As we all prepare for another New Years Eve, some of us with fancy celebrations to attend, some of us with literally no clue yet as to what we will be doing apart from wandering aimlessly around Bordeaux, I think back to a previous and somewhat ill-fated New Year’s Eve a couple of years back.
It certainly was not for a lack of planning; with flights booked to Hampshire to party with friends and family on New Years Eve itself followed by a trip to London on New Years Day to dine at a lovely Italian restaurant after which we had front row tickets to West End’s reawakening of Miss Saigon (my favourite show since its original long time run at Drury Lane).
A proper grown up and well-heeled weekend of New Years celebrations.
Sadly, my body had other ideas for our little break and after feeling unwell on new year’s Eve itself, so much so that I only had two glasses of champagne and no cheddar cheese at all (those that know me will know how unlikely this would be in normal circumstances), the following day was quite simply a disaster of spectacular proportions. I had been getting what I believed to be heartburn or acid reflux for several months, well probably years in reality and usually at the most inconvenient times, for instance, when we had a restaurant reservation or a party to attend.
Still feeling very unwell the following day and quite against the concerned and best advice of those I would be travelling with, we proceeded to London, me in the vain hope that I would drastically improve by the time we arrived in order to enjoy our meal and then the show of all shows. I had previously seen Miss Saigon five times before, four on its original run in London and once in Manchester during its UK tour but this was to be a whole new experience not least because it was a new reincarnation of the show but also my husband, my brother and my sister-in-law had never seen it before. I had been beyond excited in the run-up to this event but feeling as I did now, I was just desperately trying to see it through so that I didn’t spoil it for everyone else.
By the time we arrived at Waterloo Station, I felt steadily worse. The pain was unbearable, I could barely stand up straight, I was clammy and nauseous and despite the now January rain-sodden streets and being dressed in all my finery, I was sorely tempted to just lay down where I stood. My stubborn intention was to make it to the theatre box office to collect our tickets so that at the very least my brother and sister-in-law could continue with the evening, even though they repeatedly assured me that they could not possibly conceive of enjoying a meal and continuing to watch a show all the while wondering what on earth had become of me, I eventually conceded that if the situation were shifted, I too would not consider continuing with the plans. We did make it to the theatre box office and after taking one look at my ashen face, me clutching my chest in agony and asking where the nearest paramedic centre was, unsurprisingly, though without any expectation of them doing so, the staff at the Prince Edward Theatre very kindly offered to cancel our tickets for that evening and provide a full and immediate refund. I’m sure they would have no problem selling four front row tickets at such short notice, but I was still very touched by their full understanding of the current situation. Once it was established that we absolutely were not going, I sent my brother and sister-in-law off to meet our friends at the restaurant a few streets away to tell them what had happened whilst my husband, almost carrying me now, set off in search of a paramedic station. We got as far as a police van, some 100 meters away, who’s inhabitants quickly ushered me into its confines and promptly called an ambulance.
The ambulance crew were brilliant and following a quick check of my stats and determining that I wasn’t in any immediate danger of anything life threatening, one of the paramedics suggested to me that he suspected I was suffering from gallstones. He told me that the pain was excruciating when passing a gallstone and that it can last several hours. He said having experienced this himself personally, he was willing to bet good money that I was suffering the same and wanted to take me to the nearest A&E in London at Tooting Hospital to spend the night and have the necessary tests but after explaining to him that we lived in France, were visiting family in Hampshire for just a few days and were only supposed to be in London for the day, he was very sympathetic to our logistical dilemma. Following some discussion as to the best solution and on the basis that I promised to go directly to Basingstoke A&E as soon as we arrived back and taking my word for it that I felt well enough to make the return journey by train the two paramedics agreed that they would instead be happy to drop us back to Waterloo station (after giving me a pink referral form to hand into A&E). So with that, me (on a stretcher) my husband, my brother and my sister-in-law wedged into the back of the ambulance, we received an ambulance ride back to Waterloo station and boarded the first available train back to Basingstoke. I think at one point, my brother (being the big kid he is) asked if we could have the sirens on. The look my sister-in-law threw him was a peach!
After a very long and excruciatingly painful wait in A&E to be admitted overnight, my husband, my brother and my sister-in-law finally got home to their beds at about 1 am and I found myself in the Gastroenterology ward of Basingstoke hospital.
Amazingly, just one hour before I got to my bed, the pain magically subsided, I can only conclude that my gall stone had finally popped out the other end (wherever that might be!). The relief was instant and amazing following what had been fifteen waking hours of immense discomfort to sheer agony and everything in between and, of course, truly typical that it had endured just long enough to completely spoil all our well-laid plans. Perhaps it was the relief of being in the hospital and knowing that I was in good hands, or maybe it’s just sod’s law, but anyway, I instantly felt better, though exhausted and wiped out from the pain all day.
I lay in bed, listening to the busy comings and goings of the ward sisters and the nurses at the nurse’s station just outside our small ward, my fellow patients were all sound asleep and I started to grow very sleepy myself.
Suddenly a lady in the corner of the room started calling “Nurse, Nurse, Nurse…Help me”. She sounded in so much pain and I could only imagine that perhaps delirious with the pain, she had forgotten that she had to press the call button. I decided I would attract some attention for her. I pressed my call button and a few minutes later the Ward Sister arrived, she was not quite as friendly as the lovely, young nurse that had checked me into my bed just an hour before “Yes?” she said abruptly as she arrived at my bed “Oh, I’m sorry” I said a little taken aback “It’s not for me but the lady in the corner has been calling for a nurse for some time now so I thought I’d better get your attention” She softened a little, perhaps realising that I was not about to become yet another tricky customer on her long, night shift. “Ok.” she said and disappeared. I could hear the encounter from where I was:
“Yes, Susan?” I could hear the Ward Sister say, slightly impatiently.
“Nurse, I’ve shit myself again.” said, whom I can only assume was, Susan (her rather accurate though perhaps a little inappropriate choice of words to describe her current predicament took me quite by surprise).
I could hear the Ward Sister sigh from where I was some twenty feet away.
“Well we’re going to have to change your bed again but I did tell you last time you really must let us know if you need to go to the toilet”
“I know, I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it”.
What followed was a kerfuffle of several nurses bringing fresh bedding, helping Susan out of her bed into the chair, changing the bed, taking Susan to the toilet and after about fifteen minutes all was quiet again and I settled down to attempt some sleep all the while still counting my blessings that I was now feeling so much better.
It can only have been about thirty minutes later and I was just dropping off when I heard a strange but instantly recognisable sound, there is no other way to describe it than a ‘wet fart’. It was very loud, very long and after just a few moments the smell that followed it confirmed without any doubt its origins.
Slowly, the lady in the corner bed began to stir again.
“Oh no, I’ve done it again” I heard her almost whimper “Nurse, Nurse…help me, Nurse…nurse….nurse”
This carried on for a few more minutes until I decided to do the decent thing again, not just for Susan’s sake this time but for everyone on the ward. Not only was she risking waking all the other poor patients, but at this point, the smell was quite sickening. Once again I pressed my call button, even though I was dreading the arrival of the Ward Sister, this time before she could speak, by the dim light of the ward I simply pointed my finger towards the corner of the room, where Susan’s pitiful cries could just about still be heard “Help me Nurse, Nurse, Nurse” The Ward Sister gritted her teeth and bustled over to the corner again.
“Susan, if this carries on, we are going to have to put you in an adult nappy” I heard the Ward Sister say firmly
“I’m not wearing no bleedin’ nappy” replied Susan huffily
“Well then, you are going to have to let us know BEFORE you need to go to the toilet,” said the Ward Sister “because we can’t be changing your bed every hour.”
I did feel sorry for poor Susan for I’m sure that she wasn’t doing it deliberately but I did also feel sorry for the nurses who were in and out constantly changing bedding for someone who obviously could not control their own bowel movements but who refused to wear anything that would help the situation. It surprised me that they could not insist that she did so, it also surprised me why Susan was so adverse to the idea. Surely the shame of wearing a ‘nappy’ was no greater than the shame of ‘shitting’ oneself so frequently and audibly?
I finally fell asleep for a few hours and awoke at 6 am to my IV drip being changed. The young, very pretty nurse told me that it contained both rehydration fluids and antibiotics just in case my suspected gallstone had caused any infection. She also told me that I would be heading down for an ultrasound scan that morning and as such I wouldn’t be able to eat anything. I smiled and thanked her and she was just taking my blood pressure when a familiar smell wafted in our direction and the call started up again “Nurse, Nurse, Nurse”
I gave her a sympathetic look and said “Oh dear, not again, by the way, why doesn’t she use her call button?” I asked genuinely curious, wondering why she would instead wish to wake the whole ward.
The nurse simply shook her head and said “Beats me” before heading off to deal with the latest in a long line of ‘Susan shitting incidents’.
Following my ultrasound scan where it was absolutely and undeniably confirmed that I had a gallbladder full of gallstones, I was returned to my hospital bed to wait for a visit from the clinical consultant. He explained that I had experienced acute cholecystitis which is when a gallstone is blocking your cystic duct. He said that it is very, very painful with many people describing the pain as worse than childbirth, having never had children I couldn’t attest to that but I could confirm just how bloody agonisingly painful my condition was. He said that there were many, many more gallstones in my gallbladder and if I were to try to avoid another such attack, then the long and short of it was that I should undergo gallbladder removal surgery as soon as was practically possible. Again, my logistical issues complicated things as I explained that I lived in France and was due to return home the very next day. He said that he knew that medical treatment and surgery were first class in France, that indeed France was at the forefront of modern laparoscopic gallbladder surgery and since it would be several weeks before I could expect to receive any treatment in the UK, he agreed that returning home to France would see me receiving the treatment sooner. Personally, I couldn’t get out of there quick enough for fear that they might change their mind. I thanked everyone for their help and feeling much better I returned to my family to spend a final evening with them ahead of our flight home the next day.
As I was saying goodbye to my brother and sister-in-law and my little niece and apologising yet again for their not quite so glamorous New Year celebrations my sister in law gave me a supportive hug and said “We can always say we had Tuesday” this in reference to the fact that in true ‘us’ style we tend to get ahead of ourselves when a celebration is in the planning and usually jump the gun by partying too hard beforehand (remember the tale about our little impromptu party just two days before their wedding???).
On the particular Tuesday she was referencing this time, the night we had arrived on 30th December we had ordered an Indian takeaway and downed several bottles of Champagne and Prosecco to kick off our visit in true style. A great, fun, raucous night had been had by all and therefore we had not missed out entirely. Having said that my consultant had since given me a list of food to avoid until my gallbladder surgery and had assured me that spicy food and alcohol would be a sure fire way to ‘get things going’ so perhaps our night of overindulgence ahead of official New Year celebrations were actually to blame for the incident. We’ll never know but “we can always say we had Tuesday” has become a common saying now to refer to anything that doesn’t quite go as planned.
Once home, I quickly arranged an appointment with my doctor who set up an immediate referral to the hospital. I had an appointment several days later with the surgeon who would actually be operating on me and also an appointment with the head of Anaesthesia to make sure I was fit to undergo surgery. My surgery was booked for the following week. It was important that I underwent the surgery as soon as possible but remarkably the fact that I was being seen so quickly was not because I was an emergency case. This is actually quite typical of lead times here in France for hospital and surgery appointments. It may be a very high contribution system, whereby everyone pays 23% of everything they earn, but my goodness you get what you pay for. It was also very welcome that my surgery was so soon, as since I returned home from the UK, I was having at least one attack per day, though thankfully I now knew what they were and instead of gulping down Gavison which, of course, did nothing to alleviate the symptoms I instead took a couple of Ibuprofen, sat down, practiced deep breathing and waited for the excruciating pain to pass, thankfully on most occasions the attacks were now lasting less than an hour.
The day of my hospital appointment finally arrived.
It was due to be a simple day surgery using keyhole techniques and the latest technology to ensure that the procedure is as least invasive as possible. I said goodbye to my husband at nine o’clock that morning to be taken down to anaesthesia ready to be prepped for surgery, he kissed my forehead and told me he’d be waiting for me back in my hospital room when I returned in a couple of hours.
It was a full general anaesthetic of course and apart from a brief wait in an ante-room whilst they prepped the theatre, I don’t remember anything until I was wheeled back into my room some considerable time later. I was very dozy still and had no idea of how long I had been gone but the obvious concern on my husband’s face was my first inkling that perhaps all was not right. He smiled in relief and took my hand in his.
“How are you feeling baby?” He asked
“A bit shleepy and sss-thirsty” I slurred, trying to sit up a bit. A nurse rushed over and gently pushed me back down telling me not to attempt to sit up for a while.
I remember asking my husband what the time was and what time we could leave. He told me it was six o clock in the evening which surprised me because I had not expected to have been gone for so long.
The consultant surgeon who had carried out the procedure, was very quick to visit me following my return to my room and he explained that there had been ‘some’ complications, that a bile drain had had to be inserted because although they had removed my gallbladder there were still gallstones on the loose and they needed to work their way out. I also had drains in my stomach where they had made the incisions for the equipment to enter to carry out the procedure. This was, apparently normal, it was the stones on the loose that were of concern to them.
Still not fully understanding my predicament, I asked him what time I could expect to go home that day….he smiled at me sympathetically and said that I needed to get better and that he hoped that perhaps in five or six days I could leave the hospital.
FIVE OR SIX DAYS!
On hearing this, I immediately burst into tears and it was at this point as my sobs wracked my body that I suddenly realised how much pain I was in.
My husband had to leave me at eight o’clock that evening, when visiting hours officially came to an end and, at that point, I felt very sorry for myself indeed. He promised to return the next afternoon but it seemed like an eternity away, I hadn’t planned to stay at the hospital, I hadn’t brought anything with me for such a stay, I hadn’t mentally prepared for such an event, I could barely speak any French, the whole ordeal was thoroughly depressing.
Just a little while later, when the nurses came in to make their rounds I said that I needed to go for a wee. One of them gently helped me sit up and then wheeling my IV trolley and the mass of tentacles that were emanating from various parts of my body she instructed me to very slowly stand up. As I did I immediately felt like I was going to both vomit and pass out, this brilliantly trained nurse instantly recognised this and telling me to keep looking into her eyes she guided me forward towards the door of the bathroom whilst managing to hold me up and also move my IV trolley as best she could. The moment I clapped eyes on the toilet I projectile vomited green liquid across the entire length of the bathroom, amazingly, despite that I was still about six feet away most of it actually made it into the toilet bowl, I gradually shuffled nearer, heaving and retching the whole time, bending over the toilet bowl in my hospital gown that was now gaping wide open at the back and no sooner had I finished being violently sick, then I had to pee followed swiftly by diarrhoea, all under the watchful and completely non-judgemental gaze of the nurse. At this point I was still sitting on the toilet, with my head leaning against the cool porcelain of the wash hand basin, my hair plastered to my head in a sweaty mop, my mouth still tasting of bile and every part of my stomach and chest in immense pain as the drugs were now wearing off and the after effects of my surgery starting to make themselves known to me. I can honestly say that in all of my 44 years, I had never felt worse than at that precise moment in time.
The next six days passed slowly and practically, completely sleeplessly. I would never have imagined that it was possible to avail oneself of so little sleep for a whole six days and six nights, but I can assure you in the six days that I spent in that hospital room, I slept for perhaps twenty minutes or so on just a couple of occasions each night. I had a room to myself and I had initially delighted in the privacy of this situation but it soon became a lonely place in which to languish. My spongy earplugs did nothing to reduce the noise of the air conditioning unit which constantly sounded like a jet engine about to take off, visits to my room by the various medical and housekeeping staff were almost every hour, not that I am complaining in the slightest about the care I received. The language barrier was a constant source of concern to me, often I had no idea what I was being asked or told and I berated myself for not having made more of an effort to improve my French language in my years previous. No amount of painkillers could alleviate the constant pain created by the tubes that were connected to things inside my body that also emanated outside of my body and attached to two big heavy flasks that had to be stood on the floor to allow drainage. These had to be dragged with me each time I had to visit the toilet, I felt like an Octopus. The tubes would catch and snag on the sheets in bed, on door handles as I made my way from one room to another trying my best to keep everything together without trapping anything. At one point I nearly fainted in agony when an orderly accidentally kicked my bile drain flask when mopping the floor and sent it skimming across the tiled surface, tweaking violently on the tube that was attached to it that entered my chest.
And then there were the petty details; meals were unappetising, as is such following gallbladder surgery, showers were almost impossible, wearing clothes was uncomfortable, my hair was greasy, I felt disgustingly unattractive. My husband would brighten each and every day by coming to spend countless hours with me. At the time, he was self-employed and was, therefore, taking time off unpaid to come and sit with me and keep me company but every day, eventually, he would have to leave and I would get upset. The pain, the lack of sleep, the feelings of isolation and loneliness, the desperate want to accompany him home would make me tearful. I desperately wanted to sleep in my own bed next to my husband. I wanted to eat something other than hospital food, I wanted to look at something other than three white walls and a window which showed a vast expanse of other similar windows behind which more sad, uncomfortable people lay. I wanted the pain to go away and most of all I wanted to stop feeling sorry for myself, I realised that I was one of the lucky ones. My condition was not life-threatening, I was horribly uncomfortable but I knew that it would get better eventually, I was just days rather than weeks or months away from returning home. On the last couple of days there, I brightened a little, not least because I knew I would be going home soon. On the morning of day four, I sat up and put some makeup on. I was feeling pretty good, even when the drop-dead gorgeous nurse, who in reality should and I’m sure could have been gracing the pages of Vanity Fair or Vogue, came in. Her makeup and hair were flawless, her teeth, perfect and white. She told me that she would be changing my bandages and checking my drains. I watched her as she worked, her movements graceful and precise, a clear order to her procedure, one that had been perfected and carried out many times before.
On the morning of day five, I had an X-ray to ascertain if the gallstones had all passed. Good news, they believed that there were no more left in my body and as such I should be able to go home just as soon as I could have the flasks and staples removed. I excitedly told my husband all the news when he arrived that afternoon and we spent the afternoon hopeful that I might return home with him that very evening.
My husband left just before eight o’clock after we determined that I would not be going home that day and whilst I was a little disappointed, the fact that I was pretty much guaranteed to be discharged the following day left me happier than I had felt all week. Just minutes after he left, a nurse came in to see me and check my drains now that the stones were all believed to be gone removing any blockage in my bile duct and thus ensuring that bile was draining correctly within my body. She told me that I would need to keep the tube in place for three weeks in case of a need for further surgery after I was discharged from hospital (should any complications arise) but that tomorrow they would cut the tube short, just long enough to be able to re-employ should they need to and tape up to my body. It was all very exciting news and I sent my husband a message at 20.32 that night:
Exciting news, I have only one flask now and tomorrow morning after a shower they said they will remove the abdominal drain and the staples. Can’t wait to be home. I’ll try and get some sleep tonight. Love you so much baby, can’t wait to sleep in our lovely bed.
I imagined I would sleep really well that night in the light of recent developments and the knowledge of my wonderful news that I would soon be home.
I was wrong!
The following morning, after another painful and sleepless night I lay waiting in my bed, impatient for things to happen. I was sat up and waiting at 6 am when the nurse brought in my breakfast, a bowl of hot chocolate and dry toasts. After breakfast, I gathered up my tubes and my now, one empty flask and took myself off for a shower. I returned to my room and dressed, carefully paying attention not to catch my tubes, I packed my few items away in my bag (things that over the previous days I had instructed for my husband to find and bring to me, toiletries, vest tops, leggings, slippers, books, all of these I now packed away). I brushed my hair, I applied some make-up. I constantly checked my phone to see if there were any new messages from my husband, though it was still only eight o’clock in the morning so I figured he was probably still asleep.
At just before ten o’clock, the Vanity Fair nurse returned to my room and told me that she would be removing my staples and my abdominal drain. I was very pleased with this development, though a little perplexed as to why it hadn’t been removed perhaps a day or two earlier since the flask had been pretty much empty since then. The staples were first and went without a hitch, each coming out easily with no pain at all. I noted that she used something that looked a little like a toenail clipper. At the point that she was ready to remove my abdominal drain she indicated that “Cela pourrait être un peu douloureux” (basically, this could hurt a little). She snipped at the stitches that held the tube in place at the entry point and I was instructed to look away and cough at which she gave it a quick, hard tug and I felt the length of rubber tube bump over my stomach muscles or maybe it was my intestines and then slide to freedom. It made me feel instantly sick for a second or two and go a little clammy and dizzy but it quickly passed. She smiled her radiant smile at me and gave me a thumbs up, quickly leaving with her grey disposable cardboard bowl now full of rubber tubing and staples. A little while later my husband arrived, wearing his scarf, gloves, jacket and cap. His face was freezing and as I kissed him, I could smell the cold on him. He told me it was very icy outside. The same nurse from the previous evening visited me shortly after he arrived and she clipped the tube connected to my bile duct shorter, put a small plastic tap on it, coiled it up and taped it under my right boob. It was still quite sore and after wincing a few times when I moved, she uncoiled it and coiled it up in the opposite direction and re-taped it. This felt a little better. I could tell that it was going to be an uncomfortable thing to have to put up with for the next few weeks but I just could not wait to get home. It felt like an eternity since I had been in my own home.
The surgeon came to see me, to check that I had understood everything about the bile drain (he spoke very good English and knew that my French was lousy) and also to wish me a good recovery for when I returned home. He said he would see me in about three weeks time. I thanked this little, wonderful, patient, kind man who had dedicated his life to helping others and my husband shook his hand warmly and also thanked him profusely.
Eventually, there was nothing else that needed doing, except my paperwork and knowing that the French love their paperwork, I realised that we could still be in for a long wait. Midday came and went and sandwiches and cartons of orange juice were brought into my room for both myself and my husband. We sat on my bed and had a picnic and I tried not to think about any possibility that I might not be going home that day. At two o’clock a lady who I’d never seen before came in waving a folder and garbled a complicated set of instructions in very rapid French. My husband and I looked at her with equal amounts of confusion and she repeated her instructions, but slightly slower this time. We were to go to the administration department so that I could be discharged and make an appointment to come back in three weeks to see the surgeon/consultant to have my bile drain removed. She showed us various ‘ordinances’ which are prescriptions for bandages, painkillers and weekly blood tests and said that I would need to have the red cross come visit me at home. We nodded and said “Oui” a lot and after saying goodbye to the nurses on my ward, we did the necessaries, I was discharged and I came home. Yippeeeeeeeee……. and the rest, as they say, is history.
Almost a year later, my brother, his wife and my niece came to stay with us for Christmas and New Year. We could not hope to make such stylish plans to recreate the New Year that we had lost out on, but we decided that we would celebrate whatever way we could. Suffice to say that us girls got ahead of ourselves again and on a completely different Tuesday this time (29th December) we ploughed into the bubbly with a little too much fervour, on went Abba’s greatest hits, I distinctly remember us getting quite animated to Dancing Queen and we made quite the night of it, all the while telling our respective husbands that they were ‘boring squares’ for not joining in the fun.. Five empty bottles later (two of them had not even been chilled|) and two horrendous hangovers the next morning….. we were a little sheepish. Funnily enough, two nights later, when New Year’s Eve arrived, we couldn’t quite muster the enthusiasm for another night of drinking and it passed with the briefest of nods to it and a reasonably early night. When we were seeing them off at the airport a couple of days later, we once again found ourselves saying “Well, we can always say we had Tuesday”.
And a few weeks later in late January, my husband and I returned to London for a lovely weekend with front row tickets again for Miss Saigon and this time we actually managed to see it.
So, whatever you are doing, wherever you will be and however you are planning to spend the evening this year, I hope that you will be safe and warm and amongst friends and family, and if you are feeling a little envious of other people’s glamorous sounding plans or miffed that your New Years Eve is not panning out to be the most exciting event on your social calendar, just take a moment to remember that being in good health and with friends or family is all that really matters at the end of the day. Enjoy yourselves and for any of you, who perhaps have jumped the gun and over-indulged or peaked a little too early, well….there is always next year!
May I take this opportunity to wish you good health and happiness in the year to come, and also to thank you for being here with me.
Happy New Year one and all.
The Virtual Recluse