In a bizarre twist of fate, I find myself in hospital again. Laptop propped on my lap, nurses on call, the strange beeps and hospital noises instantly recognisable. I have the essentials on the bedside table next to me; phone charger, grapes, Evian, call buzzer. I’ve been here so many times before, this could be deja vu.
Except, this time, I’m not the patient. This time, I’m the one on the visitors chair. I’ve been here since 6am on Saturday – as much as I possibly can be, without it affecting my child. And it’s a strange feeling.
I know pretty much all there is to know about hospitals – I’ve been in them enough. I understand pain, and medications, and what it means when the nurses talk in hushed tones. I know how to move the beds; how to adjust the temperatute; what’s likely to be on the lunch menu and what the figures and scribbles on the charts mean. I can tell instantly whether a machine beeping means it’s running low, or if it’s dangerous. Old hat, this. Nothing new.
What is new for me though, is being on this side of everything. I’m so used to being the patient; the one in pain, that it’s strange to have the tables turned. Of course I’ve visited people before, but I haven’t sat next to a bed day in, day out, with someone I care about deeply in horrendous pain. This was no small procedure – it was surgery on his spine, and I’m helpless. Useless, really. It’s frustrating, and it’s upsetting. And I’m out of control.
That’s what is the most eye-opening thing, really. When you’ve lived in chronic pain for so long, you learn not to expect anyone to understand. You know that people are doing their best, but your entire focus is on yourself; not because you’re selfish, but because it takes vast amounts of energy to simply function. Sometimes it takes everything you have just to open your eyes; to swallow your painkillers or know your own name. So, after 12 years of being “the patient”, it’s both eye-opening and unpleasant to see it from the other side.
I never, until this moment, appreciated just how hard it is to be sitting in this chair. To watch someone you adore, someone who’s usually so full of life and fun and vigour suddenly so still – so quiet. It hurts your heart to sit here, unable to do much at all when an indepedent person relying on someone else for almost everything.
I’m racking my brains to remember what I needed when I was in this position, but of course, I was always pumped so full of morphine after each operation I probably didn’t know much even then. So I make sure everything is in reaching distance, I offer help, I stay quiet, I chase up the nurses when the pain starts to get worse. I smile when the drugs make him chatter nonsense and I pretend not to notice when he snaps. And I think about the people who have sat in this chair when I’ve been the one in that bed, and I’m grateful. And I’m sorry. It was appreciated, even if I didn’t say so at the time.
My perspective of life has changed so much over the last couple of years.
I’ve learned so many lessons that I hope make me a better person than I was.
I’ll sit in this chair for as long as is needed, I’ll be patient, and I’ll be kind and I’ll be around until the pain stops and the person I know comes back. Just like the people who cared for me, did before.
Maybe the Universe meant this for me, to make me see the bigger picture. To make me appreciate how hard it was at times.
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