CW: illness, pain, hospitals, health uncertainty.
As I hinted during my last post, I had been missing in action for a couple of weeks after Christmas. There was a pretty good reason for that. I was ill.
I am now fine. Resting up very well in fact, at my parent’s house in the Cotswolds, where I expect to be living for some time. But for a couple of weeks there, I was very unwell indeed. More specifically, I was in a very large amount of pain. It’s an exciting tale of discomfort, trouble sleeping, A&E visits, misdiagnoses, hospital admittance, scans, surgery, and recovery, with lots of twists and turns. So, I figure, what better way to tell it than through a series of well-written and hilarious blog posts? Read on and be amazed.
On 28th December (I remember because it was Mum’s birthday), I started experiencing sharp, stabbing pains on my lower right side (around about where the right ovary/appendix usually are). The pain was very uncomfortable, coming and going in waves that had me needing to hunch over myself when they were at their worst.
Although the pain was bad, I was actually not particularly worried about it at first. This is rare for me, but I had a good reason for my lack of concern. I had experienced similar pain about a month beforehand, and at that time it was explained away as muscular pain. Indeed, I mentioned this pain briefly in a previous post. I was now starting to think that this pain might actually be something to do with my monthly cycle. A brief consultation with Uncle Google later, and I decided it was probably Mittelschmerz, or ovulation pain. If anything I found this conclusion encouraging, as it suggested that my monthly cycle (which is normally not so much monthly as quarterly, and the menstruation part is a pretty pathetic excuse for a period whenever it does bother to turn up) might actually be becoming more regular. I figured that this pain would go away in a few days, and that the best course of treatment was heat packs and anti-inflammatory painkillers.
It did not go away in a few days.
By 31st December the pain was more constant and just as severe. The pain wasn’t particularly tender or anything at this stage, but by crikey it hurt. It hurt to the point of distraction. That evening I fidgeted a bit, took painkillers, had a bath (with a very glittery bath bomb, because I am just that fabulous even when in pain), and nothing was working. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I walked into the living room, where my father and brother were setting up the TV for watching the New Year’s fireworks, and told my dad that I believed I needed to go to hospital.
This was Hospital/Doctor Visit No. 1, and it took us to the A&E in Swindon. Now, let me state categorically at this juncture that I am an enormous supporter of the NHS. I have been one since the first time I went to a GP in the UK and I am if anything even more of a fan now that I have been through my Acute Illness and experienced first-hand just how wonderful the NHS staff are as a whole. So when I make any criticism or otherwise voice displeasure with something that happened during my Acute Illness, I am not saying it in a the-NHS-is-failing-we-must-destroy-it kind of way. Rather, I am saying it in a the-NHS-is-amazing-but-mistakes-are-being-made-and-it-needs-more-funding-and-support-you-dickheads-currently-running-this-country kind of way.
With that clarified, let me tell you how I was greeted at the A&E in Swindon.
Dad dropped me off at the entrance so that I could go in and get myself sorted while he found somewhere to park. I went inside (dressed, I might add, in my nightie, leggings that were painful to put on, untied shoes, and my enormous coat). I went to the reception desk, and what happened was a bit like this:
… several minutes later …
Anyway, eventually they did deign to talk to me, and after a very awkward moment where the receptionist said they couldn’t find any reference to my GP and told me that Uncle Google was not helping them and that my information was obviously false (and while this is going on, I will remind you that I was STILL IN PAIN), I was allowed to take a seat. Dad and I settled in generic hard plastic chairs, and I wished him a Happy New Year.
Fortunately it did not take too long for me to be seen, firstly by a nurse who gave me co-codamol, then by another nurse who got me to pee in a cup, laid me down, felt me up a bit, and observed that I was covered in bath bomb glitter.
After a bit of questioning and musing, this nurse determined that I had a urinary tract infection, which certainly made enough sense for me. I was prescribed a 3-day course of antibiotics, and the nurse said that my symptoms should be vastly improved in 48 hours. We were sent on our way.
I think this might have been the first night that I wasn’t able to sleep lying down. Lying down seemed to stretch out whatever was hurting in my stomach too much for anything vaguely resembling comfort. So the next few days were spent sitting up (a feat that took a considerable amount of patient effort to achieve whenever I slipped or adjusted myself too much), and I slept propped up with multiple pillows. I am fairly sure my arse will never recover from the near-constant numbness it experienced from this brutal overuse.
The next day was pretty awful. After not sleeping very much, if at all, I spent the day in bed, in constant pain, not eating, throwing up everything I’d eaten the previous day, and looking skeptically at my antibiotics, thinking that three days was not going to be a long enough course to rid myself of something this excruciating. That evening I tried having another bath and lying on my parents’ bed, but the pain was just too dreadful for such pedestrian measures to do any good. It had also seemed to have spread, as I had started feeling an aching pain along my back, as well as the now-constant pain on my front right.
Then one of my parents (Dad, I think) suggested I call 111. I have to hand it to 111 – I used it twice, and both times they answered very promptly. The woman on the phone took me through a series of questions, and determined that I needed to be seen within the next couple of hours. I was called back two hours later and told to go to Gloucester Royal Hospital, where I’d been booked in for 11:30pm. So I got in the car (with Mum this time) and we sped away to Hospital/Doctor Visit No. 2.
The receptionist at Gloucester was far more competent and attentive than the folks at Swindon, and I was promptly booked in and told to take a seat. I did this, only pausing briefly to grimace at the sign by reception saying that there was a 2-hour wait to be seen. Mum came in soon after and we commenced a very long, very boring, and in my case very painful wait.
When I wasn’t leaning back, closing my eyes and trying to focus on my breathing instead of my strong desire to tear open my stomach with my fingernails and rip out the section of my abdomen that was causing all of this distress, I entertained myself by observing some of the characters in the waiting room. There was the impatient father who walked up to reception several times, saying that his family had been there since 9pm and that it was ridiculous that they had been waiting so long. Presumably it hadn’t occurred to him that everybody else was also waiting and neither his being a father nor his being impatient awarded him any preferential treatment. There was the young, sort of pimp-y looking man with his unwell girlfriend who was similarly impatient. There was what appeared to be an entire adult family escorting one sick member, with the trackie-daks-clad head of the family intermittently pacing the corridor in the loudest, most irritating way he could manage (I think key-twirling was involved). There was also the middle-aged woman who appeared to also be in considerable pain, who was being taken care of by who I am choosing to believe is her lesbian life partner. I liked her.
I was finally seen at about 1:30am, by this wonderful motherly type of nurse with a good sense of humour, an easygoing demeanor, and a comforting Nigerian accent. I told her my story thus far, including that I was wondering if the problem could be a kidney stone (a theory that had first struck me earlier in the evening). The nurse thumped me on the back, and when I told her that it didn’t hurt, she assured me that it wasn’t a kidney stone. ‘If it were,’ she said ‘you’d have leapt up and gone “Argh!”‘. Like I say, she was wonderful.
She said that it was definitely a UTI that I had, and she prescribed me a further four days of the same antibiotic, as well as more codeine. I then dutifully demonstrated just how sick I was by throwing up the lemon sorbet I had managed to consume that afternoon, as well as one of the codeine tablets I’d just swallowed. Motherly Nurse patted me on the back and said that I was being very brave, dealing with this much pain with this much fortitude, and that they would fix it. And if it still wasn’t good after 3-4 days, I should come right on back. She saw us off with a ‘God Bless’ and Mum and I headed home, feeling relieved and confident that the worst was over.
As it turned out, my Acute Illness was just getting warmed up.
To be continued in Part 2.