Wednesday, January 29, 2003

My Medical Problems

My husband says this is far and away the number one topic overheard in restaurants. I haven't had much to report lately, so I thought I'd bore you with my Surgery In A Foreign Country story. Seems I do this where ever I go.

This was totally elective. We had been talking about who was going to get snipped since we are definitely done having children. And although it is a lot easier for the boys to do it, as a practical matter (finding someone to perform the work and arranging for the time) it was easier for me to do it. When a friend of mine here turned up pregnant and didn't want to be (her youngest child is 18 months and the c-section scar hasn't healed yet), that lit a fire under me.

I am not at all confident about the medical services here, so last week I was over the border in Hainburg visiting a Dutch friend at the hospital there. She just had a baby, so I figured I was in the right place to ask some questions. I found the head of OB/GYN and he says, "Well, we can do it next week. Why don't you come in Monday for some blood work and we'll do it Tuesday!"

The Spouse was a little horrified that it was so soon, but since I have been putting off dealing with this since Skittles was born, I was fine with it.

Hainburg is about 12 minutes from the border, which is about 13 minutes from my house. It really isn't that far. And for many people it's a question of Do you want treatment in a hospital that is in a capital city? or Do you want care in a small farm town hospital? I took the farm town.

On Monday I went in, gave them a gallon of blood (the tech said they have vampires in the lab) and asked them what to expect Tuesday. (While I am there, I notice a woman bringing a cart around to the rooms. It has newspapers, personal items like shampoo, and about 20 different brands of cigarettes!)

"Come in at 8:00 a.m.," says the nurse.

Okay. When can I leave? I figure it's an out patient deal.

"Oh, you stay one night."

Uh-oh. Okaaaay. That's going to take some juggling to deal with kids and husband, but I have 24 hours, so I head back across the border to the grocery store.

Tuesday morning I took a taxi to the hospital. The Spouse had an early morning meeting. The kids stayed home from school with the housekeeper as it seemed the easiest thing to do (and it's not like they had college board exams that day or anything). I was good and hungry having been obedient and fasted since the night before.

It took until about 11:00 to do the actual procedure. I had to fill out forms, get a room assignment, and have an IV/hep lock installed (ew!). My room was a double, but there wasn't anyone else in it until about 30 minutes before I checked out. It was very basic, but I wasn't expecting the Ritz. And, I have since heard that in Bratislava, the patients have to supply their own toilet paper, eating utensils, . . . everything. I noticed my roommate brought towels, but since the room didn't have a shower (and I was able to do that at home), it didn't matter. It did have a TV, but the only channel not in German was CNN.

There was a very funny moment when the nurse who was taking my medical history started to stammer and get embarrassed. She consulted with the IV tech and finally said, "Um, I have to, er, make some of the, ah, . . . hair go away." I howled. I said, "Girlfriend, I usually have to pay a lot of money for this!" She cracked up.

So they put me in a hospital gown and made me get on my bed and then wheeled me down the hall and into the elevator and down to the OR. I felt like a Beauty Queen in a parade . . . after all, I wasn't debilitated . . . yet. It was hard not to wave at people as I went by.

They deposited me in a sort of ante-chamber to the OR and took away my hospital gown. I did have a white comforter (sort of like the standard hotel bedding you get in an Austrian hotel . . . very weird). I got a little paper hat for my hair. I was next to a window that looked into the operating prep area, and even though I didn't have my glasses, I was trying to see what was going on through the window . . . so I was sort of sitting forward . . . which meant I was sort of mooning anyone behind me. Finally, someone came and asked me to please sit back and then they rolled another patient (a man) through . . . duh. Okay. I get it. It just maintains everyone's dignity if I will please behave. It's so hard, though.

Here is where I started to get a little freaked out about the whole thing. Without my glasses, everything takes on a bad-dream-like quality, and I started to doubt the need for the procedure. I had to keep reminding myself that I have two lovely children and I really don't want anymore and I certainly don't want to gamble with genetic issues and saddle Baboo and Skittles with a special needs sibling especially since we are relatively old parents. But for a few minutes I couldn't stop crying and was starting to get sort of annoyed about it.

Then the anesthesiologist comes over. I pull myself together to talk to him. He's a nice enough fellow. I explain that I can't remember what I weigh in kilos. I ball park it. He says, "Oh no . . . surely ten kilos less than that." He can say whatever he wants to flatter me as long as he has enough juice to knock me out, I don't care.

I still don't really know who is going to be the surgeon here. So I say to the anesthesiologist, "Look, I'm here for a tubal ligation. If you see them heading for my appendix, you pipe up, okay?"

"Not my problem," he says.

"Yeah, I know . . . but I'm going to be asleep, so you keep an eye on those guys," I insist.

So they wheel my into the recovery area and bring me my chariot/operating table. There is some sleight of hand with the covers and I'm left with a stunning green drape. I'm trying to make jokes about the Chanel fall line, but they are all business. I have to move my behind over to the new table . . . which is heated! Ahhh!

Dr. Anesthesiologist puts something in my IV, says I have about 20 seconds, I start counting backwards from 20 and get to 16 . . . and have some nice dreams about the children.

Next thing I know, someone is saying my name and trying to cross my arms over my chest. They keep falling back to my sides. It was the strangest sensation, not being able to control my arms. I see a clock, I'm in the recovery room, and it's noon. I'm starving. I HURT. The nurse comes by and asks how I feel. I say, "I HURT," so she goes to find Dr. Anesthesiologist. By now it's about 1:00. He puts something in my IV, says "You will feel . . . turning round and round." Yup. I'm very dizzy, but the pain is gone and I'm happy. I could hear the nurse eating something like crackers and stirring a spoon in a cup. I'm still starving. About 1:30 they say, "We're taking you back to your room."

And when I get there (this time I was quite happy to be wheeled through the halls), The Spouse was there! He had been there since noon and had read all my magazines while he was waiting. He stayed for a while, but I wasn't very good company. A nurse came and asked if I needed anything.


Ah, well, you can have some tea for now and if that stays put you can have some light supper around 7:00 p.m.

Okay, better than nothing. What am I going to do about it anyhow?

Can I go to the toilet, I ask, thinking I probably ought to soon.

Ah, er, you don't need to, you see, because, um, we have you hooked up to . . .

Don't say it. I won't look, I'll just trust you.

In addition to that, I still have the IV with something feeding into it and I have another tube coming out of the side of me, apparently to drain any bleeding. Ugh. So that makes another part of me I don't want to look at. But I am told I can leave the next day as soon as I poop. The challenge is on.

I nap, The Spouse leaves, I get herbal tea. I make them add sugar.

Would I like to stand up? they ask me. Sure. Why not? You can brush your teeth, they say, and then five minutes, in the room, you can stand up. Whoopee. Actually, it felt really, really good to move around. I didn't ask permission, but I brushed my hair, too.

7:00 comes, and I ask about dinner, but now there has been a shift change and new nurse says, "Oh, no. Not until tomorrow." Sigh. I guess I'll stop reading the Valentine's Day issue of Martha Stewart now and go back to the New Yorker. No nice photos of food in that.

The Spouse comes back. I think I should have told him to bring me a pizza. We chat, I get sleepy again, he goes home to relieve the babysitter. I hear the theme from Sex and the City coming someone else's room, so I master the TV remote and watch it. In German. It was an episode I had seen before, so I just turned the sound way down. Then it's back to CNN and a post mortem of the State of the Union address (which I hadn't realized was that day). The nurse returns with some drops that will ensure my departure the following day.

And there is night and morning and the second day. I didn't sleep well because I couldn't move what with all the tubes. And somehow they got arranged so there was one on each side of the bed, effectively tying me in on my back. I suppose I could have rung the nurse, but there wasn't anywhere I needed to go. I was just getting antsy.

I wake up about 4:00 a.m. drooling for breakfast. Finally someone comes by to check on me. Only one hour until breakfast I am told, then the doctors will come by at 8:00 and unhook everything from me. (Sometime in the night I made the night nurse take out the IV, so that, at least, was gone.)

So FIN-ally, a new nurse shows up with my breakfast tray. It's not laden with scrambled eggs and bacon or anything. It's just two rolls, jam and butter, coffee, and a blueberry yogurt, but it looks good to me.

Did you poop yet? she asks.

Of course not. I haven't eaten since Monday. MONDAY! I feel my voice starting to rise.

She sets the tray down on the table and backs out of the room. I don't care if I bust all my stitches eating. I'm going to eat this breakfast. It's on the small table across the room from my bed. I drag myself out, carrying my assorted tubes and containers, and gimp across the room to the table where I perch, ever so delicately, on the chair. I can't think of a meal that tasted as good as that breakfast.

Thankfully I was soon able to meet the requirements for check-out and was in a taxi heading home by 10:00 a.m. I went straight to bed and napped until 6:00 p.m.

Today I had a normal enough day: drove the kids to school, went to the grocery store, had lunch with some friends. I had a real shower this morning, took off the bandages, was amazed at how many entry wounds I have (three, plus I seem to have about four injection-type marks around my navel). I have a few black and blue spots and it still hurts to cough or laugh or drive over bumps. Sunday I go back to get the stitches out, and I expect by then I'll be almost back to normal.

All in all, it was as pleasant as it could be. I did realize that my mom had it done at 35 . . . a good 7 years younger than I am now. I suppose it was less trouble than raising another child and certainly cheaper (it cost 693 euros . . . which is about the same thing as dollars). But I have great respect for anyone undergoing a more serious procedure. This surgery thing is hard work.

Hope this finds all of you healthy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, do you have the name of the hospital or a number? Thanks,
-fellow Bratislava expat :)

9:01 AM  

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