We’re entering spring, sort of, and getting close to Easter – and for me that brings to mind last Easter and last spring. I never did blog or even write much about my Hungarian hospital adventure, I found a paragraph that I began, and the updates I shared on Facebook. During the worst of my health issues I had a hard time sitting at my desk, and writing on a tablet or at an odd angle on my laptop was uncomfortable, so I just didn’t write much about it all. But it was a pivotal event in last year, and I think, in my life. It was also the beginning of my coming to the end of myself, the start of an exhausting season that so far has not ended, but looking back to when it began helps me understand it all a bit better.
The fall of 2014 is when our daughter had her extreme health issues, when we began our search for answers to what was wrong with her and dealt with all that trauma and heartache. By December we had some answers (Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and a Depressive Episode), she was taking anti-depressants plus an ‘old lady’s amount’ of vitamins, seeing a chiropractor, a psychologist here in Budapest plus her counselor via skype in Colorado. As 2015 began she was slowly crawling out of her pit, Homeschooling curriculum had arrived and she was able to work on keeping up with her class. By early spring we were seeing signs of real improvement and we were all hopeful. In May we would learn she did not have Fibromyalgia after all and that most of her extreme symptoms all came from her Depression. In March and April we were already having suspicions of that. So things were just calming down, I was feeling able to breathe again, and had a very hopeful blog post all about spring on March 27th, just over a week before Easter that year. We had also had a wonderful weekend away, just Norbi and I, something long overdue. I see many tender evidences of care for me early in the year of 2015, a Woman’s Retreat with our church, some special gatherings with friends as another friend moved back to the US. It was a sweet, and what would end up a much needed, reprieve.
Easter was on April 4th last year, I would remain in the hospital through April 7th, on very strong antibiotics until April 16th, and it would take me all of April to even approach feeling ‘normal again’, really going into much of May. But by May we were deep into Graduation prep, looking ahead to Joshua’s graduation. In early June Joshi would graduate, toward the end of the month he would go in for his jaw surgery, an exhausting 5 days in Kecskemet, and then his slow recovery for the rest of the summer. Danny reached her huge milestone and was ready and able to start attending school again in September, but with her still weak her process of coming and going was not as before where the kids took public transportation – now Norbi would get up with her and they’d leave the house before 7am at the start of the school year due to construction (more like 7:30 now that construction is over), and then he’d leave in the middle of his work day to pick her back up again – a two hour trip – on top of still working until 11pm every day. In mid-September I leave with Joshua for Colorado, spending a few weeks there helping him get his driver’s license and moved in and settled back in our old house with his brother and two roommates. I also had a couple weeks of much needed backyard therapy. But then I had to come home without my Joshi. And when I came home it was also apparent that Danny needed more help getting going in the mornings as she was missing too many days of school, often because she just needed some encouragement (and breakfast) in the mornings, and so began my own burning my candle on both ends, just as Norbi had been doing since the school year began. Getting up at 6:30 am to make my teenager breakfast and sometimes pull her out of bed was not something I ever envisioned I’d HAVE to do, we raised fairly independent kids and never had those school morning issues the sitcoms and comics are filled with. Plus, I go to bed when my husband does, always have, always will – and so this meant I was in no way changing my bedtime. Hello napping every day. We counted down to Christmas, to our time in the US – to not needing to both stay up late and get up early, for some fun with family. And instead it was my turn for a stressful US visit, as tension with my parents and disappointment at not seeing them clouded over most of the visit for me. Danny did well, but was still not a ‘normal’ teenager with no issues, her health was a topic, she needed breaks and naps and it was stressful too. And then our return flight that should have been amazing as we had the best seats we’ve ever gotten on a trans-Atlantic flight turned into more heartbreak as Danny had her first major panic attack in many months, as the plane landed, too late for our connecting flight, in Frankfurt. We spent 4 hours in Frankfurt, sitting next to Danny as she calmed down and eventually slept some in a corner of the airport.
So that is the stress, the emotional pains I’ve been dealing with for over a year. And yet I’ve never really talked much about my hospital stay last April. I’ve not really processed what happened last Easter. People handle medical events differently. It took me having kids with medical needs for the distrust and even dislike of doctors and the medical establishment to go away – I was raised in the Pro-Life movement where the ‘doctor’ was often seen as the evil one who performed abortions, by a mom who was a homebirth midwife, again, a place where doctors were certainly not needed and were often the ‘cause’ of unnecessary and ‘evil’ cesarean-section births. My family was also more into home remedies than running to the doctor for every fever, so I grew up only seeing a doctor for a broken bone or other extreme situations. We didn’t do ‘well-visits’. Following in my mother’s footsteps I had all three of our children born at home, something that I do think was a wonderful experience and was a choice I’m privileged to have been able to make, as we were living in the US at the time, with a reliable and speedy ambulance system in place. I grew to appreciate doctors more as our kids needed them more, and I did grow out of my fear and mistrust of everything they say. But when we rushed to the Emergency Room on April 4th, I had never been in the ER before, and that would also turn into my first overnight stay in a hospital, ever.
I have a husband who loves to sit in the 2nd row for church services, he hates the distraction of other people in front of him. And so, when I began to feel some pain and discomfort in my stomach and initially a desire for the bathroom during the middle of worship on Easter Sunday, my first thought was embarrassment to have to walk down the aisle from the very front, and even worse, to have to come back. The pain began getting strangely strong and I took some advil, my period had just ended a day or two before, but I began to wonder if my body was not quite finished, or something. As I left the restrooms and began walking back toward the front of the building, my thoughts were all on how to get up front without attracting attention. And then the pain began hitting me so hard I could hardly breathe, I stopped and leaned against a wall and was then furious with myself for once again not having my cell phone with me. It would have been easiest to text Norbi, but I couldn’t. I actually ended up finding our pastor, who was about to walk up to preach, and told him I needed Norbi. He took one look at me and got another church member to go fetch Norbi and had me sit down on some stairs nearby, the pain was so strong I felt ready to pass out, and evidently looked it too.
What happened next is rather blurry, I know Norbi came, and that we went outside and waited for a taxi that he called. I do remember being embarrassed to cause all this fuss, on Easter Sunday, Norbi had had to have Joshi sent over to us as well, from that 2nd row seat. I don’t handle pain well, I never have. I also tend to get woozy easily, I know I had to sit down or I would have fallen down, and that I had to mostly concentrate on breathing and not passing out. The taxi came relatively quickly, and so began the small miracles that peppered this horrible day. There was construction all around our neighborhood, and during the week the traffic could sit at a standstill. I’d watched ambulances come through as there are a couple hospitals in the area, and I’d often been so grateful not to be in one of them, as the cars in front of them had no place to go, no way to get out of the way – sometimes people would get out of cars and move the construction fences over so cars could move out of the way and then the ambulance could finally get through. But this was Easter Sunday. Hungarians take their holidays seriously. It was like a ghost town, with no one on the streets. That taxi got us home in under 10 minutes. The pain had taken on a wave-like pattern, reminding me of contractions, hitting me hard, and then mellowing out to a dull ache, until wham, it hit hard and horrible again. I made into our apartment and collapsed on the bed, the advil might have been taking a bit of effect, as I could talk and think more clearly now. We discussed what to do, and Norbi called the Hungarian 911. Here’s another of those small miracles, doctors in Hungary still do house calls, and the doctor for our section of town would be coming to see me. During a break in the waves of pain I got out of my Easter finery and into comfy clothes – something I would be thankful for the rest of the day. We had left church around 11am, and by noon the doctor was at our house and I was being examined – this was mostly pushing on my already aching stomach and making it hurt worse, many doctors would do this, repeatedly, throughout the day – I’d end up with bruises on my stomach directly over the site of the infection. They also did the expected things of taking my pulse and temperature. This doctor suspected my appendix and it became imperative that I go to the hospital as soon as possible, he stressed the rush, in case he was right, to operate before it burst. He telephoned the hospital that I was coming and we called for another taxi.
I can still see the bright sunshine and almost feel the sun’s warmth as I sat down on the steps of a closed business of our building and waited for that taxi, hugging my pillow, in the middle of downtown Budapest in my comfy lounge pants and loose long-sleeved t-shirt. Norbi stood next to me, letting me lean on him. At this point of the construction our street was closed to through traffic and had been converted to one-way and Norbi had told the taxi driver to come up and turn around at our corner. Once again, one of those miracles, as that taxi driver drove up the forbidden street, and there were no other cars anywhere around to make it an issue. I was once again in extreme pain and events around me happened in a fog – I felt the sun and remember how it felt, but don’t really remember getting into the taxi. We arrived at the hospital, Szent Imre Kórház by a little bit past 1pm – so only two hours since the extreme pain had really begun. With the doctor’s word of rushing in our heads we were not prepared for what awaited us at Szent Imre, which was, basically, waiting. First I got to stand in a line, but after a few minutes of that foolishness Norbi took charge and found me a spot on a nice, hard, wooden bench, while he waited in the line. So I sat on that white bench, hugged my pillow and concentrated on breathing in and out so as not to pass out. Norbi eventually came back from the line, with me signed in.
And we waited. Here is when the fact that it was Easter Sunday was not so helpful for me, as the hospital was under-staffed due to the holiday. The timing of things blur at this point, but we waited at least an hour before I was ever examined again, this time by the ER doctor who also pushed and poked at my sore stomach, hard. I had to let them know when it hurt the most as he pushed in different places. This doctor didn’t say a lot. And then more waiting. After a couple hours of the waiting my pain began to lessen, which was such an amazing relief – but then I began to be more aware of what was going on, or rather, not going on, and the worry, fear and frustration began to set in. While the pain had been so intense, I’d been mostly focusing on not passing out, but as it subsided a bit, I could look around me again, and it was then that the day passed from physical pain to emotional.
At some point a nurse came out and gave me a little plastic cup and motioned toward a bathroom door next to me. I didn’t really need Norbi’s translation that they wanted me to pee in the cup. So I got to experience a Budapest Hungarian hospital bathroom for the first time. There was no toilet paper, though a kind nurse had at one point torn what looked like a large piece of the paper they use to cover the examining table into strips and these were in a pile on the window sill. There was also no soap and no paper towels. I had to wipe one side of my little plastic cup of pee, and then rinse my hands off with water. And then I carried my cup out and tracked down the nurse to give it to. There was no lid for the cup, and no little nook to place it into – just hand delivery and being thankful I’d not actually peed all that much.
A nurse finally came out and lead me to a room down one hallway, a proper examining room with two nice doctors who both spoke English – up to this point it was all Hungarian speaking nurses and the ER doctor, so it was wonderful to be able to finally list my symptoms in English myself. Again more poking and pushing into my sore stomach. There was also some poking at my legs and arms, and many details written down as I talked and they asked questions. They were not sure it was my appendix, which was the first we heard of this, many hours after arriving, but that was not being ruled out, they just wanted other possibilities looked into. I was being sent up to a gynecologist to check internally. I was to go back out and wait again and someone would get me when that doctor was ready for me.
So back out to wait some more, back to our now familiar white benches. It was at this point that our amazing pastor arrived with Burger King for us, the first bit of food we’d seen since breakfast that morning. I couldn’t do more than nibble on some French fries, but the soda was a nice pick-me-up, and Norbi devoured his meal. Fast food had been about the only option, because, again, it was Easter Sunday and pretty much all of Hungary was closed. Our pastor prayed with us too. At some point in the early evening hours, maybe 6-7pm ish or so, I was finally lead upstairs to the gynecology department and the doctor on duty checked me out. He also spoke English but was nowhere near as kind as the previous duo of doctors. It was a brusque exam with some to the point questions, he didn’t find anything wrong and I was sent back down to the waiting room. We’d been ‘waiting’ for over six hours at this point, and a nurse finally came and said they had a room I could lay down in, with Norbi waiting in a different waiting room area. I took my pillow and gratefully curled up on a hospital bed in a room of six beds, three on each side. It was dusk, and as I hugged my pillow to my sore tummy I watched the sunset outside. A different doctor came in than I’d seen yet, and I was once more examined, I remember he pushed super hard on my stomach, or it was just so sore that it felt like he pushed really hard. Either way, it hurt like crazy, on top of the pain I was in in general. I was a bit weepy after the exam, and went into the bathroom for this room so I could cry, then wash my face and calm back down. Still no toilet paper or real paper towels, but this room did have a nicer pile of strips of paper, stacked on a clean counter not a dirty window sill. A nurse also came in and they got me hooked up with an IV and began liquids in it, as I’d been there all day with little to eat or drink. The pain began to get worse, and I was also given some pain meds through the IV.
I got to take a rest in that room for at least an hour or more, and then a nurse came in to take me for an ultrasound, we passed where Norbi was waiting as we went and he joined me again. More waiting outside the ultrasound room, this time in a hallway on slightly more comfortable chairs, they had padding, which made such a difference. The ultrasound technician again had to push right on the site of the pain, though he did apologize about it and was also very kind. After the ultrasound I went back to the room with the six beds to wait some more, I was pretty weak, woozy and just all around crappy feeling, so being able to lay down was such a relief, but I also hated that Norbi couldn’t wait in there with me, as there were other women in the room, so while I needed to lay down, I was also getting more and more weepy and scared.
It was after 10 pm before a doctor finally came and told me I was going to be moved up to the gynecology department. Norbi and I had a little bit of time in another waiting area and we found some vending machines and bought me a tiny bag of pretzels and a croissant as I’d not really eaten since breakfast, plus a bottle of water. I had a pack of tissues in my purse, and Norbi gave me another out of his pocket, so I had two little packs, neither full. I went over a list of things I’d need for him to bring me in the morning, and then we were going up the elevator. It was the grumpy doctor upstairs again, we don’t think he liked having me sent back up to him, when he’d checked me out and found nothing wrong. They still didn’t really say what was wrong, but I was being given antibiotics via the IV and was being monitored. It was quiet and had low lighting as I was shown to my room, it was a smaller room, on the opposite side of the building than the room I’d been in for a few hours. There were only two beds in the room, the one closer to the door was occupied by a youngish looking girl. My bed would be closer to the window, which would prove wonderful in the days to come. I didn’t want to be left alone, and hated that Norbi had to leave me there. Plus, I’d not brought anything except what was in my purse. I was so, so happy I had my pillow. I cried a bit on Norbi’s chest, he prayed with me, went back over the few things he’d bring me in the morning, one last hug and then he left. And I was amazed at how calm I suddenly realized I was. I was not a sobbing mess. The calm felt beyond me and I knew the prayers of so many were being heard, and that Jesus was keeping my emotions in check and giving me Peace, His Peace.
I was able to turn and meet my neighbor, her name was Timi, and she was maybe in her early 20’s, tops. And Timi was another of those small miracles God gave me through this whole adventure. Timi spoke wonderful English. She had had an operation several days earlier, and was also a medical student and was very comfortable in the hospital, she even commented how it was like a field trip, letting her experience some procedures first hand. She loved being there, it gave her a great excuse to miss work and classes, and her friends got to come and visit her. It makes me laugh now to realize what an exact opposite in attitude toward hospitals and doctors Timi was to myself, and I wonder if there has ever been someone so almost excited about a hospital stay as Timi? And there she was, my roommate. God totally has an awesome sense of humor. Timi was also days-established and had plenty of toilet paper that she gladly shared. It was seriously a huge blessing. I was down to counting out my tissues and had figured out I could take ones I’d cried into and blown my nose on and dry them out and then use those for double duty as toilet paper. I might have been supernaturally calm and peaceful, but even then I was still crying some. I was still in pain, and the doctors were still not sure what was wrong, and I was in a big hospital where everyone spoke Hungarian far across town from my husband. I felt alone and scared. Strangely peaceful, but it was like the peace was just keeping the freaking out at bay, I felt I was super close to losing it, and yet was not. Like I’d come close to this abyss, and didn’t have any way of not falling into it, and yet was not actually falling. I was still hurting and horribly, horribly scared, especially as the possibility of a surgery was still just that, a possibility. And yet, my emotions, my fears, even my sore body, seemed far away and blurry that night – like in those movies where the people watch what’s happening to themselves from up above – I was strangely disconnected.
Monday arrived way too early. I discovered why people complain about not being able to rest in hospitals, oh my gosh, they began all the activity by 6 am. The nurse came in and gave me more pain meds. And then the morning rounds for the doctors began, and it was still Dr. Grumpypants from the night before, and he asked me how I felt. I thought he really wanted to know, and so began to describe some of my aches and pains, and he cut me off and told me roughly that there were only three answers to the question, 1)better, 2)worse or 3)the same. I asked, “Better than when?” And he gruffly repeated it like I was a naughty child, “Are you better, worse or the same?” By this point I was near tears but squeaked out that it was better. My pain wasn’t as horrific as it had been most of the day before, so I assumed that was ‘better’ – but I still had so many questions and no one had as yet told me what was wrong or what the antibiotics I was taking were for. So the grumpy doctor leaves and I have to use my last tissues sparingly to recover from my crying fit, praying Norbi brings me plenty of tissues, and soon.
Norbi arrived and I’m afraid I lost hold of some of that Peace, I remember I cried on his chest a bit. And we finally heard some answers, though still not as detailed as I would have liked. I had an infection in my ovary or my fallopian tube, or both. It was caught early and should respond well to antibiotics. I asked often how I had gotten it, where it had come from, none of my questions were ever really answered. It would be days later, after I was home from the hospital and back online that I’d hear from a dear old friend who had had a similar sounding infection many years earlier when she was also living in Hungary, hers had come back and had ended with her needing a D&C and months’ long bed rest. She had seen an American doctor once back in the US who had happened to have family in Eastern Europe and told my friend that these viruses come from unhygienic environments. Hungary has come a long way in past twenty years, but just the simple example of the lack of soap and toilet paper in the public restrooms in the hospital itself is a huge hygiene concern. After learning my friend’s story we deducted that my infection had come from a bath I’d taken in the hotel bathtub two weekends before, at that super rare getaway Norbi and I had been able to take. But while in the hospital we knew none of this, and I would continue to ask each time we talked with a doctor, and continue to have my question ignored.
I would remain in the hospital until Wednesday, and while my sweet roommate was happy to be there, I never really was. We didn’t have a car at this time, and for Norbi to get to me meant his having to take several buses and a huge time chunk out of his work day, plus whatever time he spent there with me. If he forgot to bring something, or brought the wrong something, there’d be no way to fix it until the next day – and both those happened, and were bound to happen. I was extremely weak, and it would have been wonderful to just lay back and watch TV or movies, but there was no way to do that. My kindle had been acting up for some time at this point, and so I didn’t have that option. I instead borrowed Norbi’s iPad to play games on and read, but there was no internet and we’d not loaded any movies onto his iPad, so my entertainment was limited. I had one actual book with me, plus the kindle app on the iPad, but holding either for a long time was tiring, and there weren’t really extra pillows to use to prop anything up. So I did a lot of cloud watching. Again, that small miracle, I was so very, very grateful to have the bed next to the window. And I’d doze and nap, but it was really hard to take a good, proper nap – there was always someone coming or going. I remember on Tuesday I was just falling asleep after the lunch trays had been cleared away and I knew from the day before that it was a quiet stretch in hospital business, when two of Timi’s friends arrived to visit her. So by Tuesday evening when Norbi visited I really, really wanted to go home – mostly so I could actually sleep at that point. My back was also beginning to really hurt, the mattress was not the best, and there was no way to sit up with back support anywhere, it was recline or lay down, or sit on the side of the bed, or stand. And here I guess is where I’m so not Hungarian. I’d keep asking when I could go home, I’d ask a lot of questions in general – including the never answered, how did I get this? Hungarians don’t ask the questions first, they wait to be told something. My roommate didn’t understand my rush to leave either, or why I was asking, she explained once that they’d tell me when it was okay to go home. I had been monitored for three days by Tuesday, had begun taking the antibiotics in pill form on Tuesday morning, so the IV had not been used since Monday. Tuesday night was a low point. My stomach was not as sore anymore, but now the rest of my body ached from the bed, from lack of sleep, plus I was so beyond bored and lonely.
Danny had a dentist appointment Wednesday morning, and then Norbi came over afterward. I think he got there by 10 am or so. We went together to the nurses’ station to ask if we could talk to a doctor about the timeframe at least, and about going home that day. The pain from my stomach was gone, just the soreness from the bruises from all the pushing leftover. But I was weak and getting more and more tired and just sore all over from the mattress. They said they’d let us know and we went back to my room. Norbi was able to spend the day with me this time, he’d brought his own lunch and we picked at my hospital lunch together. He went down to the vending machines and got me an ice tea and a chocolate croissant plus the apples and hardboiled egg he’d brought from home. We played that silly dot game on his iPad. I took a nap while he sat in the hallway and did some emails and phone calls on his phone. By late afternoon we decided to go back to the nurses’ station and hang around until someone gave us an answer. It took a while, and lots of wandering the halls with frequent rest stops on different wooden benches (Hungarian hospitals could keep the wooden bench company in business), but a doctor finally came and talked to us, a nice one who agreed I could keep taking my medications from home. I was to get a checkup in a week, but otherwise it was fine for me to go home. The paperwork would take some time he said, but otherwise that was it. We went back to the room and packed up my collection of stuff that had grown over just a few days. We told Timi I was going home, though we thankfully didn’t begin our goodbyes to her, as it would be several hours before all the paperwork was done. A nurse came and took out the nasty IV ports in my hands – oh the joy of that release! It was dinner time when we arrived home, and I collapsed into my own sweet, precious, glorious bed. We took a taxi home, and it was interesting for me to see where we were and how we’d gotten there, as I’d missed the trip to the hospital. It also took noticeably longer to get home from the hospital, at dinner time on a weekday than it had on that holiday Sunday with the empty streets. Made me realize how blessed we’d been – even though, there’d not been any rush once we arrived.
My healing and recovery took the rest of the month of April, my first real outing was for my sister-in-law’s wedding on April 25th. On top of the initial infection, I ended up with just about every side effect you can get from strong antibiotics, such an unfair insult to injury. I didn’t really feel physically ‘normal’ until the end of May, and even after that, long into summer and fall, things seemed ‘off’ sometimes and I still dealt with minor side effects. And as I shared earlier, our life had one emotionally exhausting event after another all through the year – it’s taken me until now, a full year afterward, to really process all that I felt and experienced. In the 2010 Disney remake of Alice in Wonderland, the one starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, it is often discussed that Alice has lost her ‘muchness’, or that, later, she is ‘much muchier’, or she found her ‘muchness’. That was an ongoing joke with Norbi and I that my hospital stay was building up my muchness. And while there is certainly a lot that is true to that, especially during the long days of Monday-Wednesday, in looking back and remembering it’s brought home so vividly to me that it was not my muchness that mattered at all on Sunday, but rather the Muchness of God who held me up and wrapped me in that state of peace and detachment, enabling me to get through the longest day and night of my recent life – all safe in His arms. Everything was taken out of my control on that Sunday, similar to how I had felt watching our daughter’s health struggles – helpless and beyond our abilities, but this time it was my own health, my own life that I couldn’t control. I didn’t have anything else left to give up. I don’t think it was a test, I don’t know if I believe a loving God would do that, so much as it was a place where I was at the end. We had already moved across an ocean and left so much behind, we had dealt with our kids having extreme struggles in the transition of that move and then just in life itself, we’d sent our 17 year old son back to the US without us, we’d moved once more, this time to a huge city that was a constant drain on my non-city-loving self, our daughter had spent years battling depression, self-hurt and then extreme and scary health issues that sent us into the world of counselors, psychologists, doctors and anti-depressants. I was at the end of what I could handle, at the end of me. And God didn’t ask more of me, instead, he cocooned me through it, cradled me above my fears and set me down on the other side. It was gentle, unexpected and so very loving. It has been a long, long year since last Easter – and I’m anticipating this Easter with an extra measure of gratitude for the sacrifice made on my behalf, for the Love I felt so personally last Easter.