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Surviving Suicide

6 min read

This is a story about psychological impact...


I don't have a photo to capture the moment I regained consciousness in the Intensive Treatment Unit (ITU) of a hospital, but it was very reminiscent of the photo above, only with loads more tubes and machines.

I'm no stranger to the various lifesaving apparatuses, having spent far too many weeks in hospital receiving intravenous fluids. I came round with about 6 different tubes all pumping stuff into my bloodstream through various canulas on both arms/wrists. I instinctively knew not to panic and start grabbing at stuff. There were a couple of ITU staff who were present when I came out of my coma to make sure I was OK and keep me calm. I noticed a canula coming out of a strange place in my arm with a thin red line of my blood within the plastic walls of the tubing - blood isn't supposed to flow in that direction. "It's an arterial canula" one of the ITU staff explained. "It's monitoring your blood pressure very accurately" they said. I could look up at a screen where, sure enough, all my vital statistics - blood pressure, blood oxygenation, respiration rate, heart rate etc. etc. - were all displayed.

I was put back to sleep.

When I came round again I'd been lain flat on my back and I was looking at the ceiling. Somebody poked their face into my field of view. They seemed to be asking me a question. I tried to reply but I couldn't. I was confused and a little alarmed. They disappeared. When they reappeared I tried again to speak to tell them that I was mute for some reason. My breathing stopped when I tried to speak, then when I relaxed my breathing started again after a couple of seconds delay. It was a strange sensation but it didn't alarm me. I felt snot running down my face and reached to touch it - it wasn't snot, it was a rubber tube going up my nose. I fumbled gently across my face with my fingers and felt the tube going down my throat for the first time. Of course! I was on a ventilator - a machine was breathing for me and I hadn't realised. I was relieved that I hadn't lost my voice - the tube was blocking my vocal chords.

I lost consciousness again.

I came round and I had been sat up a little bit. A nurse was asking if I wanted the tubes out. I nodded. He pulled the tube out of my nose, warning me that it might tickle a little bit. There was a sponge lollipop I needed to suck on after he pulled the tube out of my windpipe and out of my mouth - having been intubated for days had irritated the delicate flesh. The big tube came out, I sucked on the liquid and my throat felt fine. I made a small noise and was relieved to feel the vibration of my vocal chords, reassuring me that I hadn't permanently lost my voice. Being mute had been the most distressing part of the experience.

There was a bag of piss next to me. I was wearing a gown which was completely open at the back. I hadn't been wearing a gown when I'd arrived in hospital, so I realised that I'd been undressed and somebody had inserted a catheter while I was unconscious. I was glad the first and only time I've been catheterised I was unconscious. It did feel very strange knowing that somebody had put a tube into my penis while I was unconscious. I felt more tethered to the medical apparatus than I've ever felt before - I still had about 7 tubes attached to me, along with 8 cables which were monitoring my heart: 15 connections to machines that were pumping stuff in, taking stuff out, or monitoring my vitals. At its peak when I first regained consciousness, there had been 18+ tubes and cables attached to me.

I closed my eyes.

A doctor was telling me that my organs had started working again and I was going to pull through. The doctor said I was going to live and asked if that was good news. "Honestly?" I asked. I had failed: It wasn't a cry for help; I hadn't expected to live; I had wanted to die. What had changed?

The arterial canula was removed and I shuffled across from the ITU bed onto another bed so I could be wheeled into the High Dependency ward. My bag of piss sloshed and the catheter tube tugged on my penis. I still had a bunch of other tubes attached to various canulas which threatened to snag on things, but I was starting to feel a bit more comfortable - I'd wheeled trolleys with drips and drip pumps around enough times, taking care not to get my tubes in a tangle.

On the High Dependency ward I had a little more time to contemplate what had just happened, but it had been surprisingly physically exhausting considering that most of the time I'd been unconscious in a coma.

A psychiatrist was telling me I could come back to A&E any time if I was feeling suicidal. They gave me a piece of paper with a number to phone if I was having another crisis. Hospital discharge was arriving swiftly.

The catheter was pulled out and I was incredibly grateful that I was unconscious when it went in. I had a shower. In the blink of an eye I was discharged... still struggling to process quite what had just happened to me. What day was it?

I guess I'm still processing what happened to me.

They say that the victims of accidental poisonings very often suffer severe psychological issues for at least a year after they're discharged from hospital. What about deliberate suicidal poisonings?

I knew with certainty that I wanted to die and I never felt a bit of regret or fear or self-doubt. When I got the news I was going to live I felt like I'd failed. I wasn't flooded with relief or any kind of feeling that I was glad to be alive. How do you move forward when you want to be dead? How do you decide you want to be alive? There's a considerable gap between those two extremes.

In the months following this suicide attempt I've repeatedly wished that I'd succeeded. I wasn't supposed to go through all the stress and awfulness that I've experienced subsequently. Life was supposed to be over; I was supposed to be dead.

I don't really know what else to say. This is just my raw honest reflection 10+ months since I tried to kill myself. This is what I remember during those first moments when I regained consciousness and realised my suicide attempt had failed.