I recently found myself in the critical care unit with a nasogastric tube in my nose. I was hooked to an IV pole, and my lower legs were encased in compression wraps to prevent blood clots.

Not only was I stuck there for at least a week. I could not have anything to eat or drink for the duration.

I might have reacted to this news with fear. Or sadness. I might have simply resigned myself to my fate.

Nope. I was mad. What the heck? I may have played the role of nice girl most of my life, but this was too much. There was no way I could say, “Oh, OK,” or, “Sounds like a plan.”

I did not growl, or shout, or cry. I was speechless, which in my personal rulebook of civility is just as bad.

It was at that moment I realized I had the potential to be a bad patient. A very bad patient.

I had come to the hospital the previous day for surgery. I had expected to stay overnight in a regular unit and be out of work for a week, maybe two.

But there were complications. A second, emergency surgery was required. When I awoke, my world had shifted on its axis.

No food or drink for a week!

I’d had some day surgery in the past but I’d never spent a night in the hospital. Although I was apprehensive about the operation and my recovery, the idea of an overnight stay didn’t worry me. I calmly made a list of what to stow in my backpack, based on internet research. I knew I’d probably be on a liquid diet for the day, but that wouldn’t be so bad.

Now, no food or drink for a week!

Visions of smoothies were racing through my head. How was I going to make it through the week? I would have to pass a swallowing test before they would let me go home, before they let me drink a glass of cranberry juice. My overactive imagination and hyperactive thought processes were not going to handle this well. Or a week without eating.

Oh, “angry” did not begin to describe how I felt.

I quickly discovered, however, I did not have time to stew in the meager juices I had left. Although I was not in critical condition, I needed to be kept under a close eye. On the CCU, that means having your vital signs checked every two hours. Every time I closed my eyes, somebody wanted to put a thermometer in my mouth.

When there was a lull in the action, I contemplated escape. But between the NG tube, the IV and a catheter, I was going nowhere.

I was trapped. I quickly grew tired of people asking me how I was. I was extremely tired in fact, and could not sleep. It was time for a bath. The IV antibiotics bag needed to be changed. A machine started beeping and I had to call for help.

I had drains coming out of either side of my abdomen. And have I mentioned I could not eat or drink?

Oh, Bad Patient was very unhappy, but she managed to keep it under the covers, so to speak.

Still, I knew my negative attitude was not helping me recover. After all, what was my goal? Home.

So I looked at the bright side. It was not fun having a tube in my nose, but I could not call it painful. I was not in any pain at all. And if I was, I had a button to push that would deliver meds straight to my bloodstream.

I actually used it so sparingly they took it away from me after a few days.

I could sit up and read, or stream shows on my iPad. Friends and family were calling and texting me. My husband, Paul, came to visit twice a day. After a few days, the catheter came out. I could spend some time sitting in the chair by the window.

I found I could be grateful and angry at the same time. Well, maybe not in the same moment, but definitely in the same hour.

Then I had an epiphany. I realized, on day three, I was so far out of my ordinary existence I did not care about eating anymore. Early morning meant a visit from the lab technician, who would draw blood. Noontime meant a visit from Paul. He would d return around dinner time, as well.

I did dream about food. Amusingly, I always realized at the last minute that I could not eat it. Even my subconscious had accepted my fate.

Once I was able to stop grizzling and throwing silent tantrums, I realized I was serving a purpose. Many patients who need critical care are noncommunicative. They may be unconscious or on respirators. They are truly bedridden.

I was not only lucid (sometimes even garrulous), but eventually I could even get myself in and out of bed. A visit to room 10 was a tiny respite for the hardworking critical care staff.

There it was: A glimmer of happiness. I still had a tube up my nose. I really needed to wash my hair.

But with my anger gone, with that crack in my darkness, I could finally see better days ahead.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]


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