If we have learnt anything at all from this Covid era, it is that nothing at all should be taken for granted. So many freedoms, rhymes and rhythms of our lives have been disrupted, upended and in some cases, entirely denied.
Yet when things change in a severe way within a matter of hours, I believe the human nature worldwide is that of a state of shock…..
Last weekend of February 2021, I found myself with plans being changed, amended, and returned to. Leading me to be an attendee of the Lagos Yacht Club 88th anniversary dinner dance. However, with all the back n forth, it seems I missed the obvious play on words from the invite, and found myself as the only member wearing a ‘real’ mask, whilst everyone else (until they reached their bubbles), wore their face masks with ease.
Anyway, it turned out that this was the least of my concerns.
Some hours after leaving, it was noted that my body was absolutely burning hot – my skin felt like lava to touch. Yet I was lying there feeling utterly freezing, like I had been trapped inside an ice cave….
As the weekend continued, my temperature soared and soared, my energy went down and down, and my ability to move even my fingertips disappeared. Every single bone in my body felt like it was broken; such pain that I have no words to describe it. I was sweating whilst uncontrollably shaking. I was unable to walk yet very much needed to get to the bathroom regularly. Lifting my water bottle felt akin to the power needed as a heavy weight lifter. I was utterly and entirely poleaxed.
By Sunday, I knew I was in a bad way. I had also eaten nothing since Friday. My clinic is closed at weekends and I really didn’t feel able to manage the main hospital in the state I was in, plus with the added worry of covid concerns. So I put my faith in the universe and medicated myself to get through the night and into the early hours of Monday morning. Upon arrival at the clinic, the fears rose. Though so did my level of illness, so in fact I began to lose my sense of conscious awareness and just writhed in pain and vomit instead (not the best experience of my life, violent sickness whilst still wearing a face mask, followed by being on my knees and head deep in the doctor’s refuse bin). My blood pressure was dangerously low and I felt like I no longer had control over any part of my communicative abilities nor my body. Everything hurt, my head span, my body shook like a leaf, and I was totally out of it.
I was told I had severe malaria, sepsis throughout my entire blood system, and suspected appencitis. That I very much needed to be admitted and that the hospital was waiting for me. I made the decision to get there by my own means of transport, as I have been in ambulances here before and it takes an eternity to get through the congested traffic whilst in one. However, I felt mortified when, as we drove across the islands, I vomited out of the window, down the side of the car, and into the onwards traffic. (Sorry motor cyclists and pedestrians).
The next 4 days feel like a total blur, aside from one particularly torturous day when the vomiting could not be stemmed, nor my fever, and despite only having an intake of water, it basically didn’t stop for over 12 hours. My throat became scratched, my chest very sore, my whole system entirely drained and empty. I felt like death warmed up.
I was in a 3 bed room, wherein one of the other patients had no less than 12 visitors, all of whom stayed the entire night and opted to talk at their top of their voices throughout. Needless to say, it wasn’t the restoration tonic needed.
By Thursday, (I think), I was able to move to a private room. Visitors began rolling in and I continued to be deathly ill, though more and more soothed by the incredible acts of love given. I received a hanging plant, bouquets of flowers, get well soon cards, books, chocolates, biscuits, shea butter, people’s time and love, and a tremendous amount of comfort.
That said, I still wasnt’ really comprehending how very sick I was, in the sense of recovery rate and risk factors (for example, Sepsis (also known as blood poisoning) is the immune system’s overreaction to an infection or injury. Normally our immune system fights infection – but sometimes, for reasons we don’t yet understand, it attacks our body’s own organs and tissues. If not treated immediately, sepsis can result in organ failure and death. Not only that, 5 people die with sepsis every hour in the UK. I AM BEYOND THANKFUL, GRATEFUL, OVERAWED, DEEPLY APPRECIATIVE….AND ON AND ON. I did not know any of this until after the fact, and I thank the heavens for this.
All of the loved ones that kept coming, knowing that I could barely hold my phone let alone take calls or reply to messages, kept me from ever realising this. As well as how severe the malaria was too of course, with the added complexity that I definitely had appendicitis and with my health status, surgery had to wait.
It was on my 7th day that this was able to happen, though still not without some additional drama. As I was wheeled down to the operating area, I became in the middle of an argument between the ward and theatre staff, all the whilst acting as if I wasn’t there and was both deaf and blind to what was happening. The context was that they hadn’t yet sent for me and who do you think you are….bla bla bla. My incredibly low heart rate and blood pressure couldn’t take it well. I began feeling violated, dizzy, fully out of control and very, very scared. By the time a nurse returned to wheel me in, I found adrenaline-fuelled strength, seemingly levitating out of the wheelchair, and I carried myself back to the ward. Shouting back at them at the same time asking if they were mad? If this was their normal protocol, to make a very ill patient who was about to undergo strong anaethesia, (I was having an epidural), to feel the entire works of full body and mind stress and anxiety? In no uncertain terms, I made it very clear they were not cutting me up under that risk level.
The surgeon came into my room shortly after, wherein I politely but undeniably firmly, requested him to leave me alone. He was clearly shocked and affronted. And I was in a total state. Perhaps I have never felt so scared before.
After speaking with the head of the hospital and some loved ones, I was able to find resolve and calmness once again, though I felt even more like I had been hit by a truck. There really did not feel like I had much left in me.
I was wheeled down once again for the operation and I experienced the highly uncomfortable and painful application of the epidural. I was awake for the whole procedure, but I feel I astral-travelled after some time as I have little to no memory of the passing of time.
I ended up having another 7 days in hospital post surgery, after developing further infections and having issues with an low red blood count (for me it should be between 4000-11000 and mine was 2000). It seemed to go on and on. Happily they granted me an additional 24 hours of epidural cocktail, as this new pain was amplifying everything. Plus the position of the epidural prongs felt like sharp nails in my back. To sit up, I felt like I would be disembowelled and it took more strength than I could muster. I was unable to access the bathroom for personal care for some days, and I felt one hundred percent at the mercy of others. This would have been an easier cross to bear had there been consistency amongst the bedside manners of the staff. Some nights, there would be big arguments between them, one night a patient next door seemed to lose his mind (around 4am) and was making many threats, including towards me, the white woman. The confidence and capability of applying a canulla was also highly varible, resulting in the wearing of 19 different ones over the course of 13 days, yet in total, there were 27 attempts. My veins had all but collapsed by the time that I was discharged. I was bruised everywhere and I felt like a pin cushion.
For each day that I was determined to feel better and get myself home to my refuge, it seemed like something else was testing me. Day 4 post surgery, when I no longer had the epidural, saw me in incredible pain once again, whilst all of my ailments combined together in force. I was given a strong drug via the line and even whilst the flush was taking place, I felt everything go underwater, including the image of the two staff in front of me. My speech slurred, my eyes rolled and I was lost, yet again. I opted not to say anything immediately as I realised I hadn’t eaten yet. And figured that wooziness was just due to that. I ate, (courtesy of a dear friend who had sent in food that I was just about able to stomach at that point) and things got worse. Therefore I buzzed for the nurses and asked for the doctor to be called for. I was denied. So I buzzed and asked again. (There really is nothing like the intensity of being totally at the mercy of others and my mental state has taken some time to recover from a lot of these experiences, let alone the severity of the illness and when I later realised how critical I had actually been). I managed to finally see a doctor who told me I should just sleep it off. I had to press her so hard to get acknowledged and eventually I was given a steroid injection to halt the effects from worsening. By that point however, my left arm had filled with red, hot, sore lines, I felt nauseous beyond belief, and every time I closed my eyes (I kid you not), I became a witness to about 6 video cameo screens of all of the experiences of my life. I saw myself as a 9 year old eating dinner with my grandparents, I saw myself in lessons in secondary school, I saw different relationships, I saw me as a young child falling over. I saw everything all at once and my world turned upside down. I felt like I had sleep paralysis as it was so very hard to re-open my eyes and when I finally managed, I felt seasick and totally out of balance, then my focus would return. But within moments, my eyelids fell and I began seeing everything all over again.
This hallucinogenic trip lasted approximately 3 hours and took me into the early hours of the morning. I felt exhausted from it.
The entire experience started on March 1st and I was finally allowed a discharge 13 days later. However, I still had ongoing infections and I took away with me a true pick n mix of mediation. Since returning home, I have lost 8kg and I have been mostly at home on serious bed rest.
It has to be cited as the most terrifying yet exquisite experience of my life. Never before have I felt two such strong sensations at once – to be so so out of control and under the decisions of other people, and to be so so held by the universe and amazing people from all around the world.
I never ever want to see a hospital again. I never even want to sneeze again. But now, some time after all of this, I am shining. I am released, I am relieved, and I am deeply humbled. Oh, and for now I am also entirely petrified of mosquitos!