The Climber waved me goodbye from the glass and chrome Berlin Hauptbahnhof and off I zoomed on a comfortable German train. Unfortunately the comfort only lasted about 20 minutes until someone came to sit in my seat. It turns out that there is a step in the booking process where you are supposed to secure an actual seat number and we’d somehow missed that. So, true to form, I rode the rest of the way sickly curled up in a ball in front of the toilet compartment. I did so calling showers of blessings on my genius self for having booked a night at the Sheraton at Frankfurt Airport. I struggled off the train and into the waiting arms of a proper hotel complete with fluffy bed, big clean bath and room service. If I felt miserably sick at least I was clean, well slept and miserably sick.
The flight was fairly uneventful. My tummy hurt most of the way: I got fairly good at ignoring it (yay for mediative breathing techniques) but was extremely pleased to eventually land (after bunny hops through the Middle East and Perth) in Adelaide. It was really wonderful to see my Mum, her husband (the Bicycle Bandit) and an Aunty and cousin who had come to get me. Honestly though, I was pretty glum about the trip ending and kept thinking that I wasn’t really sick or in enough pain to warrant missing out on India.
In a classic case of getting what you foolishly wish for, by the second night at home my tummy pain was starting to become a little overwhelming. It wasn’t particularly excruciating, it was just that I was so tired and weak that I couldn’t bully/meditate myself into not feeling it any more. At about 10pm we decided that, to be on the safe side, we should head to the hospital. The Bicycle Bandit was quite sure that I had appendicitis because of where the pain was (he had it himself…that being the entirety of his medical training). Mum thought that was unlikely – how could the German hospital have missed something so obvious for four whole days?
We had the usual sign in thing and the waiting with the ill and weird (and both). I got given some kind of totally awesome painkiller and from that point on everything got kind of fuzzy.
I do recall getting to lie down in a bed (yay!) and my mumsie sitting with me for ages. A few different doctors came and went and I had to give my medical history fifty times. They had fun with my German hospital discharge summary and Google Translate. Eventually it seemed like nothing more would happen that night and so Mum went home and left me to snooze between painkillers.
Those nice little tablets more or less wiped out the whole of the next day as well. The only thing I clearly remember is that at about 2am the following night a nice surgeon came to tell me that she was pretty sure that I had appendicitis. 1 to Bicycle Bandit, 0 to Naila Hospital. She wanted me to sign some forms and then she would operate – “In the morning?”, “No, now. You should probably call your Mum”. Uh oh.
So off they wheeled me to the surgical prep area. Getting my contacts out proved to be something of a drama, as did finding a contact lens case (or perhaps I was focussing on the solvable issues…ha ha). And then into the big white room with the machine that goes ‘ping’ and doctors and nurses in scrubs and the needle and the count down and I’m feeling so heavy and blink.. blink.. blink.
I woke up in an enormous post op room, just two nurses and me. The conversation was kind of weird; I kept floating in and out of it. I could hear what they were saying and knew when it was my turn to respond but I couldn’t get the thoughts and words together quickly enough to say anything. I’d blub blub down into the cool water of not-listening then make another effort to swim up to the conversation, realise it was my turn to say something and maybe get something out or float down again to try next time. I suspect I wasn’t exactly a scintillating conversationalist. They’re probably used to that.
Eventually I must have been wheeled up to the ward. The nurse told me not to worry about overdosing on the painkillers because the machine (you click a little thing and drugs go into your veins) had a safety thing on it. I distinctly recall thinking “That consideration did not even enter my mind…click.click.click”.
The surgeons and their student sidekicks came to say hello and poke me a few times. I discovered that my innards now lacked both an appendix and 17 cm of large intestine. I also discovered that the appendix had completely perforated (i.e. exploded/disintegrated) and there was a crazy infection. This meant that when they got to making the second incision for the proposed laparoscopic surgery they held their scalpels up in horror and said “By Jove! This is revolting and I can’t see a thing! Let’s get out the big knife and open her up navel to pubis: yeeha!” (I paraphrase). It turns out that hacking (or even delicately cutting, with enviable precision) through your stomach muscles, down to your organs, isn’t totally great for said muscles which are, in their turn, quite useful for rolling over, sitting, standing etc. On the bright side, I hadn’t died of septicaemia (when the infection gets into your blood stream and kills you in a couple of presumably very unpleasant days) because a phlegmon had formed and walled off the infection. A phlegmon is basically a big ball of infected pus and disgustingness. Yay for phlegie!
At the time though, I wasn’t terribly interested in all this butcher-shop talk. My primary concern was trying to stay drugged and asleep so it would all go away. This wasn’t always possible and I have vivid memories of being agonisingly lifted and wheeled places in the middle of the night, on a number of occasions, because something was terribly wrong. I actually can’t remember what exactly was wrong but the pain was intense. Being gently bumped felt like someone stomping on me with jackboots and being lifted from my bed onto the table was totally excruciating – every very nerve ending screaming. At some point I managed to get vomit/random liquid on my lungs (charming, I know) and so a rugby team of nurses shoved a rather large tube down my throat to my lungs. My little eyes were bugging out of my face and I was thinking “this is seriously not happening, seriously this is not happening”.
And where was the Climber during all of this, you ask? Trying to get into Berghain and clubbing in Berlin. Damn him.
My Daddy came for a visit though, which was lovely. I knew I looked pretty awful when he took one look and his eyes got all glassy and teary – and I didn’t even have the tube in anymore! At least I felt justified in feeling crap (my line of reasoning being that if I look terrible enough to make my Dad cry I truly deserve to be in hospital). And of course my darling Mum was there every day to cluck cluck over her little chick. They were awesome.
Little by little I started to get better and the number of bibs and bobs sticking into me reduced in number and ferocity. First the ghastly throat tube, then the catheter, then this patch of needles, then that. I had my first shower (possibly the best five steps of my life), I had my first poop (a thrilling event for all involved as it was proof that they’d stuck the right bits back together rather than accidentally wiring the colon to the heart or something dreadful like that). Best of all, the Climber had managed to get to Sweden and sell the van and was trying to book a flight – yay!
It turned out though that I had also somehow acquired a resilient kind of bacteria (not exactly a ‘super bug’ but kind of the same idea). The upside was my own room (which sadly, I couldn’t really care less about at the time).
After a couple of weeks of fun and games in hospital I was able to eat custard. Actually I couldn’t eat the hospital custard, which was vomitus even if you didn’t already feel like vomiting, but proper Heinz baby custard which my wonderful mother promptly bought a case of once she worked out that I’d eat it. I had also walked the four steps to the toilet, used it, and walked back to bed all by myself. At this point the hospital decided that as I wasn’t actively trying to die I was probably ready to go home. Today. Mother wasn’t at all convinced and tried to discuss her concerns with the nurse. Unfortunately the nurse on duty was the only grumpy and mean person we had met in the entire hospital. So I went home.
My poor mum had to do more or less everything for me – from helping me to the toilet to washing me to bringing me cut up bits of Splices (the only food in the world that was vaguely non-vomit inducing). Mum’s are ridiculously awesome (well, mine is).
Annoyingly my stupid wound got infected after a few days and so back to the hospital we went (riding in cars was not at all fun). The surgeon and the consultant had a poke around and decided that they should open up the wound again and drain it. Being that cutting into scar tissue doesn’t hurt (there are no nerve endings or something) they were merrily slicing away WHILE I WAS TOTALLY AWAKE AND COULD SEE WHAT THEY WERE DOING!!! Fortunately there was a halfway sensible nurse there who patted me on the head and told me I was a brave girl.
The recovery process was long and rather boring. I had daily antibiotic IV treatments and nursing visits to dress my wound. It took about a month to be able to walk to the corner of the street and back. The only highlights were the Endone prescription (otherwise known as ‘hillbilly heroin’) and the giant hug of love I was enveloped in the whole time by my family, friends and my darling climber. My people are so amazing they make me cry. Thank you xx