I felt the incredible urge to sleep.
I’m normally tired from broken sleep, any parent of a toddler will endorse that, but this was different. I said goodbye to my fiancé on Friday morning as I departed for work as I usually do.
I broke down in tears. This is something I don’t usually do upon departing.
‘I’m OK, I’m just incredibly tired’ I reassured her.
In hindsight, if you’re a man in his mid-late 30s and you burst into tears at the thought of going to work, maybe, just, maybe… call a doctor?
The night before I remember my temperature levels being a bit ‘abnormal.’ I was sweating, hot in the winter cold which isn’t a great sign.
As I switched to mental ‘auto-pilot’ for my drive to work I managed to get there safely. The five minute walk from the car park to the office took me ten minutes and climbing the stairs to my floor was virtually done on all fours.
I battled my way through my day’s work and at the end of the day, it took me fifteen minutes to walk back to my car.
Arriving home I declared to everyone that I needed to sleep and that’s exactly what I did.
- I slept through my son going to bed
- I slept through my fiancé’s effort at giving me an easy dinner
- I slept through dinner
- I slept through every attempt at giving me liquids
I woke up on Saturday morning a bit confused and slightly weaker for not eating the night before.
My fiancé made me toast with lots of jam on and I barely finished one slice. The urge for sleep was unbearable now and the coughing I had experienced over the previous 24 hours was brutally, stomach muscle hurting, bad.
When you have a toddler and you feel ill, the natural go to place, is… ‘Illness can wait.’ On a Saturday, it’s a father’s duty to relieve your partner of ‘weekday baby duties’ as best as you can… in my opinion.
I just couldn’t keep up with him and it was agreed that I needed to visit the ‘walk in’ health centre.
‘If you get there just before it opens, you may not have to wait so long’ coaxed my fiancé… several times…over the course of an hour from 7am.
‘Give me five minutes and I’ll get up’ was my response every time, still crippled with the urge to just sleep.
I managed to shower and get dressed and by now, the ‘walk in centre’ was in its fifteenth minute of being open. I stubbornly rejected my fiancé’s offer to drive me, my reasoning, was if I was now going to be there for hours, I shouldn’t hold her or the boy’s day up.
I drove the four miles to the ‘walk in centre’ pretty much bumping off every kerb whenever the road curved. I was losing the ability to stay awake and drive at the same time, this has never happened to me before and certainly not in the morning.
When I got in and spluttered my symptoms: Cough and can’t breathe very well; they told me it could be up to a THREE HOUR wait.
I slunk over to the waiting area and sat… for an hour, coughing and fighting the urge to sleep.
Feeling that the odds of being seen in the next hour would be stacked heavily against me, I asked to receptionist if it would be OK to go sleep in my car for an hour and come back.
Seeing the state I was in she offered that I could call 111 from my phone where I would speak to an on-site triage nurse who would be able to call me back when they were ready for me.
‘So… I could just go sleep in my car and wait for the call…?’ I tried to reason with myself.
I clambered into the passenger seat of my Land Rover and looked at the time; 11:15am.
‘Let me sleep for ten minutes’ I muttered to myself, ‘and then I’ll call 111.’
I closed my eyes.
It was cold in the car but it didn’t matter, I could close my eyes.
At around 11:30 I opened my eyes and figured I’d need to warm the car so I started the engine and turned the heating on.
I dialled 111 from my iPhone and the recorded message on the other end was distorted to the point that I couldn’t follow the instructions. ‘Must be a signal thing’ I said to myself.
I closed my eyes again.
My fiancé called just before 12… I mumbled to her that I was waiting to get through to 111 and that I was trying to sleep in my car… I think that’s what I said.
She texted at 12:15pm and said… ‘Didn’t understand what you were saying.’
I closed my eyes again.
It got to 12:36pm and I mustered the energy to walk into the main building connected to the ‘walk in centre.’ I figured if I couldn’t get through on my phone, walking into the building where the triage nurses were based may help my cause.
The receptionist patched me through to 111 on their payphone and I began answering a lot of questions to the voice on the other end.
‘You can go back into the ‘walk in centre’ and wait if you like, it may be up to 3 hours though.’
‘No I’ve done that!’ I snapped. By now, I was propping myself up on the wall, desperate to lie down. My voice cracked under the emotion, ‘please, is there anywhere I can just lie down and wait..?’
The voice on the other end told me to go home and wait for their call.
I drove home, stumbled into the house, took off my shoes, crawled into bed and closed my eyes.
‘Bliss’ I thought and I attempted to place myself into a deep sleep.
My phone rang minutes later, the voice on the other end told me to come back to the ‘walk in centre’ and a doctor would see me as soon as I got there.
This time, I was helpless to argue with my fiancé’s demand to drive me there, so I flopped into the passenger seat of my own car and we made our way back.
The other ‘walk in’ patients had recognised me from the hours before and not one of them gave me a begrudged look as I was plucked from their company by a doctor calling me through.
It transpired that I needed to be on a Nebuliser so I was shipped round and ‘masked up’ for some medicinal air to help me breathe easier.
After a while my fiancé’s understandable concern-focus switched back to our boy, who was with his grandparents but it was nearing his dinner and bath time.
The doctor gave me two options:
- Take some drugs away with me, rest up and follow the course of anti-biotics
- I go to the hospital to delve deeper into the fact that there was only 92% of oxygen swirling around inside me
Her heavy emphasis on me taking the hospital option was underlined with ‘We can get you there by ambulance if your fiancé can’t…’
I told my fiancé to go be with our boy and that I’d wait for an ambulance to come get me, she reluctantly left but I had an ulterior motive…
As my fiancé left the doctor came back and put a comforting arm around me, telling me that the ambulance would be between two and six hours…
‘That’s OK’ I wheezed and I pointed at the ‘doctor’s couch’ which was so beautifully bed shaped. ‘Can I sleep there until they come?’
‘Of course you can’ the young doctor said, forgiving of all my one liners, quips and other ‘humorous’ dialogue I’d thrown at her during the course of her examination of me as I tried so very hard to make light out of a concerning situation.
She helped me up, I laid out onto my side and I closed my eyes.
It was another 2 hours or so before I woke up to a two person ambulance team staring over me.
‘Crikey O’Reilly!’ I shouted, bemused at the fact that I could just fall asleep in what was effectively a hall way. The paramedics laughed and then went into their gentle, reassurance mode, explaining in detail what was happening now and what was happening next.
They helped me into a wheelchair and wheeled me into their awaiting ambulance.
‘Don’t be alarmed,’ the older of the two said, ‘We’re going to put the blue lights on, mainly because of the shopping centre traffic at this time of day but also because we really need to get you to a doctor.’
As the siren wailed, I began to wonder what was really wrong with me.
I’ve had chest infections before which I’ve taken anti-biotics and ‘slept off.’ This was different. My temperature was up, my blood sugar level was dangerously high and then there was the breathing, difficult at worst, uncomfortable at best.
I began to question why I smoked.
I had smoked more than usual on the Thursday night which probably didn’t help, probably double what would be a ‘bad smoking day’ for me but I’ve been, by no means, anywhere near a 20 a day smoker.
By this time I was 48 hours ‘clean’ and I decided there and then that I wouldn’t touch another cigarette.
You see… It was the over smoking on the Thursday night which I thought had landed me in the position I was in, being transferred from ambulance bed to hospital bed, but every time I mentioned it to a doctor, they seemed not to take my claim as serious. Something must be really wrong if admitting I smoked a huge amount in a day wasn’t being taken seriously.
Even so… I’ve not touched one since and every time I look at my son and remember my fiancé telling me he went through days of frustration not really understanding why ‘Daddy hadn’t come home yet’ whilst I recovered in hospital whilst he battled his own little chest infection, it made me realise that I might feel like a superhero at times but they are but a fictional thing.
Being laid up in hospital with a chest infection which was at first thought to be pneumonia for 4 days and 3 nights, away from my son because he wouldn’t have understood the intravenous drips hanging out of both my arms and the oxygen tube going into my nose was the worst feeling ever.
Listening to men twice my age groan in agony in the hospital room with me was not the greatest feeling ever either.
I did get some light relief in the form of the ‘confused,’ cantankerous old boy opposite me who, bless him, attempted to escape the ward before being brought back by three security guards.
I refused any help with showering or dressing. Although I couldn’t move with ease I wanted to keep some form of independence.
When I was bored I asked if I could walk to the shops on the ground floor (I was on the third floor). When one nurse went to check with another nurse I just told the remaining nurse that one of the other nurses had OK’d my jaunt to the on-site shops.
As I shuffled towards ‘freedom’ in my pyjama bottoms and slippers the nurse called out to me, ‘If you don’t come back we’ll be looking for you…’
I was now, in public, dressed for bed, walking at a snail’s pace, breathing heavily. I had the insight to roll my left sleeve up to expose my hospital ID bracelet which was dangling on my wrist; if I’m going to look like a patient, I really should, really, look like a patient.
I bought my fiancé her favourite Yorkie bar as it gave the jaunt to the shops some purpose. I shuffled back to the ward and climbed back into bed.
When I was released on the Tuesday afternoon (I’d been in since Saturday night), two days before Christmas, via the ‘departure lounge’ which involved reclining seats and bad hot beverages I realised that, as much as I had rested and mostly recuperated, I had also managed to keep an inner strength to stop me going insane.
It was hard seeing my son via Skype but I was happy that he was happy he could see me as much as he wasn’t sure what was going on. Apparently he would drag my fiancé’s iPad to her and say ‘Daddy!’ after the first video call.
It was hard not being there for my fiancé who had to try and work whilst keep an ill, tantrum-throwing-toddler at peace where an extra pair of hands would have sufficed. I got talking to an Anglo-Italian lady in the lounge, she said my son is beautiful and she spoke with pride about her own grown up sons who are by anyone’s standards, high achievers.
We pondered if there will be a natural, next generation of ‘go-getters,’ ‘do-gooders’ or indeed, leaders of the country which made me realise that I’m still yet to really achieve the heights associated with the so-called ‘potential’ I have.
One of the first things I said to my son when I held him in my arms for the first time was ‘You can be whatever you want to be, so long as you work hard for it…’ The words now rang around my head and as I was ‘released back into the community,’ pills in hand, I stood in the hustle bustle of the shops and cafés bit near the reception of the hospital and waited for my fiancé to collect me.
- I’d had three days out of reality
- I felt like I’d let my fiancé down by being unavailable at such a busy time
- I’d missed three days of work and the project that I was so looking forward to being trained on
- I’d missed three nights with my son and my fiancé
I’d missed three mornings of my son waking me up saying ‘Da-da, Da-da’
- I’d missed going Christmas food shopping
I’d missed out on things which I didn’t necessarily need to, had I just, maybe, looked after myself a bit better
I took a ‘selfie’ capturing my face and the hospital surroundings behind me as I wanted to ‘tag’ the hospital in and say ‘thank you for looking after me.’
I posted it on all the usual social networks for maximum coverage in the hope that one member of staff may come across it and know how much I had hidden how scared on the inside I was and how much they put me at ease and on the road to recovery.
Moments after my self-portrait I raised my scarf to my face and once again I closed my eyes.
Only this time, I didn’t sleep.
I just stood there and cried like a baby.