When life is out of control. 8 Lessons learnt in the Intensive Care Unit.
On September 7th my dad was bringing in the washing as it had started to rain and slipped. According to the surgeon he must have gone down ‘like a tree’ (The irony of this simile didn’t escape me).He banged the back of head with such force that he effectively snapped the bones in his neck in 3 places and suffered a spinal compression. Within minutes, life as we knew it turned upside down.
After an incredible 7 hour operation, performed by an amazing team at Walton Neurological Centre, we spent the next 5 or 6 days at the hospital around the clock as a family. Not sure whether he’d pull through, or not, had us all on an emotional roller coaster I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Loop the loop in fact. Eventually, he started to make progress and as they lifted the sedation and gave him a tracheotomy, we started to feel more optimistic that he’d pull through.
Two and a half months on we’ve survived the early shock and as he has moved to Southport Spinal Unit a couple of weeks ago and we are now living a new norm. A norm where we have a rota to visit dad and give him the support he needs, whilst trying not to tire him out (or ourselves for that matter). The future of his mobility is still uncertain but there are some positive signs, so having gone from living a day at a time, we are feeling like we can live a week at a time now.
So, why am I telling you this? Well, as always I want to be real. I want to show you that life happens and it’s how we deal with it that matters. So, here’s what I’ve learnt so far from this situation.
8 lessons learnt
1. Life happens, it’s how we respond to it that counts. In the blink of an eye everything can change, so if fear is ruling your days and overwhelm is dragging you down, please do something about it. THIS might be the best that it ever gets so appreciate all that you have and all that you are, because all that stuff you are taking for granted might disappear.
2. Your health is everything. Look after your body and your mind health. Dad’s recovery has been very difficult as he already has health issues. Do the best you can to be as strong and as well as you can because it can have an impact on you if, god forbids, anything might happen to you. It also helps you live a full life in the moment.
3. Love unconditionally.Our family isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s loud, it’s messy and it’s sometimes a big pain in the backside. However, it is filled with genuine, unconditional love and when we need each other we are all there in abundance. You can’t buy that.
4. Communicate from a place of love. In situations like this you have to try to communicate from a place of love. Everyone is stressed and trying to juggle everything. Everyone is upset and running on adrenaline. It’s important to try to see the situation from everyone’s perspective. It’s really important to believe that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. It would be easy to fall out with emotions running this high. It’s important to work hard at making sure that doesn’t happen, because everyone is in pain.
5. Music is flippin’ powerful Dad was coming out from days of sedation. He was in and out of sleep and we were all playing him songs that he loves, or we love that he’d like. As he heard the opening lines of Rolling Stones ‘Wild Horses’ he opened his eyes. Despite being in and out of consciousness, unable to speak through his trachy, he had tears in his eyes and he was rocking it out, in his head, to this powerful song. He lip-synched every line. Using the power of music in your day can change everything.
6. Planning is King, flexibility is Queen. When a major incident like this happens you have to readjust your sails. My plans for September and October didn’t happen as I’d planned them. However, I didn’t give up completely. I’ve adjusted my sails and I’ve worked with what I can control. For weeks we had to live day to day, so planning was futile. Instead I did what I could with the energy I had left. I had to accept what I couldn’t control and I accepted the love and help from the friends and family who offered it, or I asked. The rest I let go. I let go of all the ‘shoulds’#sodtheshoulds. I let go of the guilt. I let go of the Mean Little Cow voice and I did it by working through ALL of these feelings, that were erupting in me like a cracking firework display on Bonfire night. They didn’t disappear because I ignored them or ‘masked’ them. (OK I confess there was a bit of comfort eating in the first few weeks, ‘Biscuits anyone?’) They went because I worked through them and I have no doubt they will reappear as this road unfolds. I have no doubt I’ll have to manage ME again. Also because I have a bigger vision for my life I know I can put the brakes on, and have a pit stop, without the whole plan going out of the window. Plus even when I struggle badly, I can regroup and use Solution Focused Thinking to get me back on track. This is priceless. This is the only control you have.
7. There is lots of light in the darkest of places. The family room of the intensive care unit is a tense and scary place, but it is also a place where momentary friendships are made and compassion for others is alive and kicking. Food and drink are shared. Strangers in pain are hugged. There is a lot of laughing (and some very dark humour). With my dad I confess, we don’t have the easiest of relationships, but in this horrible, dark situation I have had some of the best moments of connection I’ve had with him in 40 years. Watching the unconditional love of my mum and dad has also been a blessing. When she played Ken Dodd’s ‘Where’s Me Shirt’ (From the first album they ever bought me!) at his request, in the intensive care suite, she went above and beyond the call of duty!! We were laughing so much. Bloomin’ well hilarious.
8. Gratitude is for life, not just a crisis. I’m so glad I have a gratitude practice and it works. Every day from the day it happened I sat in the hospital and was thankful; thankful for the tube feeding dad; the machine helping him breathe; the amazing nurses looking after his every need; the incredible surgical team that performed his operation; the physios that worked on his chest keeping pneumonia at bay; the cleaners keeping the infections off the wards; Hayley on the door letting us in and giving a friendly smile, despite having to open the door a hundred times a day; the fact we have an NHS in this country; the fact I have a big, bonkers, loving family; my wonderful husband who picked up my slack without me saying a word. The list goes on and on. So, despite being in the middle of such a difficult situation I could see what was good and it helped me to get through those weeks, and those moments, when I have wanted to run away, because it’s too hard and the road ahead looked too bleak. I have so much to be thankful for even at this time and referring to Gratefully Growing and The Magicreminded me of this as I re read them to keep me focused.
As this is only the beginning of the road for my dad and his rehabilitation I know there will be more to experience and learn for all of us, but I felt it was important to share for anyone else going through a tough time. I hope that you never have to go through such a horrible situation, but if you do, I hope you can use some of our learning to soften the blow. This too will pass, as they say. All the best clichés are true.
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