Be careful what you wish for
Every year, the beginning of Wimbledon marks the start of summer for me. I love tennis and Wimbledon so much that every year I tease He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN) that I’ll take two precious weeks of holiday to enjoy the tennis. My wish was granted because this time last year I lay a hospital bed recovering from keyhole abdominal surgery.
That was the end, of six months of hospital visits, of consultants, of tests, of google searches, although I didn’t know it then. It was ironic because last was the year I got healthy. I started eating well and exercising regularly. I was the healthiest I’d been in years. But it was also the year I ended up in hospital. I don’t know when it all began. My consultant suggested I could have been born with the cyst nestling inside me, like a dark passenger. But I first became aware I was sick in February last year.
The first attack
I woke all alone in pain in the middle of a Tuesday night in February. (HWSNBN was having an minor procedure in London the next day so was staying with his parents.) I stumbled from bed and was sick. Again and again and again. Food poisoning, I thought, as I curled up on the bathroom floor.
Except as the night faded to the day I begun to worry. I felt like I was burning up and no matter what position I sat or lay I just couldn’t get comfortable. My right side hurt as if somebody was grinding their fist into the into my back. The muscles in my abdominals screamed every time I threw up. Peeing was frequent and painful.
I took a taxi and met my baby sister at the emergency GP’s clinic at the station. The unsympathetic Dr diagnosed me with Noro, the sickness virus, that had been doing the rounds. But I’d had kidney pains before and this felt suspiciously similar to the UTI’s (urinary tract infection) I’d had as a child. Finally after me being uncharacteristically pushy (the pain was making me be less British about everything) he relented and agreed to test me for UTI . We waited over an hour for the results (the Dr had gone home and forgotten to do the test). But when saw another Dr, she confirmed I had a UTI and prescribed some antibiotics.
With the help of my sister, god love her, I got home unscathed. Apart from an undignified bout of puking up the antibiotics outside the Co-op. That night I couldn’t sleep. I woke early opened the curtains and stared out at the people going to work counting down the hours until HWSNB came home. HSWNBN was the perfect nurse plying me with painkillers and cranberry juice. (I couldn’t stomach anything for almost two weeks except juice and a small portion of plain rice.)
A + E
By Thursday evening I was getting worse. I was still running a fever, having to pee every hour and even worse the pain in my kidneys had intensified. The attacks came in waves. Sometimes the pain receded and I could talk and even haul my sorry carcass to the toilet without help. But when the waves of pain washed over, I could do nothing but curl myself into a ball and retch. We waited for a break in the pain and then HWSNBN drove me to Worthing A + E, figuring it would be less full of fighting drunks then Brighton. I hobbled in, preparing myself for wait. They saw me almost immediately. ‘I can always tell the kidney infections,’ the lovely nurse said ‘from the way they’re bent over like they’re ancient.’ They took my blood, urine and x -rayed me. Finally a very tired Dr came to see me, there were no kidney stones. As far as they could tell it was ‘just’ a kidney infection (Ha). So I was sent home at 4am with heavy duty painkillers and told to keep taking my antibiotics.
By Saturday I was feeling even worse. I was still being sick and running a fever. I drowsed on off upright slumped over a pillow because I couldn’t bear to put any weight on my kidney. We went back to the clinic at the station and saw another third doctor who tested me and told me I didn’t have an UTI. Despite the fact that on two previous occasions days before tests had revealed I had. HSWNBN was furious, it was Saturday afternoon and all the doctors were closing. He knew I wouldn’t be able to wait until Monday. I was delirious by this point and had to be half carried to the car. He rung the locum who talked to me over the phone and prescribed different antibiotics. After a couple more uncomfortable days the antiobiotics kicked in. Two draining weeks off work I was able to go back. I was better.
GPs, more GPs and specialists
Less than a month later I started getting kidney pain again. More doctors visits, more antibiotics. By this point I have officially become the person nobody wanted to sit next to in the Dr’s surgery. Pale, sweating and vomiting, I looked hot 🙂
Another month passed, more kidney pains signalled another infection. My GP agreed it was time to see the kidney specialist. HWSNB had private medical insurance with work and had presciently put me on the policy. Surprisingly it was easy to get my medical records out of A + E, for the health insurance. But the medical surgery at the station had lost my records. Seriously Brightonians, don’t go there they are so awful.
After many, many phonecalls the insurer approved my claim. I had an appointment with a kidney specialist who examined me and recommended a CT scan. CT scanner are so expensive they travels from hospital to hospital in a big radiative truck. Taking my clothes off in a tiny, airline like bathroom I put on a hospital robe and lay down on the plank. The nurse hooked up a catheter in my hand and retreated behind a shielded compartment. The CT scanner slid over me like a big donut as distant voices instructed me to breath in and out. Then they injected me with radiation. It felt like hot lead sliding into my arm a warm feeling like slipping into a hot bath but my mouth tasted like copper and blood..
Afterwards the nurses who had been so friendly and chatty beforehand didn’t meet my eyes. ‘Did you see anything?’ I asked.
‘The doctor will give your results.’ she said.
A diagnosis finally
When I rang to receive my results, the specialist’s PA told me them over the phone.
‘You have a cyst on your ovaries. Nothing to do with the kidneys after all. You’ll have to see the gynaecologist. An appointment has been made.’
Shocked and stunned I made a terrible mistake. I went back into work and googled cyst. The results flashed up: INFERTILITY. CANCER. DEATH. I had always thought I would have children, one day, in the far off distant future. It wasn’t until it seemed like the possibility was going to be taken from me that I felt how much I wanted them. I rang my dad in tears. ‘It will be OK,’ he kept saying. ‘At least they know now what it is.’ It had been over three months of pain and discomfort since the first episode.
The gynaecologist was lovely. He showed me the CT scans so I could see my insides, on odd experience. My bones (‘strong and healthy’), my kidneys one bigger than the other (‘perfectly normal’) and the cyst a dark mass above my womb. The cyst was very large 10 centimeters in total, swelling my right ovary to the size of a grapefruit. There was a very small chance that the cyst was cancerous but he was pretty certain I had a dermoid cyst, which can contain teeth or hair. (If you’re eating I’d strongly suggest you do not google dermoid cyst) Yep, inside my body was a full on horror show.
When he examined me, I realised I could feel the cyst a hard mass on my right side. The cyst was twisting my fallopian tubes explaining the stabbing pain I felt and pressing on my bladder causing my recurrent UTIs. If the cyst burst it would cause sepsis that could be life threatening. I needed an operation to remove it as soon as possible, was I free for next Monday? He try to remove the cyst using keyhole surgery the cyst’s size and where it was placed in the body, he wasn’t hopeful. I tried to fight back tears. My mum had major abdominal surgery and I knew what that meant. If I was lucky abdominal surgery would mean weeks in hospital, a month of work, months unable to drive. If I was lucky.
That weekend I was due to attend a *ahem* fairy festival with my two of my best friends. But I was in near constant pain at this point and peeing like a pregnant lady so camping + Portaloos didn’t seem like the best idea. I thought about it and if I was going to bedridden for a month, that my last weekend was going to be a weekend to remember. It was the best decision I made. Time with my best friends watching them objectify the St John’s Ambulance men was the panacea I needed. I confided how utterly terrified I was of the operation and of something going wrong. One morning I woke early and sat by the lake. I watched the sun play over the water and saw the otters frolicking. It sounds ridiculous but I just knew in that moment that I would be OK.
It was one of the hottest days of the year and had been nil my mouth since 8pm the night before. As we arrived at the hospital at 7.30am my mouth was as dry as a dessert. We’d been told that the list would be arranged on the day so I might have a long wait. I didn’t even unpack my bag before the consultant came. I signed forms, changed into my gown and plastic knickers and was wheeled away. Seeing HWSNB retreat into the distance as I lay flat already like a patient was terrifying. There was the usual struggle as the nurse and anaesthetist tried to put a cathether in my hand. I have what is known in the trade as bad veins. ‘It’s a good thing you’re not a heroin addict’ the nurse said after they had finally got the needle in.
‘Yes, real good thing.’
The anaesthetist injected morphine and the room whirled around me. Like a fan rotating overhead. As they injected the anaesthetic I prepared myself for the countdown. But if by the time they got to 3, I was gone.
Six hours later…
Coming to was like fighting your way up from the deeps. Voice talked at me but all I wanted to do was sleep. When I finally opened by eyes I had an oxygen mask over my face and two nurses surrounding me. I was in recovery. Through blurred vision I could see the clock on the wall it said 12.30pm but that couldn’t be. The operation was only supposed to take two hours. Everything hurt, I couldn’t tell what type of operation I’d had.
Me: *slurring through the mask*Kaowl?
Nurse: What’s that dear?
Nurse: Yes, it was keyhole.
I can’t possibly put into words the sense of relief I felt on hearing I’d had keyhole surgery. It felt, it still feels, like a miracle.
The women in the next bed was swearing up a storm and struggling against the nurses.
Me: *whispered* Y is she shouting
Nurse: it’s the anaesthetic is takes some people like that.
Me: I was like that?
Nurse: Oh no, you have been very good.
When my blood oxygen levels were better I was wheeled back to the ward. I called HWSNBN and my family. I thought I sounded perfectly normal. Apparently I was speaking very slowly, like someone caught in a time warp. I figured out how to turn on the TV which felt like a triumph. Federer was losing in the first round of Wimbledon, but that may have been the morphine.
The morphine started to wear off just as I had visitors and the vomiting started. Let me tell you being sick after abdominal surgery no fun whatsoever. Who knew? Unable to keep even water down they injected me with anti sickness drugs. HSWNBN had ordered me lunch: cheese souffle and chocolate cheesecake. But all I could manage when I was finally hungry at 8pm that evening was jelly and dry toast.
The consultant was really pleased with how the operation had gone. He had removed part of my right ovary with the cyst and he showed me the pictures. My distended ovary, the kinked fallopian tube as I tried not to gag. The cyst was being sent off to be biopsied and check it wasn’t cancerous. I was just meant to be a day patient but they kept me in overnight to check my progress. I was sent home the next day.
There were stumbling blocks along the way. The next day my whole body ached as the carbon dioxide they pumped my stomach to keep my organs separate during the operation began to leave my body. It was like my lungs were cramping. I lay flat and like a beetle flailed on my back unable to use my muscles to pull myself up until I was to helped up by HWSNBN.
For those who don’t know in keyhole surgery they make three small incisions: two low down on either side of your pelvis and a main incision in the belly button through which they took out the cyst. When I finally took my bandages off, HWSNBN and I looked at my non-existent belly button in horror. Then with a pop it opened. The glue from the bandages has stuck it together.
It was slow going getting better. My incisions were infected and my belly button: black, blue and green looked zombified. I’ve had ongoing knee, hip and foot problems all down my right side that the physio and osteopath think was caused by scarring
But despite all that, I feel lucky: that I haven’t gone back to hospital, that the cyst wasn’t cancerous, that this year I don’t have two weeks recovering from my operation and watching Wimbledon. Well, maybe I’m a little bit torn about that last one 🙂 But one year on, I’m still so lucky.