“A is for Appendectomy, B is for Barium, C’s for Cystitis, Defibrillate is for D…”

Today I decided I would ride for first time since my op; I found some oversized jods and headed out to find my tack. Seeing it in a pristine state; freshly cleaned, with my show bridle assembled and placed neatly on top of my saddle seemed so sad. My boots and hat in their show bag, with my newly acquired gloves and a couple of dressage tests rammed in with them. It seemed very poignant that I had to take it all apart to ride today. Normally, it would be slightly cruddy after a day’s competition and then it would be cleaned and put away again. This time, we didn’t get to the competition.

Anyone who has the misfortune of following me on facebook or twitter, will probably be fully aware of what happened, but they say you have to write about what you know and this is all I’ve done of late, so here goes!

Just two weeks ago, I was busy preparing for a dressage qualifier and with the exception of a bit of a sore belly, I was completely oblivious to what was about to hit me. I woke up on the Saturday with a bit of a stomach ache, but I didn’t think too much of it. I spent the day doing all those mind numbing tasks you do in the run up to a competition; cleaning my tack, scrubbing and re-scrubbing Bea, plaiting her up and desperately learning my dressage tests. If I’d have known I wasn’t going to be competing, I wouldn’t have bothered putting all that effort in, quite frankly!

I started to feel quite under the weather when I was getting Bea ready and by the time I got in at 5pm, for a quick turn around to go out again for the evening, I knew something wasn’t quite right. I sat on the kitchen floor feeling sorry for myself and rang my friends, explaining that I wasn’t feeling 100% and I was just going to crash in bed. I was sure if I could just go to sleep, it would all go away and everything would be hunky dory. Sadly, Total Wipeout, a Top Gear repeat and Casualty came and went with me fully conscious. I had a tiny cheese sandwich and then set about feeling sorry for myself again.

I just didn’t really understand it – there seemed to be no position that I could get myself comfortable in. Every way I tried to lie down it hurt and then by about nine o clock, the pain really put it’s foot down. I have no experience in the baby department, but this felt like how I imagine the onset of labour to be. The pain rolled over me in waves, leaving me gasping for breath. I couldn’t breathe, without having to attempt deep breathing as my body gave in to my stomach. And whilst the cramps rocked along, I felt increasingly bloated and pained. I must have looked such a sorry sight; sitting on the bathroom floor, crying and gasping, whingeing that it hurt and I didn’t know what to do. My mum, bless her, half heartedly suggested NHS Direct, who told me that it could be serious, they would get a doctor to call me within six hours.

My mum decided that we should just have done with it and head off to A&E. Sadly the government cut Wycombe Hospital’s A&E department, so we trotted off to their “drop in clinic”. We didn’t make it in before the drunks started filtering through and if I were feeling in a better frame of mind, the collection of casualties would have been pretty hilarious. Starting with the gang of about thirty who were there to support someone who’d been punched by an ex boyfriend. All of her friends and family were there, being guarded by two pre-school aged policemen. Then, we had the girl who walked in claiming to have broken her leg. (Go figure!) And then the girl who was PFO, possibly PGT. (I love medical acronyms – Pissed, Fell Over, could be a candidate for Pissed, Got Thumped.) Anyway, her mates had dragged her to A&E and were trying to tell her that if she went home, she would almost certainly drop dead. However, she didn’t want mummy and daddy finding out what she’d been up to, so decided, very wisely, to refuse to give anyone her name or details and threatened any member of staff who tried to help. Eventually after plenty of swearing and an argument¬† between the girls, she was taken straight through to be treated. Her mates turned on a lad minding his own business in the waiting room and thankfully, he was sober enough to catch her fists as they flew towards his head. So then, they were kicked out and we were back to a bit of sanity again.

I was taken through and made to do the obligatory pregnancy and blood tests. I was told that I wouldn’t be treated until the bloods came back, which could be several hours. Working in the job I do, I found it mildly distressing that it could take so long to provide my results, but powerless, I went back out to the waiting room. My stomach wasn’t content that I was in enough distress, so then I started sweating, shaking profusely and being violently sick. I spent the next hour or so between the floor of the toilets and the front desk, begging for them to hurry up. After what felt like an age, but was a mere 2 and a half hours, I was given a bed and left for another half an hour, before I finally saw the SHO, who wasn’t very sure about anything in particular, but joyously sent a nurse in with two humongous syringes of drugs and another with a chalky drink to settle my stomach. So now I’ve been sick and sick and sick, followed by the world’s most disgusting drink of chalk. They then decided it would be best if I were nil by mouth in case they had to operate that evening. I wasn’t even allowed a sip of water to clear my mouth out. After being left for another hour, in which time the drugs kicked in, I began working out how to get to the dressage in the morning. By this point, it was 2am and my first test was 9.15 in Leighton Buzzard. I began to think that perhaps I could just do my qualifier test and then we would get an extra hour’s sleep, but it still didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t make it.

Then the SHO reappeared with a spot of bad news; “I think you have signs of appendicitis, so I’ve referred you to Stoke Mandeville. They are expecting you imminently.” Hmm, well a friend from work went through all of this, including being referred to Stoke Mandeville only to be told it was just a niggling appendix and they didn’t plan to operate. I couldn’t think of anything worse than trekking over to Aylesbury to be sent home again, but off we trotted. I was still pretty sure I would be doing the dressage on Sunday, albeit quite tired! We got back in the car and headed across country to Stoke Mandeville, only to be re-admitted into A&E. I had a letter that would bypass me through the queues, but I still had to see the triage nurse, to have another pregnancy test. Now even without severe stomach pain, I’m not sure I could get myself knocked up between Wycombe and Aylesbury hospitals!

After a short wait whilst Stoke Mandeville found some staff to open the Surgical Admissions ward up for me, I was off to another hospital bed and being faced with another quality gown. I don’t understand hospital gowns, why do they not do up further down the back? No one needs to see that! It was now 3.30am and the surgical registrar was fussing aroung doing everything, but examining me. The nurse swabbed me for MRSA and then gave me my wristbands. It was at this point that it started to occur to me that they might not be going to let me go. I asked, very gingerly, if I was to be staying the night, which the nurse quickly confirmed. Suddenly it hit me that I wouldn’t be competing later in the morning and my mum, taken over with tiredness, headed off home for a few hours kip. Sadly, I wasn’t to be allowed such a privilege. The SHO eventually saw me and she decided that it was my appendix causing the pain, but I would have to see the registrar before she knew what they would do to me, which wouldn’t be until the ward round. In the meantime, I was best to stay nil by mouth, just in case.

The pain started to kick in once again and after a bit of to do, the registrar was called down and he decided to examine me on the spot. There is nothing quite like a hospital trip to rob you of all dignity; I didn’t know which was worse, having to breathe into his face with my minging cocktail of sick and chalk breath or suddenly realising how hairy my legs were when he went to examine my ankles! Still, I made light of the situation and told him just how mortified I was; my nan was a Ward Sister – back when they were scary – and she always told me I should wear nice underwear and have shaved legs in case I was hit by a bus. I’m not sure how much the doctor wanted to know that though, to be honest. Another round of belly tapping, wobbling, smacking and poking later, he confirmed that my appendicitis was pretty textbook – being with a generalised high pain turning into a severe localised pain, exacerbated by being hit and followed up with a fever and sickness. It was decided that I would be operated on later in the day, but for now, I should rest. Easy for him to say, but I was still nil by mouth and I was in a brightly lit ward, there was no chance I would sleep.

At around 5am, they decided to move me into another ward, which was dark and quiet so I could rest up. Sadly by the time I had done my third pregnancy test, had my blood pressure double checked and had my drip fitted, it was 5.30 in the morning and I was just nodding off when the nurses turned the lights on to get everyone up at 6am. That is another thing I just don’t understand about hospitals; why on earth do they get the patients up at 6am? It’s hardly like the patients have a lot to fit into the day! I wasn’t expecting to go into hospital, so I had nothing with me except a phone to keep my amused. Thankfully, the lovely women in the beds around me donated me some magazines to keep me amused until my mum arrived with some goodies. When I saw the consultant (and his hoarde of students) I was due another round of poking and smacking before being told that they were hoping to do keyhole surgery and “it’s most likely to be your appendix, but this way we can whip anything problematic out”. Reassuring, huh? I was then asked to sign my consent forms after being told that laparoscopic surgery has the highest risk for bowel perforation. Again, thanks doc! They told me that there were a couple of paediatric emergencies that would push their op time into the afternoon, but I was on their list for the day.

At this point, I would’ve loved to have caught up on some sleep, but with obs every thirty minutes and having a wailer in the bed opposite me, there was no chance! I soon discovered that the ward I’d been put on was a Gynae ward, which made me feel better as some half hour earlier, one of the nurses asked me if I was in my first trimester. I knew my belly was big and I was holding it protectively, but I thought that was quite cruel! The day crawled by in a cycle of pain, drugs and blood pressure readings and in the early afternoon, I was moved into a general surgery ward, where I found a veritable bunch of lunatics to share my afternoon with! Next to me was a 94 year old lady who was selectively blind and deaf, whom I kept opening my eyes to find praying over my bed. She spent her time offering us all chocolate biscuits; “Sorry Hilda, I’m nil by mouth,” That’s a shame duck, are you sure you couldn’t have a sneaky biccie?” Then there was Elsa, the feisty smoker, opposite me, who went and told the nurses “I know it’s changeover, but our beds are right next to the nurses station, so please keep your voices down. We are trying to sleep!” and they listened! She was a wiley old stick who wouldn’t take any aggro, but was hilarious. When it got to 8pm and I still hadn’t heard anything about my op, she made her way over to my bed with a butter knife from dinner offering to lend me a hand!

Finally at 9pm, the anaesthetist came round to tell me that I would be next and he would come to get me in about an hour. It got to 10.30pm and we were all having a good chin wag about nothing when the nurse in charge of our bay came in and exclaimed that she was having problems with the computer, was I any good in Excel? I made my way out to the nurses station, flashing my underwear at all and sundry through my useless hospital gown. It was soon clear that the nurses station wasn’t designed for patients to go behind with their drip stand, but she hoisted it over the desk and set me to work. It was at that moment the anaesthetist came back to collect me. He said to the nurse, “I need one Bryony Harper”, to which I looked up from the desk and said “Yay! That’s me.” He looked a little confused to say the least; “are you meant to be sitting there?!”

The operation itself was a breeze. Well, what would I know? I was unconscious and happily came round at 3.30am in recovery. I was slightly concerned that my bandages appeared to be on the left side of my stomach and more upsettingly, they had fitted me with a catheter, but I was alive and vaguely kicking. To perform laparoscopic surgery, they inflate your body with carbon dioxide to open your cavities, so I awoke feeling a little like a helium balloon, inflated up to the nth degree, but I was barely back in the ward before I was asleep. I managed to only wake briefly for my hourly obs, but then they got me up again at 6am for drugs.

By 8am, they were trying desperately to get me out of bed; it was only when I pointed out that I wasn’t being lazy, but the drip was tied to one side of the bed and the catheter to the other, that the nurse saw my point of view. Thankfully, they whipped the catheter straight out and told me that as long as I behaved, I could go home. The conditions were that I had to eat 1 sandwich, have 3 wees and see the consultant. I was dressed and ready to go by 10am, but by midday, the pharmacy had yet to send my drugs up and I was awaiting a sick note. I fell asleep for the first time all weekend, to be woken at 2pm, by the pharmacy and then my mum.

Granted, the hospital wouldn’t let me take the lovely intravenous flow of drugs home, but my doggy bag was in impressive haul of metronidazole, tramadole, paractemol, ciprofloxacin and clarithromycin. My experiences at Stoke Mandeville were excellent; the staff were so patient and friendly, but I was ready to go home and sleep for a week. The first week was rough; I spent most of it with a fever and high temperature, sleeping fitfully and waking up in a cold sweat, but that has passed. Now, you will quite possibly hear me coming before you see me,with my wheelbarrow to carry my big swollen, muscle-less post op belly! I’m just desperate to get back to normality. Sadly my body isn’t quite ready as my mind and I suffered today after being a bit too active yesterday when I had a visit from Florrie and Rhys. Tomorrow I expect I’ll be sore after my little ride this afternoon, but I’m getting there.

It struck me that walking back into the garage to see my tack in it’s pristine pre-competition state was quite a sweet metaphor. Today I was walking back into my life back again after a very brief pause.