Thank you, I’m glad you asked. Well, actually, I’m not glad you asked, because now you I have to answer. And I don’t know what to say. I could be gentle with you and tell you that I’m getting better? But that would make you think everything is okay – you’ve heard the magic word “better”. You might miss the tentativeness in my voice and overlook the fact that getting better is a slow process with many obstacles and one which may never reach the goal of being well.
Or should I be diplomatic, but honest and say “I have my ups and downs”? You might not know what to make of that and it may prompt silly questions? Does it hurt? Can you walk? What does the doctor say? Are you on medication? Are you getting enough rest? Are you eating properly? Is somebody looking after you? … Please do not misunderstand me, you are not silly for asking, it’s just you can’t know how to elicit a sensible answer from me. You would like to hear that everything is okay, wouldn’t you? You keep telling me everything is going to be okay. How do you know?
My smart phone said it was Thursday 6 September. We left at dawn (again) to travel from Budapest to Vienna to meet the doctor at 10 am, to let him know that all is not okay. Yesterday I got a clean bandage at the A&E department of the university hospital in Budapest. They struggled to accept that all I wanted was a fresh bandage, that at home (or rather at my brother’s home in Budapest), I couldn’t cope with the volume of bodily fluid my flesh was secreting. And that the day before I had been in Vienna for a check up … and please believe me, I would return there as soon as possible, but in the meantime, I am drowning in the warm liquid frothing out of my wound.
The consultant in Vienna received me with a warm smile, but I saw the concern on his face when he saw my wound. He dressed it again and I could see he was thinking. It is two days before he leaves on holiday for a month. I know, because at our meeting on Tuesday he introduced me to one of his colleagues, who will look after me while he is away. With a sigh, he said we would have to operate again. The wound has opened, the build up of fluids under my skin has forced it open and it needs to be stitched closed again. He will implant a surgical drain to let the superfluous juices flow away.
An hour and a half later, I am in the operating theatre. It will be a local anaesthetic: not ideal as I will be awake and will hear what is happening. I hear the slurp of the pump sucking out the fluid. I feel the vibrations of my skin being cut and tugged. And I know that the local anaesthetic, lidocaine will hurt as it goes in. I was in the operating theatre in my normal clothes. I took off my blouse, but my bra could stay on. On my head was a hairnet, green, like in the films. They covered me with a green sheet and I lay and waited. And my tears began to flow. I was afraid. Scared for my children. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I was scared of the pain. Mostly my tears flowed silently down my cheeks, but sometimes I shook with the sobbing. The nurse was kind. She came over to chat to me: where was I from, what do I do? She asked me to tell her about my children, but I said that I was sorry but not now. I can’t talk about them at the moment. And then she left me to cry to myself until the consultant arrived.
And he came. And covered me in several operating sheets. He positioned one to screen my face so that I wouldn’t see what was about to happen. I knew he would do this. They did the same during another operation at another hospital last year. That time, there had been more people in the theatre and I had been able to commandeer a nurse to hold my hand and talk to me throughout the operation. Now there was no-one to do that for me, and failing that, I bit my hand and sobbed. It hurt. Not just the lidocaine, but I could feel each cut, the placing of the drain and the stitches going in. I cried aloud. When my energy was gone and my hand ached from my chewing, I began to hum. an unknown tune. A low-pitched monotone hum.
And suddenly he announced “Finished!” and I let my muscles relax after an hour of tension. I was not disorientated and could feel my body all too clearly. In the recovery room, I received painkillers and half an hour later they took me up to the ward. I was back in the same room as the previous stay, but in the other bed. I read, watched television (learning German), and relaxed. And although I still can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, at least I am no longer in pain.
Since Friday, I have been staying in a rented apartment near the hospital. I have daily check ups. On Sunday, 9th September, they removed the surgical drain. I had to take a deep breath and by the time I had exhaled, the drain was out. It was the same with the catheter.
How am I, you ask. Thank you, I’m fine.