Obviously I'm not talking about a cold, or a bout of tonsillitis. You'll need a surprise illness or diagnosis to really stop you in your tracks. Something that will have you wondering if you need to go home.
I walked out of the urologist's office on Monday in a state of shock. I'd gone for something called a cystoscopy, a procedure I was pretty convinced was not going to supply me with the answers I needed. I thought I was just going through the motions, that this would be the beginning of a process of elimination.
I'd walked into the hospital theatre feeling self conscious, I looked ridiculous. The hospital gown I was wearing looked the part, but the fact that I'd had to keep my shoes on (they like you to keep your shoes on when your'e walking around the hospital) meant I was wearing knee high boots and socks. I was accessorizing with a hot pink handbag and a blue plastic bag that held my pants and scarf. I looked more like I was escaping a mental institution than heading towards a day procedure. I double checked for the hundredth time that my bottom wasn't out on display as I gingerly climbed up on the bed.
Immediately it felt like I'd joined a race, there was a sense of urgency. I couldn't help but feel that we'd borrowed the room and time was running out. Everything was rushed, questions were asked quickly. How long? How many? How come? I kept trying to add in bits of my personality but everyone seemed impatient, disinterested. There was little eye contact, people were busy with medical instruments and charts. A nurse with kind eyes appeared to acknowledge my discomfort and threw in a few comments about her son, I smiled and asked how old he was. The surgeon then told me her son was very keen to go to Dubai. "I don't live in Dubai, I live in Doha" but it was too late, the conversation had moved on.
"This will be cold and uncomfortable". I was already cold and uncomfortable.
I looked up at the screen and saw the inside of my body, my urethra. I winced and looked away. "There's your bladder, it looks good, we can rule out cancer". More prodding, more poking and then she hit the jackpot "Hang on! Hang on! Look at this!" She was gesturing for the nurses to lean in towards the screen. "See the hole, that's a diverticulum." Immediately I could feel the excitement in the air. Initially I joined them. Someone had an answer for me, someone could finally tell me why I kept getting UTI's and what was going on.
And then, the mood changed. I needed to know what it meant. I asked her to repeat it. She said something about an operation, about being in hospital for 4 or 5 days, about needing to have two catheters. "You'll have to leave the hospital with the catheters in, sometimes they can came out in three weeks but sometimes it takes twelve". My heart was getting heavier with each word. How was I going do this? How would the logistics work? What would I do with the little travelers? A nurse made a joke about getting shoes to match my catheter bags and I tried to laugh, but I couldn't. I just kept doing the math, adding up the days, trying to work out how, and when. This wasn't an operation I was going to zip home for. This wasn't an operation I'd be driving myself home from the hospital from. How were we going to manage this? What if it took twelve weeks?
They walked me into a recovery room and I heard someone making an appointment for an MRI. "After the MRI we'll know if it needs to be two operations or one". My legs began to shake. "You've got a lot to digest, I think you should just sit for awhile. It could be worse, I got a surprise baby at fifty" said the nurse with the kind eyes. I gave the appropriate response, shock and dismay poured from my eyes, but I wasn't being honest, it didn't make me feel any better. I could manage a baby. A baby could be done in Doha, a baby is a short hospital stay, a baby is worth the pain, the time, and the discomfort. A baby wouldn't mean ruining everyone's holiday next year. When you live overseas, a medical emergency isn't just about the illness it's about the practicality, the cost, the impact. Can we do this? And if so, where do we do this? Do we need to go home?
When I made it back to the beach house my first phone call was to G. He was out walking the beagle. I stumbled over the words, got things around the wrong way and then sobbed uncontrollably over the phone "That's good though, at least we know" he said gently. "It's okay, we'll manage, this is a great opportunity to get fit before the operation". He was right but I still couldn't see how it was all going to work. "I'm going to ruin everyone's holiday next year". He told me I wouldn't. I couldn't see how I couldn't.
By the time I woke up this morning G had sent me a long and detailed email with all of our options. Plan A, Plan B and C had all been thought over in detail. "Either way, we can work it out". The tone was chirpy, manageable, easy. "We'll know more after we've been to the doctor together". I immediately felt calmer. "We can work it out".
And we will. We always do. It's a bump and a hurdle, it doesn't need to bring us to a grinding halt. And I need to remember, I'm lucky that this is all I have to deal with.