I arrived in Germany late one Saturday night. On Sunday, I was invited to a "Willkommen in Deutschland" brunch. On Monday, after Honey went to work, I worked hard to understand, believe and grasp the fact that I was in Germany. OMG. On Tuesday we went out to dinner with a couple of Mexican friends Honey had made during the summer. As I ordered the food, I knew I was going to be sick.
You see, about 10 years ago (my gosh, am I old...), a doctor diagnosed me with chronic gastritis. That meant that I would have to be careful with what I ate for the rest of my life, and I would have to carry anti-gastritis medication at all times. That was no problem, it was just a simple pill. It usually worked wonders in just a few minutes. But as those 10 years went by, I would have to take about 4 pills in 2 hours to feel a little bit at ease.
I knew which foods would bring about these gastritis episodes. Too much lemon/lime, too much spice, too much pepper, food that was too hot (but that was no big deal, because I have never really enjoyed hot food)... also, when I spent more than 4 consecutive hours without anything to eat, more than likely I would feel ill. I learned to live with my condition, embraced it even, and so it was. Until that Tuesday evening.
Before the food came, I took a pill. A friend of mine (MD, MBA) told me that I could do that, as a sort of prevention for my attacks. I ate. It was good. Not particularly delicious, but good. About 30 minutes after we were done eating, I felt ill. But I knew this about myself. I needed only a little bit of water to take a second pill, and I would be well. As we walked to the gas station (closest place were we could buy a drink), I could barely hold myself up.
If you have ever had gastritis, you can imagine my pain. From 1-10, it was at about 8.5. For those of you who are lucky enough to never have had gastritis, let me try to explain it as graphically as possible:
Imagine a wall. Like, the wall of your bedroom. Now imagine that, hooked to this wall, are 1,000,000 little hooks (like those used to hang keys). From every little hook hangs a thread. Now take all the loose thread ends, and tie them together. You should have a big knot. Take this knot in your hands, and twist it. Twist it until you cannot twist it any more. Twist it to the point that you feel the hooks are going to unhook.
That was going on in my stomach.
I took my second pill, and it did nothing. I told Honey I had to go home. Usually I go to the bathroom and either poop it out, or puke it out. (Apologies for the TMI...) I tried both, succeded in both, but was still in unbearable pain. Honey was concerned. At about 9 p.m., I asked him to take me to the hospital. As much as I detest and am deathly afraid of hospitals, I knew that they would insert an IV and give me some make-me-feel-better-juice and I would be out of there in a few hours.
Wrong... I was there overnight. These German doctors want to make sure everything is perfect before they let me go. Because I had told them about my gastritis diagnosis, and because the symptoms fit, and because I felt better after the IV, they let me go on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
On Wednesday evening, I was in pain again. On Thursday, all day, I was in pain. On Friday I decided to go into the hospital again. My doctor was very concerned because she could not hear any movement or any sound in my stomach. I realized then that I had not been to the bathroom since Tuesday night. I was sent directly to a sonogram.
Bear in mind that, at this point, I have been in Germany for 6 days... and could barely speak German. This is what the conversation with the guy who did the sonogram was like:
Guy: lksjkhkdjkjldbvkjdb steinreich! (big smile)
Me (thinking to myself): stein... stein is stone... reich... rich? Rich in stones? WTF?
Guy: kshsghkjsbkjbs steinreich! kabfbjvbk operieren werden! (again, big smile)
Me (still to myself): Rich in stones... operieren.. ope--operation? Operate?
Me (finally out loud): Operieren? ich? [Translation: Operate? Me?]
Guy (in very slow English): Yes, you are stone rich, and you have to be operation.
Me (out loud): Oh, ok...
Me (to myself): OMG! WTF?
I was scheduled for immediate surgery. I was in such pain, I was not all too clear on what was happening. I was sure they could not operate without my written consent, because I have no official next of kin in Germany. Also, I had no idea why I was to be operated.
At some point during the afternoon, a doctor came by. He spoke only in German. It's not really his fault... every time he asked, "Verstehen Sie?", or "Verstehest du?" [Do you understand?], I gave my most convincing head nod and said, "Ja" in perfect, flawless, accentless Deutsch. He was therefore assured that my German level was quite above par.
At the end, he said, "Ok, did you understand everything?" "Yes, I said." "Ok," he said, "please sign here." I am very obedient, so I signed.
It was only when the anesthesiologist introduced himself to me that I reckoned I had signed the consent forms...
My operation was on Saturday midday. Something about more pressing surgeries and not so many doctors on staff and so on. When you come to Germany, make sure to get sick on a Monday.
When they came to prep me, and pick me up, I started to cry. Honey was there (he was there ALL the time), and assured me everything was going to be OK.
As I bawled my eyes out, the doctors assured me, in perfect English, that everything was going to be OK. Ah, I thought, NOW everyone speaks English! At some point I was told to think about my favorite thing about Germany, and I thought about cheese...
Then I felt pain. Real pain. I could not open my eyes. I had wires all over me.
A voice said, "Hola Natalya, soy (ah, I forgot her name... let's say, Rosa) Rosa, acabas de salir de una operación, y todo salió bien."
To which I replied, "Wo bin ich? Was ist passiert?"
To which she replied, "Natalya, soy Rosa, todo salió bien en tu operación, tranquila."
Me again, totally unaware of her Spanish and my German, "Ich verstehe dass nicht, wo bin ich? Bitte, wo bin ich? Was ist passiert?"
Rosa: "¿Hablas español? Soy Rosa, todo salió bien, estás en Alemania."
Me: "Wo? Was? Wo bin ich?"
Honey walked in, triumphant. Finally a familiar face. He explained everything... and I understood. My operation was over.
HOLY $H¡T!! I had undergone my first ever surgery! And survived. But, you know, for some reason I had always feared the anesthesia part... nah, that is not even noticeable. The BAD part, the WORST part of an operation is the recovery part. Oh, my. Getting off the bed to pee, lying back in the bed, trying to find a comfortable position... I remember I cried so much. I was so lonely. Honey worked, and could not be my side all the time. I had some visitors, every day, but I was too groggy to entertain them. I tried to read, but I was always so tired. I could not even talk to my mom on the phone--Honey did all the talking. I slept for 3 days. Then I spent two more days in recovery... and finally, that Thursday, I was sent home.
By that time, I had spent more time in a German hospital than in Germany. Maybe that is why I didn't get to enjoy the German summer: Not because there was no summer, but because I was hospitalized.
It was not until Honey walked into my room on my first day awake with a ziploc baggie with balls inside that I understood what had happened. I had had three HUGE gallstones (1 cm diameter each) for a while, and one of them had ruptured my gallbladder. Hence the pain. I had a colicistectomy (my gallbladded was removed) and the three stones were removed as well.
Four months later, I feel good. I have to watch what I eat. When Honey cooks, I can eat everything, because he cooks special for me (with extra, EXTRA love...). But I am well.
I guess when I finally end up leaving Germany, a part of me will always be here. Quite literally.