Thursday, December 16, 2010

A trip to the theatre

After a day of mildly painful "trapped wind" during which I completely failed to belch my way back to a happy belly, I fell back on the obvious remedies - Andrews, Rennies, a couple of paracetemol for comfort. After a couple of hours of completely failing to begin a healing slumber, I tried some Zydol (normally used to erase post-operative pain). My "indigestion" chuckled and nipped me a little harder for my cheek.

My health insurer, VHI, provides a "nurse line" service, which I called. The very nice lady who answered my call immediately detected that I was speaking through clenched teeth and skipped the formalities, something that I really, really appreciated. Through a series of questions, she ruled out obvious suspects like gastroenteritis, and suggested that I visit my nearest hospital's casualty department. I decided to try my GP's out-of-hours service instead.

A nice South African doctor turned up pretty quickly, and offered sympathy ("Shit mate... I'm sorry") and some intra-muscular pain relief to supplement my own efforts (chewing my way through a leather belt and making a serious effort to put my fist through the arm of my sofa). He also thought casualty seemed like a good idea, and told me to phone if the drugs didn't help.

Feeling very silly to cause such a fuss over a simple case of indigestion, I woke my poor wife and got her to drive me to our local acute hospital, where a sympathetic triage nurse took me straight past the usual queue and into an examination room where a doctor gave me some morphine, intravenously. Light-headed as I was from the "discomfort" of my worsening "indigestion", I was interested to observe the effects of the "gold standard" of pain relief, a close cousin of heroin. Morphine acts directly on the central nervous system, and within seconds a warm sensation began to suffuse my body. My belly, however, felt no better. This was my lowest point: 4AM, sleep-deprived, very sore indeed, and now failed by the pain reliever. My Doc returned and doubled the dose... and, at last, the pain retreated.

Several hours of dozing on trolleys, examinations and blood tests followed. White cell counts indicated an infection. An IV line delivered antibiotics to fight it. Then a brisk, brusque gentleman quizzed me and poked me for a minute or two before announcing that I had appendicitis and would be operated on at the earliest opportunity. I added my autograph to proffered paperwork, and awaited developments. Another kind nurse brought me a fetching new outfit that tied at the side.

Eventually, I found myself in theatre watching my pulse on a monitor. Well past 100. Hmm. I must be nervous. As the aneasthetist's drugs began to pull me into oblivion, my fading mind made a final, terrifying observation: the wall-mounted computer provided to inform and guide my surgeon was running windows. I blacked out.


I came to after 90 minutes or so, feeling extremely comfortable and very pleased with the whole experience. A chat with my attending nurse and a glance at my chart explained this - lots and lots of pain-relieving drugs, plus a straightforward and successful operation. My surgeon stopped by my bedside looking pretty pleased with herself and told me how terrible my appendix had looked - said she should have taken a picture to show me (gangrenous, necrotic tip, etc).

And that was that, more or less. I've got three neat little slits in by belly, used to insert probes and remove the source of my "indigestion" and also 8 little stainless steel clips that my GP will yank out in a few more days. Not the worst possible result!

Lesson learned: take sudden and unexplained pains seriously.