When I was nine years old I spent one night in hospital. Other than that I’ve never been in hospital in my entire life. I’d rarely suffered with any kind of physical illness either. I was far more aware of how fragile mental health can be. I rarely gave my physical health a second thought. That changed when I broke my leg in an accident last month and had to have surgery. I wasn’t prepared for how vulnerable the whole hospital experience would make me feel.

No doubt, it was made worse by the fact that I wasn’t allowed any visitors due to COVID restrictions plus I was completely immobilised in bed (couldn’t even get to the toilet on my own). I was in my own room, which was a blessing, and I had access to a TV/books/phone etc, which just about kept me sane, but I can’t begin to tell you how helpless I felt. For the first time in years I was completely dependent on other people for absolutely everything; washing , eating, toileting, medication… even breathing. All I could see other than the four walls was the tiny patch of landscape outside the window. I had to press a button to call a nurse but they were all so busy it could be a while before anyone responded.

Each day I had to have an injection in my stomach to help prevent blood clots; I thought only people with Rabies had injections in their stomach. As a devout needle phobe this was not good. Another whopper of a needle went into my back on the day of the operation as anaesthetic was administered prior to my surgery. I had hoped to be completely unconscious for the procedure but actually I was awake throughout. I felt no pain but I did feel them inserting the metal rod into my bone and I felt (and heard) as they twisted screws onto bolts. The operation went well and I was soon in the post-op suite with oxygen tubes up my nose. Then it was back to the room and that same, unchanging view out of the window. It’s easy to see how people become institutionalised in places like that. Even a short period of time spent dependent on others for everything makes you feel incredibly fragile. I still feel that way now, six weeks later. I can’t even bear to watch those programmes which show clips of people falling over or crashing off bikes etc. I’m so hyperaware now of how easily broken I am.

By Jon Kenna

Author of three books; 'Ghost Road', 'Mr. Mad' and 'Susan Shocks'. All available from Day job in mental health.

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