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My days in bed: 48 hours of illness, reflecting on the fragility of life

I was ill this week.

I woke up feeling nauseous , no desire to speak to anyone, as soon as I stood up from bed, I had this urge to throw up. So I did.

During the process, my stomach was hurting, I haven’t thrown up from an illness for years. Even tears started to come out, I felt so weak. I normally don’t cry when I am ill.

I spent the whole day sleeping , with some in between restlessness. Then I started to get body aches. It was painful to move, but also tiring to stay still.

Brain was foggy, couldn’t really do anything ‘productive’, even social media scrolling was not doing the trick. Still didn’t want to talk to anyone.

Luckily this lasted only 48 hours and on the 3rd day, I woke up in such a good mood as I had my health back.

You might be thinking…’why is she telling us about this?’ 🤔

Well, this is the reality of people who have some serious illnesses and/or are in the end of life journey, slowly or rapidly deteriorating.

It is true that we take our health for granted, however, once it’s taken away from us without our permission, you realise how lucky we were and how precious time is.

Whilst I was ill I was reflecting about the people who I have seen really ill. 3 people. I will list them in order of appearance.

[pause here if you may find descriptions of illness triggering and references to death and dying —> jump to ‘What can I control’ section]

  1. My mum - countless hospital visits, fainting, and the last time was when she was in hospital for 3 weeks with COVID, at the start of the pandemic. She was with 18L of oxygen, without being able to speak properly, like if she had a heavy rock on top of her chest. Nearly put on a ventilator. The worst thing is I could not be there with her in presence due to the restrictions. She had to go through that experience on her own. She is fine now.

  2. My mum’s best friend - died of pancreatic cancer. Saw her a few times from the moment she got diagnosed until her death. This period lasted around 1 year. Last time was 2 days before her death, really just to go and say goodbye. It was shocking, the colour of her skin, her body like if she was a 9 month pregnant woman, yet, ultra skinny, like a skeleton everywhere else. Could’t talk anymore, she had a hospice nurse with her who will occasionally rub her back when she was in pain. I remember she sat her down, she was so stiff. Being alive like that must not have been simple.

  3. My dad - this is the deterioration I was able to witness for a longer period and be present. From breathlessness accidents when he didn’t have enough oxygen from his tank or concentrator (oh dear! I remember once I took him to the dentist and he was almost leaving us, my boyfriend had to take an uber home and grab an emergency oxygen tank) to episodes of depression, anger, incontinence, weakness and constant sleeping.

All of the above may sound scary in different ways. However, the majority of these things are normal and natural stages of the process of dying.

Of course, there are things that could be mitigated, like the accidents, pain, stress or that anxious and guilty feeling that you feel as a daughter (or loved one) when your dad doesn’t want to eat and you think he will die even quicker if he doesn’t have enough food. The truth is, it is normal not to eat when you are at that stage. Not eating won’t accelerate the process. It is the process we have to be familiar with.

After thinking about all of these things, my next thought was: What if I have to go through this one day? (by this, I mean slowly dying from an illness)

😧 Scared again…

I don’t want to be in pain, I don’t want to feel tired all the time, I want to enjoy life, I don’t want to feel lonely, but sometimes I probably would prefer to be alone. Alone, but not lonely.

The reality is, I cannot control the future, I cannot predict whether I will die from an illness or not. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to know.

So, what can I control?

Haunted House Comedy GIF by Deadstream

As someone who majority of times wants to be in control (even for my bachelorette, I choose the destination and place where I would like to stay - no surprises that might lead to disappointments ha!) I know there’s 3 things I could do:

  1. Think about advance care planning: While I can’t predict the future, having proactive discussions with loved ones about my wishes in case of serious illness can provide clarity and ensure my preferences are known. In here, I can also point to an ‘advance health directive’ which could be someone I trust to make decisions on my behalf in case I am not in a position to do so.

  2. Self-Reflection: I can continue to reflect on my thoughts and feelings about life and death. If at some point in my journey I am scared or anxious about this, I could consider talking to a professional, such as a therapist or end of life doula.

  3. Legal and financial arrangements: I am young-ish, so I may not proactively think about having my affairs in order, such as pension, life insurance etc. This is something I could proactively look into. It would be worth thinking as well to have a power of attorney that could take decisions on my behalf in case I cannot do so.

Whilst all of these things might not be urgent for me, for some others may. It will be part of my to-do list.

If you would like to know more about advance care planning, this is a very useful link from Marie Curie’s website - bear in mind its UK focused but will still give you a general idea.

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Fernanda

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