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Abby's Angle

Getting through lockdown 2.0

August 09 Edition Cover

Abby’s Angle

28 Jul 2020

Getting through lockdown 2.0

By Abby Crawford

It’s always harder the second time around. It’s harder to draw the same positivity as the first time - and it’s easier to remember all the bad parts of last time.

Sometimes when we have used all our strength and determination to get through things, going back a second time is overwhelming. We wonder if anything is going to make a difference. But there are definitely things that do.

A month ago, I was preparing for some long-scheduled surgery. It was a pretty big op but I had my specialist, family for support, a well-stocked fridge and a clean house ready. I had been told the constant pain I was living with, would only stop with this surgery. So, I thanked my body for her service, for the beautiful gift of my son, and I signed the form to have a significant part of myself removed.

In pre-theatre at the immaculate private hospital, I felt safe with a warm blanket wrapped around me and constant care. There was always a nurse chattering, and reassuring. The anaesthetist arrived and took off her mask – at distance – so I could see her face and her smile. She said she found it helped people connect. Then we embarked on a mindfulness exercise. I was told to imagine an all-expenses paid trip to any destination, to imagine every detail, from stepping onto the plane, to the hotels, and experiences – I could almost feel the sun on my face, the sea on my skin. As I finished my plan, she started the anaesthetic - “here is your champagne madame, enjoy your trip!”.

In recovery, I felt fantastic. The pain meds were spot on, but it was more than that – I felt happy, as though wonderful things were going to happen. My surgeon saw me in recovery, and explained that if you can visualise something wonderful before undergoing surgery, your dreams will be peaceful and happy.

This was such a powerful experience, and as I was wheeled to my room to continue recovery I felt grateful. When I left, I felt healthy and empowered, I had a team that had gently and carefully guided me along a path that could have been scary, painful and lonely (no visitors with COVID-19 restrictions).

My excellent recovery continued, and life felt back to normal. Until it didn’t. Unexpectedly, things took a dramatic nosedive and I ended up in Emergency. I kept calm, as I reassured my 16-year-old son everything was “just fine”. We both knew it wasn’t. I was relieved to say goodbye and disappear into the corridors of chaos as it was exhausting pretending I wasn’t nervous. The nurses were lovely, smiling sympathetically. The doctors were concerned, but reassuring.

But this was my “second time” and I wasn’t feeling the same as the first time. This time it didn’t feel fair, and I didn’t want to be here. This time I felt that I had done the right thing the first time, and I was angry that it hadn’t worked. I didn’t want to go back into surgery, especially without “my team” of doctors and I just felt like simply saying “I’m not going to do this”.

Then a young emergency doctor arrived who changed everything. She was vibrant and upbeat, and she sat down and smiled. She was empathetic but overtly positive. She told me we would have to go to theatre and promised me they would take good care of me. And so, into theatre I went, at one in the morning. It was scary this time. The walls were peeling. The clock above the door didn’t work. And it was freezing. No one took their mask off to smile, and I was alone in pre theatre. I dug deep and remembered what I did “the last time”. And I visualised my imaginary trip away, in all its glorious detail as a mask came towards me and put me to sleep.

Back on the ward, the nurse piled several warm blankets on me and a toasted sandwich from the nurses room. He was wonderful, and a sandwich never tasted so good at 4am. Later my doctor returned and was just as positive – how she found time for me in that incredible schedule and system they follow I don’t know, but I was grateful. I wrote to the hospital afterwards - the chaotic, cold, peeling walled hospital that I was terrified in, and thanked them for the PEOPLE that made a difference.

And that, after this long story, is my point. It is the people that make the difference in our lives. It’s the smiles, the encouragements, the reassurances and knowing they are waiting on the other side. The first time we experience things, we focus on what we can do with the situation, just like the restrictions. We are determined, we are positive, and we feel empowered we are taking control of things. The first time we are rescuers protecting our community and our vulnerable. It’s harder the second time, because we have more fear. We question how it’s happening, and we feel like the victim - because we didn’t want to end up here again. It’s easy to slip into this questioning - to look for who is to blame, what went wrong.

We need to realise this is an understandable cycle, and that we can stop it. We can become the rescuer again, as I have had to do. I have rested and drawn on all the positive things I learnt from the “first time” to get through it all again. And I have learned new things the second time – that the way we communicate makes all the difference.

Sometimes the systems aren’t perfect, but the people in them can be. So please know that there is something that makes a difference in all of this – and that’s you.

Stay strong Melbourne x •

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