Two weeks. Two weeks aware of nothing but the sedative and painkiller induced dreams in my head while my family watched me doing nothing but worry the living daylights out of them. They watched as my blood pressure, temperature, potassium levels, oxygen absorption etc. went up and down to dangerously high or low levels with alarming regularity. I’ve been told what it was like, and it must have been horrendous (coupled with rather tedious at times), but it’s really difficult for me to communicate it to anyone because I wasn’t there. I mean.. I was, but only really in body, not in mind. My eyes occasionally flickered open and little bits of conversation would filter through, but I was oblivious to everything around me, including the experiences of my family.
I was starting to wake up now, but really I was still oblivious to everything except myself. This was for two reasons. Firstly, the medication was still playing havoc with my mind (conversations with Homer Simpson being amongst the oddest). Secondly, and more immediately, I realised the state I was in. When you’ve been in bed for two weeks with no voluntary movement at all your muscles start to waste at quite a rate. I wasn’t quite paralysed, but I was only capable of the smallest movement and that took a lot out of me. The diary I have relied on to write much of this has several accounts of me apparently being asleep and suddenly waking with the smallest stimulus or sometimes appearing to be unresponsive. On many of those occasions I was awake, but too weak to even open my eyes, or I was responding, but in such a small way (which felt a big way to me) that it went unnoticed. Frustrating doesn’t cut it. My family, on occasion, felt that I didn’t want them to be there, but I did. I craved company more than anything, I was just physically incapable of communicating this or anything else to anybody. Horrible for them to think I didn’t want to see them and horrible for me that I couldn’t tell them how much I did.
There was now a telly in my room, which had Sky News constantly telling me that Shane Warne had failed a drugs test and David Beckham had got in the way of a boot kicked by Alex Ferguson during a defeat by Arsenal. Over and over and over and over and over…….. Still, it gave me something to watch and probably helped me to focus on the real world as opposed to the imagined one.
My temperature was still fluctuating, but was the only sign of any infection. A CT scan showed nothing of any concern, which was a relief, and by Thursday 20th February I was starting to communicate better. I had my glasses back on (for those who know me, but only for a couple of years, I now wear contact lenses) and was able to focus much more on what was going on around me. Movement was still nigh on impossible for more than a couple of seconds, and only a small amount at that. That night I got out of bed. No, not a miracle, but a hoist which lifted me up and into a chair so that I could watch a UEFA Cup tie between Liverpool and Auxerre (1-0 to the Mighty Reds after a Sami Hyypia goal). It was massively uncomfortable to be sitting up. The strain on my abdomen and lungs felt like it was suffocating me and even a Liverpool victory couldn’t make it anything less than an awful experience, but it was a step in the right direction.
The following morning was amazing! The feeding tube which went up my nose and down into my stomach was removed (no, not pleasant, but not as bad as when, a few days later, the catheter was removed) and I was allowed to eat and drink small amounts. It had been 3 weeks since I had tasted anything, now a few sips of sweet tea and a couple of small spoons of yoghurt and strawberry ice cream were the most incredible things I had ever tasted. They still are, I can still taste them when I think about it and I still get that feeling of joy I had when I had them. I was winched out into the chair again for a while, again it was horrible, but neccessary.
Then, the following day, the first day of the 2003 Cheltenham National Hunt Festival which was on the telly at the time, my breathing was strong enough to be put on a different form of ventilator called a CPAP. This assisted my breathing rather than drove it. I was breathing, almost, for myself, which meant I was strong enough to finally, after over 3 weeks, leave Intensive Care and go to the High Dependancy Unit (HDU). It was a big step towards my main goal, going home.