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Dreading the Covid test – when past trauma effects current needs

It has been a weird old year so far hasn’t it. I haven’t written too much about Covid-19 as I haven’t really known what to say and I suppose in many ways, I am just surviving it, getting through. But as it all becomes less of a shock and more of a way of life, it feels easier to write about it. The thing I wanted to write about today is the Corona test and how my past experiences have scared the bejesus out of me…

Getting a Covid test

The NHS website says you can have a test (swab test) to check if you have coronavirus (COVID-19) now. You can choose to take the test:

  • at a test site near you today and get your result tomorrow
  • with a home test kit

You can get a test:

  • for yourself, if you have coronavirus symptoms now (a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste)
  • for someone you live with, if they have symptoms
  • if you live in England and have been told to have a test before you go into hospital, for example, for surgery
  • if you live, work or study in an area with a coronavirus outbreak

If you have symptoms, you should get a test as soon as possible. You should test within the first five days of developing symptoms. To get a Covid test, apply online on GOV.UK. Or call 119 if you have problems using the internet.

Now I will, of course, get tested if I need to. If I develop symptoms or someone in my household does, or if I am told it is necessary. But here is the bit that is sending me into utter panic.

The Covid test involves taking a swab of the inside of your nose and the back of your throat, using a long cotton bud.

NHS website

Just writing the words was upsetting. And I know I may sound daft, or dramatic. But the thought of something going up my nose horrifies me. In February this year, after surgery and complications, I had to have an NG tube up my nose and into my stomach for a couple of weeks. It was necessary. It helped a lot. But I hated it.

woman with NG tube and a bag of bile

Mind connections

It is interesting how the mind works, the connections it makes. I was incredibly poorly at this time and the NG tube was the least of my worries! I was healing from major abdominal reconstruction surgery. My gastro system wasn’t working. I was in a lot of pain. My kidneys were starting to fail. But it is this little tube up my nose that my mind has focussed in on.

Since then, I can’t bear anything touching my nose. Specifically inside my nostrils. Which is kind of ok as not much touches inside your nostrils! But blowing my nose, or cleaning my nose actually makes me gag now. And so when I first saw the videos of people having the Covid test, I burst into tears. The long swab going deep into the nostril freaked me out. I instantly felt panicked and frightened. The thought of having to have the Covid test done terrifies me.

Now, I am not suggesting that the test is scary. I have friends who had had the test and they have said it’s a weird feeling, it did make them gag a little, but all in all it was easy and quick. And of course entirely necessary. And if I have to have the test, I will do so. And I am sure it is no where near as bad as my head is telling me it will be.

Trauma

But it is things like this, the residue of traumatic experiences, that become a part of your life afterwards. There is nothing anyone can say to me that will make me worry less about this. And as I said, I know logically that it will be fine, that I am connecting a simple test with an upsetting and frightening time in my life. But it feels real.

There are many things, after 9 major surgeries, that have traumatised me. And each trauma is so personal, so delicate, so real.

I struggle to watch infomercials now. How silly does that sound? But when I was having panic attacks in the middle of the night, my husband would put on informercials and we would watch them together. They require no thought, no effort, and the low volume and soft light that filled our bedroom pushed out the panic and tears. But now when I see them on TV, it takes me back to those moments. And I don’t feel anxious when I watch them, but I do feel very sad.

I had a moment recently when I sat on the edge of my bed at 2am. I looked down at my feel planted on the floor and I was back in time. I was back to being at home after surgery, vomiting bile as my kidneys were unbeknownst to me shutting down. I was gripping the bed, seeing the splashes of green watery bile land on the floor. I was panicking, knowing something was very wrong. I was weak, my legs wouldn’t work and falling back on the bed. I was worrying I would die at home, thinking about how Timm would need to get my kids out of the house so they didn’t see my dead body and frighten them. All of this from looking at my feet on the bedroom floor.

The mind is an interesting place. And as I process the difficult and frightening events that I have gone through with my health, all manner of past upsets rise to the surface. Things from my childhood, my teenage years. All the times I felt fearful and scared, upset and hurt, they all come up together.

PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has come up in conversation a few times with medical professionals and me. I feel it is probably quite an accurate description of what is going on. But it is hard to deal with those feelings of trauma when you are still going through the traumas every day. How do I come to terms with a past surgery whilst planning future ones? How do I deal with the devastation of pain and suffering whilst simultaneously dealing with the fears of a lifetime of it?

I don’t have the answers I’m afraid. Sorry if you were hoping to get to the end of this post and find five ways you will definitely beat your PTSD…

But what I do know is that for me, the acceptance and understanding of it helps. I don’t keep those fears in, those moments of pure panic, those time machine times where you feel right back there in the bad time. I speak about it and I don’t let it have the power. I talk about it and deconstruct it. I literally pull the moment to pieces.

I tell myself “Well, of COURSE you are worried about something medical going up your nose! That is OK! It would probably be a bit weird if you WERENT worried about it. What happened to you was BIG and SCARY. And BIG and SCARY things take up more space in your head than the small easy times. It is OK. You are allowed to feel this. But it is just a feeling. It will pass.”

Speak up

I tell others about it, I speak to my husband, my friends. Of course, I blog the shit out of it, because that’s what I do! And I find as with a lot of things, for me, talking about it takes the power away and gives me back control. It may not be right for everyone, but if you are reading this and can understand, if you are struggling yourself, then speak to someone. Speak to your GP, ask for support, don’t struggle alone.

And yes, I know how easy it is to write that, oh just go chat with your GP! But in reality, that feels like a mountain to climb. But you aren’t alone. You can deal with this. If you can just find one person to speak to who you trust, then it is the first step to starting to feel better. I believe in you, I understand, you can do this.

Well. This ended up being a little bigger than I first thought. I was laid in bed in pain, unable to sleep and I thought I would write up a quick blog post about how noses freak me out and lay out some info on getting tested for corona and all this stuff fell out of my brain and through my fingers!

Update on me

I will be honest, I am not doing too great at the minute. I am still waiting on CT results. I am in a lot of pain, I struggle to eat. I go between stubbornly eating what I want and liquid/soft diets. I know something isn’t right but I am too scared to think about what that is. I am having weird output, lots of leaks and feeling a bit dehumanised by it all. I am fed up of changing bed sheets (well of waiting for someone to do it for me as I don’t have the strength to do it). I am fed up of poo on my clothes. I am worried about how on earth I will manage doing a degree in the midst of all this (Seriously, what the fuck am I DOING???) I am just a bit all over the place. But there is my update, I will write more soon I am sure.

For now, just be kind yo. Seriously, it is a stressful and messed up time we are living in. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others. And as always, I love to see your messages and comments. I do try my best to reply to everyone but sometimes that is a bit overwhelming but know that I do read each and every one and they make such a difference.

Peace and love

Sam xx

NG Tube – Nasogastric tubes – My experience

After my latest surgery, my bowel didn’t wake up for two weeks and I ended up having an NG tube. I feel quite lucky that it was my first one and I have had Inflammatory Bowel Disease for over 16 years. So I thought I would write a post about it.

An NG tube is a flexible tube that is passed through the nose, down through the esophagus, and into the stomach. It can be used to either remove substances from or add them to the stomach.

You can see a video below from Geeky Medics on YouTube about how an NG tube is inserted.

my experience

My experience of having the NG tube inserted was that it was a little scary at first. I had to have it because I had an ileus. My bowel didn’t wake up after surgery for two weeks. I have an ileostomy and nothing was coming out of it at all. So I couldn’t eat but my stomach was filling with bile. I needed to have that removed from my system.

The nurse did it at my bedside and talked me through what would happen. I was given a glass of water with a straw to drink as she inserted it. She inserted the NG tube into my nose and it felt very weird! As it reached the back of my throat, I started to gag. She told me to take a sip of water and swallow it down. I did gag a little and she asked me to try and relax which is easier said than done! But eventually it went down.

She then tried to aspirate the tube. Which means she put a large syringe on it and drew it back, this should have brought some fluid up but didn’t. So unfortunately, she had to take the tube out as it was in the wrong position. As she pulled the tube up, it made me gag and cough. Then we went for round 2! It felt the same but once it was in, she could draw fluid and it was in the right place.

When she aspirated the tube, she immediately drew off almost 2 litres of bile from my stomach. I felt the relief almost immediately. Then she left it to drain and another few litres came out over the next few hours.

bad reps

I think there is a really bad reputation around NG tubes. Another nurse had mentioned one before. She said “Oh you should try everything you can so you don’t have to have the NG tube!” and that really scared me and made me not want it.

Unfortunately, I was still vomiting with the NG tube in. When that happened I felt like I was choking and couldn’t breathe. This made me panic so much and I began to cry. I felt so scared and I didn’t really understand the tube. I thought as so much had come out through the tube that it meant it had been cleared. So I asked them to take the tube out.

woman with NG tube and a bag of bile

Then over the next few days, it all built up again. I was told that your body creates a few litres of bile every day to help you digest food. And as my bowel wasn’t working there was no where for all this bile to go! So it was building up more and more. I was vomiting, my stomach looked 9 months pregnant and I was in agony. The nurse came and said she thought I needed the NG tube. I didn’t really understand what was going on and asked if it would help. She said it was the only thing that would help. So of course I said yes.

tube number 2

She inserted another tube and drained off litres of bile. I then kept that tube in for the next 8 days until my bowel started working. It is uncomfortable. I could feel it at all times in the back of my throat and I had to learn to cope with that. It helps to try not to swallow and when you feel it in the throat to take some deep breaths.

I can’t lie. I found it really uncomfortable the whole time. But having had one in and it taken out, and the pain and suffering I felt in that time, I knew I needed to keep it in for as long as my bowel was asleep.

draining the tube

The NG tube is attached to a drainage bag that is pinned to your top to avoid it dragging on your nose. It drains whenever the stomach fills with bile and you don’t have any control over that. As you move around or change position, it can suddenly fill up quite quickly.

Then the nurses or you can open the bottom of the drainage bag and empty it into a bowl. My team were measuring what was coming out, so they took it away to measure. And periodically or when I started to feel swollen or in pain or sick, the nurse would come and aspirate the tube. Again, this means that they put a large syringe on the tube and pull it back to draw up anything in the stomach.

NG tube

This tube was kept in for 8 days till my bowel started working and things could get through my system. Whilst the tube was in, I wasn’t allowed to eat and could only take sips of water. So I was also on a drip for fluids and Total parenteral nutrition (TPN) for nutrients.

If you are faced with a situation where you are told you need an NG tube, it can be really scary. It was uncomfortable for me. Though I have spoke to other people who said after a day or two they stopped noticing it. But regardless of the discomfort, I have to say that having the tube in was so so much better than the pain, swelling and sickness of not having it in when my bowel wasn’t working and it was the only way in and out of my body!!

I hope this blog helps a little. I have no medical training. This is only a description of my personal experience of having an NG tube for the purposes of dealing with ileus and bowel blockage. If you have any concerns about your own health, please speak to your own doctor or medical professional.

Sam xx