Feeling invisible in the waiting room of the Emergency Department: Part one

Watching loved ones grieve while you’re still alive is difficult, but this is what I have seen when my family was confronted with the severity of my anorexia nervosa (AN).

Eventually, I unclenched my fists long enough to start smashing away words on my keyboard, releasing the anger and disgust that had become my fuel for survival.

We are told that early intervention is crucial to recovery, to speak up and seek treatment; and we hear about those who have not sought help, due to fear and anorexia screaming the word ‘No’ at them.

What we don’t hear about are those people who seek treatment despite the word ‘No’ echoing through them. Somehow, our heart goes against our mind and disobeys our every thought in order to survive. Professionals tell us repeatedly to present to the Emergency Department, to go to our GP and other organisations if possible, and we do exactly that.

We’re fighting a battle within ourselves.

Only by letting go, by giving up our control, and by letting others navigate us, can we edge towards the right direction for treatment. When we get to the GP, they do their best but aren’t equipped for our challenge. They refer us to other health professionals, who lead us back to the GP, who then tells us to present to Emergency with a referral to support our needs and suggestions for care. After all, hospitals save lives, they help, and they are full of people in an industry of care and compassion; but we’re greeted by triage nurses, frantic and understaffed; we arrive at 7 pm and leave at 6 am.

We have malnutrition, dehydration, fatigue, and bones protruding; we have a night to think about what we’ve done to ourselves, our AN voice is telling us to get out and run.

This is what someone with no weight to cushion their bones feels like when sitting upright in the waiting room’s cold plastic chair:

I feel my spine and tailbone grind against the plastic. I use my handbag or the jumper off my mum’s back for padding and rest on her shoulder or lap to ease my exhaustion; my partner does the same if Mum is unable to come. I adjust myself and reposition the entire night, and under the fluorescent lights, with sensory issues aside, my eyes burn. My heart beats so fast, like it’s screaming and working overtime to keep me alive. It feels like a heart attack, but I’m stuck in that chair with no energy, feeling like I’ve just run a marathon without moving a muscle.

The wait, the fear, the discomfort, the cold, the exhaustion, and the sensory issues bring me to tears.

With every person coming in, the further down the list I go because I have an invisible illness; ironically, that’s how I feel, invisible. Slowly over time, anorexia makes me smaller and smaller mentally and physically. I feel like I am about to disappear.

I have never understood how pale one can be yet have black underneath their eyes.

The media gives a version of thinness that is not the reality of an eating disorder. They don’t see the bruises from our bones grinding against furniture, the pressure sores from our bones rubbing against the hard surfaces and even the soft ones, or the bed sores on our hips, ankles, and elbows. Our hair and nails are brittle and dull, with no colour but the red and rawness from our eyelids and a greyish tinge to our skin. Our noses and lips are chapped and peeling no matter what we do to try to hydrate them. The media pictures don’t show all this, but neither does the eating disorder. We know about these things, but it’s detached from us.

Acid reflux is burning away at my throat like a dragon throwing fire.

Eating away the lining of my stomach the way anorexia eats away my mind, body, and soul.

Sitting there in pain that no one but your loved one sees in the Emergency Department waiting room is another pain of its own. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and magical thinking kick in and throw negative thoughts your way; your loved ones are suffering because you have been neglectful of yourself … it will be your fault like everything else.

Then your name is called out. And you begin to hope.

– Sarah Kathleen

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