WELLBEING | A Moment Of Reflection Out On The Water – Time Outdoors During A Crisis

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Kayaking during my mums recovery

This is a rare personal post and one that isn’t particularly easy to write, but one I felt I needed to to enable me to make sense of the events that have happened over the last 2 weeks.

Death is one of those subjects that’s difficult to talk about. We all fear it coming to claim those we love, yet we know it is inevitible. On Monday 31st July 2017 following a visit to A&E just a few hours earlier, I stood in horror beside my mums hospital bed as she fell unconcious and lost all respitory function. The lines on her monitor went flat where just moments before there had been an active graph and audible reassuring bleeps.

Out on the water and time for reflection

As a loud alarm went off and her monitor flashed red, a crash team came rushing in. I moved into the corner of the room and watched in horror, shaking and rooted to the spot as the team tried to save my mums life.

After being moved out of the room to sit with my dad, I made hurried phone calls to my sisters and daughter in total numbness and on auto-pilot. I couldn’t think, I could barely breathe but I had to convey the news in a way that would ensure my sisters and daughter would be able to get to the hospital safely.

The vision of the crash team around mum and the alarm going off is something that has been with me constantly since it happened. I can’t even start to convey the feeling of watching the light of your world flicker and fade out in front of your eyes, and for over an hour, all I knew was that I’d just watched my mum die.

I stopped paddling and just floated there, thinking

My sisters who live further away arrived and we still didn’t know if she was alive or dead. If they had saved her, what state she would be in? What followed proved to be the hardest 10 days of my life. We were warned by the amazing staff on ICU that we would go through a rollercoaster of emotions, and we did. From elation that they had brought her back to abject terror she might wake up with a serious brain injury.

Every day, every single one of us stayed by her side. Our crazy sense of humour and the fact we have always been a strong and close family made it more bearable, and we learned that the rollercoaster metaphor was spot on; there were days that brought a tiny glimmer of progress followed by days where she took a huge backwards step.

Crazy ICU Hallucinations

For days doctors gave us grim-faced analysis, telling us to ‘be prepared for the worst’ and that it wasn’t looking at all good. Then one day  finally, instead of the usual grave-faced negative warning, I spoke to the Doctor and he smiled as he told me ‘she’s doing really well’ and I felt my first true surge of hope.

When she was finally taken off the ventilator and was able to communicate with us, we feared she’d totally lost it. A lot of things mum talked about was utter nonsene, and included a mixture of both terrifying and hilarious hallucinations.

These included nightly ‘floor shows’ that the ICU staff put on, a ranch at the other side of the ward where white Bison and wooly sheep wearing yellow platform shoes lived, oh and Rod Stewart climbing out of a bin.

Doctors reasurred us that hallucinations were totally normal on ICU, which helped to make the things she was seeing slightly less alarming, and slowly her normal cognitive function resumed.

The staff at Royal Stoke University Hospital ICU were utterly amazing. Seeing them save lives every day suddenly plunged me into a dark fugue, making my own career seem so pathetically unimportant that at one point I didn’t understand how I could ever return to normal.

Making Time For Yourself During A Crisis

I did a lot of reading, finding out how others had responded and coped with a loved one critically ill, and I read time and time again that it was important to try and maintain the routine aspects of your own life and to make time for yourself.

During those first 10 days, as well as the pervasive image of mum crashing, I kept thinking about how I felt at the top of Beinn Ghlas mountain in Scotland earlier this year. I desperately needed to be outdoors and to immerse myself in nature, but it felt selfish to think of spending time away from my mums bed side at such a time and when things were still so uncertain.

A Heron taking off in front of my KayakA heron taking flight in front of me

As she continued to make good progress I made the decision to take a couple of hours for myself one morning. I chose Astbury Mere only a few minutes from home and went kayaking. The warmth of the sunshine on my shoulders and the quiet I found in the middle of the Mere helped to shift something inside of me. I was finally ready to hope that she was going to make it and that we’d have mum back; something I’d dared not really think about until then.

Kayaking at Astbury Mere in Cheshire

I smiled, really smiled out there and was glad I’d taken just a couple of hours for myself. When I visited mum that afternoon I was able to show her photos, and she was happier becuase I was less tense and noticibly more relaxed.

It’s still early days, but I’m not so afraid now to take a few hours away from the hospital; it feels like normal life might resume very soon and I can’t explain how thankful I am of that. We’re planning another big family holiday togeher as soon as mum is strong enough.

We’ve always valued our time together but never before has it been made just so clear how precious that time really is.

Mum starting to make good progress on ICUHere’s mum starting to make good progress, just before leaving Intensive Care

Sources we found helpful

  • Alistair Davitt

    So glad your mum is home now X