'What I learned from being a patient'
Student nurse Mikey found out first-hand what it’s like to be a patient and gained a new understanding of how to care for patients in a confused state
Only six months after I had got married and started my child nursing degree, I learned first hand what is was like to become an inpatient after a near fatal car accident.
It was on a honeymoon to Mexico when the minibus my wife and I were traveling in crashed on a motorway, the bus landing on its roof after overturning several times, leaving me with a severe brain injury.
I sustained a subarachnoid haemorrhage, cerebral oedema, petechial haemorrhages of the frontal and parietal lobes and traverse fractures to the skull and neck.
I was placed into a drug induced coma for two weeks and then repatriated back to the UK by air ambulance. I had contracted sepsis and MRSA during my time on honeymoon, so all in all it had not been a great trip!
The most surprising aspect of this experience was my memories of the entire ordeal, including vivid flashbacks of being resuscitated, being intubated and finally able to breath, having secretions suctioned from my airways and even more abhorrently, the harrowing and gruesome experience of being fed hospital food.
During my arduous twenty hour repatriation flight back home from Mexico, accompanied by three doctors and my father, who had flown out to help my wife, something terrible happened.
I had become extremely hot, too hot to bear. I looked out of the window and was horrified to see flames coming from the undercarriage of the aircraft. We were on fire! I had been strapped down tightly to the stretcher with my hands mittened and had been given a lot of sedative drugs to try and keep me calm during the flight.
There was so much pain, needles were sticking out of me, I was so thirsty, I knew I was dying, but I needed to stay alive, I had to fight it, I couldn’t give up, I just couldn’t.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, my dad passed out. He spat something that looked like a dummy on the floor as his head slumped down and his chin slamming violently to his chest, his eyes were closed. Was he dead?
Then one of the doctors passed out. I looked round behind me to see that the two pilots who were supposed to be flying the plane were slumped over the control panel, they too must have fainted. The remaining doctor shouted “Don’t worry, I’ll do something!”
I scrambled for the oxygen pump that was attached to one of my fingers and began sucking furiously on it to try and get some air. I was convinced the fainting was due to lack of oxygen. Every time I started to get oxygen and feel better, an arm would swipe it away. “STOP IT! STOP IT!” I heard, “IT WON’T HELP!”
Then the plane arched and I heard a noise so deafening it couldn’t have been natural. I looked out of the window, we were crashing. The plane was plummeting to the earth, I was going to die. I remember it crashing down and connecting with the earth, the terror was impossible to imagine.
Back in the UK in the critical care unit, during the month following the crash, I remained in acute PTA. I would often become even more agitated at nighttime. I remember feeling terrified of my surroundings and wondered how I had ended up there. I was also having a hard time understanding why there was someone at the foot of my bed dressed as a chef watching me all night.
I recall one night when I was in bed with the lights out, when a woman dressed as a chef came into my room and started taking pictures of me for no apparent reason. I didn’t know why I was in hospital and why I was in so much pain, or why there was a chef here. I decided I did not want to be photographed so I unrolled a blanket at the foot of my bed and placed it strategically over the chef and her camera to obscure her view of me.
I had always been adept in my problem solving.
On the assumption that you, the reader, are reasonably well educated you will probably conclude that I did not in fact die in an aeroplane accident and there was no chef taking pictures of me in a hospital.
The oxygen pump on my flight that I was desperately sucking on was an O2 Saturation monitor. The arm swiping it away was the arm of the doctor, who had not fainted and had been resting during the long flight. I was burning up because of the sepsis infection, the thirst would account for this too, not the fact that the plane was on fire. The feeling of the plane crashing was just a bumpy landing. The chef in the hospital taking pictures of me was in fact a student nurse assigned to special me overnight, she was playing on her mobile phone in the dark while I was trying to sleep.
So the next time you are caring for someone with dementia, stroke, acute confusion or another form of brain injury and they appear to be terrified, confused, angry or agitated, I hope you may remember this article and remember that it might not be so illogical to the patient.
And remember not to play with your phone when a patient is trying to sleep!
Mikey Whitehead is a student nurse studying children’s nursing.