really mainly because I was so very scared and alone. Not literally. The surgical team and anaesthetist team couldn’t have been better. But no husband, mother, friend there to reassure. The poor nurse probably needed surgery herself for broken metatarsals after I squeezed her tiny hand so much.
They gave me a mild sedative, and it turned out I slept through the surgery anyway. That was the best bit! Never mind that someone was rooting about in my innards. I was calm. Afterwards the waiting, the body figuring out how to respond to the afront it experienced. I was desperately cold for a while, shaking. Had to be given some blankets, while I waited in recovery. Then up to the ward. I wasn’t sure if I was meant to be going home that day or not. The surgeons and nurses at various points had said “we’ll keep you in if there are any problems” – so of course the fact they didn’t come to discharge me made me worry – what is the problem? I’m not sure there was much of one. My blood pressure was low for a while. But in honesty being in hospital reassured me – I’d rather have been there if anything went wrong, than at home. Though of course hospital has its own risks.
Such as infection – and it emerged after a few days back at my parents that I seemed to have an infection, which a nurse gave me antibiotics for, along with some exciting pain killers which were more fun than the ibuprofen I had been coping with. However a couple of days later I had a strange turn, where I nearly passed out and was weak and faint – and was taken to A&E in an ambulance. We were (I was) worried about sepsis of course. The paramedic had enough doubt to warrant taking me in, so I don’t feel too guilty. But several hours and many tests later, we were no wiser. They eventually rolled out the anxiety card, and I felt all round stupid. I dread to think what was really in the minds of my parents and husband that I had put through all manner of worry.
I know – I really, really, know – that anxiety manifests in very physical ways. I’ve been there before. But part of me always worries that if I don’t take it seriously, one day I will regret it – that twinge was not the result of too much stress and too little sleep, rather it was the beginning of a heart attack. Or that if I do take it seriously, and go to the doctor with it – they just check my record, see my mental health issues, and assign everything down to that.
Anyway. Of course there was anxiety there. But I am not convinced that was the whole story. Low blood sugar perhaps, which responded to the adrenaline of the ambulance ride. In any case I stopped taking the fun pain killers. Finished my antibiotics, and finally went home after a couple of weeks with my parents. Home where I was on my own most of the time, on top of my mountain, worrying about what I would do if I had another funny turn.
I read everything I could. My husband and mother told me not to, told me that was what was causing my worry. But if anything it was the opposite. I was ruling things out. Trying to find out if there was anything I could do to help myself. Blood sugar, for instance. I have never been diagnosed as diabetic – but I am overweight and it would never be a surprise. And surgery can do funny things to a body. So I got myself a blood sugar monitor, and checked myself at various times, feeling well, or feeling ill – to see what was going on in my veins at those moments. At first I thought i’d cracked it. A day of feeling weird coupled with low/high readings at the key moments. But then followed the rest of the month, of pretty much normal readings regardless of how I felt, or what I did or ate.
So it at least answered that question. And meant I could stop worrying about that for the time being.
And over time – I started to think less about it. Worry less at every sweaty brow or wave of nausea. Dealing with the day to day practicalities of the physical pain and temporary disability caused by my surgical scar – began to override my preoccupation with imminent death from some cause or other. Along with the physical inability came brain fog, tiredness, weakness. So time ticked by, and I became more and more aware of the housework I was not doing. The walks I was not going on, the book I was not writing. And so my mood begins to slip.
Long term pain and disability are risk factors for developing depression – it’s hard to stay positive sometimes when your usual coping mechanisms, leisure activities, or even work – to give you self esteem – , are out of reach. So I was kind to myself. Did what I could. Tried to enjoy my enforced rest. After all – how much would I have loved unlimited netflix time back when I was in the depths of the darkest days of my job?
Over time, I could walk a bit further, do a bit more. And I started to plan again. Swimming. Driving lessons. Walking a few miles.
And then I fell down my garden steps and nearly (well, hopefully only nearly) broke my leg.
Fate chuckling behind the door. If fate is my cat, who I was trying to keep inside when I lost my footing.
So I was back where I started. Only this time in A&E and not day surgery. Worrying that they didn’t stitch it. That they haven’t x-rayed it. Was it going to fall off? Would I need amputation… (seriously. ) A few days later I couldn’t put weight on it and worried even more that it might be broken, but the doctor says no. Without even examining it. It just doesn’t reassure, but I have to make myself believe he’s right. I have seen the nurse so often to dress the wound I’m wondering if I should be buying him an engagement ring. But it’s mending. An unfortunate touch of Ear/Nose/Throat infection or irritation keeps making me think I have tetanus, despite having had the shot. I lie awake in the night in a sweat, repeating to myself – you’re alright. You’re not about to die. You’ll be fine. I flash back to the strange extended moment of the fall, the realisation this isn’t going to be good, somehow positioning so as not to smash my face into the floor. I flash back to the surgery.
It makes a change. I used to lie awake obsessing over death. Now at least it is the tremendous difficulty of staying alive… I make small steps towards pushing it out of my mind and living more in the moment. But then with this dodgy leg, small steps are all I can manage.