12 May 2014

Invasion of the body snatchers

'For someone with OCD and a need for control, this is hardly an ideal scenario,' I told the radiologist who was about to conduct my surgical procedure.

He laughed. 'So, tell me, how many times do you check your front door? I do it five or six times.'

'Ah, well, the thing is, my OCD is mainly about order and symmetry...' And so, as I lay there, dosed up on morphine, waiting for him to begin, I tried to explain my experience of the condition. It was all rather surreal.

In fact, I really wasn't enjoying being in a situation that was entirely new to me and where everything was out of my control. I'd never been an inpatient before, so, in spite of reading up on this particular procedure, was unfamiliar with the detail of hospital processes.

I'd been busy unpacking and arranging my things in my room - making this new environment my own - when a doctor arrived unexpectedly to put a tube in my arm. She was quickly followed by a succession of nurses checking my vitals and administering one drug after another.

Eventually, I was forced to abandon my nest-building, instead directing my boyfriend - from my bed - as to where I wanted things. Applying order via a third party didn't satisfy my OCD, but I didn't have much choice.

The fact that the procedure was to be done under local anaesthetic exacerbated my anxiety. If I had to surrender my body to the medical profession, I'd rather have done it completely, even if a general anaesthetic did carry greater risks. I didn't want to be awake to hear them say 'We're losing her!' Possibly I've just watched too many TV medical dramas for my own good.

Image courtesy of Keerati/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
And then there was the pain. No amount of research could predict how my body would react. In the end, the procedure was less painful than I'd expected, but the immediate post-op pain significantly worse. The treatment was designed to trigger a process in my body that would take months to conclude. The pain was, apparently, a good thing; a sign that my body was responding as it was meant to.

'Think of tomorrow!' the radiologist urged me. 

I gritted my teeth and hit the morphine pump as often as it would let me. Even that didn't feel like control, as the waves of pain just kept coming.

Afterwards, I had to remain flat on my back for 8 hours. As if that wasn't bad enough, I'd overlooked that all the equipment I was hooked up to would also restrict my movement - you'd think I'd have been better prepared, after all those medical dramas. Now I couldn't even determine my own position, let alone that of the objects around me in my temporary home.

As time wore on, the side effects of the drugs began to exert their own hold over my body. The morphine made me so sick I couldn't even keep down water, my digestion went haywire, I lost my appetite and the antibiotics brought me out in a rash.

In the depths of my misery, however, I kept reminding myself of all those who live with chronic or life-threatening conditions, who have to endure long-term, often toxic, treatments, and possibly far more difficult surgeries. My discomfort, and the restrictions placed on me, were, after all, only short term. I emerged from the experience with a new-found appreciation for my relatively good physical health and for some of the simple pleasures that we so often take for granted, such as eating and freedom of movement.

I also found myself strangely grateful that the medical condition that dominates my life - OCD - is, at least, within my power to control, even if that control is often hard to achieve.


Alexandria Constantinova said...

A magnificent story about anyone's serious experience in a hospital when you have no control. The attempted "nesting" was especially striking imagery.

Hope all is going well now



Anonymous said...

I hope you feel better soon! To me, your post shows me that, when you really have to, you can do just fine without giving in to your OCD.

Helen Barbour said...

Alexandria, thank you for the great feedback and good wishes. Nearly three weeks on, I'm feeling a lot better, thank you.

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks, ocdtalk. Unfortunately, I think I am only really able to resist my OCD, when I am physically unable to, or for short periods. Though perhaps with a longer period immobile or too ill/tired to effect my compulsions, the urges would diminish, in any event. Forced ERP!