A Terrible Holiday Checklist - Sunglasses, Sun Cream and Emergency Surgery - Part 1
It’s that time of year. Schools have broken up and airports and Mediterranean resorts are being flocked to, to escape the British rain (only this year holiday makers are being met with temperatures that are hotter than hell). Or maybe, like me and my OH, those holidays have already taken place because we have the luxury of being able to go away without worrying about school timetables and can gloat to our parenting friends over the prices that we pay to escape the country.
For us, these midyear summer holidays are a time for relaxing, eating too much, exploring new places and generally having a stress-free time. And after 6 months of no holidays and a manic work schedule, we were both ready for doing not very much during our week on the sunny island of Rhodes. Except that my appendix had other ideas.
I can’t guarantee that this article’s going to be smattered with my usual irreverent sarcasm or humour…. But let’s have a dive in to the most terrifying holiday I’ve ever had - where my only souvenir was an 8inch scar across my stomach….
The July holiday to a Greek island has become an annual event for us. A week before the schools break up, where we can just chill out - recovering from the inevitably long and exhausting British winter and spring. This year, we even decided to splash out on a rather swanky boutique hotel - because, well, we deserved it. A departure from our usual self-catering apartment where two uncomfortable wooden single beds have been pushed together; there’s a shower that only someone under 4ft can fit under; and the air conditioning sounds like a 747 taking off.
We didn’t do too much planning - the obligatory guidebook for Rhodes was bought and subsequently ignored (and inadvertently left behind). To be honest, I hadn’t even really looked into the area that we were travelling to - I just needed to get away. And in contrast to my usual last minute packing stress, I even managed to give myself a full day before the flight to get suitcases and the house in order.
Of course, my plans for a serene arrival at the airport and stress-free planning went out the window as I am incapable of organising myself at the moment (apparently a sign of burn out - but that’s another story). So as per usual, I was throwing all my wardrobe into a suitcase in the space of 30 minutes before our taxi arrived. But we made it to glorious Luton airport* and settled onto our 4-hour flight without too much fuss…. I wasn’t even that bothered about the stomach ache that I started to develop… probably something I’d eaten…
Except it wasn’t just a stomach ache. No. 13 hours after landing and having avoided dinner to sleep off the growing pain in my stomach and the subsequent self-diagnosis on the NHS website**, at 4am I found myself in a taxi on my way to the Emergency Room at Rhodes General Hospital.
After the dance of the insurance details and provision of the GHIC card I had applied for (once again, at the last moment), I was in. I won’t go into the number of tests that the doctors in the ER room performed... or quite how perplexing it was to watch a consultant roll a condom (or something very like a condom) on to a probe that was once again made to root round my barren baby basket - to rule out anything pregnancy related. But lying there, next to the toilet that didn’t lock and who the last occupant had obviously lost a fight with, what I can only assume was the contents of an a particularly spicy kebab after 10 pints of beer, I started to panic.
“We want to keep you in for observation - we think it might be appendicitis”, came the diagnosis in broken English from a doctor who I was pretty sure was 16 (and who had earlier shouted at me for not being able to pee on demand into a cup). Directed to the 4th floor surgical ward, I stumbled my way through the hospital, completely oblivious to whatever was written on the signs (have you seen the Greek alphabet!?). My OH hadn’t been allowed in the ER, so had been sent back to the hotel but I was now furiously typing out messages telling him where I was and to come back soon, as I literally had no idea what was happening to me.
Delirious by now with fever, IV lines were hooked into me as I took my place on a bed in a room with two other women. Family members of other patients were milling around, shouting very loudly into mobile phones and hospital staff were nowhere to be seen. The OH arrived and was promptly sent off on the hunt for some water - which had to be purchased from the hospital canteen and given it was 35 degrees and the air conditioning was as effective as me blowing feebly into a balloon, it was very much needed. All the while, my pain and panic both increasing. Eventually the doctors and surgeons came through on their afternoon round. Lots was said. I couldn’t understand a word of it. I tried to tell them that I was feeling better (I wasn’t) and that surely, I could just go (I couldn’t). I did however manage to understand the words “surgery” (what!!), “not sure what is wrong” (what again!!!) and “laparotomy” (what on earth???).
I won’t lie, the next few hours waiting to be taken down to the operating room were hell. I still didn’t really know what was happening to me and the form that I had to sign that was all in Greek was of no help (I might have signed away my rights to my DNA for all I know). The heat intensifying and my fever increasing - I was now nil by mouth. Catastrophising was the only thing I could do - and I seriously didn’t think I was going to make it. It’s quite sobering to be confronted with your own mortality like that. And the messages that I prepared in case the worst did happen make for some intense reading now.
The dignity stripping started soon after. Stripped and put into a practically see through green gown, and squeezed into some surgical stockings, at around 6pm I was wheeled sobbing from the ward to the operating theatre. The porter was amazing - in broken English comforting me, before depositing me in the pre-theatre room. As I was moved onto the operating table and wheeled into theatre, I seriously thought that this was where my organs were going to be harvested. This wasn’t like any operating room I’d seen on the TV. Where I was expecting steel, sparkling equipment and monitors against a pristine white backdrop - I was instead confronted with discoloured cream walls, battered, and bruised equipment and brown ooze creeping through the vents in the ceiling. If the appendicitis didn’t get me, I was pretty sure that the facilities would.
My sobbing now out of control, the nurses and surgeons comforted me as best they could. And the sobbing was swiftly replaced with hysteria when the anaesthetist kept converting my weight from stones to kilos incorrectly… Begging them to redo the calculation so that I didn’t wake up halfway through the operation was the last thing I remember….
That feels like a nice old cliff-hanger to leave things on for the moment. Hopefully it’s not been too traumatic a read - I’m certainly finding it quite cathartic to spill out all the thoughts in my head onto paper. And stick around, as part 2 of this tale - the aftermath - is going to be posted very soon!
*this is very much a sarcastic comment, for those of you who do not know Luton
**I was obviously dying from an alien that had impregnated me through sucking on my face whilst I was asleep