Dante says that above the gates of Hell there is a sign that reads "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."
I reckon the same sign should be placed outside of the emergency ward of St Vincents hospital - where I spent yet another thrilling day in the emergency ward Friday. It's the second time in just over a year that I've ended up in the bowels of this hospital, for pretty much the same thing - suspected appendicitis.
For the second time in just over a year, I was sent home after half a day with an inconclusive result, some painkillers and instructions to take it easy and come back if things get worse. Though at least this time I've been reassured that I wont have to follow up on treatment and the pain should go away in a few days.
These hospital trips get me thinking a lot - and counting my blessings.
To catch up on things, for the last few day I've been feeling a bit ropey. I was a bit uncomfortable when I went to the opera on Tuesday, but I put that down to nearly three hours in the nosebleed section of the Arts Centre where Em and I took in a wonderful Don Giovanni. I went home with an aching head, limited energy on Wednesday and I noticed a pain in my side a Thursday - also got told by a few people that I wasn't looking that well - I put that down to Christmas as you do. I think the pain is musclar due to the exercise I do and don't think much of it. It took a visit to Pinochet, hoiking a weights for ten minutes on Thursday night where I ended up in a heap on the floor in tears of pain to get me to the doctor the following morning- who sent me straight to the emergency ward to be checked out for what could be appendicitis.
Somebody at breakfast after meditation yesterday put it well - St Vincents is where you see the flotsam and jestam of society. "It's where all the ferals go when they get a cold." It's also where all the severe car accidents, the inner city drug overdoses, the broken bones, the spewing, the mewling and the puking go to seek assistance and all times of the day and night - but every emergency ward is like this no matter what country or city you're in.
When I suggested to my GP that I go to St Vinnies rather than the Freemasons or Epworth, she turned up her nose. My reasoning was twofold. I go to St Vinnies, I'm in their system already and it's a public hospital. I go to the Epworth or Freemasons - they charge me two days pay for the privilege of sitting for hours in their emergency ward. Where ever I was going to end up, I was going to have to wait anyway. The wait at the private hospitals would be an hour or two less, maybe. It was going to be purgatory - may as go with the cheaper option.
Getting home from the GP, I gathered my emergency bag, just in case. Toothbrush, knickers, t-shirt, a nightie,books, phone charger, hairbrush, spare house keys. I've ended up in foreign countries with less. If I have to stay over, I'd be set for a day or so. That's the thing about being on your own, you know what you need and where to get it quickly - the thought of friends going through my stuff finding things doesn't feel great. I ring my mum, tell her what's going on and put myself on a tram for the ten minute trip to the hospital - I figure it's quicker and easier than getting a cab. The tram drops me at the hospital door. It's after peak hour - I got a seat.
Emergency rooms are hellish in so many ways - the smells, the poople, the chairs, the lighting - all designed to keep you away and reconsider why you came in the first place. Thankfully, and being ten on a Friday morning, it's not too bad. It's only half full, there is nobody obviously too sick or suffering or smelly in the place. Everybody seems quite polite - which was a change from the last time I was there, when security got called on the odd occassion.
After an hour, they've asked me to piddle in a cup. After two hours they've drawn some blood and fed me some minor opiates for the pain which takes the edge off my nervousness more than anything.
Jonella came and sat with me during her lunchtime, which is appreciated more than she will ever know. The only time I teared up when when she came in. Up until this time I'd managed to remain strong. A bit of support and sympathy and I crumble.
Friends were marvellous as well - texting and calling over the day to make sure I was okay. I'm so very fortunate to have them.
After four hours they'd found me a trolley in a cubicle away from the rabble of the waiting room, got me into one of those fetching backless gowns and told me the good news - blood tests cleared me of appendicitis - the daft dangle of bowel gets to stay. Just needed an ultrasound for final clearance and to see what was going on. Another two hours of lying on my trolley doped up on Panadeine Forte, reading my book in my slinky backless cotton number, I was taken for the test.
There's something surreal about these ultrasounds. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to get used to these - there's ovarian cancer in my family - I've been told I have to get one of these anually from now on. They're not that pleasant - though they could be worse. At least they don't hurt and the technician was pretty sensitive to my privacy and dignity - every time I've had one of these, the radiographers have been excellent - gentle and sensitive. Still, it doesn't rate highly in the things I like having to go through. I think I prefer the dentist.
As crappy medical tests go, it's a matter of lying back, thinking of something pleasant and not focussing on what is going on down in your nether regions. The ceiling tiles don't inspire anything lyrical to ponder. Lying back and thinking of England isn't really appropriate - remembering cathedrals, pubs, bad food and soft- skinned, steady-handed, gently insistant Englishmen isn't really appropriate under the circumstances.
After a heap of literal poking and prodding, the technician made a few grumbles.
"You're rather boring." he said.
"Of course I'm boring. I work in IT and come from Adelaide."
"No, everything's as it should be. You're in great working order. Everything's normal. Your appendix in normal. All your bits are working. I'm not supposed to tell you anything, but there's nothing noxious here."
"Well that is something."
"Do you mind if the student has a drive of the camera?" he asked.
It's a teaching hospital - what are you supposed to say?
Five minutes later I'm back in my cubicle, wiped free from the ultrasound goop, waiting once again.
They let me go an hour later. The ache in my side is probably a small busted cyst going by the ultrasound - the pain should resolve in a few days - take it easy, no exercise until the pain goes - everything else is fine.
After a welcome cup of tea and a biscuit, I got dressed and waited for my release papers.
"How are you getting home?" the nurse asked.
"Nobody's picking you up?"
"Nobody to pick me up."
"Why don't you take a cab?"
"Because the 109 is outside the front door and it will drop me at my front door and it will be faster. Besides, there's nothing wrong with me - the doctor's just given me a letter to say so."
"Can't argue with that logic."
The day's second bout of tears came when I got home. With an ice cream in hand, I got in the door and started to cry.
Now is when I want somebody about, even if it's to make me a cup of tea and go fetch me some dinner. I can cope for a day in the Danteseque hell of St Vinnies Accident and Emergency ward, keeping my sense of pride and humour intact (though there is nothing dignified about a hospital gown - which is why I tied a sheet around me while walking to the xray department for the ultrasound. The orderly commented that I couldn't be too ill as I had the sense to do that) Get home to an empty flat after a day like this and I crumble.
I'm normally alright on my own - only when I'm poorly do things go pear-shaped. Just to have that support and comfort at home at times like this would be a blessing. Last year when this happened, Reindert made sure I got some dinner and saw me home - but he's on his way to Patagonia at the moment. It seem stupid to ask somebody to come over and give you company when there's nothing wrong with you. I'm stronger than that.
Rustling up some beans on toast, another cup of tea and another round of Panadeine Forte, I made my way to bed for a night of deep, dreamless sleep.
Two days on, I'm back to my normal self. The dull ache in my side is still there, lessened by the rest and the knowledge that it's nothing serious and I'm not going to get worse. I've had a nice quiet day yesterday - went to meditation, had breakfast and the rest of the day was spent reading, wrapping Christmas presents and watching television. I went over to Blarney's last night and sat the twins. Maow Maow gives the best healing hugs - but being a warm night, the cuddles were short lived. Never to mind, he's coming to stay for a few weeks on Tuesday.
I count myself lucky. There's nothing really wrong with me. It's a little bit of pain that will go away. I'm not dying, I don't need surgery, I don't have to be on drugs for a long time. It will resolve in time. I know how fortunate I am to be in rudely good health.
If all of this means spending a day in purgatory to find out that all will be well, then that is the price that needs to be paid. What is harder for me to face is all the other dramas that being out of sorts brings up as a consequence.