‘I nearly died because doctors said I was wasting my own time and theirs’

Guest post by Rhian Arnold

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Rhian ArnoldI’ve always struggled with greetings, formal or casual; I’m always one to panic and overthink unnecessarily. Although, as a bi-racial queer woman, there’s usually a good reason for this. Soon enough in any chat, once the questions start to flow, there are always a few that follow the same old pattern: “where exactly are you from if you don’t mind me asking?” and “did you say GIRLFRIEND? I’d never have guessed; you don’t look like a lesbian!” (seriously what does that even mean?)

There are many aspects of my life I can always turn to in conversation – things to relate to someone else, as well as things I take pride in. There are also parts of my life I don’t hugely want to share with new people. For example: “Hi, I’m Rhian, and I should have died in 2017 because my local hospital wouldn’t take me seriously.” Not that I’ve ever started a conversation with such a chat up line but, for a a very long time, this is the way I perceived myself.

I was 20 years old, training full time at drama school – one hundred and something miles away from home – full of health and energy, about to begin my final year, all set to graduate in to the big wide world. Life couldn’t be better, surely?

I was settling back into student life following a tonsillectomy over summer, which I’d seemed to have recovered from just fine. Back into college life, dancing, singing, acting, then waitressing in the evenings.

Only two days into term, I went to lie down in bed, and froze in excruciating back pain, unable to move or breathe normally. After being trapped this way for an hour or so, I rang 111, who told me to go A&E. I was eventually X-Rayed, had some co-codamol chucked at me, and told to go home and rest, and maybe book a physio appointment, as it was “just back pain”. I wasn’t overly thrilled with the tone of the hospital staff. It was sharp. Almost degrading. But that’s exactly what I did. I almost felt guilty, like I’d wasted their time.

Day 2, the pain was back; I was uncontrollably screaming and not able to move. Luckily, I was rescued by an amazing staff member from college, who called paramedics over to give me stronger painkillers and get me to that physio appointment (which was pointless because all I did was scream in pain and throw up, so god knows what the people in the
waiting room thought was going on next door!). I was then sent back to A&E as there was nothing the physio could do for me. After hours of being ignored, and drifting in and out of consciousness, I was again told there was nothing wrong with me, or on my X-Ray from the night before.

I was given diazepam – that stuff literally knocks you out for the count – and told to not come back as I was “wasting my own and their time”, which was said almost with a slight eyeroll by yet another male doctor. May I add that I couldn’t even get up to leave at this point, as I was high as a kite and throwing up every few minutes. Thanks A&E.

Day 3 just went by in a blur of occasional consciousness. I was too frail to even get up to go to the loo at this point, and my mum had come all the way down from the Midlands to care for me. I felt my body shutting down and giving up. You can probably predict the pattern by now. Yep, you guessed it: excruciating pain, can’t breathe, rushed back to A&E,
and more hours of waiting. Again, I was told to go away, and that there was nothing wrong. My mother, being the strong-willed woman that she is, refused to take no for an answer. And this is what saved my life.

Things happened here that I don’t remember clearly, and don’t like to remember. I was diagnosed with pneumonia, pleurisy, pleural empyema, a flooded chest cavity, and an almost fully collapsed lung. In short, this combination is a guaranteed killer of the elderly or HIV positive people. For me, being a completely healthy 20 year old, it was a rarity to say the least. Talks were had about what would happen if I didn’t make it, and a meeting was held with my year group at college about how I may not return.

Two weeks and a million injections, blood tests, IV lines, antibiotics and a chest drain later, I was allowed to go home to start my recovery, and to start rebuilding my life, which turned out to be the biggest task yet. Medication made me exhausted and the lowest I’ve ever been; things were tense in my family home, as a result of the trauma we had all suffered; not to mention the huge strain it had put on the relationship I was in at the time.

Of course, things at home did get better. My wonderful year group sent flowers and treats to my house, and the college principal was an utter godsend, caring for both me and my mum as she had nowhere to stay whilst down south. Mum and I took some girly time out, having days of retail therapy to rebuild a normal relationship again. I was
getting better, and I had survived.

I slipped back into college life surprisingly quickly. Of course I had lots of strength to get back, but that would come with time. Life just carried on as normal. And that’s when the horrifying flashbacks started. My local hospital had simply brushed me off as a young girl “wasting their time”, and had let me get just hours away from death.

It’s approaching the second anniversary of when my life changed forever, and I finally feel ready to speak out. I’ve always felt very lucky that I have never suffered with poor mental health, however even to this day, I have flashbacks resulting in emotional breakdowns – although nowadays far less frequently than they used to be.

I’m blessed to have such a supportive family and friends, and to now have such an amazing woman by my side who’s always there for me, even when in such a vulnerable state. I count my lucky stars every day that I’m still here, healthier than ever, and succeeding in my chosen career path. I will always have pain in my left side, and who
knows how it will affect me in later life. The mental scars may never fully heal, but I like to think of it as a reminder that I’m a survivor.

The fact that doctors are still pityingly shaking their heads at young girls, telling them they’re fine and don’t know what they’re talking about, still fills me with rage today. But by sharing my story, I hope to raise awareness and inspire young women to stand up for themselves.

Listen to your body, ladies. If something feels wrong, you get that checked and don’t leave until you are listened to and treated with respect. Never feel sorry for ‘wasting’ anybody’s time. There’s no such thing. NEVER APOLOGISE FOR BEING A POWERFUL FUCKING WOMAN.


You can find Rhian on Instagram 

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