Blogs are like buses. Nothing for ages then two come along in quick succession. But it seems important to acknowledge that it’s a year today since the publication of my debut novel. That’s my excuse.
I was expecting to spend 24 March 2016 on social media posting and tweeting about The Girl at the End of the Road, which was being officially released by bookshops and online retailers that day. I should have been enjoying the experience of achieving a lifelong dream, relishing the congratulations from friends and family. I certainly didn’t expect to be rushed into hospital.
The previous night I’d gone to bed with some unpleasant blood blisters in my mouth. I must be really run down, I thought, with the pressure of editing my first book, organising a mini book tour for the following months, and beginning my next novel. When I awoke on launch day, I noticed a rash of red spots on my throat and arms which didn’t blanch when pressed. I was queuing at the receptionist’s desk at my local surgery at nine o’clock sharp and was shown straight in.
As soon as the doctor saw me, he telephoned the hospital and told them to be ready to receive me. Once in Accident and Emergency, I was fast-tracked through the system. When asked to change into a hospital gown, I was shocked to see that my legs were covered in a livid non-blanching rash and purple bruises. I must be very ill indeed!
I’ve often speculated what it would be like if I was suddenly faced with a potentially life threatening condition. I’d seen my own father die from cancer a few years previously, and had sat by his side as he slowly slipped away. I’d wondered if he’d been able to hear me, and whether he was afraid or peaceful as he faced the end.
With doctors coming and going from my little cubicle, I felt surprisingly calm. When a registrar from the Haematology Department sat next to my bed about three hours later, I knew from his face that he had discovered what was wrong. He explained that normal platelet readings were between 150 – 400 per microliter of blood. A life threatening reading was anything below 20. My platelet levels were 3. My immune system was destroying my platelets and my blood could no longer clot.
I was given clotting medication and taken to the Critical Dependency Unit to be observed overnight in case I was bleeding internally or into my brain. I was told I probably wouldn’t sleep because of the drugs I’d been given. I lay in the dark listening to the sounds of the hospital, and the cries of the elderly lady opposite who kept asking where she was and if anyone was there.
The irony of my situation didn’t escape me. I was half way through the first draft of my second novel, a book about a woman in a critical condition in hospital. As she lies in bed, she desperately tries to remember what happened to her and questions the beliefs she’s built her life upon. Now I was lying in a hospital bed thinking about the meaning and purpose of my own life.
By the next morning the ulcers in my mouth had stopped bleeding. My blood pressure was stable and I was sent home with high dosage steroids to switch off my faulty immune system. During the days that followed I spent most of my time in bed. But sleep eluded me. Although physically exhausted, my mind was wide-awake. I decided to continue writing my manuscript, tapping away on my laptop during the night while everyone else was asleep. Having just experienced my own life-threatening moment and spell in hospital, ideas poured out of me. Within a week I’d completed 30,000 words and finished the first draft of The Key of All Unknown.
We have to use our imaginations to understand the lives of others. While writing this book, I was imaginatively lying in my heroine’s sick bed, whilst lying in my own. Without that personal experience of hospitalisation and vulnerability, I believe the book would be a poorer version of itself. Things happen for a reason.
I’m delighted to say that I’ve made an amazing recovering. There’s a one in three chance that the idiopathic thrombocytopenia could return, and like all of us I walk the fragile path between life and death. Nothing externally has changed, but I’ve become more aware of my own mortality. I’ve also learned that it’s not the strength of one’s faith that counts, but the strength of the One in whom you put your faith that’s important.