Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Escape from ICU

If you haven't ever been in hospital for a long time, there are things might seem hard to understand, like why Ms T once staged an escape from ICU.

By now, she's a little bit of an ICU veteran, with three visits. But I'm talking about life when she wasn't accustomed to that world.

She had already spent nearly three months in Royal Prince Alfred – on level 9, the gastro ward, because that's where she first landed with a hard-to-diagnose illness that disabled her liver and gave her a stomach of ulcers (it turned out to be that her immune system had shut down important blood vessels).

Our home in Lilyfield is almost visible from RPA, if you have the right view. You can't see the house, but if you have enough time, and the right angle, you can see the trees and work out where the house is. As soon as Ms T was mobile, with “Skinny Marie”, her name for the IV-stand-on-wheels, she would spend time in the sun-lounge on Level 9, trying to work out where “home” lay.

Her chief landmark in those days was the Anzac Bridge: large, unmistakable, and a pointer to the cluster of trees, with a few insane palm trees poking through, that told her where we were.

We were lucky, in those days. With my mother alive and living with us, I could spend a lot of time at the hospital, by her side, letting grandma watch over our teen sons, working with mobile broadband. But I always had to go home in the end.

As she reiterated to me tonight: “I always took 'skinny Marie' to the sun-lounge before I went to sleep, to look at you and say goodnight.”

Then there was one of the ICU visits. 

We were away in the Blue Mountains when she fell ill, with sudden and terrible pain. Katoomba Hospital was mystified by her blood tests; I told them to call RPA's Gastro-Enterology unit, and RPA demanded that she be dispatched by ambulance – ignoring a couple of other teaching hospitals on the way. (Things to love about Australia's health system.)

Ms T had a liver infection; her condition was assessed as critical; she was put in ICU immediately.

The next night, hallucinating on painkillers, she managed to escape ICU.

Knowing what ICU is like – and how many machines connected her – I have no idea how she managed it. Because she was spaced and pie-eyed she's never been able to explain it properly, and ICU was apologetic but completely without an explanation. No matter; it ended well.

Because she phoned me, from Missenden Road. The conversation wasn't one that I care to relate, but I talked her back down to ICU reception, at which point I heard another voice on her phone utter a swear word and call for help.

And after many conversations about the incident, we realised what drove her so much that she could take herself out of the secure part of the hospital and find herself on a road, in a hospital gown, trying to hail a taxi.

She couldn't see home. ICU wasn't like “Level 9”. There was no “goodnight my love” that she could utter while looking towards our home: only the lights, curtains and machines. So she sought some place to tell us she loved us all, and wanted to be home. Just as she'd done every other night she was in hospital.

I talked to her on the phone, somehow sorted the things she could see from the hallucinations, and guided her back to ICU reception, when someone swore, took over the phone and told me to visit in the morning, and apologised. And all was well.

It's hard to explain how it feels, to be loved like that. I can only hope I can deserve it.


CoralieN said...

Such beautiful memories will be with you forever. Ms T will be with you forever too. A love like this is what we all dream of and therefore will never cease to exist. Richard, you and Ms T have the ability to share this magic and I thank you.

Qld Nurse said...

Go Mrs T! That's determination! How she managed that with one on one supervision is beyond me. Just goes to show, with determination you can do anything!