Alone and Not Okay: The Anxiety of Frequent Hospitalizations
It has been my sixth hospitalization in four months when it finally happened. When I was not okay. Not even remotely close to okay. That hospitalization began like all the others before; with me, being admitted alone. No one by my side, or waiting in the lobby. I usually drove myself or got dropped off when I was too sick to drive. It was something I had just...gotten used to. Just like I had gotten used to my guest chair at chemo consistently being empty over the years. I was just not the sort of patient who had someone, and after two years of being divorced, I learned to handle it all alone. One of the main reasons I got divorced was because while married I handled most of it alone, anyway.
This particular day at the hospital was different. Something was...amiss. When I arrived at the Emergency Department that late afternoon, I had a high fever and chills. I'd bounce from shivering to sweating, back to shivering. My heart rate was through the roof. I had shortness of breath, barely able to talk through my deep cough. My whole body ached with pain. I was scared I might not come home from the hospital.
"Did you come here with anyone?" the nurse asked. "We can give you pain meds." It was always the same question. And I always had the same answer; "No, I am here alone." I had been dropped off but was afraid to accept pain medication until I had arranged for someone to take care of my pets. My three young children at least were with their father; he picked them up and was the one who dropped me off. He would go on to ask continuously when I'd be released. I had ruined his plans that weekend. Barely able to talk, I texted a few friends to care for my pets. My text was erratic; hardly legible. No one had replied yet when I was informed they would be admitting me elsewhere. That meant that I would have to go by ambulance to the main hospital campus, nearly an hour away.
Anxiety really started to set in. So badly I wanted someone there, to say that I was okay. To hold my hand, or pat my back. Something. Anything. The sweating and freezing continued. I was alone and would continue to be alone. Out of all the times I had been in the hospital in recent months, with spinal taps, brain MRIs, CT scans, PET scans, and x-rays. All of those situations where I suffered in silence finally cultivated in that ER room. It was then and there that I finally broke. I was finally not okay.
Because it wasn't just the physical pain. I wished that it was. It was the worry. Will I walk out of here? Am I going to be told I am in organ failure? Will my jumpy heart go into cardiac arrest, or will pneumonia or sepsis kill me? My ex-husband; will he fulfill his idea to "have the court change our arrangement" if he is continued to be inconvenienced by my hospitalizations? Who will take care of my pets? How will I get my freelance work in on time, and if I can't, how will I pay the bills next month?
So many significant worries, all of which valid and weighing heavily on my mind as I was incredibly sick. And not a soul by my side. No one.
En route in the ambulance, the bumps lulled me in and out of sleep. I'd wake up mid-sentence, speaking nonsensically. By the time I arrived, I had confirmation my pets were cared for, and I accepted the medication. I was finally starting to calm down as I got settled into my room at 2 a.m. until I choked on the potassium tablets they gave me and I vomited all over myself. Cleaned up, I finally fell back asleep before waking up in a pool of my own blood. Anxiety kicked back in again. It was my port line leaking. Just as I settled in again with new linens, I had gained a roommate. She also had metastatic breast cancer. I heard her organizing her visitors, with her son arriving first, Starbucks in hand. "Are you expecting anyone?" she asked.
No one should be alone
Everything worked out, as it always does. But it taught me that I cannot continue to walk this dark road alone. I never wanted to feel that way again. Living with this disease is hard enough. None of us should suffer with cancer alone.
Caregivers: Do you practice self-care?