Almost exactly one year ago, my appendix suddenly became inflamed – as it so happens – and I had to undergo my first surgery. This is another long and highly personal post about my experience and the wonderful people, who were there for me. Beware of body fluids.
Once upon a time, a stressed out grad student had an awesome idea. As a treat for finishing her MA thesis draft on time, she planned to go to Bochum for a super cool bar camp event (hosted by green bank GLS) with her amazing friends Jana and Patrick. They would be staying in Mönchengladbach, at the lovely home of Patrick’s parents Norbert, a philosopher, and Monika, an artist, who were also great hosts and cooks and entertainers.
Alas, the student did not quite make it to the event.
20:00 After we arrive in Mönchengladbach, a delicious dinner is served
23:00 Weird. This must be motion sickness from the 6 hour drive
2:00 A sleepless night with “stomach cramps” begins
4:00-7:00 Hourly regurgitation
7:00 I need medication, but didn’t bring any
8:00 Jana is kind enough to make the trip to the pharmacy for me, despite having been kept up by my tossing and turning. I decide, that I cannot join the bar camp in this condition and Jana and Patrick go without me
10:00 Some Ibuprofen and sleeping pills help me sleep a few hours, but I am still feeling sick
13:00 More Ibuprofen
14:00 I try eating, but hopelessly fail to keep down some pancake soup (usually a favorite)
16:00-19:00 Hourly regurgitation of anything I ingest, even water
19:00 I am pretty sure the right side hurts more than the left side. I read the appendicitis article on Wikipedia, decide the symptoms fit and start searching for an emergency clinic. This is where I call Patrick and Jana
20:00 I take a taxi to the clinic, where they take my temperature. I have no fever, which seems to satisfy the nurse at reception, who thinks I am either feigning or exaggerating, and tries to get me to go to a pharmacy. I ask for a doctor
21:00 An internist examines my stomach, gives me three options: Appendicitis, inflammation of the stomach lining or a gynecological issue. At this point, I start documenting my stay, because I have a feeling it will be a while and it gives me a feeling of control
21:30 A general surgeon examines me and tells me that my blood tests point to a severe inflammation and that I am not pregnant. I am weirdly relieved by that entire statement, even though he tells me I need surgery. This is where I get pain meds and the world becomes bearable again
22:30: A gynecologist gives me an additional exam and rules out cysts
22:45 I get x-rayed just to rule out… just about anything else, I suppose. Appendicitis is it, then. This is where I call my parents, who immediately offer to drive the 500 km to the hospital. I talk them out of it, because it doesn’t make sense, but am grateful for the offer
23:00 Despite the apparent surprise of the reception nurse, I check into the surgical ward, meet the adorable night shift, my nice new roommates, and receive a first dose of antibiotics, before going to sleep in a hospital bed for the first time
7:00 A really nice nurse wakes me up to take my temperature. I still have no fever and get another dose of antibiotics
8:00 Breakfast for the roommates, but not for me. I have no appetite anyway. After I introduce myself as a Bavarian, who ended up at the hospital spontaneously and without an overnight bag, my roommate gives me a fresh black T-shirt, which is super nice (and I still have it, Judith!)
9:00 The senior physician signs off on my surgery. I get prepped by a nursing student, have my belly shaved, take a sedative and dress in a hospital gown, mesh panties, and those sexy white anti thrombosis stockings
10:00 A nurse takes me to the OR. On my way down, I meet the nice doctor from last night, who wishes me well. Thanks to the sedative, the journey is devoid of any fear I might have imagined would creep up at that point. I get introduced to the anesthesiologist and don’t remember much from then on. This is where I have the surgery
12:00-14:00 Waking up feels surprisingly awesome. I am both extremely sleepy and really happy and 100 % sorrow-free. The painkillers give me a low blood pressure, so I have to stay a bit longer than expected. A nurse, who totally looks like Wolverine, comes to talk to me about Franconia and going hiking with his kids. At that point, I thought I was hallucinating at last a little, but he did look like Wolverine and we did have that conversation, as another nurse assured me later
14:30 Jana and Patrick come to visit. I am not yet dressed, but there are worse things than giving your friends a glimpse of your bare backside and I am still in my painkiller-induced “I really don’t care very much” mode. Jana and Patrick go shopping for me and bring back undies that are not pink, which is important, and some of Monika’s clothes
15:00 Waking up may have felt good, GETTING UP is an entirely different thing and both very hard and very painful. I take about an hour to get up from the bed and make my cautious first trip to the bathroom. I feel like an old woman
16:00 More painkillers. I read “Veronika beschließt zu sterben” (“Veronika Decides to Die”), which may be an odd choice under the circumstances, but it is an excellent book
17:00 Patrick brings his laptop, and we watch an episode of Game of Thrones together
17:30 I get to have a cup of vegetable soup, which is really delicious.
18:00 My favorite aunt, who is also a nurse, keeps texting me. She is hilarious and highly knowledgeable
19:00 Patrick’s girlfriend Toni sends me “Die Känguru-Chroniken” (The Kangaroo Chronicles) as an audio book, so I have something to listen to
21:00 More painkillers and antibiotics. Everyone tries to talk me into putting on my own clothes again, but moving hurts and I have a surgical drain bag hanging off my right side. This bag is probably the most irritating thing about the entire experience. Also, I like nightgowns. Trying to sleep on my back is strange, but I manage.
7:00 A really nice nurse wakes me up to take my temperature. I still have no fever and get another dose of antibiotics. If my stomach feels like someone cut into it, which is normal under the circumstances
8:00 I get to have breakfast, too! Bread rolls and strawberry jam, classified as an “easily digestible diet”
9:00 The senior physician comes to talk to me and tells me it was a really good thing I came in when I did. My appendix was quite badly inflamed and already close to bursting. Over the next two days, every staff member I meet, confirms this statement. I feel a little bit like a celebrity, but mostly really lucky
9:30 A young female doctor who looks a lot like Jana’s friend Anette draws a blood sample
10:00 A change of band aids on my stitches allows me to see them for the first time. The other doctor who looks somewhat like my first boyfriend (is it me or them? How do I keep seeing this strange resemblance in everyone I meet? Is this a variety of Stockholm syndrome?) tells me it all seems good, and that I am supposed to get up and move around. This is where I think he is joking
11:00 I take the advice to move and wash my hair in the bathroom sink. And finally, after yet another nurse tells me I am “actually allowed to wear my own clothes” dress in something other than the gown, which means Monika’s clothes. I still have that gown, though
12:00 Monika and Patrick come to visit and bring me some lovely flowers and reading material. Lunch consists of potatoes and turnip cabbage in sauce
13:00 I take a nap. I am alone in the room and can actually do that
14:00 I decide to start walking around the building slowly
14:30 I finish Veronika
15:00 My intravenous line is… clogged, I guess? It doesn’t work anymore, so I need a new one. The doctor who looks like my ex boyfriend gets to do the honors and also gives me more antibiotics and painkillers. The nurse thinks it is important to inform me that he said he would “gladly” come up and fix my line, once he heard my name
16:00 Another really nice nurse tells me to go outside and enjoy the sun. There is no park, but “a really nice graveyard”. This is where I think they are joking again
17:00 Dinner consists of bread and cheese, two of my favorite things to eat
18:00 I read “Der fliegende Baum” by Rafik Schami, a generous loan by Patrick’s father
21:00 The night nurse mentions casually, that this would be the time to ask for “the strong stuff”. I briefly consider it, but then decide I am not in that much pain and not that interested in the experience, but thank him anyway
22:00 Sleepy time
6:00 I wake up and feel actually refreshed
7:00 Another nice nurse takes my temperature. They seem to have only nice nurses here
8:00 I get a new roommate, who looks like she might be in her late 60s and will only stay during the morning to have surgery on her shoulder.
9:00 At rounds, my doctors seem happy with my condition. I am still on antibiotics, but off the painkillers, except for the night. Since my line is shut again, I switch to pills. Everyone assures me I don’t have to worry, because I will definitely be able to wear a bikini again, which confuses me very much, because this seems somewhat irrelevant to me
9:30 I get the surgical drain tube pulled by the doctor, who looks like Anette, and it doesn’t hurt one bit. I am even more impressed how competent and nice everyone here is
10:00 I feel a lot better and get increasingly restless. This is where my memory gets a little fuzzy, because I did not keep track as much as before
10:30 Patrick comes to visit, Jana had to go back to Bayreuth already
11:00 After my roommate is cleared to leave, she asks me to help her get dressed, since she cannot move her arm yet. I oblige and am awed by the hot pink underwear she chose to bring. This woman seems to have got it going on and I am happy for her
12:00 Lunch is a veggie burger patty with salad, also a favorite of mine
13:00 My friend Svenja comes to visit all the way from Mainz! We have coffee in the cafeteria and walk around the graveyard, which is actually a very nice graveyard, I have to give them that
18:00 Dinner! More bread and cheese
21:00 I spend one night alone in the room and get some really good shut-eye
8:00 I get another roommate, who is very upset about her surgery. She is scared and can’t stop crying. I am feeling very sorry for her and try to tell her she is in good hands here, before she is taken into surgery. I am ready to leave at this point, but am not cleared yet
9:00 At rounds, my doctors actually clear me to leave! I am overjoyed and ask Patrick to come pick me up. In the hurry, I forget to pack Monika’s slippers. I am still very sorry about that
10:00 Ex boyfriend doctor hands me my discharge papers and a letter for my physician at home
11:00 The head nurse hands me a box of antibiotics with the written instructions
14:00 I get back to Monika’s and Norbert’s place. They have vacated their bed for me, so I can rest better during the day
11:45 Patrick and I take the ICE to Nuremberg and another train to Bayreuth, where I take a taxi to my shared apartment and mostly sleep for several days
10 days after the surgery
I visit my regular doctor, who pulls the stitches and clears me for light exercise, which I start doing
2 months later
Jana and I go on a week long 400 km bike trip from Berlin to Kiel
6 months later
Jana, our friend Julius from Bayreuth, and I spend New Year’s Eve with Patrick and Toni in Bochum. Monika and Norbert invite us over for another delicious dinner.
7 months later
I temporarily move in with Patrick and a pregnant Toni in Bochum. I started my new job and get to do six weeks of training in online communications in Essen. They are splendid roommates and I would absolutely live with them again! If I ever get the chance, that is, and and hope I do, some day.
One year later
A faint constellation of three scars is all that is left from the surgery. I also have a purse-string suture somewhere on the inside, or so I suppose.
Patrick and Toni have become parents to an adorable little human. Norbert and Monika are proud grandparents and still occasionally ask how I am doing.
Random Closing Thoughts
- The hospital staff was THE BEST. Everyone was kind and funny and caring and had time for banter or small talk. The stay at the hospital felt like a very surreal, but surprisingly pleasant holiday. The entire time, I felt safe and well taken care of. If I ever get to chose which hospital to go to for a more planned procedure, I will come back.
- There are a lot of appendix jokes in the academic world and my friends must have told me all of them.
- I have realized this before while traveling, but again while writing this blog post: Watching all that Grey’s Anatomy has paid off several times over, for teaching me a lot of useful medical vocabulary. Also, Derek’s death was the best thing that ever happened to that show. I stand by my opinion.
- Something that could have been a small disaster turned out to be something of a jump start for a new phase of my life and influenced me in a profoundly positive way. I was completely surprised that feeling my body heal after this “cut” made me feel so strong, so full of life. I am very grateful for my health, and my friends and family.