Brush with illness helps me to appreciate good health more

The Border General Hospital.
The Border General Hospital.

This year, I had Christmas more organised than usual. No particular reason, other than I just felt ready for a bit of a break. I’d been feeling tired, but I put that down to General Life Stuff and an hour and a half’s rugby training on Wednesday nights.

My thinking was that the more organised I could be now, the more I could take it easy during the festive period. If most of it was boxed away and done before the YMs finished school, then we could pop on the Christmas music and do those kind of Norman Rockwell/It’s a Wonderful Life kind of schmaltzy Christmas things. Make calendars for the family, hang Christmas cards, make paper chains. Bliss.

Last Thursday morning at 3am, I woke up in more pain than I have ever been in my entire life, and had to take a ride in an ambulance to the BGH. Perhaps my body was trying to tell me something. Perhaps what it was trying to tell me that I was about to be out of the game for a wee while.

Writhing in agony, I was given two morphine injections in A&E, then shipped up to Ward 7. Time passed in a haze of settling in, explaining what had happened to various doctors and consultants, and reassuring the anxious Mr E that I wasn’t about to pop off. I tried not to think what it might be. The uncertainty is probably worse than any pain.

My consultant, Mr Ae, prescribed a fantastic injection which was administered into my thigh, which took away all the pain - including the foot injury I’d picked up in rugby training, bonus! - and I settled into the rhythm of hospital life. A constant round of blood pressure checks, tea trollies, tests, scans, pills being doled out, water jugs being refreshed.

Over the 48 hours I was cosied in to Ward 7, it became, for this tired and busy mum, like a budget spa break. Yes, there was the uncertainty over exactly what was wrong with me, but this was all sorted by late afternoon (a kidney stone. That would explain the excruciating pain, then). After that, it was just a case of lying about and dozing whilst drinks and meals were served, and then cleared away. None of the humdrum stuff of normal days - no washing, housework, paperwork, dog walking.

I felt quite relaxed and made the most of this break from real life. Of course, my experience was totally different to two of my ward companions, two very brave ladies who I had the privilege to get to know a little over my brief time there. My uncertainty was over, I was on the mend. Not so for gentle Ros, who had been working in a friend’s pop-up shop when she had a sudden, explosive nose bleed in which she lost the same amount of blood as a donor might give in a session.

Under doctor’s orders not to lie down, she sat unrested, bolt upright, with her nasal passages bunged up with wadding and a dressing strapped right across her face, just her eyes peeping out, not knowing when the next traumatic burst of bleeding would start.

A specialist arrived from the hospital in Livingston and told her (very worryingly) that there was no rhyme or reason for it, and then cauterised one of her nasal passages. Very painful. But she arrived back on the ward with an actual smiling face, the dressings were off.

Sadly the treatment didn’t seem to work, as a couple of hours later the nosebleed came back with a vengeance, and she was back to square one, living with the uncertainty again.

I also met very brave Shona, who had noticed something odd back in February and had been on a rollercoaster of doctor and hospital visits ever since. As if a diagnosis of breast cancer wasn’t enough, she had very quickly had to deal with another diagnosis which the original scans and tests had shown up - lung cancer. Very advanced lung cancer. With no symptoms.

Two huge operations and some heavy-duty treatments later she was looking forward to getting home for Christmas, and putting 2015 firmly behind her. Going home for Christmas was more about getting through it and on into the New Year, with the hope that 2016 would be better.

My hat is off to these two incredibly strong women, and to the amazingly caring team on Ward 7, from the tea-bringers and mop-pushers to the wonderful nurses (students and staff) and the junior doctors and consultants. I had a brief glimpse of how hard these people work, and how much some of the patients go through and are still able to smile.

So I am happy now to be at home, in one piece, to get on with the boring housework, fully appreciating the good health to actually do it.