Exactly one year ago today, I wandered through the doors of A&E, thus beginning what I like to call my ‘hospital dramz’, otherwise known to many as the ‘clot saga’. Now, I’m not going to bore you with the whole sorry tale again (because Mum keeps telling me that it was ‘so last year’) but I will enlighten you with the nuggets of wisdom I have acquired over the past year.
Following two stints in hospital and the removal of one rib, I feel I have gained enough experience to teach you how to deal with certain situations, for example, should you ever find yourself on a ward being accidentally flashed by an old lady’s bum from the bed opposite.
Okay, so here’s what I’ve learned:
Listen to your body
Seriously because I didn’t for a long time. I did that really British thing of not wanting to be a nuisance and instead I waited until my arm went permanently blue and I couldn’t stand up without getting breathless. I even had to sit down to brush my teeth and I still chose to overlook the signs. I increased the time I spent at the gym too, just to make sure that the reason I couldn’t breathe wasn’t down to being unfit. In hindsight, I should have just accepted that I wasn’t well and taken an ambulance to hospital. But hey ho! You live and learn, right?
You need your wits about you
Why is it that when you’re at your absolute lowest, you need to pay attention the most? Just when you find yourself off your tits on drugs, that’s when the consultant will come around and tell you what’s the matter with you. And they’ll say it in the longest words they know, sometimes surrounded by a bunch of students too. And you’ll say that you understand but really, you’ve not taken anything in and are instead contemplating how long you’ll be constipated for. Because of the meds, okay? And, whilst the NHS is truly fantastic, it really needs to work on its communication skills. For example, the letters. The many, many letters; letting you know about your next appointment, your current appointment, your previous appointments. Here’s some advice for you: read them, keep them and put them in a labelled folder. Over the past year, I have been seeing two consultants, each from a different department in the same hospital, both of whom have been feeding back to my GP. Sometimes there’s new information in them, sometimes they clear things up and sometimes they’ll call you Olive (genuinely happened to me). So, yeah, keep your wits about you and make sure your are crystal clear about what is going on with you. It is your body after all.
You will run out of sick days
I know, right? Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t matter how ill you are or how many doctor’s notes you give to your work, it will get to the point where work will pay you no longer. Unfortunately for the sick, your employers are not legally obliged to keep you on full pay whilst you’re ill. Once you’ve reached the limit of fully paid sick days, you will be put on Statutory Sick Pay which is paid for by your employer. This is a weekly sum of £88.45 for up to 28 weeks. That’s around £353 a month. Whilst I’m not being ungrateful for the help, the realisation of the drastic drop in pay did send me into a spiral of panic. There were a few dodgy days when I realised that I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent and my small pot of ‘savings’ wouldn’t cover it either. I felt that my only option was to brave the London commute and return to work earlier than I had anticipated. Looking back, I wish I had listened to my body and thought eff it to the money. But we’re not all that lucky so just bear this in mind if you ever find yourself needing long periods of time off work due to illness. And always keep HR in the loop.
I have a lot of friends
And I mean A LOT. Yep that is a brag. Sometimes I feel like I don’t think I know enough people to fill a car but it turns out that I have some pretty fabulous friends and family. I had friends that sent me care packages; family members who passed out on my hospital bed; a dad who cleared out M&S at St Thomas for me; a boyfriend who, along the journey, discovered that the thought of veins made him faint; family who came up from Somerset for the day; friends who nearly killed me with laughter; a best friend who’s a nurse who called me up to tell me I ‘could’ve died’, even though everyone else was skirting around the issue; and of course those ‘second’ mums who reassured me that I ‘didn’t look that bad’ and the second mums who told me I’ve got an oil slick in my hair. And just because I’d left hospital, the love didn’t stop there. So if you’re ever feeling like no one cares, you’re wrong.
It’s okay to want your mum
It turns out that just because you’ve moved out, you earn your own money, do your own washing (most of it) and cook your own meals (cheers boyfriend), it doesn’t mean that you don’t need your mum any more. In hospital, I tried so hard to be a grown up but I just wanted mum. And it’s okay because Oli also needed Ki’s dry sense of humour. Whilst the two of us were panicking a bit, Ki liked to point out when the old lady opposite’s gown split wide open revealing her arse when she bent over. Yeah, thanks Ki. But also in the aftermath, it’s okay to call your mum just to say: ‘Holy shit, mum.’ And she gets it.
Big knickers will save your life
Literally. I’m not even being dramatic (I cross my heart and hope to die (actually no death here please)). I mean anyone who wears a thong or a cheeky lace number in hospital is either not ill enough to be there, or they’re there for a cosmetic boob job. Wear the comfiest, ugliest knickers to your heart’s content. I’m talking about the ones that come up to under your boobs. In fact, ditch the bra and your pants can double up as an over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder. Yeah, those. Hell, even after you’ve left hospital insist on wearing them because if you don’t you’ll get more blood clots (researchers have found that there’s a direct correlation between wearing big knickers and your recovery time*). Enjoy it because there will come a time when you’re off the meds and you’ll be forced to accept that big knickers are not welcome in society, even under layers of clothing.
*researchers have found nothing of the sort but your average Joe doesn’t know that…
When life gives you lemons… stick a wedge in your G&T
Yeah, okay being in and out of hospital sucked and the fact that it’s still ongoing ain’t great but I’m still alive and I can still do everything that I could do before. Now, I just know by body a bit better and I know that I have limits. But I’m not going to let those limits stop me. This year, I still got to go to Palestine, to Calais, to Barcelona, to Iceland and do so many more cool things. Besides it’s a great story and gave me some great writing material. And I love the look on people’s faces when I tell them that I’ve had a rib out and it didn’t make me any skinner. Can you believe it? I’ve been mugged off man.