Laughter really is the best medicine. Part 2.
In the previous post, I shared how I chose humour to get through the difficult time in the hospital after head surgery. This week I'm sharing what happened from the perspective of my sisters, Lindsey and Lucy.
Lindsey didn't really address humour when I spoke to her about it. Still, she made it clear that everyone reacted so differently to the situation they found themselves in. (Lindsey's version also discusses what was done during the operation and includes close-up photos, so scroll quickly if blood, skulls, and surgery aren't your bag!)
Lucy's version of events will remind you just how important humour can be in horrible situations. Equally, though, when I spoke to her for this post, she mentioned not being able to avoid how she was actually feeling; it all came out in the end, which links nicely to what I wrote in the previous post about not avoiding your feelings - they were wise words, people!
I won't say too much before I share my sisters' stories other than how thankful I am to everyone for taking the time to read what I've shared. In particular, a big thank you to all those who have contacted me about how my blog has affected them; because of you guys, to me, Everyday Extraordinary is already a success!
Ok, here's things from Lindsey's point of view:
I’d just arrived at work and noticed a call from Lucy. I didn’t answer as I needed to get to my desk. But then, your husband at the time was calling me. Getting a call from both of them was weird, so I assumed something was wrong with Mum and Howard as they’d flown out on holiday that morning. I definitely wasn’t prepared for the information I got when I spoke to them. Lucy told me you’d been hit by some metal that had come through your windscreen. I imagined something like a metal pole had come off the back of a van, but Lucy said you were responding and talking and on your way to Queen’s Med. I panicked, and my manager told me to go. I knew what had happened was horrendous, but it was good that you were awake. But the more I thought about the fact that metal had gone through your windscreen, the more I realised it could not be good; there were some serious 'Final Destination' vibes!
The queue for the car park at the hospital was horrendous, but I eventually got parked and followed Lucy’s directions. The first thing Lucy said was that it was awful. My tears were instant. We were in an area like A&E, and I then realised it was the resuscitation area. I didn’t understand why you were there if you were talking. I assumed they were trying to bring you back to life, at which point my heart sank, and I couldn’t think of anything except how we were supposed to live our lives without you.
A nurse came and took us to you but I couldn’t really see much. You were surrounded by medical staff and had a bandage around your head. You’d been sick and they were trying to get you stable. My anxiety really kicked in here and I began to shake. It’s weird because I always thought I’d be good at coping in an emergency but I had no control over how I reacted. I was so surprised at myself, but I genuinely couldn’t help it.
The hospital 'Family Room' curse?
It didn’t get any better. A nurse came over and told us they’d got us a family room to wait in. I’d seen enough episodes of Casualty to know that was not a good sign. Nobody in a family room gets good news. I sat, waited, wondered and played out far too many unknowns in my head. Eventually, they told us they would operate on you in the next 24 hours, but they weren’t sure when as it depended on you being stable enough for them to carry out the procedure.
We didn’t know what to do about Mum and Howard. Whether we should call them or wait and see how bad it was, ultimately, we didn’t want to call them with information we didn’t have. We decided to hang on until you were out of surgery, so hopefully we could contact them with a decent outlook.
Your husband returned to the family room and told us we could go and see you again, adding, “You can literally see her skull.” I don’t think he could get his head around it. I knew I couldn’t see you like that, but then a nurse told us they were preparing you so that they could operate but needed someone to take off your nail polish – Lucy volunteered. The surgeon came in to explain what he was going to do. He said it would take quite a while and that we needed to be prepared for a long wait. It could be between 9 and 10 hours. It didn’t matter; we weren’t going anywhere.
We needed to check on Hugo, so we called and put him on speaker phone and asked if he was alright.
“Yep, I’ve been watching Scooby Doo and eating toast. And I’ve been in a police car!”
He didn’t even ask about his mummy; four-year-olds really do live in the moment. We could only take that as a good thing and he sounded fine, which was a relief.
Context is everything!
PC Hook, the traffic officer at the scene, then came to speak to us. He told us that they didn’t know if they’d be able to find the lorry that the metal had come from. They were going to speak to ‘Pulse and Cocktails’ on the A1 as they were potentially the only ones with any CCTV footage. It didn’t matter at this point; we were only concerned with you getting better. But then he asked about your lifestyle and whether or not you drink. “She’s on a detox at the moment.” I offered. The look on the officer’s face made me provide more context to my comment. Oh my god! I couldn’t believe how that had come out! “No, a diet detox! What I mean is, she’s not drinking alcohol at all at the moment, not even caffeine.” Fortunately, everyone saw the funny side, and I hadn’t just implicated you in your own metal, head-banging incident!
Then PC Hook dropped his bombshell. He couldn’t remember whether or not he’d left a voicemail on Mum’s phone when he'd used your phone for your next of kin—shit, that made our minds up. We had to call the parents now. You were in theatre having facial reconstruction surgery, and I suppose it was only courteous to let them know that your face might look different to what they were used to, when they got home. Lucy made the call and played it down as much as she could, and despite everyone's panic, they wouldn’t be with us until the next afternoon, at the earliest as there were no available flights until the next day.
The nurse came in and offered us sandwiches and I remember thinking, ‘how can anybody eat at a time like this?' It all just seemed to go on for ages. We’d get calls with updates on how it was all going. Medical staff explained that they might have to do the operation in two parts to avoid possible infection. 'Jesus', I thought, was this ever going to end?
Surgery finished; now what?
It was. The surgeon finally came to see us and explained what he had done. Most of it went over our heads, something about a cross pin and metal mesh. The thing that really stuck with me was what he said about your eye. He told us that your right eye might never open again as there was a chance that the nerve damage would be permanent. I just thought your life was never going to be the same again.
Images taken during surgery. Courtesy of Professor Andrew Sidebottom
After five and a half hours of surgery and time spent in recovery, we were able to see you. A nurse came to get us and told us that you looked amazing; she couldn’t believe what you’d been through and what you looked like now. However, the surgeon had also warned us that you looked worse than you actually were and that your scar would eventually fade and look like a wrinkle on your forehead. I didn’t think you’d be pleased with that outcome! He said you were swollen but wouldn’t look like that forever. I didn’t know what to think, but once I saw you, my reaction was the same as before. “Oh shit!” and I started to cry. The cut across your head was huge and held together with who knows how many stitches. You didn’t even look like you.
Eventually, you came around from the anaesthetic and asked what we were still doing there, which made me feel relieved as you knew where you were, what had happened and, most importantly, who we were. You were still heavily sedated and as you were about to be moved up to a ward where we couldn’t be until tomorrow, we saw that as the best time to leave you alone. The nurses said they’d call if there were any changes but didn’t anticipate any issues.
Your husband and I were in the same car park. Before we left, I told him never to leave you.
“Why would I leave her?”
“Because she might not recover and she might need looking after.”
“Don’t be stupid; she’ll be fine.”
And you are, to a certain extent, but I still look back on this conversation and can’t believe the poignancy of it in light of what transpired later that year.
More hospital drama
The next day, we weren’t able to visit until 2pm. Work gave me special leave and I couldn’t wait to see Mum and Howard. Meeting them at the main entrance of Queen’s Medical Centre was like a scene from a movie. It was so busy, with people milling around and noises from Costa Coffee and the convenience shop. As soon as I saw them, I started crying, again. They were worried and thought that something even worse had happened since we'd last spoken to them, but my tears were mostly relief at them being there. Everyone was staring. People must have known it was terrible, whatever we were going through.
So how does this help you?
The main thing I have taken away from this whole experience is that our mortality is not guaranteed. We take it for granted that we'll grow old but you were only 36 then and it could so easily have all gone in a totally different direction. We can lose our loved ones or leave our loved ones at any point. There are so many things you just can't predict.
I also learnt that you cannot live your life through others’ pain and suffering; doing that won't make the anguish any less for the person going through the pain. As hard as it was for me, I had to learn to deal with what was going on with you separately from living my life. I have a daughter, a husband, a job and myself. Compartmentalising like this helped me to deal with the situation and I think it helped make me stronger to guide you through your recovery journey.
We’re all different when it comes to dealing with things and we all need to remember that for our own sanity, as well as the sanity of others.
Now for things from Lucy's perspective, a totally different reaction:
I’d just dropped off my children at childcare for the morning when I received a call from your then-husband. Strange, I thought, but I answered. He told me you were on your way to Queen’s Medical Centre because you'd been in a car accident, but the policeman had said you were sitting up and talking. So that was a rollercoaster!
Being the one closest to the hospital, I arrived as soon as possible to ensure you weren't alone. My mind told me you were ok because you were talking, but in the pit of my stomach was a feeling of dread. I just knew there was more to it, and it wasn't good.
When the only place for your heart to go, is down
Once I'd found my way to A&E, I asked about you at the desk. The response of the staff was quite curt. I gave your name with your married bit added on the end. The woman on reception couldn't find you on the system. "Just try Katie Addison.” She still couldn’t find you. They asked me for your date of birth and address. “I don’t know her address; I just know it’s got Great Ponton in it.” The woman's face and manner softened; she pointed over my shoulder and told me to press the button and wait for someone to let me in. As I approached the button, I realised it was for entry to the resuscitation area, and my heart fell through my arse. Fortunately, someone let me in pretty much immediately so I was more focused on seeing you than creating worst-case scenarios in my head.
I didn’t need to; real life did that for me. When I saw you, you had a dressing on your head and looked absolutely shocking. I just gasped. Even my crazy brain hadn’t imagined such a sight. The nurse told you your sister was here and you asked which one. She answered, "Lucy," and you made a little cry of relief and held out your hand. I took it. Your grip on my hand was unbelievable; all I could think to say was, “Bloody hell Katie, some people will do anything to get a day off work!” The nurse who had brought me through laughed, but some of the other staff just looked at me as if to say, ‘What the hell!’ They clearly weren’t yet used to our relationship and how we deal with things.
You tried to sit up, you absolute weirdo. I think you needed to be sick, but in doing so, your dressing fell off, and that’s when something I’ve doubted the existence of my whole life was finally confirmed to me. I saw your brain. The crack in your skull was so wide that I could literally see the brains behind it. My whole body wanted to be sick but I told myself to keep my shit together, you needed me.
For anyone else in doubt, here's a video of your brain pulsating—courtesy of Professor Andrew Sidebottom.
A big, bloody, injury
The staff explained your injury to me. They told me something had come through your windscreen, some metal, and hit you in the head. They assumed it was heavy because it had penetrated your skull – obvs, I could see into your noggin – and that you would need surgery. They were sure that was the only injury you had, which was positive because it was a pretty big, bloody injury, in both senses of the word! They also asked about your insulin pump that they’d found on the CT scan. I confirmed to them that you have Type 1 Diabetes and you rely on the pump for, well, your life. But, I mean, you rely on your brain too and that seemed to be trying to escape your body, so maybe you’d be ok without your pump?
Next, they asked me if you were an athlete. My face must have offered a look of confusion as they added that your heart rate kept lowering and that’s what happens to athletes. I just laughed and replied, “She goes running but she’s no athlete.” – soz.
Then the nurse returned and told me the doctor would be down soon to explain more. Little did I know how attractive the doctor would be, which was a nice treat given the circumstances. The doctor was lovely. He was laughing and told me that when they brought you in, on the board it said that you were 70 and had been driving at 36 miles an hour. He’d thought you looked great for a 70-year-old, even in the state you were in! But then he quickly concluded that the information had been written the wrong way around.
The doctor was called away and I got a call from Lindsey, so I went to meet her at the entrance of A&E. I could tell she was panicking; she was shaking like a crackhead without any smack. “How is she?”
“Not good.” I didn’t really know what else to tell her, so I pressed the button to get back through to the resuscitation area and as soon as Lindsey saw you she burst out crying. I think she then took hold of your hand and I told you that she was there.
I can’t remember the nurse's name but she was so lovely, I’d like to know her name. She and I tried to explain the current situation to Lindsey, but Lindsey was inconsolable. It was awful. In fact, it was so bad that the nurse whispered to me that I’d have to take her out because they couldn’t have her in 'resus' in her emotional state. They’d got a family room we could use, so I took Lindsey out and tried to calm her down.
The word 'detox' should be used in context
Upon exiting, a policeman came over and exclaimed, “Katie’s sisters!” and then backed this up with, “You all look alike. That’s how I knew.” I’m glad he explained this and didn’t actually recognise me from all of my mug shots. Haha, just kidding. He joined us in the family room where we enquired about how and where Hugo was. We knew he’d been with you in the car and assumed he wasn’t seriously hurt, otherwise, he’d have been at Queens’ Med with you. He told us he’d taken Hugo to your friend’s house while they waited for his Grandma to pick him up. He also told us what a lovely boy Hugo was: funny and well-behaved.
The policeman asked how you were and whether or not you drank alcohol because he would normally have to get a test done. That's when Lindsey chimed in with the absolute corker of you being on a detox. The policeman's face changed from one of concern to shock, until Lindsey added that it was a diet detox. His face relaxed and he managed a smile. In fact, we all had a chuckle at that point. He then handed us your phone which he'd taken from you to contact the necessary people at the scene. I had to wipe it because it had your blood on it, so that was pleasant!
The levels of grossness didn't improve. Medical staff needed someone to remove your nail polish as regular remover wasn't working. "It won't do, it's gel polish. You can just peel it off." And I volunteered to do it. Unbeknown to me, you also had it on your toes and they needed that off too. I was already there; I couldn't really back out at this point, so I had to do your toes too. I remember telling you that you owed me big time for this. I hate your toes. To me, they genuinely look like mushrooms - those poisonous ones that you shouldn't touch.
After that, I went for a hard-earned sit-down. I was almost convinced it was me who should be in that hospital bed after that trauma, not you. Your husband and friend then went in to see you while I recovered from 'Toe-Gate' and the nurse came to tell us that the doctors were deciding whether to do surgery today or wait until tomorrow. After seeing your actual brain, I thought that this was, literally, a no-brainer. But I'm no doctor so I didn't offer my opinion. They must have been on the same page as me because not long after, they came to tell us that you were about to go to surgery and said one of us could walk down to the theatre with you. Your husband asked if one of us wanted to go. Lindsey was in no fit state, so I went.
Roles and reactions
While walking down to the theatre, I was talking to the nurse. "Look at Lindsey, she's crying and a mess.' I haven’t cried, what's wrong with me?”
“Nothing.' It's because you got here first. We see it a lot. "You've taken on the role of 'protector' and probably won't cry for a few days." And I didn't. But when I did, it was magnificent. I don't think I've ever cried like that before, proper, shaking sobs, right from the pit of my boots, for what felt like ages.
While you were in surgery, they told us it might take them between eight and ten hours to complete what they had to do, so I used the time to call Howard and let Mum and him know what had happened to you." I couldn't tell Mum directly, there's no way she would have been able to take in what I'd said over the phone in another country.
Then, in true Katie style of getting things done quickly, the surgeon came to see us after about five and half hours and told us you were fixed. He also told us that we needed to prepare before seeing you because you had a huge scar on your face.' And he was right: the scar was massive, your face was extremely swollen, and I'm sorry but the first thing that came to my head was that you looked like 'The Moon' from The Mighty Boosh – you were da moon!
Eventually, you were taken up to the Major Trauma ward and the nurses let us know they had settled you in. We weren't allowed on the ward as it was after visiting hours, so with relief, we all took this as our cue to go home. Having not eaten all day and just surviving off regular hits of caffeine, I was absolutely starving and decided a Mcdonald's on the way home was the only way to go. I thought it better to wait to get to the one near where I live so that I could eat at home. While driving, I continuously pictured the Big Mac I would stuff into my face. Delicious! But upon arriving there, it was closed. I don't know why, but the doors were locked and the drive-thru shut off. "Bastard!" I look back now and wonder whether it was karma for the Mighty Boosh 'moon' comparison.
So how does this help you?
Now, I know my 'lesson' here might not be as profound as some of Katie's, but ultimately, you have a choice when faced with horrible situations. You either laugh or you cry, and I know which one makes me feel better and allows me to deal with things more effectively. It doesn't mean it doesn't hurt or that I won't have a major crying session over it eventually, but in the moment humour really helped me, and I won't ever be sorry for saying you have poisonous mushroom toes.