I was so nervous getting ready for surgery, but my GUCH nurse came and sat with me and my mum, keeping our spirits up and trying to calm my nerves.
(Somerville Foundation – formally GUCH)
This would be the last time I would see my chest scar free. 22 with a massive scar down my chest. I wasn’t in a great place mentally and was struggling to deal with it.
I can’t really remember going down for the surgery – but I can remember coming round!
“Can you cough for me?” was the first thing I remember. Then the tube being removed from my throat – with a lot of coughing.
As my eyes flicked open, I realised I was surrounded by machines flashing, beeping, and printing. As well as about 4/5 nurses.
I don’t think I was too panicked – all I wanted was water! My throat was so dry.
At some point, my mum came into the ICU and sat with me, letting me have ice chips to help with my throat. I was worried though and didn’t want to scare the doctors and nurses, so I mentioned my worries to my mum.
“Mum, I think something’s going wrong. I’ve got these red blotches on the palms of my hands”.
Mum looked and smiled and let out a laugh. “That’s perfectly normal – for the rest of us!”
See, my hands were usually just white. They hadn’t had lots of oxygenated blood running through them before, and suddenly, I had pigment in my hands. And I now blush!! Something I still can’t get over!
My oxygen levels had gone from 70% to 101%. I was now superhuman – and high on morphine. I was chatting to the nurses so much that they had to ask me to keep quiet as there were some poorly people in the ICU, and I was obviously not one of them!!
Out of place, again
Going to the ward was a challenge that I hadn’t thought about.
I was a paediatrics case, but I couldn’t go on the same ward as kids as I was an adult. So, I was placed on the cardiology wards with the other adults – making me the youngest one there.
Having visited my dad in hospital many times, I was aware of what was going on a lot more than I should have been.
People in beds next to me disappearing during the night and not coming back, trying to smile sweetly at other people’s relatives visiting which would unintentionally encourage them to ask me why I was there etc.
Trying to escape
After every lunch, I would have to have an injection into my stomach – I hated it as, being so skinny, they’d really pinch me to be able to put it in. So, my first aim was to be able to get off the bed and go for a walk to try to miss it. I never succeeded; they’d be there, ready and waiting with the needle the moment I returned on to ward.
It was obvious that my recovery was going quicker than they were used to, and I would be out of bed and in the TV room whenever I could. My problem was that I’d get stuck in there!! I wasn’t allowed to pull doors open, so I’d push them with my shoulder and back. I often had to reveal my location by having to phone for help! 🤣
There are many little memories from this time – like the feeling of them removing the chest draining tubes, or the “dreadlocks” (lovingly named by my father, they are 3 tubes that come out of your neck so they have easy access directly to your heart), or the constant cannula changes and subsequent bruises, or the removal of the heart wire that grated on my ribs as it came out.
An unexpected family
After 5 days, they let me out and home. If I could have run, I would have.
To be let out after 5 days meant I had to return every day for another week for blood tests. This meant relying on support from friends. The person I was living with couldn’t drive, so I only had work colleagues to help. And help they did.
The Toys R Us team rallied round and were amazing. I’d only been working there for 8 months, and they supported me like I was part of the family.
Every day, my friend would pick me up in his car and I’d have a pillow over my chest which I’d hold onto for dear life. I couldn’t have a seat belt over the top of my chest, and I felt every bump in my chest.
For the first couple of weeks, that pillow was my best friend. Every cough, sneeze or even laugh saw me putting the pillow over my chest to support it – it seriously felt like I was holding my chest together!
That first week was tough. I couldn’t do anything on my own. Couldn’t wash my hair, couldn’t make a cup of tea, couldn’t sleep properly (had to sleep upright on my back – I sleep flat on my side with one flat pillow 🤣), couldn’t do my shoes up, couldn’t leave the house on my own.
Convalescence and return to work
After I’d been released from hospital, I went to “convalesce” at my parents’ for 4 weeks. I slowly started building myself up and taking myself out for walks. Walking is the best medicine for getting your heart working effectively, so I did as much as I could.
I returned to Leicester and went back to work. I couldn’t do the job I was doing, front of house supervisor; I had to have more of a desk job. I started doing all the recruitment for Christmas and eventually went to other stores and delivered their recruitment drives too.
It was a struggle to adjust though, and GUCH were there throughout.
My mum was worried, as at points in my life I’ve shown obsessive behaviour (little things like sleeves and socks have to be perfectly in place and if folded need to be exactly the same on both sides).
When I declared that no-one would ever see my scar and threw out all my low cut tops or anything slightly revealing, she worried I was going to obsessively cover my scar.
To me, my scar was red, raw, ugly, inflamed and a huge sign of weakness. Why would anyone be interested in me with a broken body? I was also terrified of people accidentally knocking into me and hurting me.
GUCH sorted out a counsellor for me, but again, it wasn’t fully fitting as they were a paediatrics’ counsellor who mainly dealt with the parents of kids with heart problems – so it was a learning curve for both of us.