I was totally getting better.
I hadn’t had a urinary tract infection for about 15 years but the antibiotics were doing the trick. A bit of discomfort, but not quite the breathtaking pins and needles I had been going through the past couple of days.
I was meeting Comedy Guy for breakfast after he pulled an epic afternoon-into-nightshift at work.
He was about to leave for three weeks of work training over in Melbourne, like we literally had a couple of hours before he had to go pack a bag, pack up the truck and hit the road, so, about 7am, we smashed some eggs, coffee and conversation before a short little stroll around Claisebrook Cove and checked out the view over to the almost-completed Perth Stadium monolith.
It was quiet, brisk and the creeping sunshine countered the warm breath that was exiting my lungs like a dart of Alpine 1mg.
Since he got back from his stint at the Melbourne Fringe in April, he had been assigned permanent nightshift. For him, it suits. He likes it.
For me, I’ve found it really hard to adjust.
Think about it.
You’ve been at work all day, like regular Dolly Parton hours, normally you’d give your bloke a bell and see what they’re up to or they call you and you would find something to do or eat or whatever.
But if they’re on nights, well, yeah, there’s no time for banter. And half the fun is the banter. And when you don’t get the banter, you just feel like a shag on a rock surrounded by tumbleweeds. And it’s not anyone’s fault, they’re at work.
Ugh, modern dating is hard.
I guess it didn’t help that the last bloke bombarded me with hundreds of texts a day before suddenly ghosting me… and the one before that would also think it was OK to just go incommunicado for two or three weeks before waltzing back into my life and carried on as if it was normal behaviour. When I called him out on it, he tried to imply that I was the one with the problem, so yeah, bye Felipe. So it can be a headfuck to try and work out what suits everyone. I’m all for moderation and the revolutionary thought that if you want to text or call, do it. Especially if you see someone wearing this tracksuit and walking a three-legged cat. You must immediately contact me, because hells yes I’ll be calling you.
Anyway, the thing was, I wasn’t going to see him for three weeks. And while I was happy to just get it out of the way – the sooner you go the sooner you get back and all that jazz – because our communication was more often than not at the mercy of some pretty tricky nightshifty timing and availability, I had set the bar pretty low.
After a lingering ‘just one more’ smooch by the car, we went our separate ways.
All I wanted was for the coming weeks to go by quickly without any dramas.
The next day was Saturday and I had woken up with a twinge in my lower back. I don’t get sore backs but thought if I just got up and moving it’d be fine.
Later that afternoon, I turned up at mums place for a bit of a Kalgoorlie Dinner. Which isn’t really ‘dinner’. It’s a bunch of picky-type food, sometimes as basic as cheese and crackers, but no actual meal. Oh, and booze. Typically white wine. We had dips, crackers, oysters Kilpatrick and homemade sausage rolls, it was pretty delish.
But my back was still really sore – the pain was in my lower back, down though my backside and down the backs of both my thighs. Sitting was uncomfortable, standing was uncomfortable. I had zero appetite and wasn’t drinking alcohol, which was odd for me to at least not get a couple of pints deep into my brother’s homebrew.
Mum offered to rub some Deep Heat on my lower back which, given it a pretty standard boyfriend duty and mine had just Instagrammed that he was in Eucla (1400kms from Perth), I gratefully accepted.
That night, the pain got stronger. When before it was uncomfortable to sit or stand, now it was simply impossible. Lying down didn’t relieve the ache, which had now spread to my neck and head. In tears, I called four different after-hours GPs, and they were all fully booked for the night. Like all of them. Ridiculous.
Then at 6am on Sunday, after being up just about all night, I called mum to get me the strongest painkillers she could get her hands on. Twenty minutes after that, she called me to say that the 24-hour chemist hadn’t opened yet. What. Perth, get it together.
She finally arrived with Voltaren, which I threw down my gullet with two very dry pretzels before she rubbed more Deep Heat into my back and fired up the heat pack. Pretty soon, I had fallen asleep.
Mum later told me that she said she was about to leave and I said that ‘No, I don’t want to be left alone’. I don’t remember saying it but I can only think that I was terrified of the pain roaring back.
Which it did.
By 10am, I was booked in to see a chiropractor. Not cheap on a Sunday.
Dr Henry checked me over and deeply furrowed his brow. After cracking my neck twice, to no relief, he did a second full check of my vertebrae and said that there was nothing he could do for me, however that something was ‘very wrong and you need to see a GP’ and sent me on my way without charge. What a legend.
An hour later I was across town at a GP in Nedlands. I told her exactly what had been going on, the UTI I had the previous week and that I had been sent by a chiropractor. It was also the first time I was starting to find it difficult to explain things, but put that down to tiredness.
She got me up on the bed and checked my stomach, which I hadn’t complained about but OK, then used that hammery thing to check my reflexes – the whole time telling me how chiropractors are garbage. She said I was on appropriate antibiotics for the UTI so my pain can’t have anything to do with that and sent me home with a prescription for codeine and, for good measure, Diazepam.
By now it was about 4pm.
This is where it gets really hazy… and really scary.
I turned on the heater, took two of the codeine and popped down on the couch to watch some Selling Houses Australia. I passed out. Hours later, I woke up to a dark flat, except for the glow from the heater. I was sweating… and was in agony.
I naively thought it was the couch that was killing my back, so I gingerly, slowly, crawled into bed. But lying down did nothing to help. Again, I took another two Voltaren and, ridiculously, tried to rub Deep Heat into my own back.
I passed out again, this time on my bed.
I woke throwing up. I live in a tiny one-bed flat and still managed to not get to the bathroom in time. I must have spewed 15 times over six hours, I was dazed, hot and I remember looking at the heater thinking ‘I can’t remember how to turn that off’… I was in real trouble.
By daybreak, I heard faint knocking on my next-door neighbour’s door and groggily opened my eyes. More knocking. I slowly got up to tell them off.
I opened the front door.
It was mum.
She had a bunch of keys in her hands and was systematically going through them to find the one that fit my door.
I have no idea what I said to her but she asked me where my phone was and why I hadn’t been answering. Then she noticed all the vom.
Me? I couldn’t string a sentence together. I was trying to speak, you know, form actual words, and I couldn’t. I panicked and started to cry. Mum lay me down on the couch and called an ambulance.
All I remember is being cold and kept falling asleep. My notes from the emergency department say I was covered in vomit, in a lot of pain and thought it was 2012. (I also didn’t know my last name and gave them an address where I haven’t lived at for nearly five years.)
I was kept in the emergency/observation department for two days, hooked up to everything that beeped and booped. Also, everything that I’ve written about from now on is probably not in order of it happening – this is just the stuff I remember.
I told mum at one point that this lovely GP (who looked like Mindy Kaling and I immediately wanted to be her best friend) came to assess me. Mum corrected me, ‘darling, she was no GP, she was a neurosurgeon’. Apparently something was wrong with my head – which didn’t explain the pain in my back.
To find out exactly what was going on, the neurosurgeons needed to test the fluid in my spine. So for someone who had never been to hospital in her life, I was about to be thrust straight into a bedside lumber puncture.
There was no time to be scared. Within 15 minutes, I was on my left side in the foetal position, they had prepped my lower back with freezing antiseptic and there I was, squeezing the dear life out of my mum’s hands, terrified as they drove a needle into my back.
The best thing about it? They finished within 20 minutes.
The good thing about it? They left a horrific/awesome looking bruisey injury on my lower back.
The bad thing? They needled my back four times.
The really bad thing? I may have a massive pain threshold but, not gonna lie, it hurt like nothing else.
The worst thing? They failed to get any fluid.
A team of neurosurgeons came to speak to me 24 hours after the lumber puncture. It was the first time I heard the word ‘meningitis’ bandied around and, since I was responding well to the antibiotics, were wondering if I should ‘go through the trauma’ of another one. I interjected and said that if it meant we could rule out meningitis, and that if we could get a doctor who can do the treatment properly, I’d be up for it (bear in mind I wasn’t particularly articulate at this time)
Not only did they agree with me (which now clearly makes me a neurosurgeon), they arranged to have the lumber puncture done under x-ray guidance.
On the third day, I was taken to the ward. I didn’t like being driven around the hospital corridors on my bed as it made me feel nauseous, so wherever I went, I shut my eyes. Which didn’t help in working out where I was – all I knew was that I was on level 5 because I heard the elevator say it. Also, if the lift was full, the orderly would just tell everyone to get out so we could get in. It was amazing. The power.
My room had a sweet view. Forget the telly (which I didn’t even arrange to have connected although I was a private patient), all I needed was a pair of binoculars and I’d be completely entertained, if only I wasn’t, you know, half-asleep at any given moment with all the antibiotics surging through me.
They wasted no time at all to take me downstairs to get the second lumber puncture and I wasted absolutely no time shitting myself.
I was taken into a more surgical environment. It was totally more Grey’s Anatomy. One of the doctors noticed that my hospital gown hadn’t been changed for a while, so, like a true magician, she managed to take it off and whip on a new one without a single flash of nip. Amazing.
I was made to lay on my stomach when they started to prep me with lots of extremely cold antiseptic before giving me an anaesthetic, which I was told was only really going to take the edge off rather than me not feel anything at all.
‘A little scratch’. Right, let’s go.
I could feel the needle going into my lower back which, although made me woozy, didn’t actually hurt. But something else did. When I had shuffled over from my gurney to the surgical slab, a small fold in my fresh gown had made its way to sit directly on my right nipple. After a few minutes, it was stinging like crazy and there was nothing I could do about it as I had to keep perfectly still. The 20-minute procedure was a success: they had pulled 20mL of spinal fluid and I was able to move my boob to relieve the nipple cripple.
The fluid was used to test to see if I had contracted meningitis, which I had, but I had also had encephalitis, which if left much longer, well, I don’t want to think about it, let’s just say that I wouldn’t be writing this and probably eating soft foods for the rest of my life.
I found these all over me. Apparently they were attached when first admitted and hooked up to all the things that beeped and booped. At one point I was convinced they would set alarms off if I tried to go outside. Seriously, mum lost it laughing when I told her.
One thing I learned about myself is that I’d be a terrible intravenous drug addict. My veins are notoriously tiny and over the course of my six days in hospital, I had four cannulas inserted (those IV needles that usually go into your hand) as my veins kept failing. Even getting injections was an ordeal, two nurses each tried to find a vein in my left arm before another nurse found an OK one in my hand (after joking he’d have to go in through my eyeball if he couldn’t find one which, with zero humour I said, ‘yeah, no, you’re not’). Another time, a student doctor had a go at ‘installing’ a cannula and kept saying to the others in the room ‘stop looking at me!’, I don’t know who was more stressed about it, me or her.
Trying in vain to find a vein. This is the result for ONE injection. The one that eventually worked was in my hand after coaxing it up using that green heat pack.
But the other hand didn’t miss out either…
I used to think that hospital would def be the kind of place you’d go to catch up on sleep. At least that’s where celebrities who were ‘exhausted’ would go, right? To sleep? But really, while I was in and out of sleep the entire time I was there, the nurses were always taking ‘obs’: blood pressure, temperature and pulse. Like every four hours. Not just that, but my IV bags took about an hour-and-a-half to empty into my arm, and when they did, the IV machine would relentlessly beep and boop until a nurse was free to change it – either that or you could hear one or two other machines going off down the hallway. So a good solid sleep? Yeah nah.
Speaking of nurses, crikey O’Reilly, if they’re not already total saints, they’re comedians. Nothing was a problem, except when I found it suddenly impossible to wee at one point. It seemed I was unable to relax one particular muscle. I guess it didn’t help that people were in and out of my room constantly and the bathroom door couldn’t be locked. The nurses were obsessed with me having a wee. I became obsessed with it. So much so, I was made to have an ultrasound after every attempt at a wee to make sure I was letting go of all of it. And I was not. It was awful, painful and I was certain this was how kiddos felt while being toilet trained. Only one thing started to turn things around for me: the threat of a catheter.
So I did something that I absolutely knew would work. As George Costanza would say ‘it’s all pipes!’… Yep, I pissed in the shower. It was magnificent. I’ve never rung the nurse bell so quickly to have the ultrasound – which, for the first time in days, showed I had a completely empty bladder. About three nurses stuck their heads into my room that morning saying ‘I heard you urinated, awesome!’ For as long as I had to, that’s the method I used to avoid being catheterised.
My entire bathroom was one big wet area with no cupboards or anything, just a loo and a huge space to shower and, because of the amount of non-slip flooring, no steps, three sets of nurse call buttons and hand rails on everything, you’d have to be incredibly unlucky to hurt yourself in there. But there was one thing I got pretty excited about – a shower chair. I didn’t actually need it, but it was the closest I ever got to re-enact *that* scene with Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.
So after six days of being pumped full of antibiotics and later, antivirals, a PIC line (parallel inserted cannula) was inserted into a main artery in my right arm, which delivers medicine straight into the major basilica vein to get pumped around. Without this amazing pressurised bottle that is attached to the PIC, I wouldn’t have been able to go home. Until I get it taken out, which should be in the coming days, it needs daily attention from a nurse that visits me at home.
And that was a big concern – that I was going home alone. Especially as Comedy Guy was still away (the crazy thing? By the time he gets back it will be like nothing had happened, GAH).
The thing is, mum was tipped off that something was wrong when I hadn’t texted her back for hours and wasn’t answering my phone – something that was out-of-character for me and something that shouldn’t go unnoticed for anyone, especially if they live alone.
We now have a deal.
If she texts or calls me I must answer or get back to her within a reasonable amount of time. Nothing is ignored or assumed.
I’m so lucky that morning she didn’t just think ‘oh well, she’s just not answering or whatever’ and listened to that mother’s intuition.
Because I hate to say it, my life kinda depended on it.