Memory is a funny thing. It hides things from us, changes facts and apparently can store events that we are sure we don’t recall.
My memory has a thick file labelled Pain. And right at the back the faded yellowed pages evoke disturbing encounters with a process called a lumbar puncture. I was just 6 months old and have no conscious memory of it. However my brain recalls the experience. And vividly. Come at me with an injection and memory speed dials the experience, and I pull away.
As a teenager I fell and wrecked my left leg and yes there was a lot of pain associate with this.
As a young mum I participated in market research meetings. I seemed to get a call whenever I was struggling with a bill. One evening the subject for discussion was Pain. Seated around a circular table the facilitator was 2 people to my left, the stories began and we progressed around the table with me scheduled to be 3rd last to speak. Each story was evocative and stirring in its account and memory of pain. Each story was worse than the one before. However, compared to what I had to say they seemed mild.
I told my story, it went something like this.
When I woke up in ICU after my very 1st open heart surgery….there wasn’t oo much pain. Yet. A few days of life threatening dramas saw me return to surgery for a 2nd open-heart op a mere 10 days later. I woke or was woken a couple of days later. It seems the new valve had made such a difference that it could not cope and a back log of fluid had banked up and caused all the problems. They had opened me down the front due to the emergency. Oh Ok the 1st op was through an incision from the middle left of my back around under my arm and finishing at my sternum. Even now it is the finest narrowest scar I have on me.
The ‘black and decker’ job down the front meant a difference recovery experience. And yep, here was THE PAIN. After a couple of days 2 nurses approached me and informed me they were going to remove the drainage tubes. I hadn’t realised i had them, and I have to say when I looked down I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal. Wrong. Very wrong. They set about teaching me a breathing technique. I had to take a huge breath and then blow out like I was blowing up a balloon. s they had me practice they said while you do that we, yes ‘we’ will each draw a tube out, but you just keep blowing. Ok so now I was getting a tad nervous. Why were they doing the 2 tubes at once. Why this special technique? They had me practice taking the biggest breath I could. This after a life time of shallow breathing due to the heart problem. Ok so we were ready. Well, they were…I however, well I ran out of time. We were doing it. Now. They pulled and I blew, and blew and blew well beyond the air I had in my lungs. I did it with my eyes shut. And I am glad it did. When they said all done, they were referring to the tubes being completely out. However it was not ‘all done’ for me. I went totally rigid, head to foot from the pain. It was the worst pain I have ever experienced, up until then, and since.
It was off the scale. A 15++ out of 10. 10 being the worst. Physical Pain 15/10. Remember there was no anaesthetic now. The nurses left me to get over the experience. But first they showed me the length of the tubes. I almost fainted. Then they left. It took some getting over. I might not be over it yet. I can feel it as I write about it.
24 hours later one of them was back, a nurse I mean, with a wheelchair! What? Was she crazy? Get into this she said. I said they took Mrs W (a lady I had met in the pre-op ward and again in ICU) in her bed…’Yes’ replied the nurse….’ she is 75, you are not, get in…I can help you’. I threw up my hands. I didn’t want her help again any pain was going to be caused by me. I made it to the chair and back into another bed. 2 weeks later I went home. Frail fragile and scared, but fixed.
I returned 9 years later for another open heart operation. I was prepared and terrified. However the substance the drainage tubes were now made from was soft and pliable. Hence the pain was only 10 out of 10. I returned again in 2000 for my 4th and final open heart op. I do not even recall the drainage tube procedure. The surgery was basically the same. However the after care was dramatically different. Better different.
Read our complete series on Pain:
2nd – Emotional Pain by Tammy
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