That which did not kill me made us stronger

I know, I know, I let you down yesterday. Had I not given up apologizing, I’d tell you I’m so sorry. You’ll just have to trust that I was conducting important volunteer business.

While you were anxiously awaiting my words of wisdom, J. and I were participating in a video that will be used for ICU training. The multitalented communications guy/videographer, the kind and supportive manager of the ICU, and Jess, my Cancer Centre volunteer “boss”, congregated at our house for the event. I baked, of course. I couldn’t help myself.

I jumped at the chance to participate in this venture when Jess raised it a few months back, but I needed J.’s involvement too. Really, we were both in the ICU for 13 days, even if I was the only one with a bed. J. also recalls that time much better than I since I was a wee bit looney tunes, for lack of a better term.

If we can do anything to make someone else’s health-care experience easier, why wouldn’t we? My body’s a lemon but I can still make lemonade, at least sometimes.

As we told the crew, J. and I thought we were experts in hospitals and doctors until I landed in the ICU. J. believes the “smart kids” work there, and I concur. Those “kids” kept me alive. J. likes to say that I was too stubborn to give up the fight. (FYI: J. doesn’t often consider my stubbornness a positive attribute.)

Despite the exemplary care I received, I unfortunately only have bad memories. I was scared and disoriented, and I didn’t understand why I was there. I could not tell day from night because all my windows faced indoors. I had visual hallucinations from the drugs I was on. The experience was traumatic for me, but my disorientation buffered me from the worst of it.

Although I thought I knew everything there was to know about J.’s experience of that time, I was further enlightened yesterday. For example, I learned J. was reluctant to leave me alone because, however disoriented I was, I started fussing whenever she let go of my hand. I believe the ICU was much harder on J. than me because she had to watch me struggling. Half-full-cup gal or not, at times she feared the worst.

I also described the short- and long-term physical, emotional, and cognitive consequences of my ICU stay. Ever heard of PTSD? Did you know it’s a common consequence of time in the ICU? Immediately following my discharge, I had nightmares and heightened anxiety. To this day, my motor skills are impaired–I’m always heading for a fall–and my ability to handle stress is poorer. I cannot think on my feet as well as I once could, and my attention span is shorter. I am more impatient and easily frustrated.

I appreciated the opportunity to talk about the experience with others who understood, despite having to revisit the trauma. (Of course I’d say that; I’m a psychologist.) Yes, our discussion was upsetting, but it was also healing.

J. and I have grown closer since this time, but, sadly, she’s never again commended me for being stubborn. She’s pulled out her hair, maybe, but never praised me. Oh well, I can’t expect her to appreciate all my finer attributes.

Quote: Being stubborn can be a good thing. Being stubborn can be a bad thing. It just depends how you use it."

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4 thoughts on “That which did not kill me made us stronger

  1. Thank you so much to you and J. for sharing your experience. I’m sure the two of you expressed in a way that not many could, what that experience is like for both patient and their loved ones. I don’t think many understand how those effects linger long after you have left the ICU.

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