A Terrible Holiday Checklist - The Surgery Aftermath - Part 2
So, picking up from where I left off in Part 1 of the tale of my traumatic holiday to Rhodes, I have to forewarn you… this particular blog may get a little graphic (especially points 4 and 5)!
Having never had surgery before, I had no idea that when they wake you up from the anaesthetic, it’s like you see in movies; when a character has been in some kind of stasis for a period of time and are brought round gasping for air whilst swivelling their eyes in a wild and frenzied manner. Other than the rush of oxygen into my lungs and an initial panic that I had no idea where I was, I don’t remember much about being wheeled back to the ward. I was too hopped up on anaesthetic and painkillers to be paying much attention to my surroundings. I do know that whilst I was on route, my OH was being ushered into a meeting with the surgeon - with no wife in front of him or an explanation for the forthcoming meeting, the immediate worst was suspected, and I’m surprised he wasn’t found in a heap on the floor.
Back on the ward, the dignity stripping continued as I lay there completely naked apart from my surgical stockings*. In a delirious state, there were too many tubes to count coming out of me, and a similar number of packets of goo and liquids lined up to be pumped into me. And the heat. God it was hot in there - partly due to the high fever I was battling and partly due to the 30 degrees at 10pm Greek weather. All I wanted was water, but I wasn’t allowed any. The most the OH could do was run a damp gauze over my bruised and cracked lips (I hadn’t quite realised what having tubes shoved down your throat in surgery would be like - to be honest, it hadn’t even crossed my mind that they would do that - but of course they would, how else was I going to breathe during the operation??).
That Monday night after the surgery would be the first of 8 nights of horror that really left me wishing I was in Watford General (and no one ever says that).
Many things happened to me that week that have all contributed to my need to seek professional help for the inevitable PTSD I’m going to suffer. These include (and here’s the warning again, some of these may be a little icky):
Being told off by the physio, for not having the most appropriate dress to wear (because of course, I’d packed hospital wear when I was sorting out my suitcase for a beach holiday).
Getting out of bed wearing a medical corset to stop my insides from (probably) falling out of the 8-inch incision that was tightly clamped with 20 staples – and that I was convinced was going to bust open. And then dragging around the various drains and fluid bags that were attached to me, as well as IV lines, all collected in a plastic carrier bag that was found just lying around, in an effort to keep me walking.
And they needed me up and moving to get my bowels working again. My main objective for the next few days was to burp and fart to prove that I didn’t need another operation to “unstick” my intestines (a common side effect of this type of surgery apparently). Trying to do either of those things when you haven’t actually eaten for 5 days (and have only had a few meagre sips of water and can’t get out of bed easily), is VERY difficult.
A highlight was having a tube shoved up my nose and down my throat to extract intestinal bile that was building up and causing my stomach to swell after the operation. Except the tube wasn’t positioned right and instead of it leaving my body in an orderly fashion through the pipe, I vomited up bright green shit all over myself. I can now attest that the scenes in The Exorcist are based on fact. To make it worse, I’d thrown up all over my one suitable dress (more of how I got that later) and my new corset. This was the moment I thought I’d reached my lowest point.
I soon realised the next morning, as I sat in my own shit having bet incorrectly on a fart, that my lowest point hadn’t actually been reached the day before, but it surely had now. At least they finally changed my bed sheets for me (apparently sweating 3 days profusely and vomiting on the sheets wasn’t quite enough for them to want to change them before).
Watching the understaffed nurses run around administering pain killers, topping up IV lines and changing bandages - but seemingly ignoring any kind of hygiene processes by dripping blood from cannulas over sheets and the floor, and dropping gloopy bandages by the bed, all of which could be left for hours or days before they were cleaned away.
Spending hour upon hour listening to conversations solely in Greek, at the loudest volume possible, was pretty intense. No one sends text messages in Greece apparently - no, the only way to communicate is by shouting into a mobile, that has the loudest, most 90’s ring tone you can imagine. And it’s mandatory to only call people between the hours of 9pm and 3am - to ensure the patients get the maximum amount of disruption.
We found out that in Greek hospitals, family members are expected to stay 24 hours a day. Sleeping by your bed - in a chair in some cases - in order to get you water, wash you, brush your hair, help you out of bed, WIPE YOUR BUM. Yes, my OH has seen the dark side of the moon. For some nights, he was lucky**. There were two spare hospital beds just outside my ward, so he and another patients relative would take one of the communal pillows (bleugh) and bed down out there for the night. Am just glad he had his eye mask on when one night, two porters wheeled a dead body past him…
After 8 days in hospital, I was finally free – to go and sit around that pool at the expensive hotel we’d booked. And that’s where I spent the next 5 days; sleeping; chasing up the insurers; being sent on wild goose chases back to the hospital***; and ultimately waiting to be allowed to fly home again.
Which is where I am now – halfway through the 3 months of physical recovery, and god knows how far into the mental recovery. Diligently applying Bio Oil to my scar (which I still struggle to look at) and attending two separate counselling sessions each week. My, what a fun holiday this turned out to be.
It is still hard to see how there are any positives to come out of this experience, but there were obviously flashes of happiness.
Experiencing the kindness of others. The patient who could see I was struggling and gifted me her spare dress which was invaluable as it allowed me to get out of bed.
Her husband, who helped me out of bed on the night my OH wasn’t there - and who also kept me topped up with water and bought my OH dinner on the first night we arrived.
The patient’s mother who was also a nurse and could speak good English - who helped me get my corset on, asked the nurses questions on my behalf and comforted me.
The nurses - specifically the guy who kept me laughing by telling me his ideal job, would be a glass washer in a bar – and absolutely not a nurse.
Of course, the surgeon - who must have thought I was a mad English banshee, wailing and asking questions every time I saw him, desperate to go home. But who did a pretty good job based on the assessments of all the other doctors and nurses who I’ve since dropped my trousers and lifted my shirt for.
My OH’s aunt, a retired GP - who called us up and gave us comfort in explaining the operation and all the implications, making us feel that we weren’t crazy and alone.
The hotel manager and staff - who drove my husband to the hospital, translated for us, found us a room to extend our stay in, made my husband delicious meals and asked after my welfare every time we saw them.
And of course, all my friends and family - many of whom were in long text message conversations with me - supporting from afar or calling the OH directly to give him much needed support. It truly meant so much to know there were so many people out there thinking about us.
So, the moral of this story – try really hard not to get appendicitis when you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language, and the facilities look like the set of a horror film. Oh – and if you must, then at least have some bloody travel insurance.
Thanks for sticking with me through to the end of this epic post…. Normal shorter posts will resume shortly!
* don’t worry, my modesty was protected by a sheet and a blanket (that I believe was the communal room blanket, so had probably be used by a gazillion people before me - no idea when it had last been washed).
**in that I was finally able to wipe my own bum
*** hello ensuing panic attacks