I have been a brittle asthmatic since early childhood but the severity and frequency of attacks has increased over the past 14 years, resulting in several ventilated episodes in ICU. Some of the admissions have been comparatively uneventful whilst others have been more traumatic for both myself and those close to me.
I had never spoken to anyone at length about my experiences; I always thought that because I was a qualified nurse I shouldn't feel vulnerable and anxious, or 'fall to pieces', so didn't: not on the outside anyway. I thought that was what I should expect, and what was expected of me by others. I kept my feelings to myself, and wrote a journal and poetry about those feelings. Putting things on paper did help, but later found a new meaning to the power of speech.
In 1995, four years after my first ventilated episode, I was asked by one of the ICU Staff Nurses, to participate in a research project she had undertaken. I must admit to being quite apprehensive about the whole thing to start with, but after speaking to someone I soon realised just how much I had been trying to deal with by myself. The whole thing went in three stages:
- initially I felt relief, as if a weight had been lifted.
- a few hours later I 'fell to pieces', as everything that had been conveniently stored at the back of my mind had been pushed to the front.
- and finally acceptance, in equal measures, of what had happened, what could happen in the future, and that support offered should be grabbed with both hands.
Admissions continue, but the psychological aspect is now easier to deal with. I still keep my journal up to date and have written a few more poems, which still helps put thing into perspective, but am still reassured that there is always someone to talk to if I need that little bit of extra help.
I try to piece together the moments I forget
But the more I think about it, no nearer do I get.
I want to make more solid the fragmentation in my mind
And put the trauma and the stress so very far behind.
It's such a strange old feeling to know that for some time - how long?
I was not alive on earth, but was dead and so was gone.
How long id it last? What did they do? And whatever did they say?
What exactly went on while I was so far away?
I need to get things sorted out and settled in my mind.
I need to come to terms with life – and death – so peace I'll find.
I know I'll never test until I get things sorted out,
I want to make it very clear and leave no room for doubt
No doubt at all within my mind of all events occurred,
And carry on with my life feeling undeterred.