This is the view from my bedroom window last week. Not the ocean and sailing boats of Mallorca where I had planned to be but the concrete, machines and lights of hospital.
Last week, for the third terrifying time in my life, my head took me on an unexpected ride into pain that I can only explain verbally as an explosion. On a scale of 11 out of 10, and reached in Formula One speed of intensity, my head all of a sudden, out of the blue exploded! An experience that took me vey suddenly into the emergency wards of Tunbridge Wells Hospital.
Within just 5 minutes of arrival this is what happened…I was separated from my husband Ben, fitted with a face mask and delivered into an A&E bay via wheelchair. Once in my bay I was stripped and dressed in a hospital gown, cannular fitted, name tag attached, heart monitored and bloods taken. All of this was very efficient and whole-heartedly terrifying.
In addition to the above, my first 3 hours of emergency care included sitting for hours alone on a trolly in an isolated sterile cubical or bright and loud corridor; enduring a CT scan of my head, remaining motionless, whilst it pounded; a discussion about a possible transfer to Kings Hospital London due to possible bleed on the brain, stroke, meningitis or brain damage; a discussion about a forthcoming and ‘very painful procedure” of a lumbar puncture and a rollercoaster of pain, nausea, morphine, and anti-sickness drugs.
Then nothing, a darkened room (finally) and more waiting alone for whatever was coming next. I’ve told my family since that I felt like a damaged amazon package waiting to be delivered on the conveyor belt of sickness or health.
The second 27 hours of ward care included two failed attempts on a lumbar puncture, two fleeting visits from two different consultants and more pain relief, tears, shock and fear. (All permissible only after a compulsory covid-19 test that was thankfully negative).
A day later I sobbed some more and then resolved to get home. I got out of bed, dressed myself, brushed my teeth and sat calmly in a chair as I waited, for what turned out to be a full two and a half hours, for the doctor doing his rounds. I was no longer going to be a package, I urgently needed to fix myself.
I am home now, on the mend, but non the wiser. I still don’t know why my brain decided to explode on this day, one of three of the most excruciating days of my life, and that’s not including when I had my two babies! I have been given a diagnosis of a Thunderclap Headache, “a severe and sudden onset headache that takes seconds to minutes to reach maximum intensity, similar to a sudden hit on the head, resulting in a blinding pain unlike anything experienced before” (NHS description). This is the third of these diagnoses, the same each time but beyond that there is no explanation and no guarantees or insight as to when it might strike again.
So, why am I telling you this? I’m normally quite a private person and keep myself to myself. This Thunderclap Headache however has taught me somethings that I feel really important to share and explore with anyone who may be interested.
Firstly, we should not be alone. Being separated from Ben and being left incapacitated in the centre of a sterile room on a trolly for hours is extremely stressful on the nervous system. I was afraid, in pain and isolated. I am horrified to think of all the people, covid-19 patients and others, in these exact same conditions, and for far longer than me. Staff do not have the time, or personal connection, to offer the support, love and tenderness I needed. I can honestly say that once the pain was managed the second biggest hurdle for me to overcome was that of being separated from Ben. Which leads me to the second big lesson of the moment…
Secondly, I used my training, practice and experience of controlling my breathing to find some ease and steadiness. I consciously breathed and trusted my breath to bring me to a place of calm, and it did! In one text message from Ben after I had suffered a panic attack over being violently sick, he said “Thank God you know to calm yourself so brilliantly.” And I do, and I believe we all need to possess that simple and most powerful skill of using our ever-present breath to steady us, even in the most challenging of circumstances.
At one point in the evening, as I was breathing myself better, a new patient arrived in a different ward across the courtyard. This man was manic, perhaps from a drugs overdose, alcohol or psychosis. He arrived screaming and shouting and continued long into the night swearing, threatening, and rattling what I assume, rightly or not, to be handcuffs against his bed side bars. I felt deeply sorry for the staff allocated to help this man, and for the man himself. I imagine they could not get close enough to sedate him and so it was a waiting game for us all. So, wait we did. For 6 long hours he ranted, and the courtyard could not absorb the language, rage or savage sounds he made until he finally fell silent around 4 or 5am.
Nor could my head absorb the extra dimension of the presence and volume of this man. And so….
Thirdly, I instinctively delved deeply into my other learned and practiced capacity to meditate. I trusted my wonderful teacher Alexander Filmer-Lorch and his observations of a stillness memory that meditation accumulates. I needed desperately to regain my stillness and find an inner quiet and focus despite of the explosions of uncertainty, pain, and anguish all around. So, I sat, in my hospital bed, wrapped in the comfort of my mother’s old shawl and I trusted that calm would come, and thankfully it did!
Here are the 3 things I truly want to share with you:
- PEOPLE NEED PEOPLE. I hope you are not left alone in your hour of need. I pray the law changes to allow a companion with each and every one in hospital now and in the future. It is a primitive need and basic requirement, regardless of the contamination challenges it may present. It is also the healing presence and loving reassurance that leads towards acceptance of any given circumstance and to aid mental agility and wellbeing.
- YOUR BREATH IS YOUR BEST FRIEND. You never know when you might be required to call on your inner reserves and innate capacity to breath yourself better. When you do you will be so grateful for the practice you have put in beforehand to guide your breath and trust it to hold you gently in return.
- MEDITATION IS A HEALER. I honestly know that had I not had the capacity and experience of sitting still in meditation for hours at a time my stint in hospital would have been far more challenging, and most likely longer than it was. This ability to still the mind, body and emotions is a gift that we all possess if only we are taught and guided to remember how.
So, there it is. I, like so many people have not been to Mallorca, we have not had the family holiday we planned this year and my birthday celebrations have been cancelled for now. I still feel rubbish and have next to zero energy. I am however most grateful to be still alive to tell the tale and extraordinary blessed to have some precious self-healing skills ever present at my disposal.
I am indebted to Ben for his love, stability, loyally and constant vigilance. I am in renewed awe of Alexander and all that he has taught me about the power of meditation and the stillness it can bring. I am thankful to the hospital staff for their swift response to what could have been a life-threatening situation handled within very difficult post-covid circumstances. I am grateful for my family of boys and their good-humoured banter and hugs that greeted me on my return. I am resolved to keep up my daily meditation practice and build on that well of inner stillness ready for the next twist and turn of the rollercoaster. And I certainly won’t forget that even got flowers!
Just like my Thunderclap Headache this experience has been quick, short and very sharp. I don’t want to miss this opportunity to learn from my experience, to reflect and observe and grow because of and through it. Perhaps sometime soon I will even come to be thankful for this episode and opportunity for everything it has taught me?
And finally, I have a renewed resolve in my desire to share these life supporting skills, methods and practices in my own teaching and sharing with others. Helping others to harness their inner healing and deep self-knowing. Perhaps you will join me one day?
FORTHCOMING ONLINE COURSES WITH LUCY
Have a look at the links to read all about these new 8-week online courses with Lucy starting in September 2020…
“Know Thyself”, Finding and Trusting your Inner Voice https://flowtunbridgewells.com/online-courses/
Learning to Meditate, Suitable for Beginners to Improvers https://flowtunbridgewells.com/online-courses/