On the night of my mom's birthday, December 4, my husband had just come home from work. I was feeling vaguely unwell. He was hungry so he heated up some leftover curry we had made the previous night for both of us. While it warmed up on the stove, I felt progressively worse. I ended up never touching my food.
We took a cab to a nearby hospital. My husband had called them to let them know we were coming, so the woman at the desk was expecting us. I was limping in pain, and she acted like it was no big deal. She sent us to wait to be seen outside an ambulatory clinic in the basement. Damon helped me down the stairs, and we were a little surprised she just left me to try to get down them without any hospital help. Meanwhile, she called for someone to come see me.
The hallway in the basement where I had to wait was dreary and abandoned and the clinic was locked. We weren't even sure we were in the right place. I sat there for about 10 minutes, waiting, wondering if I was just being a hypochondriac or if I really needed to be there. Being sick when you're young sucks - you always wonder whether doctors/nurses just think you're crazy or attention-seeking, because who gets sick at your age? Is that why no one was coming? In reality, 10 minutes is nothing to wait for emergency care, but it felt like an eternity.
Finally, a nurse who was clearly suffering from some kind of upper respiratory infection sloooooowly made her way down the hall toward us. Slooooowly she unlocked the clinic door. We followed her in. Slooooowly she took my TK (insurance) card, my blood type card, and my other information, and she explained that if I wasn't admitted to the hospital I would have to pay a co-pay for coming to the clinic in the off-hours. I was sure she thought I was a hypochondriac because she acted like nothing could possibly be wrong. Then she sent us back into the hall to wait some more for a doctor to come. After a while, we heard the door and I got hopeful. No, it was just her again, to take my temperature. (Sloooowly.) Then more waiting. Again, it felt like an eternity, but was probably just 10 - 15 minutes. Finally a doctor came and they called me back in to be examined.
She did a lot of various things and asked a zillion questions, but was mostly quiet and looked a little concerned. I started to get concerned too, especially when she asked me how long it had been since I ate or drank anything, and whether I was sure. Then she said she had to call the Oberarzt - the head doctor. Oh shit.
The head doctor showed up pretty quickly, did all the same examinations as the previous doctor, and was halfway through explaining that I needed surgery immediately while quickly and painlessly installing an IV port in my wrist before I realized what the heck was going on. Damon came over to the side of the bed from his position off to the sidelines. He looked green, like he might pass out, throw up, or both.
Everything happened very quickly. I signed papers consenting to surgery, saying that I acknowledged all the risk and dangers that go along with surgical procedures and general anesthesia. I could get an embolism, I could have a deadly allergic reaction, I could need a blood transfusion that gives me a disease, etc. I should mention here that I used to work in patient safety when I lived in Boston. My job involved reading all the reports when things did go wrong in the hospital. It will suffice to say that I'm terrified of surgery and general anesthesia. But, it seemed there was no choice; the risks were far greater if I didn't have it. It's probably best that it was an emergency, reducing my time to fret to mere minutes.
They provided all the information in English to me. I got a sheet explaining the procedure, with the disclaimer that I might not have time to read it anyway before going in. I had to go to the toilet, but wasn't allowed, because I could pass out. (I hate to think what happened when the anesthesia kicked in...) I had a lot of questions, only because of my former job, another aspect of which was to drill into patients that they should always be a part of their own health care and ask questions! They took it to mean that because I was an American, I looked down upon the German health system and didn't trust them to do a good job. They assured me that they were very experienced, the hospital had all the best technology, and that this was the best and least invasive procedure for my problem. All of which I had never had any doubts about.
I was wheeled into a pre-op area where I got a hospital gown and special anti-blood-clot socks and they took all my jewelry and stuff away. I recalled all the reports I'd read at my old job about people's personal belongings getting lost in the hospital. Then they told Damon that he could not wait there and that he might as well just leave. I thought I was going to die of misery. The nurses, however, were so sweet and sympathetic.
Damon disappeared and I was wheeled off to the operating room. It was well-staffed but so, so cold. I was still in a lot of pain - nothing had changed there. So I was shivering like crazy and guarding myself and they thought I was a nervous wreck. Well, not that I wasn't. They had me lying there all ready to go and the surgeon (the same Oberarzt who examined me) had to run to quickly attend to another problem. All the OR people spoke to me in English and were really friendly. They gave me a big hot blanket and then, because they thought I was so nervous, told me they were giving me a little drug in my IV port while we waited for the surgeon that would make me feel sleepy. I didn't get sleepy. They gave me more. Still not sleepy. I wonder if it was a placebo. I am, sadly, somewhat placebo-resistant.
Finally, they said the surgeon was on his way. Anesthesia time. Ugh. Before looking at the big green mask they told me to look at, I glanced at the clock. It was almost exactly midnight. Just in case of surgical disaster the likes of which you only see in the news, I tried to think of my family, but the nerves were totally scrambling my brain. Then I went under.