Friday morning, 29th October, 2004 and I really really didn't feel like going to work. I felt sick and my shoulder and neck were so sore that I led out flat on the living room floor. Work was going to be hectic that day – we'd just changed our phone supplier over to BT, and we were anticipating problems, which were effectively mine to resolve. On the plus side, work was in Bath, and that was halfway to my then boyfriend, Tink's house in Bristol – and that was where I was planning to spend my weekend.
So I took my rucksack, made my way to the train station, and went to work. As suspected, our phone lines were routed incorrectly, and the company was effectively losing business as each minute passed. It was all a bit of a disaster really, and when I phoned our “dedicated contact” I realised that no one had told him of this new role, and he definitely had his jobsworth's hat on. We argued for a few minutes; I'm embarrassed to admit that I probably wasn't being very professional, but I was so sore, I couldn't sort myself out. The phone call came to a very heated conclusion, and as I stood up after disconnecting I felt as though I was hit twice on the back of the head with a large plank.
My boss was talking to our Comms Manager, Adrian, and I went to update them. “I think I'm having an aneurysm” I said, although as far as I know I'd never heard of an aneurysm, let alone knew what one was. I made my way down three flights of stairs to go outside for a cigarette. I was a heavy smoker, 20 a day, and I always really enjoyed it. If I had a cold, or a cough, I still always wanted a ciggie. Not that day though; I stood outside and realised I felt far too ill to smoke, a scary moment indeed (!) I took the lift back upstairs, and locked myself in the disabled loo. By now my head was really very painful, and although I didn't know it at the time, I was talking to myself in the loo, and briefly refused to come out.
Whilst my colleague Elly told my lovely workmate Gilly that something was wrong, I made my way up the final flight of stairs and laid out on the sofa in the staff room. I clearly remember Gilly trying to convince me to let her take me to Tink's so I could rest up, and, quite unusually for me, I was rude and grumpy, trying to get her to leave me alone. What I didn't realise at the time was that I suddenly looked very ill, and Gilly said she wanted to take me to hospital instead. I was so weary of her nagging at me (!) that I said she could do what she liked. Such a gracious patient!
Gilly went to see my boss, who said “Tell her to go home if she's ill!” and Adrian, who asked if she could wait a couple of minutes, “No! I need you to come now!” my saviour said. I remember the journey down in the lift, which seemed very comical to me at the time. Adrian and Gilly supported me, whilst other colleagues wanted to help, wanted to know what was happening. Inside my head, I felt very aware of everything that was happening – I felt a bit embarrassed, convinced we were making a fuss about nothing. They piled me into the back of the work's Touran, and we headed off on the short jouney to Bath Royal United Hospital (RUH). It was bumpy and I can remember thinking that if I was ill all the bouncing couldn't be helping much. I still felt very aware at this point, although I didn't realise until recently that I looked very very ill, and in fact Gilly was scared that I would die in the car.
Despite this, we walked a short way to the casualty department, whilst Adrian parked up, though I think poor (and little) Gilly had to bear most of my weight. We saw the receptionist, who wanted all the usual details – name, address, GP, surgery address. Now, as far as I was aware at the time, I carefully explained to the receptionist, that I was very sorry, and that, whilst I knew the details, I just couldn't say the words out loud for her, it was all just too much effort. It was only recently that I found out I talked absolute drivel to the receptionist, making no sense at all. We bypassed the people waiting in reception, and fairly quickly overtook those who'd made it through the swing doors on the “urgent list”.
Gilly and Adrian were left with the task of updating the receptionist, at which point they realised I'd never told them Tink's real name, Andy Tinker – so on my notes my next of kin was listed as Mr Tink!
There was a lovely bloke on duty, in his green outfit – I think he was called Alex. He asked “Is it the worst headache in the world?” - well, as far as I was concerned, it definitely was, and he arranged a CT scan. I dont remember that scan at all, but I do remember Alex crouching down to tell me afterwards that I'd had a bleed on the brain.
My lovely friend Gilly has a phobia about people being sick – so whilst I was being sick, I kept trying to say that she could wait outside, and telling her how sorry I was – at least I redeemed myself after being mean to her earlier in the day! I remember asking the nurses if it was ok to go to sleep, I think that may well have been after they gave me a large shot or morphine. Gilly and Adrian have since said there was a marked improvement in my condition once the drugs kicked in! They were convincing themselves that it wouldn't be anything too major, when they heard Alex arguing on the phone with the staff at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol, apparently he was shouting that he needed a bed for me very urgently. I can only imagine how horrible it must have been for the two of them. After all that they also had to phone Tink, and tell him to get to Frenchay to meet me, what a task.
Alex was so lovely, he came to see me at the end of his shift, whilst I was waiting for an ambulance, to wish me luck. I'm so grateful to him for his speedy diagnosis.
I have a very vague recollection of the ambulance journey – oh the joys of morphine! Tink was there to meet me at Frenchay, and by this stage I'd lost track of time. I think it must have been early afternoon, but it seemed later in my mind. Poor Tink was told to keep me awake, and “with it” – no one told me however, so I know I repeatedly said “Shhhh! Let me sleep!!” I was a bit surprised when my Mum arrived with two of my sisters, and one of their boyfriends, Kev. I made my Mum cry instantly – I had my eyes closed when she arrived, but she sniffed, and it was such a familiar sound that I said “Guess my Mum is here then” - I thought this was hilarious, but she, it turns out, did not!
Mum later told me that she knew it was something serious, when they were taken to a room which had signs everywhere advising where to get refreshments, only to have a nurse turn up with a pot of tea for the family. I was quite mean to poor Kev, telling him to go away and not listen when the doctor's were talking about me, and I also told my eldest sister to go away or to stop staring at me whilst I was sleeping. I'd like to say I didn't know what I was saying, but I have to admit I did! The scariest thing at this stage was finding out that I had a drain in my spine. It was pro-active, set to draw fluid off, and I was terrified that they'd forget to turn it off, or that I would damage my spine if I moved at all. I was mightily relieved when they took it away.
I was given more morphine at some stage and Tink asked if it took the pain away, “Nope” I said, “but I dont care about it anymore!” He was allowed to stay until about 23:00, well beyond visiting times, and looking back I can only imagine what a lonely motorbike journey it was back to his house.
I remember the overnight ward sister, Lin. She was quite stern, and I adored her. When she realised I only had thong-type knickers with me, she said “Shall we ask your family to bring you some proper pants?” I nodded feebly, too weak to defend my underwear!
It wasn't a neuro ward, and it was chaos. Drunken elderly men trying to remove neck braces, and a very naughty little old lady who seemed to enjoy making a lot of noise and causing trouble. In the middle of it all I remember a young man being rushed in, family in attendance. He too had had a SAH, but the after effects for him were far worse; he suffered severe brain damage and now requires full-time care from his mum. I was very determined to be well-behaved for Lin, and she praised me no end – though she wouldn't let me take my own tablets; she insisted on putting them into my mouth followed by a drink with a straw so I could swallow them down.
I felt a lot stronger the next day – though some ex-colleagues came to visit (despite being asked not to), and they sat there talking to each other and laughing and joking. I found it a huge effort and really wanted them to leave. The day nurse, who reminded me of Caroline Quentin, was really cross with them, and she told me afterwards that she was only a few minutes away from asking them to go.
Tink was there again, solid as a rock, trying to help me understand what was going on, and what the treatment would involve. It all made lots of sense, although I didn't see that there were any choices in the matter, even when the risks were explained. I do know that I got the percentages muddled up, and merrily thought I was at far less risk than I was. I was quite shocked when TinK explained it later!
I was chuffed to see Sister Lin again as the night shift started, “Oh, you look much better today!” she said with a big smile, and I felt so proud. One thing I did find difficult was the volume of liquid we were expected to consume combined with having to use a bedpan – not an easy task when you're trying to lie flat at any time, let alone when you're necking gallons of water and wanting a wee every half hour! I felt so grateful to the nurses, and I really didn't want to be a bother.
I do remember the constant questions, “Who is the prime minister?”, “Where are you?”, “What date is it?” - I always tried to keep up my good humour, and make jokes back at the nurses – poor things, I'm sure they'd heard it all before. The Caroline Quentin lookalike told me I was the most positive SAH patient she'd ever met – but it didn't ever occur to me to be any other way. I did take issue with the date question after I'd been in hospital for more than 5 days – how the heck was I supposed to keep track of it?!? That first weekend did pass in quite a blur – of sleep, and tests, and questions and check ups.
“Caroline” was the last person I saw from that ward, as on the Monday I went to have my platinum coils fitted. Poor Tink walked alongside my trolley to the radiologists room. I've been told that Frenchay has the longest corridor in any UK hospital, and it certainly feels like it. With a good luck kiss and a final squeeze of the hand, Tink was left behind, and it was just me and the staff.
The radiologist, Mr Monaghan, had an all-female team, and they were in high spirits when I was wheeled in. They were lovely, holding my hands and talking to me as they administered the anaesthesia. I know my tears spilled over as I went under, but my last memory was their gentle smiles and soothing hands. How different the operation was for my poor Tink, it took a couple of hours longer than it was supposed to, I'm not sure why as I dont think there were complications, but I cannot imagine what it must have been like for him.
The only time I was not a “model patient” (in my eyes, at least!) was on coming round afterwards. I felt very panicky and sick, and teary. The lovely lady in the recovery room, who'd obviously seen it all before was not at all phased by my comments - I berated her because she'd promised I could go to the ward, and when the allotted five minutes had passed without action, I was most upset!
I inadvertently offended one of the nurses on Ward 4, where I was to begin my real recovery. I said that she was slim, like me. What I hadn't realised was that I was losing weight – I was a very slim 8stone 2lbs when I went into hospital, and a scary 7stones 5lbs when I left. I was absolutely overjoyed to see Tink – it wasn't quite so pleasant for him though, as I had the oxygen line under my nose, and a cannula in each hand, and in both arms as well – must have been scary to see. I was obviously quite institutionalised by that stage, as they didn't bother me at all!
In the Frenchay neuro wards there are three beds at the end of the ward, for those who require a lot of care, with their own little team of nurses. Once you progress away from there you know you're doing ok. I shared with two other SAH-ers, one of whom I never saw, as she was photo-sensitive, and permanently had her face covered. The other was a lady in her 60's whose name I can't remember. I overtook her in recovery though, as she developed MRSA. It didn't take long to get very bored of the 15 minute checks. Or the hospital food, which is just not geared up for lying flat. I remember trying to eat a sandwich and the contents going everywhere. I was relieved to have a catheter fitted, as at least I didn't have to keep asking for a bedpan.
We were looked after very very well, with careful washing every day, and regular changes of bed linen. Even the bed curtains were changed twice during my 10 day stay. I have the utmost respect for the nurses - I asked several of them if they'd realised how much of their time would be spent on cleaning and toileting people and they were all very good natured about it. It had never occurred to me that there was so much of that to be done.
I had a very scary moment one evening. The registrar was examining the lady opposite me, whilst a nurse was carrying out my checks. All of a sudden, I retched, and drew my legs up in an involuntary reaction – almost immediately a five inch circle around the entry wound in my groin turned black, and started to swell up. “Um, Doctor...” said the nurse. “Just a minute” said the Doctor. “No, NOW!” said the nurse – yet again I was causing a fuss Luckily it was just a hematoma, although it took weeks for the resulting bruising to disappear, and it looked suitably dramatic.
I had a few pleasant surprises too – Tink rode back to my flat in Trowbridge, and picked up my beloved Flat Eric soft toy, I can remember being overjoyed when he appeared at the end of my bed. Because I was struggling to eat much, and I had a craving for Burger King (I know, I know!) Tink also nipped off and brought me back a burger – the hospital were very accommodating, and more than happy to see me scoff it down. I received flowers from work, and from one of our major suppliers – sadly they had to stay in the day room, as we weren't allowed flowers in the high dependency end of the ward. Remember BT? Well, they sent me a very large, very plush teddy bear. I'll say no more on that subject!
Once I progressed down the ward, after about a week, there was a lot more going on. The checks were still very frequent, but I was allowed to half sit, and eating was much easier. They struggled a few times to find a pulse in my feet, and I remember asking almost anyone who passed if they would tuck my feet back in properly!
Being allowed to go for a sit down shower with minimal supervision was a major breakthrough, but also surprisingly emotional, and I cried and cried. It was around this time I had a conversation with the ward sister Debbie - “I guess I've sort of given up smoking, havent I?” I asked in a resigned voice, whilst watching another patient start on her epic 45 minute journey to get outside, have a ciggie and get back in again. After almost 10 days without smoking, and not having had a chance to miss it, I figured I'd be silly to start again. “You can never smoke again” said Debbie. “We're giving you drugs to keep your veins nice and fat, and if you smoke they'll instantly shrink again, so it's too risky” Now, a lot of you will probably think she was wrong to say that, but I'm grateful to her, as she frightened me out of any wish to start smoking again. And I do think I gave up the easy way
I had a little bit of physio, just to check I could get about ok. I was very weak, and the little walks up and down the ward were a real challenge, but the other patients cheered me on, as did my beloved Tink. The lovely Gilly came to help take me home, and I saw the shock on her face when she saw me – it was the first time I realised I'd lost weight, and I was pretty shocked myself.
They had a collection at work, and raised £200 (it was a big company!) - then the CEO office agreed to match that. I wanted to donate it all to the nurses on the ward, but my colleagues insisted on splitting it 50/50. Gilly was tasked with spending the money and she bought me a variety of craft kits and other goodies to keep me busy whilst I was off work. We had no clue that I would continue to sleep for about 18 hours (or more!) a day for most of my time off.
We also didn't figure that I'd feel quite so sick in the car on the way home – I was trying so hard not to be poorly, and Gilly blatantly lied about the distance, constantly saying “Just another five minutes!” When we finally reached Tink's house I burst into tears once again, although it was all over in a few minutes. I am so grateful to my lovely Gilly – I send her a thankyou card on each anniversary, as I know that without her I wouldn't be alive. Guaranteed to reduce her to tears, every time!
I was so lucky – Tink was self employed and worked from home, so he told everyone he was working with that they'd have to wait, so that he could look after me. I dont think I truly appreciated what a difficult time it must have been for him, or how scared he must have been. I dont think I was that considerate whilst I was I was in those early stages. We were spoiled rotten by the people he was writing software for – we were sent 100's of baby pansies for the garden from Jersey, along with wonderful chocolates from Hotel Chocolat. Nom nom!
For the first few weeks I spent an awful lot of time on the sofa, sleeping, watching daytime tv, and eating. 16:00 meant Escape to the Country and Tink cooking my tea, essential when bedtime is about 19:30! We started doing little walks around the estate, with Tink's neighbours waving me on as I progressed further and further – Tink would practise lifting me up and carrying me – ostensibly to prove he could carry me if I needed rescuing, but mainly to make me laugh. I put on weight very quickly - being force fed and not moving, along with giving up smoking – and I was 10stone before I knew it! I enjoyed it though, and at 5'8” it was a much healthier weight.
Tink showed me the “letter from your brain”, and it was the first time I understood that I might never be quite the same again. I cried, but not for too long – I felt too lucky to be alive at all. Lots of things changed. I was sad to find I could no longer play my beloved “shoot em up” computer games, and even now they make me feel sick and dizzy after just half an hour. Crowds, and loud noise both became an issue. On the plus side, I used the money I saved to pay for horse riding lessons, which I'd wanted to do since I was a kid, but had previously not had the spare cash for. My employer was wonderfully supportive, they didn't question my being signed off for three months, and I was on full pay. I was ferried to the big Christmas party for an hour, and was treated like visiting royalty!
Tink and I had been together about 7 years by then, and he said he'd only really realised how much I meant to him whilst I was in hospital, when he realised that I might die. We spent a lovely Christmas together, with his family, and with mine. On new years eve we watched the fireworks over Bristol. Well, I watched the fireworks and Tink watched me. I knew he was going to propose, but he waited till the following day, as I was tired out by 10 past midnight! My first engagement ring was a yellow plastic one from a cracker! We went into Bristol a few days later and chose the real thing.
It was the start of a great time - even finding out I had a 2nd aneurysm was just a small blip, and I spent another lovely month at Tink's house after getting that one coiled. Work were still very supportive overall, encouraging me to take my time. The only thorn in my side was my boss, who sidelined me into a job I didn't like. I didn't feel brave enough to fight at that time, although I later realised he was a terrible bully who wanted me in a role where I couldn't cause him any “trouble”. It all worked out well, he eventually left under a dark cloud, and I got a very well paid job out of it!
Sadly, Tink and I started to grow apart. The changes in my life meant I wanted to take things easy, to rest up a lot, but the experiences we'd been though made Tink realise he wanted to live a more exciting life, he wanted to get out there and party – at a time when I couldn't imagine anything worse. We fought it for a long time, as neither of us wanted it to end, but eventually we realised it was the right thing to do. Almost immediately Tink joined a fantastic ACDC tribute band, Livewire, and life for him took off in a brilliant way.
We stayed very very good friends – you can't go through what we did and be anything else really! I was happy for him, but very sad for me, it felt like I would never be in love again. Before I started dating again I even asked him if he was really, really sure – but he was
Eventually I found the lovely Brendan, right there in front of me, at work. He's my dream man, kind, caring, gorgeous – we went on a date (after I hinted an awful lot) and we moved in together six weeks later! He's my soulmate, and I feel truly blessed.
What lovely, good men I've had in my life! Tragically Tink was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year. He was incredibly positive, and determined to beat it. Just two weeks after finishing radiotherapy he was playing a three hour gig in Belgium! In a shocking turn of events, Tink and his girlfriend Jane were both fatally injured whilst test-driving a Westfield sports car. I was lucky enough to have the chance to say my goodbyes to him in hospital, where we also found out that the cancer had spread. I'm so glad that he never found out, and I'm especially glad that he was living the rock'n'roll lifestyle he so wanted. I feel very lucky to have been his friend, and privileged to have spent 10 years with him. I'm so glad I had Brendan to support me through a difficult time.
I've come to terms with the changes in me, and the things that effect me post-SAH. My hypothalamus was effected, so I struggle to regulate my temperature and am often absolutely boiling when everyone else is searching for their gloves, or freezing cold when others are hot. It also effects my appetite – I'm either starving hungry from morning till night, or I can't stand the sight of food. I find it harder to learn new things, although that's getting better over time, and I suffer from fatigue, as do so many others on the site. I love the new me though, I'm far softer, and kinder – a much nicer person. I think I like the new me more than I like the old one. I dont regret my SAH happening, and I see so much of it as being positive.
Thankyou for reading my story, if you managed to stick it out this far – and now you know why I'm a platinum blonde
Love from Blondie xxx
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