Getting sick in a foreign country is never any fun. Well, to be honest, getting sick anywhere isn’t fun. I like to be home where I know my surroundings, where I can have some chicken soup and wrap up in my cozy bed. Where my doctor is a phone call away and he/she knows me and we have a history together. Those are creature comforts that we often don’t think about when traveling.
However, three years ago when my husband and I decided to hit the road we knew this was something we might have to deal with. But being the proverbial optimist that I am, I try to push those thoughts to the back and focus on more exciting things. This time however, it kind of bit me in the ass and knocked me on my feet.
The flu turned bad and as much as I thought I had it under control, it (the flu) had me right where it wanted me. I was incapacitated and not sure what to do. Getting sick when you have Lyme Disease is always an added fear. You can have Lyme Disease and live a fabulous life but once you add in some new parasites…not so good. After not being able to keep things down or in the local doctor, it was suggested that we check into the ER (Emergency Room) to get this under control.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when walking into the ER of a hospital in a foreign country. Let me assure you I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
Once I let go of the thought that I had just walked into a scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was I able to let go of the fear and see the joy and laughter in the situation. After all, I didn’t really have a choice, this illness that had overcome my body was out of my control and I had to let go of the wheel and trust that someone somewhere knew what the hell they were doing because I certainly didn’t.
When I first arrived at the University Hospital in Warsaw, Poland, I was scared and terribly sick. Previous antibiotics which I haven’t taken in over 5 years or more wreaked havoc on my body leaving me with post antibiotic diarrhea. Who knew-it’s a real thing?
The antibiotic treatment also did something else, something that anyone with Lyme Disease fears. The antibiotic treatment woke up my Lyme parasites that were just waiting to come out to play with the newcomers.
I look at these parasites as the friend that each one of us has. You know the one, the friend that kind of rubs you the wrong way but is good to take to a party. Lyme spirochetes are the same way. They’re in my body and if I practice good self-care and keep positive thoughts I can kind of put them in a trance where we can co-exist together. Certainly, this is not in scientific terms but hopefully it is an explanation that you can relate to instead of me using all the “scientific” terminology.
Once I screw things up, push myself too hard, stress myself out, don’t get enough sleep, forget to have fun and see joy in life then my immune system breaks down and guess who wants to come out to play?
So, as I could have felt sorry for myself – which I have to admit I did for a minute or two- I then looked around to see the staff working so hard to communicate with me and make me comfortable. I was in a university hospital full of professors and student resident’s eager to make sure that the “token American” was well taken care of. They certainly didn’t want to have this case go awry.
After I was all checked in and thankfully in a room instead of on a bed in the hallway, which there were plenty of (patients in beds in the hallway-I mean), they began to administer drugs to stop the intense pain. I cannot take away the fact that I was in a hospital in a foreign country and scared to death but with so much out of my control I really had to just had to “let go and let God” as the saying goes.
In my room there were no gadgets, no machines that I was hooked up to, no noise or distractions. The staff were diligent, kind and mindful of my situation of being in a foreign country. Sleep was what they wanted me to do. So, they took their readings to make sure that I was safe and out of danger but rest and comfort was of utmost importance.
Being a birth doula in the US I have had an opportunity to be in many hospitals. The noise, the machines, the computer screens which at times seem to be more important than the person in the bed were none existent here. It was refreshing and for some reason made me feel safe. I felt at least they have looked into my eyes, they understand their job, they are passionate about their profession. Now, I am not saying that hospital staffs in America do not know their jobs or are not passionate. I am only referring to how this tactile interaction made me feel.
After a day and a half, the pain subsided and I was able to get up and out of bed. I needed to move these toxins around and not let them get too comfortable but leaving my little clean but sparsely decorated room meant there was a whole new world waiting for me.
In Poland, as in the rest of the EU countries, hospital care is free. It’s good care, but not always pretty. I had to get over the looks of things and realize that it was the care that was important, not how pretty the hallway looked. So, instead of counting how many lights were out in the hallway, I took the opportunity to take a deeper look into the eyes of the other patients that I passed along the way.
Instead of focusing on the fact that if I wanted to watch television I had to pay for it in two-hour increments, I used this time to get acquainted with my roommate, who spoke no English, and began practicing some new Polish words with her. She was overjoyed and we certainly had some laughs and found that we could communicate on some level even though it wasn’t always through words.
The care I received was expert. My room immaculate though the only decoration was a cross on the wall, which interestingly enough made me feel like I wasn’t alone. The food-once I was allowed was wholesome and good.
After some blood draws and a USG of my stomach and intestines all we knew was that my intestines were inflamed but still were unsure of the cause.
On Saturday evening as I was wheeled out of my room-still in my hospital bed looking up at the ceiling as I rolled down the windy corridors from Building D to Building A, I noticed the broken ceiling tiles, the fluorescent lights that needed to be replaced, and thought where the hell am I.
As we traversed through building after building winding our way from my safe hospital room to where my CT Scan would be performed I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. I had to remember to breathe. From somewhere deep inside I could hear my first meditation teacher saying -take 3 deep breaths in and out so you can feel your belly rise. I listened to those words and let the emotion subside so I could be present and enjoy the ride-so to speak.
Soon after we were met by a young man who ushered us through a set of double doors. It was like a scene from The Wizard of Oz as Dorothy comes over the hillside for the first time and sees Emerald City.
It was like I had entered into a fantasy land. There was state of the art everything. Beautiful murals on the wall with lovely lighting. The ceiling and walls were in perfect condition and quite artfully designed. I laughed at myself to think “how American of me” to be fooled by my ride through the corridors. The money was spent where the money needed to be. I realized how quickly judgments pop into my mind seemingly to come from nowhere.
We are programmed in America to have hospitals and doctor offices adorned with beautiful paintings on the wall. The hospitals mission statement with smiling faces all around it. Beautiful surroundings and furnishings with all the bells and whistles. Free TV! But that doesn’t come FREE. I was reflecting on this throughout my visit. The care and machinery was no different. The brand names on the newly purchased CT Scan, USG or X-ray machine was either German or American and new. So, if the American healthcare system is going to change, then we are going to have to change our expectations as well. It’s only fair, don’t you think?
Why does the hospital room in American have free tv or a tv at all? Why am I monitored with noisy machinery during my visit, is it really necessary or just a legal protection? I’m just asking…I don’t have the answers…it’s just notices.
On Monday, they needed to perform a “short colonoscopy” to see if there were any abnormalities. Being Monday morning in a university hospital brought with it the entourage of the student apprentices in all areas, from doctors, nurses, pharmacists, you name it, they were there and usually five or six deep.
Being that I needed a “short colonoscopy” that comes with an enema. So, roll yourself over missy and let me have at it. I had to laugh. What else could I do? I wish you could have seen the faces of these students. I, happen to love enemas and use them all the time to control my toxicity levels, so this was nothing new to me except for the fact that I had an audience. I felt like at least this is something that I know how to do so no need to worry.
As usual, you hold an enema for as long as you can before relieving yourself. Which is just what I did. This time however, something went wrong. In the bathroom, my insides burned, hives began to cover my body, I was in excruciating pain. I yelled for my husband who gasped as he burst through the door.
He immediately alerted the nurse who happened to be in the room and she ran for the doctor. Two doctors showed up immediately and ordered cortisone injections as the first thought was an allergic reaction. All we could do was wait. I had to pull it together, there was nothing anyone could do but wait. Breathing, focusing, waiting. What seemed like eternity finally passed. The hives dissipated, the pain subsided. My husband ushered me back to my bed, exhausted and emotionally spent. I slept.
Two hours later it was time for the colonoscopy. All I could do was wish that “Scotty” would “beam me up” and get me out of here, instead I was lead down the hallway. The procedure was executed by the professor of the department. He was kind and spoke a little English and tried his best to make me feel comfortable.
Tuesday morning comes around and the doctor comes in to tell my husband and I of all the findings. I’m thinking to myself, it will be so great to have some answers. Instead, yet again, the bugs win. The tests are clear, I am healthy. My heart sinks. The Lyme spirochete and its co-infections are so clever that they are able to mask themselves as regular cells so that they cannot be detected. This is where the problem lies.
So as the doctor writes up my dismal papers and allows me to go home I only have more questions instead of answers. The medical profession has its hands full with this one. Lyme Disease is smart. It shows up differently on different people at different times. It leaves us frustrated, mad, feeling alone.
But life must go on and for moments other than this I can honestly say that I have a good life. Although I have no answers, I have the hope that tomorrow will bring some further understanding as I search for clarity and perspective.
Certainly, I hope and pray that I never have to go through this ordeal again. I am grateful for the experience to yet again view my judgements of others or of my surroundings and learn from them. I am thankful for the staff that so tirelessly and with expert hands took care of me. I am in deep gratitude of my husband who at a moment’s notice is ready to be by my side in yet another episode of life with Lyme Disease. And I am beholden to the country of Poland where I lovingly call home to have a free health care system that although may not always be pretty it will also never bankrupt me or put me in financial danger. My four night stay with expert care = $0. Grateful, yes.