That’s how the light gets in

*soundtrack to my mood tonight, if you want to really feel this blog: Alice in Chains – Heaven Beside You

Have you ever seen the movie Sliding Doors? Basic premise: How would your life be different if it weren’t for that one twist of fate, if you hadn’t missed the train, taken that right turn, been in that bar on that particular night?

It’s something I think about often – where would I be if I hadn’t made that choice? Or that one? Not with regret, my experiences have made me who I am and by and large I’m proud of that. But sometimes I get glimpses of what could have been behind curtain number 2 and it gives me pause.

I’m pretty used to hospitals. We’re T-2 days from surgery #7 in not many more years. I’ve been in the Emergency Room probably as many times in that period, likely more. So hospitals and doctors and the general business, it doesn’t intimidate me. My non-shrinking self is well and truly happy to ask when I want or need something. Unless I’m in serious pain.

We all have ways of dealing with pain in our minds, and our bodies have their way too. When I’m in pain, real pain, I go somewhere else. Somewhere deep inside where no one else is around because I can’t have anyone around when I’m hurting like that. So reminding doctors and nurses that they still haven’t gotten my pain relief becomes an impossibility. My entire focus is inside myself, and continuing to breathe. When I came in to ED the nurse had put my line in, taken my HR and bloods, and said she’d be back in a couple of minutes with pain relief. About 45 minutes ago.

So there I lay, shaking, cold sweats, tears rolling down my cheeks with a needle in my arm doing shit-all because there was no morphine attached to it, when I realised my situation. I was alone, losing my capacity to focus or communicate, my phone was dying and I was rapidly beginning to fall apart. (When a doctor walked past and noticed me, and finally checked in, she told me I was starting to go into shock. It just felt like I was getting further and further away from what was happening around me.)

So with my phone on 3%, and my eyesight getting fuzzy, I sent a text.

I’m in ED at North Shore alone and my phone is dying.

This was one of those sliding doors moments. Or sliding curtain as it were. I could see who would have been walking through that door, like they had so many times before, had I not made the choices I made. It wasn’t something I wished for. Just something I knew. A life that could have been mine, flashing before my eyes. Your mind goes strange places when you’re distraught and in pain. 

Better or worse, I’d chosen another path years ago. And it’s not one I’d ever regretted. But occasionally it floats back into my vision.

Within 30 minutes of sending the text my guardian angel big sister-cousin was walking through the door, armed with a battery pack for my phone and the sunny calmness that always makes me feel everything is alright. My cousin is effortlessly, simply, like our grandmother, and that’s about the highest compliment I can pay.

For hours she sat and talked to me, laughing with me when the pain faded and I could talk back, continuing without ever missing a beat when I lost my words and rocked in pain. Stroking my hair, hunting down a cheese sandwich and requesting more medication. Helping me get to the bathroom, refilling my hot water bottle, and making sure my butt wasn’t hanging out the back of my gown. Never making a big deal about it, and just being there. Effortlessly comforting. Her husband calling, not to ask how long she’d be, but to say that it didn’t matter how long it was, as long as I needed her with me. Family is something I never take for granted, and even though we’re related by marriage, he is blood to me.

When you’re at your most fragile you find those you can truly rely on.

I tell you, laughter and love do more for my pain levels and anxiety than all the morphine they pumped into my veins over 3 days.

Those Maher eyes (slightly filter enhanced here)

When you’re in a public hospital and you don’t eat meat, you tend to me pretty limited on what you get. So when I finally got a cheese sandwich, around 11 hours after I’d last eaten, I didn’t bother to mention I don’t actually eat dairy or gluten. Never look a gifthorse in the mouth – particularly if it’s a cheese sandwich that comes with a side of injectables.

Cheese sandwich eaten (minus the crusts), morphine, tramadol, and codeine-d to my eyebrows, I was finally calm when the day shift switched to the night shift, with one of my oldest friends taking over. I tell you, the dabbing of the brow with a cold face cloth you see in movies – it’s a cliche for a reason. That and a handful of m&ms managed to restore my sense of humour in time for what came next.

By this point I’d had approximately 7-8 hours of lying on a bed writhing in pain, without any update, when finally the junior gyno doctor showed. Here starts the fun.

I appreciate doctors have to learn somehow, but how do I always end up being the guinea pig?

You know a friendship is long-term when the doctor suggests you might want privacy, but if you were pregnant, had an STI, any kind of “digestive issues” they’d know already. Things really step it up a notch though, when you’re calmly getting an excruciating pelvic exam (the third medical professional to have their hand cervix deep in my business that day, I might add – you’d think maybe they could have just taken eachothers’ word for it) and your friend is finishing writing up work reports next to you without blinking an eye.

In the years I’ve dealt with endometriosis I’ve generally developed a lack of preciousness about my privacy when it comes to my body. Want to prod my ovaries? Go for gold. Stick a camera up my vag? Seen it all before. Want to be the third person that day to get all up in my grill?  I’ll laugh and say go for gold. I’ve had worse.

The next morning they finally got my ultrasound done and proved that I was wrong and it wasn’t just a flare up, that there were two big “somethings” on my ovary that had decided to bleed (p.s. Note to hospital staff – never tell a woman on her own who is already overwrought that those two big circles were either cysts or a tumour. That inspires a lot of calm.)
So finally having some sort of idea what was going on, now they figured it was a good time to lose me. I laugh, but I do feel for them. It was a madhouse. After about an hour of lying in my bed outside the ultrasound room waiting for the person who was apparently taking me back to my room, I started to wonder.

I don’t consider myself a particularly forgettable person. The height, for a start. I’m also not quiet, retiring, controlled or in any way shape or form a shrinking violet. Blending in doesn’t come naturally to me, thanks to years of rebelling against anyone who tried to shame me into doing so. Against a society who tells us

Be yourself.

No, not like that.

However despite my natural tendency to draw attention to myself, intentional or not, over the course of 3 days the public hospital staff managed to forget me not once (when I got there and almost went into shock), not twice (they forgot to give me anything other than a cheese sandwich for 36 hours), but three times. Including losing me once.

I repeat, I am not a small person. I do not blend. I am very difficult to lose (just ask my ex-boyfriend.) Nonetheless, lose me they did. I realised this when a nurse came over to me and asked me who I was and what I was doing there.

There’s only so much being forgotten a person is willing to take, particularly when they’re not in a great headspace. However this time I didn’t cry. I also didn’t scream. I laughed. I laughed so hard I thought whatever was inside me was going to explode on the spot.

This is how I survive. I laugh. Even when it hurts I laugh. When I don’t know what else to do, when I’m told to choose between having two surgeries in two weeks – an acute one the next day, in public hospital with a general surgeon, and one two weeks later with my specialist to clean up, or just the one in two weeks, with nothing but heavy painkillers and bed rest to get me there – I laugh.

Because it is hilarious you see. I hate drugs. I hate relying on them. I’ll take prescription medication if I have to, but if I have any other option I’ll take it. I’ve seen the outcome of addiction, in my family, in the world around me. I know my own history with mental health, and my obsessive personality. Hence my reliance on acupuncture, essential oils, crystals, herbs, you name it. Anything to make medication the last resort.  Because I say I hate them, but in reality I’m terrified of them. To the point that I ended a relationship that meant the world to me. The absolute world. I ran for my life.

Yet here I am, relying on heavier drugs than most people use in their life. And it’s a relief.

It’s funny, what you see on the other side of those sliding doors. A future I refused for myself, to risk, coming round again, but in my own veins. A certain amount of understanding of what I’d chosen to be blind to. The temptation of what I’d spent years condemning. The reason I’ve spent so many nights in hospital beds alone, teaching me a new level of compassion.

Everything I believe in confronted me when choosing to wait for this surgery. Not taking the easy way. Choosing the fight. Stepping away from the pills. Hugs not drugs. But I didn’t want to recover from two surgeries. I didn’t want to fight that fight twice. I didn’t think I had it in me.

So I chose one surgery and the pills. Now hypocrite that I am, I see the appeal. And I find an empathy and humility I had refused to allow before.

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