Whenever I feel ill, I exhaust my options. To make my sickle cell pain go away, I drink hot water, take painkillers, fill my hot water bottle, find a distraction, or sleep. Most of the time it works, but sometimes the pain is so bad that I call 999 — reluctantly.
When I get a response (someone always picks up by the first ring), I cry because of the pain I’ve been fighting to hold back. I cry in disbelief that my body could betray me to the point where I can no longer look after myself, and I cry in relief that an ambulance is on the way.
I’m a different person when I’m ill. Only a few of my friends can testify to this. You’ve seen me at my worst if you’ve seen me right before I call an ambulance. All I know is I have pain that needs to go ASAP.
Once I receive confirmation that the ambulance is en route, I start to pack. If I’m ill enough to call the ambulance, I’m not leaving the hospital that day. I normally stay for four to seven days, so I pack loose-fitting clothes, toiletries, and my electronic devices. I then call friends and family to let them know what’s wrong and where I’ll be.
The ambulance arrives typically within 10 minutes. Paramedics administer gas and air and ask me how I’m feeling. At that point, I’m normally given my first dose of morphine, which makes me drowsy.
I fall in and out of sleep over the next three to five hours. I’m transported from my bedroom to the ambulance to the ER to the hematology ward, where they admit me as a patient.
Several student doctors accompany my hematologist when she visits me. She assesses me and explains my course of treatment, which doesn’t take more than 10 minutes. Then she’s off to see her next patient.
Treatment typically begins with strong painkillers. When morphine is injected directly into my bloodstream, I feel its effects instantly. I’m in the most pain at the beginning of my hospital stay, so I take morphine as frequently as legally possible. As my pain decreases, I take oral morphine, which takes longer to kick in because I am digesting it.
After three to four days, once the pain is less persistent, I use my regular painkillers. I take dihydrocodeine and acetaminophen every four to six hours until the pain has decreased significantly. I might also undergo a blood transfusion or a red cell exchange, depending on my hemoglobin levels. Then I rest until I am well enough to be discharged.
Once I’m home, usually after a week or so, I try and pick up where I left off. Health-wise, I do what I’ve always done: medicine, water, warmth — the usual. Work-wise, I play a very long game of catch-up. I try to find a balance between taking it easy and tackling my ever-growing workload.
Being in the hospital reminds me of the important things in life. Hospital stays rid you of all your “problems,” which usually sort themselves out one way or another, and remind you of what matters in life. You also realize that some things aren’t as serious as you make them out to be.
I’d love to hear about the similarities and differences between our hospital experiences. Let me know in the comments below!
Note: Sickle Cell Anemia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Anemia News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell anemia.