I look back at my last post – 15th June.
Four days later things went tits up – my head, quite literally, went ‘pop’.
What do I mean?
Well, I got into my car, having left my sister’s and brother-in-law’s place, started it up, put my hands on the steering wheel, and ‘wallop’ – an almighty pain suddenly came on in my head.
At first it felt like a really bad headache. Having had headaches before, I wasn’t too concerned.
But this was quite a bad headache – it felt like something was pressing down from the top of my head, causing me to pull neck down into my shoulders.
I’d started to drive by this point. I saw no reason not to – not for just a headache.
But the headache got worse, or rather it got weirder. It started to feel like it was behind my eyes and to travel down my neck.
Soon, it was too painful to turn my head left or right… which is a bit of a problem when you’re driving.
Luckily, the journey was, in the main, one straight road.
I kept telling myself; ‘soon as you get in, take Nurofen’.
I was so relieved when I pulled up at home and I could stop driving. I just didn’t feel safe behind the wheel of my car… and it turns out I wasn’t.
I got in with my head and neck hunched into my shoulders still.
I hunted for Nurofen but couldn’t find any. I could find paracetamol, but knew they ‘wouldn’t touch the sides’ with this headache. I took them anyway – better than nothing.
It was just gone 11pm, so there was the possibility of trying to close my eyes, make the pain go away, and sleep – so I thought.
I lay on the sofa, with my head and neck resting on a pillow. No use – pain shot up and down my neck in waves.
No matter how I lay, sat, or stood, the pain was there – pulsing.
This went on for a couple of hours until finally, around 1am, the pain was so intense I had no choice but to run to the sink and bring up the Chinese I’d had hours before.
I’d never been sick directly from pain before.
I drew the only conclusion I thought made sense: having never had one before, I was experiencing a migraine – a supercell storm in my head.
Lying down was too painful, so I spent most of the night pacing.
At around 4am I was sick again.
It also started getting light … which is when I discovered I’d turned into a vampire; it was painful to look at the light.
Intense head pain, neck pain/stiffness, problems looking at the light – I won’t lie, ‘meningitis?’ popped into my mind… but I just wanted to curl into a ball at this point, and eventually I did.
Around 7am I got onto my bed and curled into a foetal position. I’d drawn the conclusion that this wasn’t a normal headache, but I was also knackered.
At 11am my sister called me.
I answered ‘how are you?’ with ‘not great’ and explained what had been going on.
‘I think you need to go to A & E’ she said.
At this stage we thought I’d torn a muscle/ligament in my neck, at the gym, and this was causing all the pain. It made sense – there didn’t seem to be any other explanation.
My sister arrived and I gingerly got in her car – keeping my neck movements to a minimum.
We got to A&E, I explained what was wrong with me, and went to sit down and wait.
My sister was told she couldn’t wait with me (Covid rules), so I was on my tod.
One thing I definitely was was hungry, so she very kindly offered to go and get some food for me. For reasons best known to myself, I fancied a sushi wrap – salmon wrapped up in rice.
As my friend has since said to me; ‘why the fuck didn’t you just get a plain chicken sandwich or something like that?’
He had a point, because an hour after I ate it, I brought it back up again when the pain intensified – luckily, I made it to the toilet.
At some point, I was called in to answer some questions put to me by a doctor.
At another point I had a CT scan.
In between those times I found that standing up meant a less intense pain in my head.
In the end I waited three hours, which isn’t too bad for A & E, before being called in to see a doctor… who took me straight through to ‘resus’ (resuscitation). That’s when I knew something might be wrong.
I was sat on a bed and left to my own devices.
Periodically, doctors and nurses came into the room.
There was a desk with a computer on it and important-looking people kept gathering round it. They seemed excited and were pointing at the screen, saying ‘sub arack, sub arack’.
I had no idea what this meant or why they seemed so excited.
I was soon to find out.
A doctor came over to me and told me that I’d had a ‘subarachnoid haemorrhage’ – a bleed on the brain – and that this was quite serious.
I was to be transfered to Queen Square Hospital – the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery – and they would look into what had caused it … and I might need surgery.
This scared the shit out of me – brain surgery? That’s a big deal, in my book.
He also told me that the pain in my head was from the leaked blood irritating the membrane/lining around the brain and the pain in my neck was because blood and cerebrospinal fluid aren’t supposed to mix.
I phoned my sister to let her know what the diagnosis was; ‘erm, there’s a slight problem – I’ve had a bleed on the brain’.
It’s fair to say, she was shocked. She also wanted to get some things to me, to take to the other hospital I was going to.
I felt relatively okay at this point. I’d got used to the thumping pain in my head and I was compos – I could sit up and talk, with no problem.
In fact, I was hungry, having brought up lunch, so I reached into the bag of food my sister had bought me, found a bag of popcorn, and started munching on that, like I didn’t have a care in the world.
I was also given codeine, in one of those tiny paper cups, but it didn’t make a huge amount of difference.
I lost all track of time in resus, but both of my sisters came and saw me while I was there – to check I was okay and to give me things I might need.
Eventually, around 9pm, an ambulance was ready to take me to Queen Square and two paramedics came in to fetch me.
I still didn’t think things were that serious – I felt okay.
I got into the back of the ambulance and my sisters waved me off.
The paramedics must’ve felt things were fairly serious as they ‘blue lighted’ me to Queen Square.
Now, I won’t detail everything that happened in hospital, as this post is already way too long and I don’t want to give a day by day account.
But… I was in hospital for 11 days in total.
I was checked for Covid, MRSA, and C.diff initially.
Once my Covid test came back negative, I was allowed onto a Covid secure ward.
For the first eight days I was in agony. I can only describe the pain as a constant, behind my eyes and in my forehead. Behind my eyes, it felt like shards of glass trying to poke through.
If I tried to lay down – whether on my back, front, or side – the pain would come in waves, pulsing, from the back of my head to the front.
For the first five days, the pain was so intense that nearly everything I ate came back up again eventually.
I have to be honest and say I made a fair bit of noise that showed I was in pain.
All of this made sleep nigh on impossible, but hospital isn’t the best place to get sleep anyway; machines bleep throughout the night, patients make noises, you have your blood pressure taken at silly hours etc.
The nurses did everything they could to help me. At various points, for pain relief, I was tried on oral morphine (in a syringe, squirted into the mouth), oxycontin, codeine, ibubrofen, paracetamol, and others whose names I’ve forgotten.
Nothing seemed to work … and one consultant told me that opiates (morphine, codeine, oxycontin) can make headaches worse, so we stopped them.
In the end, the thing that seemed to work was good old paracetamol, but through an IV drip, not in pill form.
During my time in hospital I had all the checks available, including two CT scans, a CT A scan (where they inject a dye into you, to show all your blood vessels… which gives you the sensation of pooing yourself), an MRI, and a brain angiogram (where a wire was inserted into my wrist, with a camera on the end, and guided through my veins, up to my neck – checking for any blockages).
Ultimately, they were trying to find what had caused the bleed on my brain – maybe an aneurysm or an ‘unusual malformation of veins’. They wanted to see if it could happen again/make sure it didn’t. If they’d found anything, they would have operated on me. Thankfully, they didn’t. Well, I say ‘thankfully’, but, unfortunately, that makes it a complete mystery as to what caused the bleed (which means it’s highly unlikely to happen again)… unless you follow my family’s theory – I had my second Covid vaccine just five days before the bleed. Make of that what you will.
And I have to say, the nurses were just incredible – the care provided was second to none.
They worked all hours – day shifts, evening shifts, overnight shifts. The care was as good at 3am as it was at 3pm.
They came to me when I was in pain, they took my blood pressure, inserted cannulas, dealt with sick, gave me meds.
They dealt with all sorts of patients at all hours. As this was a neurological hospital, there were patients with mental health issues, including schizophrenia and bipolar.
One of the patients – Keith – believed that there was a conspiracy to keep him on the ward and was constantly phoning people (supposedly the police, Prince Charles, the Queen’s guards), at all hours, and trying to escape.
Another patient – Darren – kept shouting and screaming and demanding to speak to his family, to get him off the ward. He made most of these calls during one night, between 2 – 6am, all of which resulted in them not wanting to help him and him screaming that they were all ‘c*nts’.
The nurses dealt with both patients as calmly and with as much compassion as anyone else, even at silly o’clock.
In the end, I had three favourite nurses – Diana, Shy, and Kenjee. I always looked forward to the shifts they were on.
Oh, I also got to watch Euro 2020 on morphine. In fact, most of the ward was on morphine. Quiet an experience, let me tell you.
Let’s just say that celebrations and reactions were a little slow and somewhat muted.
Before I was discharged, the Occupational Health team saw me twice in my last few days. They gave me advice on what I could and couldn’t do when I left e.g no heavy lifting, no smoking, no driving (not immediately anyway). They also told me what to expect in terms of recovery and difficulties I might come across.
Recovery has been tough. Coordination, memory, and concentration were all affected and fatigue became an issue too. But the biggest fallout came in terms of my mental health – there have been some desparate lows. I was warned, but it still caught me by surprise.
Anyway, the main thing I want to focus on is our NHS and what it provides.
All in, I had:
– an initial consultation/diagnosis
– 6 scans (3x CT, 1x CTA, 1x angiogram, 1x MRI)
– umpteen medications
– nursing care around the clock for 11 days
– 2 visits from the Occupational Health team
Yes, I’ve paid my tax over the years, but essentially this was free of charge. I left with no bill.
If this was America, I think my bill would’ve run into six figures. I’d be paying it off for the rest of my life.
What we get out of our NHS is incredible. It’s not just care (as in it’s free so ‘this’ll do’), it’s high quality care. I don’t believe – other than having my own room – I would’ve been treated better if I’d been seen privately. Our NHS is precious. We have to protect it at all costs and keep grubby private company mitts off of it.
There’s only one NHS – we have to hang onto it.
And that’s it.
That, mercifully, is all I have to say.
That’s why I’ve been so quiet and that’s all I wanted to say on my treatment by the NHS.
If you’ve read down this far, thank you.
I had to get this off my chest – call it cheap therapy – so I could start writing other stuff again.
Onwards and upwards, as they say.