Hi, my name is Eilidh MacDonald. I am a nineteen-year-old student from Scotland and here is my ‘Souls with a Story’. In January 2016, I was a typical student; probably partying a little too much, but enjoying every minute of, what many people have described as the ‘prime years of life’. Now, however, my life has quite dramatically changed, and I’m learning to adjust to my ‘new normal’.
On the 7th of January 2016, I was rushed into hospital with severe abdominal pain and vomiting. Doctors ran tests, ruling out the usual diagnosis (gall stones, appendicitis etc.) and when the tests came back clear, it was decided, that I was suffering from an acute episode of gastritis. This led to a few days in hospital, then a decision was made for me to go home with an outpatient appointment to have further tests, an endoscopy and ultra-sound.
However, my condition continued to deteriorate (to the point where even drinking water became an impossible challenge) I was vomiting to such an extent that the sick even found it’s way into my ear canal (if that’s not a talent then I don’t know what is!). By mid-February, I’d lost almost three stone in weight, and consultants had hit a bit of a dead end in trying to find the cause of my illness. Nevertheless, one surgeon decided (despite tests showing that the gallstones revealed by a scan were benign and an incidental find), that it would be best to remove my gall bladder. Due to the pressure put upon my body, what should’ve been a routine surgery ended up with the hospital’s emergency cardiac response team having to ‘reset’ my heart. Instead of curing me, this surgery exuberated my problems and did anything but help me. My heart persisted to play up until it became a daily occurrence, leading me to the Medical High Dependency Unit. To provide my body with fluid and nutrition, a Naso-Jejunal (NJ) feeding tube was administered (a tube passed through my nose and into the first part of the small bowel).
It has been six months since this traumatic experience. I am still, to this day, sitting here, writing this, with an NJ feeding tube in place. I vomit anything between 2-4ltrs daily, and I am completely dependent on the NJ tube for adequate nutrition. I suffer with pain, but I manage, and as I gain strength, my heart seems to be settling down from the trauma. Alongside these problems, I now have bowel dysmotility (where muscles of the digestive system become impaired and changes in the speed, strength and coordination occurs). I spend a lot of my time looking as if I am at least seven months pregnant, I have spells of very low blood pressure and recently, I developed difficulties with my circulation. I am currently waiting on an urgent referral to Scotland’s only neurological gastroenterologist; I am eager, and hopeful that this will bring some answers.
Despite this traumatic experience, I am beginning to enjoy and, better still, appreciate life more than I ever have. Following my four-month stint in hospital, I have tried to live life as fully as I can and, I am proud of the things I have accomplished, some as simple as being able to take my wee puppy to the beach. Optimism and perseverance are sure to be at the heart of my recovery, as is the overwhelming amount of support that I have received from amazing friends and family. Being ill has made me realise that I am the luckiest person to have the people that I do around me. I cannot express how touched I have been by people’s kind words and actions – not just towards myself, but my resilient family, in particular my parents, who have been with me every step of the way. It’s true that in the face of adversity, relationships can only grow stronger.
Equally, this experience has made me eternally grateful for the free health care we’re entitled to in Britain. Ironically, just before I was ill I was studying the stress and financial pressure the NHS is currently facing – I wonder if my University would accept this episode as me just conducting a very real case study? Yet, despite the major strain on staff and resources, I am consistently amazed by the kindness of the staff involved in my care (doctors, nurses, nursing auxiliaries, domestic staff, radiologists, dieticians, porters, phlebotomists). The compassion and sacrifice of whom, I feel, is often overlooked by the gloomy headlines we read about the ‘failure’ of the NHS.
Without wanting to sound too cliché being faced with a chronic, and potentially life-long, condition has made me realise just how easy it is to forget how many people suffer from illnesses everyday. Just because people may appear physically fine, it doesn’t mean that they are not suffering. I hold a great amount of respect and admiration for anyone whose had to deal with a life altering condition, whether it be themselves or watching someone they care about go through it; it is never easy.
While the situation is far from ideal, I am thankful for the lessons that this experience continues to teach me and the inspirational people it has led me to. I just hope, by sharing my story, that it will help others to do the same and, by doing so, open up the amazing support networks that there are for young, and old, people facing similar situations. These are the networks that have helped me greatly throughout this year. I think it’s important that people know that whatever they face, they don’t have to do it alone.
Thanks for reading my story.