Stronger Together

On May Day, I was hospitalised.

Over the course of my hospitalisation, I learnt a couple of important lessons — about myself and the people around me — with a central theme of vulnerability.

What happened? After a week of ignoring individual symptoms of back ache, abdominal cramps, headaches, chills and signs of fatigue, my body decided to deliver one last warning sign by flushing all the above symptoms with a running fever that sent me running to the doctors.

You see, I’m not a huge fan of visiting the Big D and I truly believe we should allow our body to heal itself. This, was not one of those times.

“Fresh” from a sleepless night of shivers and finally admitting that something was wrong, I decided to visit our neighbourhood 24hr clinic to get diagnosed with every intention to walk out with prescription medication and a ton of rest ordered. I was wrong.

After describing my symptoms to the doctor, he explained I was running a temperature and ordered tests to confirm suspicions he had. When I returned to the doctor’s room for the second time, restless and uncomfortable (I just wanted to lie down but couldn’t!) he told me simply that he will not be prescribing anything but that I should head to the closest A&E immediately, adding in full seriousness that I should not try to delay my visit to the hospital. (I still really wanted to lie down)

Summoning the last ounce of my strength, I struggled home, informed my only next-of-kin in town (my folks were off on a 2 week cruise in North America)— my brother — that I was heading to the closest A&E and I might have to be hospitalised (he did offer to assist me but I said no), ordered myself a taxi and made my way to the hospital.

Upon arrival, I still believed I would be walking out that day with prescribed medication, maybe a jab of concentrated medication up my veins. After just 15 mins of waiting, I was about to pass out from pain and was literally crawling to the front desk to ask for a space to lay down when the nurse summoned by name. I wanted to cry and waved to indicate I was she, the name she summoned. She ushered me to the back of the waiting area, into a long alley of rooms dubbed consultation bays and told me to lay down in one of them. The moment my body hit the flat bed, it was sheer bliss and she started her battery of questions, informing me the triage doctor would be with me shortly.

He came, same battery of questions and I was in tears from the pain as they took my temperature and informed me I had a fever. Between the shivers and the chills, I think I kinda figured the fever bit out already but they felt it was necessary to articulate it for me. All I wanted though, was something for the pain I was feeling and delivered they did but with needles which I absolutely abhor. Next, they kindly informed me that I would have to be warded and they would be sending their business operations representative to discuss the details.

Now, this was the moment I cracked. I was in pain, slightly incoherent and delirious and the biz ops lady shoved me a brochure of rooms I could choose from and asked me for my selection. To be fair, it looked like a brochure for selecting hotel rooms but…

  1. I was in pain
  2. I was delirious
  3. I was on medication
  4. I didn’t know jackshit about hospitals and wards
  5. I didn’t feel like I could make a decision. Period. Less an informed one for that matter

I seriously contemplated closing my eyes and jabbing my finger at the brochure in the dark. I felt helpless and at that moment I never felt more alone. I thought I was strong but I cracked. I needed help and I decided to ask for it. I snapped a picture of the room brochure and sent it off to a doctor friend with a simple question — “Can you tell me what I should choose?”

The next response I received from my bestie was — “Where are you? What are you doing?” When I explained my situation, she immediately asked me where I was and told me she was coming over. In that moment, I felt my body slack and all the tension I hadn’t realised I was holding release. I wasn’t alone and it was the best feeling ever.

So, instead of boring you with the ordeal of my stay, here are my takeaways.

Listen to your body

My body was showing me signs of wear and tear for weeks leading up to this final dreadful breakdown, but like the stubborn, strong-headed person that I am, I ignored it… them.

It started out with common symptoms which I absolutely paid no heed to —

  1. Constant state of lethargy (I mean who in this day and age is not tired?!)
  2. Headaches (they come, they go, it’s a normal way of life)

Then it progressed in the last week to —

  1. Mid to severe abdominal cramps (which I passed off as period pains and thus ignored)
  2. A dull nagging backache on the right hand side (I thought I pulled a muscle at the gym and even mentioned it to a couple of folks who said to stretch it)
  3. Slight chills (but I typically get cold easily so I thought the air-conditioning was too high)

Then came the final blow, the one I could not ignore any more. I woke up shivering from cold and pain in the middle of the night, turned off the air-conditioning, moved myself to our room-temperature living room and continued to shiver under heavy covers. The moment the sun rose, I pulled myself to the closest 24hr GP (which leads you to the beginning of the story — also sparing you details of my stay which is boring)

Lesson learnt: Seek professional help when you first notice signs, don’t let it fester. Don’t put off what your can address today for tomorrow.

It is OK to ask for help

I was placed in the consultation bay where I was diagnosed and informed that I had to be hospitalised. In pain and not in the most conscious of states, the business operations at the hospital shoved a brochure in my face which looked like a fancy catalog with rooming options and a simple question — “Ma’am, please choose which room you would like to stay in.”

That broke me.

I didn’t feel capable of making any decisions at that point, all I wanted was anything, something to remove the pain and make me feel better. That was when I decided to ask for help from my bestie. I sent her an image of the brochure with a simple question — “What should I choose?”

Her response — “Where are you? What are you doing?”

Upon learning my situation, she dropped everything, came to the hospital and gave me the assurance, strength and an absolute peace of mind despite everything. And for that, I’m absolutely thankful.

Lesson learnt: Asking for help is not a sign of weakness and I should have asked for help sooner than later.

I am loved

As my parents were on a 2 week long holiday in the Americas and had only just set sailed a mere two days ago, I made the decision to not inform them of my hospitalisation lest they fret and not be able to enjoy their time on holiday. I didn’t want them to worry or worst yet, cancel their trip and book the next flight back home. My closest next-of-kin, my brother, was someone I didn’t want to burden either although he did offer to make the trip to the hospital with me but I turned him down. I chose to put on a strong front, one of independence, with a singular thought of not wanting to burden anyone.

But when I broke and reached out for help, the network effect as friends, family and colleagues came to learn I’ve been hospitalised led me to an important discovery. My self-enforced independence is a false front and despite my high walls, I discovered I was not alone and that I am loved and cared for. Thank you for teaching me an important lesson with your gestures of love and concern, I am eternally grateful for this experience.

Lesson learnt: Ohana extends beyond my immediate family. I am more loved than I can ever comprehend and I’m thankful for everyone and everything in my life.

I still miss you

As I laid in the hospital bed, the memory of you laying in your hospital bed kept flashing in my mind. Every pain, every sensation, every trigger is wrapped with a memory of your pain, your suffering, your struggle, your fight and in my own selfish way I drew strength from your last moments. Every needle prick I felt, I understood your suffering a little bit more but beyond the physical pain, I also felt an overwhelming sensation of sadness, guilt and yearning to hold you in my arms again. I wish I could have taken some of that pain away from you, or that I could have understood it better and be there for you better. I still miss you grandma, I hope you’re in a better place. ❤

Lesson learnt: Some pain will never go away but its important to let it go or learn to draw strength from it. I still miss you and thank you for your constant company whenever I am down.

The aftermath

So now, I’m discharged and recuperating with a nagging stitch-like pain throbbing on the right and a persistent headache that refuses to go away. I still find it a real struggle to relax and let go. So my advise to all the head-strong, career-focused, “live life” FOMOs like me, listen to your body and at the first sign of pain or fatigue, see the damn doctor and enlist your loved ones to help you. Don’t ever leave it/ anything till its too late. #lessonlearnt