Last week I was in hospital, just overnight, to get on top of a virus. Most people would think that being in hospital is the worst bit and the point where I’d feel at my worst. But it doesn’t really work like that for me sometimes.
There have definitely been times where I’ve felt absolutely horrendous while in hospital and I’ve felt better at home once discharged. Those tend to be the longer stays like the 2 weeks I had a few years ago and the 5 days admission last year. However, a lot of the time, the really horrible feeling comes after I get released from hospital.
I go to hospital when either I can’t get on top of an illness myself or something emergent happens. I’m obviously feeling terrible, otherwise I wouldn’t go. Once there, I usually get given IV hydrocortisone, along with other treatments. Depending on how much they give me, it works out roughly 5-10 times the dose of my normal oral medications I take myself. And I’m usually given that dose IV on top of what I’ve already had orally that day. In simple terms, it’s probably like drinking 5-10 espressos in one go in terms of the sudden boost in energy.
It can be a bit strange to get your head around. I’m in hospital, so I should be feeling terrible, but the best I feel in general is right after you give me that IV. And, depending on how sick I am, I can have that up to 3 times a day. I’m sick, I clearly need it because my body is using it up, but I don’t necessarily feel sick. It lulls me into a false sense of security sometimes because I feel like I can conquer the world, only to try to walk to the bathroom and feel poorly again very quickly.
The really horrible bit starts about 2-3 days after the IV stops- 2-3 days seems to be when my body catches up with any changes to medications. This is when I go back onto my oral meds, which is a stress dose (so double or triple my baseline). No matter which way you look at it, going from a lot IV back to tablets is a massive bump back down to earth. It’s truly horrible. It’s compared to a pregnant woman in labour’s hormones (I wouldn’t know, but I’ve read it)- everything feels a bit crazy. I feel possessed, if I’m honest. If you think PMT is bad in terms of what it does to your mood and emotions, times that by about 50 and that’s closer to what I feel like. Or I feel like I’m watching myself from above like some out of body experience. My body clock is all out of whack because cortisol is what keeps you in sync and the amount in my blood has changed so dramatically over the course of the last few days, it feels like I’ve been in 3 earthquakes simultaneously and I don’t actually know which way the sky is anymore or if my feet are on the ground. If you’ve ever tried to come off coffee cold turkey, would you be able to go from 10 espressos to a latte overnight? There’s also a bunch of physical symptoms as well, which I wrote about in this post, but sometimes the mental ones can be just as bad: your body is designed to put up with pain and illness and is able to fight it if your mind is strong. If your mind and emotions are all over the place and you’re mentally exhausted, it makes it virtually impossible to fight the physical symptoms. That’s why sleep deprivation works so well in interrogations!
If you add that with the fact that no one sleeps well in hospital, I’m feeling pretty annoyed/upset I had to go to hospital anyway, and I’m feeling awful because I’ve had some kind of normal illness, it’s even more horrible. But, when you’re in hospital, people literally bring everything to you and you can stay in bed and rest. When you’re released, you have to start functioning normally again. Even if you have people to look after you, you still might have to negotiate stairs, getting your own drink, doing small things. Getting out of the hospital itself to go home feels like a marathon. Little things which add to the fact that there’s been a massive reduction in meds makes it even harder.
So for me, once I’ve got over the immediate danger of whatever has taken me to hospital and had my IV HC, I ‘don’t feel too bad’. The real fun starts 2-3 days after discharge and then every 2-3 days after that. Because once I’ve left hospital, I then have to get down to my baseline steroid dose again from the double dose. I tend to step down 5mg every other day, and it’s every 2-3 days my body seems to ‘notice’ the difference. It might be ok and not as bad as I think it could be, but it’s a bit like standing on a cliff being told you have to jump- it might be ok, you might only break your arm, or all hell could break lose and you could bang your head. It takes about 3 weeks from after the IV stops to get back to my baseline, and then a little while longer to feel ‘settled’ and ‘back to normal’. It’s definitely not something I look forward to!