Recovery: a return to good health after an illness or to a normal state after a difficult period of time
Thinking about what has been particularly challenging in dealing with a chronic illness and the associated difficulties, I realize that the recovery after being hospitalized is frequently downplayed. Not fully acknowledging the experienced trauma; not taking the time needed to recover physically or process the feelings experienced by the person who is ill, or the experiences of those people who have suffered because of my illness, has most certainly led to emotional harm.
There are many milestones on the recovery route. The removal of the oxygen mask or nasal cannula is usually the first step on the road to being discharged. In ICU, I always encounter the problem of shallow breathing because of the pain. More pain relief cannot be administered when my breathing is too shallow. So I need to be given oxygen. The oxygen mask is uncomfortable because, for some reason, it makes me feel as if I am suffocating rather breathing easier. If the oxygen is delivered via a nasal cannula then my nostrils become so sore that I have to concentrate on mouth-breathing which is exhausting. When the oxygen is removed it means that I am getting better. The next milestone is the removal of the nasogastric tube. I know I’m recovering when swallowing becomes painful and the tape securing the tube to my face becomes uncomfortable. The tube is usually removed within two days. As soon as the drip is removed, I know I will be home in a matter of hours.
And it is such a relief. There is usually great excitement and gratitude that I am being discharged. It feels as if the worst of the experience has passed. But that is not necessarily true. Getting to the car is usually so exhausting that I am tempted to ask to go back to my hospital bed. The car journey home is often frightening because the unevenness of the road and the pressure on my body when the car slows and accelerates is painful. Sometimes, I can only make it as far as the couch if my bedroom is upstairs and I have to rest and prepare myself to walk up the stairs to my bed. Eating takes so much energy and makes me feel such discomfort, that the anticipation itself is exhausting. But it is always wonderful to be back home with my family, my husband, my dogs and my children. There are fewer feelings greater than lying in my own bed next to someone I love and this is amplified by having been in hospital.
After a few days, I look less gaunt and frail and start to look and feel healthier and stronger. This, I realize, is where the denial starts. The suppressing of emotions that should be processed at this stage. Those close to me are dealing with their own trauma and it is painfully lonely because it is so difficult to be needy and needed at exactly the same time. Because the way I look does not always reflect how sick or weak I feel, there is some expectation that life can start to assume some type of normality. I cannot fully articulate the extent of the damage caused by this assumption. There are unexpressed feelings and emotions both from me and from those who love me. To tell you how much grief, loss, anger, fear and helplessness I am feeling seems as selfish as you telling me how much you feel those emotions. However, suppressed and unexpressed emotions don’t disappear, but rather become something bigger and less manageable, surfacing unexpectedly. To be physically sick and emotionally vulnerable feels impossible particularly since the seriousness of the illness makes those close to me emotionally vulnerable too. At the time, it feels unbearable, so detachment or the magnified expression of emotions in unrelated contexts occurs.
This is a difficult journey. The answers are not yet clear, though I know that my search is part of my recovery.