The roots of the great chestnut tree rest in the garden below, but the rustle of its leaves in the wind comes to me through the open window. The bed on the third floor, the one next to the window, number 2 to be exact, is mine. Every year, there is a very distinct moment, when I feel that autumn has come. The sunlight beating on the leaves is a little weaker and appears to be buffeted by the wind, but I have no words for this. This year, I feel that today, Monday 20th August, autumn has come.
Today is the sixth day that I have been in the Wiener Privatklinik. András called me on Saturday to ask “What’s up?” and I told him that I find it a little strange that I can’t decide whether to rate the clinic on the basis of its four or five star accommodation/food/service or the professionalism of the medical care. Because everything here is really that good – I’d willingly accept much less (not in terms of the medical care), but say the food, I would gladly accept something simpler. And I didn’t know what to make of the safe in each of the bedside lockers for the safekeeping of treasures. I couldn’t help smiling when they showed me how to lock up my valuables. My baubles are of nominal value only and the same is true of my laptop, what else could someone steal? And who on earth would want to?
On my locker was a little packet, like you get in a hotel: shampoo, soap, showercap, nail file, toothbrush, toothpaste. It brought back memories of a stay in hospital with Róza when she had very bad diarrhoea: we had to pack soap, toilet paper and cutlery because the hospital did not supply them. More worryingly, we also had to go out to buy medicine (a basic antidiarrhoeal) because the hospital didn’t have any in stock. That hospital’s contribution to her recovery was limited to a saline drip. I pushed these thoughts away – I believe that change will come to Romania too, it just seems very slow sometimes…
On the first afternoon, I lounged around in my own clothes, got to know the place, was sent for an X-ray and met a constant stream of people representing various specialities: nurses, an anaesthetician, a physiotherapist, the professor and each examined me and kept me up to date with what was going to happen. Each of them met my gaze directly and greeted me with a firm handshake, they sat with me and gave me all the time in the world. (I would note that I was given the same respect in Vienna’s state financed Allgemeines Krankenhaus.)
Walking the corridors, I came across friendly corners for quiet conversations, with armchairs, newspapers and freshly cut flowers, tea stands where one could make one of a 1000 types of tea at any time of day or night. This was great when visitors came “Would you like a cup of tea?” and we could take a nice stroll along the corridor together ending in a nice cup of tea.
The smoking area was harder to digest. The third floor corridor ends in a sweet little landing replete with a coffee table and comfortable chairs. On the coffee table an ashtray and in the corner a discreet air filtration system masquerading as a cupboard. This was the smoking area for nurses and patients. I found this hard to comprehend, smoking is not a part of my daily routine, and I found the move to ban smoking in enclosed places in Romania, welcome and logical. Was this hospital really offering patients the chance to have their cake and eat it? Whatever, I liked it.
On the morning of the operation, I had to change into hospital garb: a nightshirt that buttoned at the back, disposable knickers and anti thrombosis stockings – all unisex and one size fits all. They gave me a pill – to relax me – and though I could have sworn I wasn’t in the least concerned, I took it anyway. And soon they came to stretcher me into the operating theatre. August 15th is a public holiday in Austria- Everything was calm and the hospital was bathed in an interesting and delicate silence. I remember arriving at operating theatre number one. My next memory was of waking in the observation ward.
For the next couple of days, my life was dominated by tubes.
Tubes: they are attached to me everywhere. First I had an IV drip, but when I woke from the operation, the cannula was in a different place and there were a dozen pricks on my lower arm where someone had been looking, without success, for a vein. My bladder ends in a bag below my bed with a tube connecting me to it. I have a little pump to dose myself morphine, with a tube that feeds into my IV drip. The nurse says that I can dose myself – up to one dose every ten minutes. “Partytime!” – and on the first day, I press the button every ten minutes. On the second day, only when the pain was unbearable, about once every couple of hours. It makes me numb and I can’t sleep.
The catheter is good, my bed is my castle and I have no need to leave it.
On the third day I was told I could get up with a nurse’s help. When my shoulder or arm moved with the forward motion, it hurt – like hell.
I am on antibiotics, painkillers, more morphine, stomach drugs in the morning and in the evening I ask for a tranquiliser. I can’t think, I can’t focus my attention on anything. The professor comes in the next day. A broad smile and warm demeanour. The Dressing of the Wound. I need to see it, I always need to see what the scar is like. How I have changed (again). It is unfamiliar, but I like it. My lower arm is a little morbid, it had escaped any scars until now, but now it is covered in cuts. The surgeon had transplanted muscle so that I can move my fingers –fingers I haven’t moved in eighteen years.
21 August – I am still here. Tomorrow I will be discharged. I have lots of physiotherapy ahead of me before my arm can regain movement that I forgot a long time ago.
The professor reassures me: no news from the bacteriologist’s lab –a good omen – no sign of the infection.