ICU for Dummies

I don’t want to write a long story about how I was sick but unfortunately me being sick is part of this story.  A bit of background of how I ended up in ICU two weeks ago.

After going to the movies on Sunday, reading my book and drinking a glass of wine I went to bed as usual with nothing strange happening worth mentioning.  A few hours later, in the early hours of Monday morning, I woke up with a pain in my chest that convinced me my heart was about to explode. Two visits to the emergency room later I ended up in ICU for 4 nights and 5 days initially with a Pulmonary Embolism and later with pneumonia and a partially collapsed lung.

I want to write this blog post with utmost respect towards ICU Patients and staff but I have to note the funnier things I noticed during my stay, which very much kept me sane during this time.  ICU is such a sad and depressing place with people clinging onto a semblance of life through being connected to, too many machines, sad relatives coming and going and an ever present silence, only broken now and again by chatter of the amazing ICU staff.

I remember one day where I was drifting in and out of a drug induced stupor thinking ‘This is a nightmare’, only to drift away again waking up a bit later thinking ‘I’m still here’.  And then later again ‘This IS a nightmare’. Except this was not one that you dream, this was one that you had to fight through.

The same as when I’m suffering or having a hard time when I’m running, I tried to look for humorous things to try and perk my spirits up.  The first few days were very much a haze but towards the end of my stay a few funny things came to the fore that really cheered me up.

  1. Always dress as if you’re going to be in a car accident. When you’re growing up and your mom tells you to dress in such a way that if you’re in a car accident and end up in hospital that you at least look respectable… She was giving you good advice.  When I went to bed on Sunday night I grabbed my favourite pair of ratchet sleeping pants from the ‘to wash’ pile and put them on without second thought.  When I woke up at two that morning thinking an alien was going to burst from my chest I went to the emergency room without even looking in the mirror.  Under the extremely bright ER lights I saw my sweat pants were covered in dog drool, coffee stains and some kind of unidentified food source.  I tried covering it with my hands and just ended up looking like Jerrry Espinsin from Boston Legal.  I was feeling horrible and I think my hobo outfit together with my stressed demeanour led the doctor to diagnose me with a ‘Panic attack’.  I wonder if I was dressed a bit more neatly with kitty prints on my clean sleep wear I would not have been so grossly misdiagnosed. None the less I left the hospital armed with panic attack pills puking all the way to the car. When I returned later that afternoon I was wearing clean pants.
  2. This is not Paranormal Activity. After my return to the Emergency room I was quickly diagnosed with having a Pulmonary Embolism and was taken to ICU immediately.  By this time I was on some serious pain medication as I could not lie down, the pain being too severe.  I drifted off to sleep waking up somewhere in the early hours of the morning with a figure standing next to my bed. I got such a big fright I almost pooped my pants but then realised the figure standing next to my bed was an ICU Nurse and not the ghost from Paranormal activity.  If you’re going to go to ICU, you have to get used to somebody standing next to your bed looking at you ALL. THE. TIME. They’re actually there to make sure you don’t die so making friends with them is the best option!
  3. Get somebody to handle communications for you. I had lots of people asking me how I was and I tried in the first day or so to send sms’s and whatsapps to let people know how I was doing.  Looking back, I was so zoned out on pain meds, typing a 3 sentence message took about 10 minutes and my sentence construction was also very strange, probably leading the poor recipients of the messages thinking I need to be in a mental institution rather than a hospital.  My friend Nadia took this upon herself in fear that I would send message about flying families of hedgehogs, which has actually happened before…
  4. Don’t be embarrassed to ask people to help with stuff like toothpaste. On Tuesday morning I was hell bent on brushing my teeth. I wasn’t allowed to walk around but I knew I would get visitors and I wanted to have fresh minty breath.  For some reason I always find people in hospital have complete zombie breath.  In actual fact it smells like they ate 10 zombies and then regurgitated them… I was scratching around in the drawer next to my bed and found something that looked like tooth paste.  For some reason I had lost the ability to read and after looking at the tube for about 5 minutes I was convinced it was tooth paste.  I proceeded to brush my teeth, immediately wondering why this toothpaste tasted very non minty and wasn’t extremely foamy.  I didn’t care and just carried on brushing my teeth.  That evening it was brought to my attention that I was brushing my teeth with R400 barrier cream…. I probably still had zombie breath but at least my gums were feeling fucking fantastic.
  5. Don’t try to avoid being washed. The idea of lying in bed and being washed by a complete stranger is something I really struggle to deal with. I would rather swim through a crocodile invested river wearing a meat suit but this was not really an option at that stage.  I was not allowed to go to the shower because this would involve too much movement so I was destined for a bed wash.  I managed to avoid it on Monday evening but Tuesday morning at 04h00 my nurse woke me up with a warm basin of water ready and all kinds of scrubbing necessities on hand. Before I was completely awake I was being scrubbed from head to toe.  I was so unimpressed by this that my friend Nadia, who is also the head of HR at Wilgers Hospital would say to me ‘If you don’t lie still and behave yourself I’m going to organise a bed wash for you.’  This was enough to make sure I behaved.
  6. Don’t try to look cute in ICU. When my blood clot had dissolved/broken up/whatever I was allowed to walk around again and as you’re not allowed to wear normal pyjamas in ICU but have to wear their sexy little ICU dress you have to remember to tie it up at the back before you start walking around.  I was that person walking around with an untied hospital gown, ass hanging out…
  7. ICU Nurses are Angels

I am convinced the women and men that become ICU nurses are 100% pure angel.  In the 5 days I spent in ICU every single one of them was incredibly caring and would go above and beyond to make sure that you were in good shape.  I was the youngest person in ICU and I was probably also the least sick person there so I spent a lot of time looking at what was happening around me.  The WIlgers ICU staff treated every single person with gentle respect.  I don’t know how many ICU patients can actually express their gratitude for these special people but I can.  I am eternally grateful for the way these people handled me because in that dreadfully sad place, if you’re surrounded by friendly and upbeat nurses it makes a world of difference.

I don’t like writing about sad or morbid stuff but I have to say that I had the fright of my life two weeks ago.  It didn’t hit home when the doctor said told me that if I wasn’t as young and fit as I was my case could have had a very different outcome.  But now, fully recovered and preparing for my 250km Journey in Spain, I know how incredibly lucky I was so remember:

You have one body.

Look after it.

Live everyday as if it’s your last.

Say I love you and goodbye.

Be grateful for small things, like a sunset or your dog wagging its tail.

Don’t keep your mind busy with things that don’t matter.

Surround yourself with people that make you happy.

Don’t be afraid to live hard and fast but listen to your body.

Be kind to people and smile.

Don’t worry about tomorrow

Squash every last moment of joy and happiness out of your life because you never know when it will end.


Always dress like you’re going to end up in hospital because you don’t want to feel like a hobo hiding dog drool under hospital lights, that make you look like a mental patient rather than a really sick person that will later brush their teeth with barrier cream.

Stay Healthy!


  1. Helen · June 27, 2017

    Thanks, needed a laugh today #boxmeinmyfacewhydontyou

  2. Perla Tabora · June 27, 2017

    Ahhhh mi dear Altie love this memoria of yours, i can really identify with your story, best of it!! the amazing were you remains us to live with love every moment of our life with passion. You are a loved person that will always find good, happy moments, happy people around you, even in the most funny scenarios. Always keep that light inside shining and the spirit flying as it will catch one or two of us in the way, making us part of your wonderful journey and adventure in life.
    Looking forward to know you best and have bump in your life for a bigger reason.