It all started one random Sunday when, during church, I was plagued by strange stomach cramps. Ugh, was it something I ate? That muffin from Albert Hein? Or had I picked up some tummy bug? Great, just great. Of course, that particular Sunday I had planned to enjoy a lunch with friends, but I proved to be the worst dining guest … including a delightful trip to the bathroom to talk on the big white telephone. If you know what I mean. Lunch became a takeaway for me. An Uber, train and frightfully cold but brief cycle home later, I crawled into bed for the remainder of the day. Woman down.
Monday and Tuesday I stayed home, feeling weak, fluish, with a bit of a runny tummy and stomach cramps so tight and painful that I couldn’t stand up straight. But. It’s just a bug and it’ll pass. Why go to the doctor if it’s just a virus passing through?
Wednesday to Friday I returned to work, feeling more alive, but still harbouring unpleasant cramps. Saturday I went about some daily business: a bit of cleaning and shopping, and even a trip to The Hague for a movie with friends. But the tide turned that night and Sunday I was back in bed, feeling rotten with flu. By now I was well over it. My tolerance for being sick is maximum three days… sounds dramatic, but I couldn’t remember what it felt like to have a ‘normal’ stomach.
Monday morning I got up to shower before phoning the doctor at 8am, and as I looked at my pale reflection in the mirror, I felt the world closing in. I awoke seconds later, startled by my collapse over the toilet. I had actually blacked out! Thank God I didn’t hit my head… a terrifying thought since I now live alone. The doctor reluctantly informed me that he was fully booked already, but still had the courtesy to ask me what was the matter. I passively accepted an appointment on Tuesday morning, accepting that I would just spend another day sleeping, dragging myself out of bed for tea and meals (for which I had zero appetite).
By now my mom was very concerned, sending me regular whatsapp messages and love from afar. Nothing like being sick to really miss your mom, wishing she were here to tend to her child.
Also, I had noticed the pain had become more acute in the lower right section of my abdomen. It hurt when I prodded. Like, a lot. I was bloated and sore. Also when I raised my right leg to my waist. I started googling ‘appendicitis symptoms’. Could it be? I always thought it was a more urgent and severe pain. (Probably when it bursts – ouch!). Anyway, I would present my theory to the doctor the next morning.
Tuesday. No fainting in the bathroom, so that was good. Actually, it seemed like the flu was gone. Warmly dressed and with a continued prayer and pep talk (‘you can do this’) I gently cycled to the doctor. It’s only like a kilometer away. There was a new female doctor standing in. She listened and examined and prodded (painful) and gave me a cup to pee in. (Goodness, how I had I not noticed how not right my urine was?!) Definitely some infection. She called the hospital and made the arrangements for me to be taken in ASAP. We had to rule out my appendix. Cycled home. Packed a small bag with toiletries, book, charger, clean underwear etc. Ubered to the OLVG East in Amsterdam.
The first reception desk sent me down the hall and to the left, but turns out I had to head straight for the ‘spoedopname’ (speed intake). Another waiting room and receptionist. I did the necessary admin and took a seat. Shortly after, an older man entered the room, visibly in a great deal of pain. Pacing and holding onto chairs, breathing heavily, sweating and groaning, vomit on his sweater (mom’s spaghetti), he mumbled and shouted answers to the receptionist’s questions in absolute agony. It was his kidneys. His friend entered, holding a jacket covered in the rest of the vomit. The smell of it started filling the room and I wished them to move into the next room and get help. Thankfully they did. The other waiting patient was an Indian tourist who had suffered the misfortune of some hit-and-run and subsequently had a broken wrist. Poor guy.
Finally I could go through the door where a pair of nurses took my vitals, asked me to score my pain and ushered me to the next area. Here I was introduced to Kasper, who immediately sent me for another urine test and then hooked me up with some sweet liquid painkillers via a drip. The first arm hole… He was kind and funny and attentive. I was surrounded by other beds concealed by curtains and out of curiosity wondered what was wrong with each person I could see.
A young woman with a small notepad came to ask about my symptoms and ‘backstory’ and this was actually one of the few times where I switched from Dutch to English.
I may have exuded an inappropriate amount of laughter when she asked me if I might be pregnant.
Kasper began to prep a drip on my left arm, just below the wrist. A few seconds after he left, I looked down (because I definitely didn’t watch him inserting the needle!) and saw that a bulge was forming. It didn’t seem right, but I knew he would come back any second, so I didn’t press my call button. But this pressure in my arm made me woozy and I called for him as he passed by and he hurriedly removed the drip, apologising that it had not hit the vein and was essentially pumping saline into my arm. He wrapped a pressure bandage to reverse the damage. I must have been white as a sheet as I was very close to fainting. (This was the closest I got to passing out in my entire time there, so that felt like an achievement!). The drip then had to be inserted in the crook of my right elbow, which was less comfortable, but successful.
Recovered, they wheeled me off to the sonar scan to see what the deal was inside my abdomen. It’s a weird feeling, being pushed around on a bed with wheels. A royal wave seemed fitting on my return. My new bestie Kasper would enjoy that.
The person tasked to wheel me around, parked me in an open area across the hall from the sonar room. They left and I waited. There is a lot of waiting in hospitals. A few minutes later it was my turn and the doctor/scanner introduced me to the young intern who would be looking over his shoulder. Lifted shirt, cold gel, breathe in, breathe out. He looked in other places, like my ribs, to be thorough. Sometimes he pressed hard on my appendix area and it definitely hurt. He commented – with a note of surprise – that my bladder appeared to be empty. (well, yes).
How on earth they see anything on those grey pictures baffles me. The screen was too angled for me to really participate in the peering, but I was very tempted to ask if it was a boy or a girl.
What I did have, was an infection and fluid in my appendix area. Apparently I had left it much longer than I should have …
Back at my station, a doctor came over to explain that they would not be removing my appendix (no need in this case, who knew?), but they did want to drain the fluid, so still a minor procedure ahead. And a little overnight stay, which I had prepared for. Kasper reassuringly and half-jokingly said I would enjoy my stay. Comfy beds and free meals! Though no eating or drinking just yet. Luckily I had zero appetite, so no one had to deal with Hangry Mo… Also, apparently these types of infections can ‘just happen’.
And so I was wheeled off to the delightful gastro-intestinal ward, room C5, where I met my new roomie: Mrs S. She was not having a great time. A tube from her nose lead to a transparent bag on the floor, filled with a brownish liquid. Three family members came to visit and sit with her. I deduced (due to inevitable eavesdropping) that she was going in for surgery that Tuesday evening.
Within the next hour I was greeted with a lady yielding a wheelchair. What’s this? Another scan? Off we went again to the ‘parking area’, this time waiting without my phone, forced to just sit and watch patients and staff walk past. Once through the grey doors, I was scanned by another doctor and his colleague. They disappeared and discussed for a few minutes and I was wheeled out again. There was an empty hospital bed in the waiting space and I wondered if it was mine … Again a different person wheeled me back through the hallways, in the lift and through automatic parting doors to C5. A nurse asked ‘where is her bed’? And as we entered the room, realised that it WAS my bed that had been brought down! Awkward. Mrs S had a little chuckle at the misunderstanding.
The nurses showed me how to maneuver the bed’s height and upright positions with the attached remote. Inevitably, a lot of wrong buttons were pushed throughout my stay, resulting in a sort of embarrassing lying down dance.
The doctor came over again to explain that they decided to ditch the drainage idea, since the fluid wasn’t concentrated in one place, and my treatment would simply be intravenous antibiotics and rest. Okay. So I could eat? By then I was actually hungry and I enjoyed the tray dinner that was served to me. In hospital you get all your meals in bed. What a treat.
Around 7pm Mrs S left for her operation, and returned a few hours later. Her family came again. That first night I slept restlessly, using earplugs to drown out my different environment’s noise, and bothered by the lights and beeps and discomfort of a tube in my arm.
Wednesday. The hospital staff opened the curtains and minutes later there was a friendly lady asking what I’d like for breakfast. Yoghurt? Boiled egg? Granola…? She listed all the many options for cheese. I also got a menu sheet to fill in with my choices for dinner. Each patient has their own television, so I watched one of my favourite British panel shows on Youtube while enjoying the first meal of the day.
A nurse came in to draw blood as they needed to determine if the infection was going down. Never my favourite thing, but what’s another hole poked into me at this stage? As of last night my medication routine started: Antibiotics roughly every 8 hours, starting around 6:30am.
It’s a surreal feeling, the cold liquid cascading through the tube and into my veins. Strangely comforting. Get to work medicine! Make me better.
I shared a bathroom with Mrs S and another elderly lady in a different room. The nurse ‘unhooked’ me and wrapped plastic around my right elbow so that I could take a shower. As expected, I felt loads better and got back into bed for an exciting and eventful day of sleeping, reading, watching Netflix on my phone and responding to messages. Lunch was a tasty soup and roll.
Mrs S had her family visiting several times that day and she certainly looked in better shape than before her operation. I was still super curious what she was ‘in for’. It felt awkward to eavesdrop on their conversations, but I’m in the same room! I was meant to cook for my Connect Group that night. I felt a bit sad for not being there with them. At least I slept a lot better.
Thursday. A young female doctor came to give me an update. The infection was going down, but I needed to stay another night. I won’t lie, I was a bit disappointed. I was ready to head home and felt a little over this hospital life.
One of the nurses said – in slightly Dutch direct terms – that I could get up and walk around for a bit as it would be good to get out of bed. Point taken. That started several excursions down the hall of the gastro department. I swear I felt like the youngest patient there. Me and my very own pole on wheels. Mind you, I didn’t go too far in case I got lost.
I called my mom. She asked if I had health insurance. I laughed. Of course I did. It’s compulsory. And the Dutch healthcare system is one of the best in the world. The maximum excess I’d have to pay at the end of this adventure would be around 350 EUR, our ‘own risk’ amount. So grateful that I didn’t have to worry about the bills.
On a slightly more personal note, I later learned that my parents were really concerned and felt awful that they couldn’t come visit and comfort me… Of course that would have been so nice, but just being in hospital and getting help and being surrounded by friendly staff made me feel very much okay.
What was not okay were my bowel movements and I felt like a potty-training toddler beaming with pride when I finally managed to ‘go’.
I even told the nurse with a big smile on my face. I was tempted to post it on facebook, that’s how happy I was.
My little walks became a saving grace as that day Mrs S received a lot of phone calls and over and over again I endured (and also escaped) hearing the tale of her twisted intestines and the non-stop hurling and liters of waste liquid that was essentially poisoning her. True story. She kept saying it was ‘niet normaal’ and it certainly wasn’t. Another gross detail: she had to collect stool in these silver bowls that stood in our bathroom (they were closed and cleaned often, don’t worry!), but they stared at me every time I went to the toilet.
Our room was a few floors up and sometimes I stood at the window enjoying the view and watching the people down in the street. It was a time of slowing down and being unproductive, which can be quite hard for me. And I was feeling better. The whole irony is that I never felt my worst while I was in hospital. It was before, alone in my room, uncertain of what was wrong with my insides.
I didn’t worry too much about missing work. It was out of my control. My dear colleagues sent me a card and a Winnie-The-Pooh balloon that really was quite a delightful gift. Patients are not allowed to receive flowers as it may cause allergies for others.
But wait, there was more. I also had visitors that night. Three friends who came bearing gifts and smiles. I got some new socks and underwear (requested as I hadn’t planned for three nights!) as well as sexy new velvet black pyjama pants (not requested but appreciated).
I also desperately wanted some mints or sweets as the antibiotics left a horrid taste in my mouth and thanks to their generosity, I still have half a sweet shop’s stock in my pantry cupboard. Thank you for the visit, my friends. It meant so much to me.
Friday. Release day! I received my last cool shot of meds. Ate my last breakfast. Got out of bed and packed up my things. The pharmacy lady came by to give me the prescription: I was to do another week’s worth of oral antibiotics. A nurse came to remove my drip and squeezed the spot rather hard (to ensure I wasn’t leaking?) My inner arm was sore and bruised and the vein was slightly hard. But I was free. I awkwardly hung around as I wasn’t sure about the procedure and eventually one of the nurses told me that yes, I was free to leave now. It was around 11am. Goodbye Mrs S! Goodbye nasty toilet smell!
I thanked some of the staff for their care and friendliness and ventured downstairs to the pharmacy with my giant balloon in tow.
On the way to my studio, the Uber driver asked if I was going to a kids’ party. Ah, the balloon. I laughed. No, I was going home after three days in hospital. I still had a bit of recovering to do, but I was a lot better. And I even managed to keep that little troublemaker, my appendix.