It has been a very, very dramatic week.
On Sunday, I thought I had gas.
Wait! Hold on! That is not the dramatic bit! It is way more dramatic than that. Actually, not that much more dramatic. But a good deal longer.
I thought I had gas, and I thought I had constipation, two things that
a) Pregnant women get a lot and
b) I have no interest in writing about here, in a public forum.
There are many bodily things that go on during pregnancy. Most of them arenâ€™t really fit for dinner table conversation, and some of them are, frankly, difficult to turn into anecdotal material at all. The one that comes closest is the fact that if I sneeze five times in a row, Iâ€™ll wee a bit (but ONLY if it is a full five sneezes in a row).
And even that is likely to become less funny as my pregnancy advances and that number starts to reduce itself.
The day I wee a little after four sneezes, Iâ€™ll be sure to tell you, and we can have a little condolence party.
I wonâ€™t mention it at all. Because there are things that we just donâ€™t need to talk about.
Which include gas. And constipation. Which is why I didnâ€™t mention them on Sunday. I didnâ€™t mention the fact that I felt like Iâ€™d swallowed a bowling ball, and I didnâ€™t mention the fact that I was considering asking My Beloved to stick a knitting needle in me, but feared that if he DID, I would spend the next five minutes thrashing around the ceiling making a high pitched whistling noise and spraying poo everywhere, so I didnâ€™t ask.
Iâ€™ve forgotten where I was. Ah yes – why itâ€™s unseemly to talk about matters of gas and constipation and things, I why I therefore will Never Be Doing That. At All.
Anyway. After downing a litre of prune juice and eating nothing but bran flakes and kiwis and plums for a day had helped me establish that it wasnâ€™t those pregnancy-related things I had thought it was (but seriously, come now, let us NEVER SPEAK OF THESE THINGS AGAIN, itâ€™s just not civilised) I got a bit worried.
It hurt so much I couldnâ€™t stand up without yelping, couldnâ€™t walk without stooping, couldnâ€™t sleep on my right hand side, couldnâ€™t turn over in my sleep without crying with pain and mostly couldnâ€™t do much of anything at all. I was worried. At 3am on Tuesday I was lying in tears on my side, googling what could be wrong with me and finding only the worst possible things. First thing Tuesday actual morning, I hobbled, crooked and slow up to the doctorâ€™s surgery.
I imagined what my doctor would say if I walked in and told her that it was alright, I had googled extensively, and already worked out a diagnosis (appendicitis in pregnancy) and a prognosis (oh, you know, death, most likely), so that would save us a lot of time. â€œOh THANK you Anna,â€ she would say â€œWell DONE! I am so Very glad that people like you take all the hard work out of this silly doctoring business nowadaysâ€, she would say.
My doctor is lovely. She said reassuring things, funny things, poked my abdomen and made me wee (not by sneezing, just by asking), listened patiently to me trying to tell her that I had worked everything out by assiduous use of the internet and a powerful imagination, and then, to my alarm, told me that I might not have been very far off (with the worrying about the appendix. The â€˜deathâ€™ bit was probably reaching a little) and that she was going to send me off to hospital, as soon as they could see me. There, they would poke me, and prod me, take some blood out of me, and conduct some tests that would ascertain what, if anything, was going on.
She gave me a sample pot to take with me. Nothing impresses a hospital like turning up with your own urine sample, you see. They really like that in a potential patient. It shows entrepreneurial spirit and a can do attitude. Or a â€œcan goâ€™ attitude, at least. Or a â€˜have goneâ€™ attitude, if nothing else.
Tuesday afternoon I went to hospital.
First I was prodded by a nice South African student midwife. She nervously went through all the the questions she was supposed to go through, and checked for temperature, blood pressure, admired the fact that Iâ€™d brought my own urine sample. (â€œDid yiu want this?â€ she asked, holding up the canister after sheâ€™d taken her readings from it. â€œNo thank youâ€ I said, slightly perplexed. â€œItâ€™s a pot of wee. I have no sentimental attachment to it. I can make another one at some point if I want one. Thanks, though?â€) and then brought in a junior doctor.
The junior doctor seemed to be at the stage of doctor training where you work mainly on developing your bedside manner. On Tuesday she was working on the chapter entitled Brusque and Suave, with a Hint of Danger. She breezed through the questions she had to ask, poked me hard in the stomach, said â€˜FINE.â€ whenever I flinched, and â€œFINE.â€ whenever she reached a conclusion.
She made noises about further tests (further poking, possible scanning, and an imminent need to stick a torch up my hoo-ha and check for Incorrectness of the Twinkle (medical term)). She called her registrar in – a tall man with a walk like a loosely stringed puppet and an accent from I couldnâ€™t tell where – which was great, because if there was going to be any public viewings of my undercarriage, I clearly wanted as many complete strangers as possible there to join in.
It turned out they didnâ€™t need the floodlights and the sharp pointed Hoo-Ha stick. The Registrar poked at my stomach, said three words to me (not a clue what they were. He was either Dutch, Bahamian, or from Space) then mumbled a lot of words ABOUT me to the junior doctor, who nodded in a suave and brusque way (with just a hint of danger) watched as he left the room, and then said, distractedly: â€œRight! Phybololobolobpyloriflitis. Or appendicitis. FINE!â€ gathered me and my notes up, and swept us all out of the room.
I think she may have had a different definition of fine than I do.
She took me to another room.
She poked needles into me until she managed not to miss a vein, then tried very hard to draw more than a few drops from the vein she located (it took a few attempts. If vampires were as bad as her at finding blood, they would all starve to death before anyone needed to consider any kind of stake through the heart solution).
She made phone calls about me, and talked to the nurses and midwives in the room about me, and by osmosis, I discovered that I was being admitted to hospital, and had something wrong with me, though they couldnâ€™t figure out what it was, and they were going to treat it, but didn’t know if it would work.
My Beloved had been banished to the waiting room at the first mention of the internal exploration party. He was still there. I sat with a badly placed needle stuck in my hand on my own, while people talked about me, what was wrong with me, where they were going to put me and what they were going to do with me, and I started to cry.
I had never spent a night in hospital.
I wanted a hug.
I did not want a hug from the Junior Doctor.
I was installed on the 12th floor of the Royal Sussex Hospital. The Antenatal ward.
As nice a ward as it is, it was a weird place for me to be. This was a place where there was a certain order to things, and a very standard diagnosis (“Diagnosis: Baby needs to come out.”)
But I wasnâ€™t in hospital because of something baby-related (by this time, it seems, theyâ€™d worked out there was nothing wrong with the baby or the baby-lodging equipment at all. Which was very good), but because I am pregnant, I had been put in the place where the people with babies go, because at least there (I think) no one would forget the â€˜babyâ€™ part of the equation and operate on me by mistake.
Which is important. Pregnancy messes up all manner of diagnoses, I have learnt.
Purely in a physical way, and particularly in the abdominal area. When all the internal bits and pieces are shifting around, and nothing is quite where it should be, or doing quite the same job as it usually is, it doesnâ€™t present quite the same symptoms as it would in a normal, non-pregnant person. And, annoyingly, because pregnant people are all shaped differently and grow differently and react to things differently, things donâ€™t present a single set of different symptoms in the baby-growing set. They just get all messed up.
This is what I have been led to believe, anyway.
So while appendicitis usually presents with a very clear and definite set of symptoms (and I have not, I should mention, ended up having appendicitis at all) including fever and high blood pressure and vomiting and loss of appetite and pain in a particular placeâ€¦ well, in pregnancy it can present with all of those symptoms, or none, and pain in the place theyâ€™d expect, or just somewhere completely different instead. And the same with all manner of other possible diagnoses.
Theyâ€™d put me on an IV drip of antibiotics all the same. If it was an infection of another organ, or another bit, the antibiotics could get on with treating that, while they figured out what else it might be, by whatever clever medical means they used to figure that out.
They mainly intended to figure it out, it transpired, by poking me in the places where it hurt, and seeing how loudly I said â€˜OWâ€™.
The first 24 hours in hospital
I was shown my bed, in the corner of the ward, tucked out of the way, next to the window.
The midwife running the ward that day showed me how to make the bed move up and down, then left me to it.
I moved the bed up and down for the next ten minutes. Remote controls are fun.
My Beloved sat by the bed, looking pale and a bit lost, before being turfed out for the night, to go home alone. In the next bed, a woman was going into labour. A consultant arrived and ran through her options, and her situation, and what she had said she intended she wanted to do in her Birth Plan, until he got to a certain word. â€œCaesarianyes.â€ she gasped â€œyesyescaesarianyes. Makeitstop makeitstop. Helpme. Wantcaesarian. Yes.â€
The beds are close together and only separated by curtains. You can hear every word spoken in the beds around you, I discovered. Whether you want to listen or not.
I was in pain. They gave me antibiotics, painkillers, checked temperature, blood pressure, and left me to sleep in the quietest ward in the world. Honestly, for those considering a relaxing break on the South Coast, I canâ€™t recommend the Antenatal Ward at the Royal Sussex in Brighton highly enough. Silence, perfectly controlled temperature, an electronically movable bedâ€¦ Basically as long as you donâ€™t mind being woken up at 2am and 5am to have a cuff put around your arm and a thermometer stuck in your gob, itâ€™s one of the best nights sleep you can get in Brighton.
In the morning, the poking began.
By the first set of doctors that came to visit me, I was asked one of the questions I have always found most difficult to answer.
â€œOut of ten, how bad is the pain?â€
I hate that question. Out of 10? But what IS that scale?
What is 10? The worst pain I have ever experienced?
The worst pain ANYONE has ever experienced?
Or the worst pain that has ever existed?
Is 1 on the scale a the pain of being poked with a feather? Or the pain of a papercut? Or the pain of someone larger and heavier treading on your foot by mistake?
If 1 is a gentle pinch, and 10 is having your arm hacked off with a rusty spoon, then what is 5? A broken arm? How broken? Broken maliciously? Or broken absent-mindedly by shutting in a door?
If I have never experienced anything that might fall under the higher levels of this pain scale, how can I measure where I am in relation to them?
Or am I just meant to measure the pain on a scale of 1 to 10 in relation to itself? In which case, how am I meant to know whether it is going to get worse? How much room should I leave at the top of the scale in case it does?
It is my LEAST favourite question in the world, because it seems to require a lot more context than anyone is every prepared to give it, and a lot more thinking time than anyone is willing to allow you. And the worst thing is that the only time anyone ever asks you it is when youâ€™re in an enormous amount of pain, when youâ€™re not really able to think the thing through at all.
Essentially, my brain just reacts like itâ€™s a question of imagination. And while whatever Iâ€™m experiencing might be bad, Iâ€™m always capable of imagining a hell of a lot worse.
Which is why, even as on Wednesday morning, when the pain was quite like someone prodding my innards with a hot grapefruit spoon, I think I said â€œARRRRRGH! OWWWW! I Donâ€™t KNOW, like 2, maybe?! 3?!â€
The first set of doctors poked me. They were surgeons. The second set of doctors came and poked me too. They were obstetricians. Then the surgeons came back. More of them. Each time, huge hunting parties of doctors, on some kind of medical safari. One older doctor, leading the expedition, pointing at the wildlife, followed by an eager-looking group of younger doctors staring intently and making complicated scribbles of notes.
They said things about risks of possible surgery, risks of non-surgery, risks of infections and planned courses of treatment. Mainly they poked me.
Poke poke. Does that hurt? Poke poke poke? What about that? Poke? Does that hurt more?
In the next bed, a woman and her husband arrived early in the day. After being settled in, they were sent away for a little walk and a cup of coffee somewhere, and told to come back to be induced in a bit. Induced, her waters broke and contractions started. First gently, a monotonous, repetitive, slightly orgasmic moan, and, as we moved through the hours, rising to an urgent monotonous, repetitive scream. Doctors and midwives came and went, explaining the process and her choices, and more gynaecological detail than I ever hoped to hear about a stranger. Or about myself.
Or, just, well, at all.
By the middle of the evening, she was as far through labour as they deal with on this floor, and ready to move up to the Labour ward (where the magic happens).
It is, it seems, the rhythm of most days in this ward. In the morning people come in to be induced, or to prepare for their scheduled caesarian of early babies (usually twins). They get prepared in the antenatal ward, induced if thatâ€™s what theyâ€™re there for, and, once through the early stages of labour, are dispatched upstairs to dispatch their offspring. Itâ€™s pretty magical, really, in an organised kind of way. But that is what happens in this ward. That is the flow of life. And lots of it.
And here I was, lying in the corner. Not producing anything except the odd whinge about having a hurty tummy. Not giving birth to anything for another four months. Not really what anyone was here to concentrate their energy on at all. I felt like a bit of a fraud.
I wanted a hug.
My beloved came, and hugged, gingerly, in case he hurt me, and then went home again.
I still wanted a hug.
Instead I slept.
The second 24-hours in hospital
It is my belief that if all the midwives working on a certain ward appear to be 30-or-40-something years old, female, gentle in manner and slightly motherly in appearance, and those are the only people you have seen bustling in and out of your curtained cubicle in a day, it might be a fair assumption to think that those are the only people that might be bustling in and out of your curtained cubicle.
It is my belief that if you do NOT fit that description – if you are, say, a burly looking, shaven headed, tattoo-covered midwife in his late 20s – you might want to consider introducing yourself to the patients on your ward.
Rather than, say, appearing in their curtained cubicle in the almost complete darkness, at 3am, and standing over them to wake them up in order to check their temperature and such.
Or at least, if youâ€™re going to do that, you should not then complain if their pulse is slightly faster than you thought it was going to be.
Even if you are, of course, completely lovely, and end up nattering about the novel youâ€™re writing, the predictable rise in birth rates nine months after Christmas and new year, and comparing tattoos before eventually allowing your previously-startled patient back to sleep.
In the morning, the doctors came again.
I had decided I was ready for them. I was in pain, but less than before. I was going to be Tiggerish, and upbeat, and charm them into making some kind of decision one way or the other, and that would be the turning point of my stay.
I was wrong.
They poked my side, and poked my other side, and hmmed and hawwwwed about whether the pain getting better was a bad thing, or still being present was worse, and the Junior Surgeons came and poked, then went away, and consulted with the boss surgeon, who came and poked, then went away and consulted with the Consultant Surgeon, who came and poked my side and said, eventually, that he suspected things, but didnâ€™t want to commit, but thought that another 24-hours of nothing but observation would be key to deciding whether anything could be known, or done, or decided, or not. And frankly heâ€™d rather do observation for weeks than make a rash decision on surgery, and didnâ€™t that seem like a good idea? And wasnâ€™t the sea view from my window quite nice anyway? And that heâ€™d consult with the other consultants yeah? And the registrars would consult with the anaesthesiologists? And the doctors would consult with the midwives? And sooner or later everyone would know what the best thing to do in this situation, whatever this situation might be, might be.
Everyone would know, that is, apart from me.
That evening, I started the process of postponing the work trip I was meant to take on Sunday.
While I didnâ€™t think that the Consultant Surgeon would ACTUALLY keep me in for weeks, possibly months, until the moment struck him as the right one to act, I wasnâ€™t going to leave hospital on Friday and fly away for two months two days later. It seemed at the least foolhardy, at the most incredibly smelly. I hadnâ€™t got anywhere near doing as much laundry as Iâ€™d planned for this week.
During the day, a different couple came to be induced in the bed next door. Before the midwives had time to do so, the woman went into labour anyway. I heard the beginnings of contractions, whispers of encouragement and love from her partner. I could hear him helping her to remember her breathing, and unwrapping chocolates for her to keep her going. It made me cry.
My beloved came, and held me, when I was feeling stuck, and frustrated, and tired, and sad.
Then he sat by my bed and, as he rested his hand on my belly, felt the baby kick for the first time.
This made me cry too.
The baby, getting kickier by the day, kept me entertained and cheered up throughout it all.
I know the baby isnâ€™t dancing, or performing, or reacting to what I needed these last few days – but the bongo dance party in my uterus kept me happy. Well, that and being able to do some work.
The third 24-hours in hospital
In the night, I cried.
I was tired, and frustrated, and I wanted to go home.
Being pregnant had been scary enough.
This was all too much.
There was too much going on, I hated the feeling I was taking time and attention from people who were going through this enormous thing, from midwives who were under huge amounts of pressure anyway.
I cried on My Beloved. I cried on my own. I cried on the poor midwife who came to change my IV in the middle of the night.
In the morning, the doctors came to poke me. Then the surgeons came to poke me.
I had drafted in My Beloved to arrive as soon as visiting rules allowed, so we could assail them with questions about the risks of operating (if they were still thinking about it) discharging me (if they werenâ€™t planning on it) and the chances of resurgence (if they were). I wore my lucky knickers, in the hope that (although unseen) they would have some cosmic power over the decision-making of the doctors.
But first, they poked me.
It still hurt a little, but nowhere near the amount it had hurt three days earlier.
They poked to make sure.
What about here?
Poke poke poke.
I tried suggesting to the surgeons that there was a possibility that any residual pain might, after all, be internal bruising from having been repeatedly poked in the abdomen by everyone Iâ€™d met over the last few days – but I didnâ€™t need to.
They were ok with sending me home anyway.
With drugs, with strict instructions that I was to return if there was any increase in pain over the weekend, but with the understanding that if I made it through the weekend (without substantial pain, I mean, rather than â€œat allâ€) I would be ok to go to Canada. This made me happy.
Was it appendicitis? They didnâ€™t think so. They didnâ€™t know, but they didnâ€™t think so.
It wasnâ€™t a kidney infection. It wasnâ€™t the other things they thought it could be.
It was, as far as I can gather, a case of Diagnosis: Hurty Abdomen.
Which frankly I could have told them three days earlier. But apparently, it was the ruling out of things in the meantime that have made all the difference.
Well, that and wearing my lucky knickers, obvs.
And then they announced they would be discharging me.
And here we are
Six hours after that moment. Have they discharged me?
No. No they havenâ€™t.
Iâ€™m in that yawning, stretching gap between the promise of leaving hospital and the actual leaving hospital.
I thought Iâ€™d fill that gap with writing up what had happened this week.
I should have realised that the amount of time these things are rumoured to take, I would end up writing something this long.
And it has. And I have.
At some point soon, someone will come give me papers to sign, a prescription to fill, and maybe a final dose of antibiotics. And then I will leave. In theory, I might return, in about four months time. But to be honest, I think I have done this ward now. Even if I DO know what the drill is with being induced (in full, technicolour detail). I think I might do it somewhere else, and remember this place fondly, and not come back at all.
I mean, I likepoking, but I donâ€™t like it THAT much.
So yay. Here I am. Getting discharged. Yup.
Here I am.
Here I am, six hours five minutes later.
Six hours twenty minutes.
Six and a half hours.
Here I am. At the end (at the theoretical end) of a week that was far too dramatic, and far too boring, for its own good.
Here I am. Leaving the hospital. Getting on with the pregnancy in the plain old boring way I intended to in the first place.
Yup. Here I am. Good old dischargeable Anna.
Here I am.
Here I am.
tick. tick. tick