Friday, September 12, 2008

Surving an Italian Ospedale

September 11, 2008

Yet again, this post is coming late, but I haven't had as much time as I thought and our internet here kind of sucks. Anyway, as the title implies, my "stomach flu" in Lucca turned out to be a little more serious and I ended up in the hospital here in Padova. I'll try not to go into too much detail, but as awful as the experience was, I feel like it's something I'll want remember.
I took the train to Padova on Thursday, a day late, but feeling so much better. Unfortunately, that night things took a turn for the worse, and I woke up Friday morning with a high fever and pain in my abdomen. I was supposed to meet at 9am for an EAP activity, followed by the placement exams (those very exams that EAP insisted I did not miss because they could not be made up - although I have no idea why not). I was totally not feeling up to it so I called the Study Center and told them I didn't feel well, and they told me to stay in bed a while longer and just come for the test around noon. Well by noon I only felt worse, not to mention the Study Center is like a 20 minute walk from the dorm and I was far too weak to go even a couple blocks at that point, so I ended up calling a taxi. I barely found the right building and then struggled up four flights of stairs. By the time I got to the actual Study Center I felt terrible and I knew my fever was really high. Even my fingers had started to go numb! But of course, they still made me take the placement test, delirious as I was with the fever. After I called my aunt, crying because I felt so terrible and didn't know what to do. She told me to see a doctor asap and if I couldn't do that to go to the hospital. I told Margaret I needed to see a doctor, which she arranged for me, but in two hours' time. On the verge of passing out, I knew I couldn't wait that long, so I opted to go to the ER (called pronto soccorso). Maybe she was just unaware of how badly I actually felt, but she simply walked me downstairs, called me a taxi, and sent me on my way, by myself, to an italian hospital! Luckily when I got there a woman waiting offered to translate me; even though I can get by with my Italian usually, I obviously am not familiar with medical terms. When I finally got in, they gave me an IV with fluids for dehydration and meds for my fever. As I had expected, my fever was skyhigh - 103 degrees! They even did an ultrasound to check out my insides! I fell asleep for a few hours and when I woke up, my fever had gone down and I felt a bit better. My doctor gave me some prescriptions for various medicines, then sent me on my way (again, alone in a taxi....I think I spent about 30 euro on fucking taxis that day).
Over the weekend things got worse. Being in the dorm with hardly any one around who could help me, unable to eat or drink anything, was really hard. My suitemate was really sweet and offered to go out and get my meds from the farmacia for me, but after taking them for a while they weren't helping. At that point I was just in a really bad place. Literally on my own, confused as to why I was taking all these meds and only getting worse, meanwhile it seemed like no one really believed how bad I was. Saturday night my aunt called and tried to arrange for me to get picked up by the guardia medica to go back to the hospital. I called Maggie and told her this, so she came to wait at the dorms with me, but when they got there, they said they were only instructed to take me to get my prescriptions (I'm still not sure why, since I had already got them). Anyway, Maggie kept telling them I was just "poco malata", a little sick, and they kept saying they would not take me to the hospital, meanwhile I was frustrated as hell. After they left, they gad a doctor come to the dorms. This really awful woman shows up, goes through my bag of medicines, throwing each one out saying "You need to take these, you have to take these or they won't help" to which I told that I had been and they weren't helping. She wrote me a stronger prescription for the one for my stomach, gave me an injection for something, and then she and Maggie both left me.
That weekend in the dorm was hard. I still wasn't feeling better, was unable to eat or drink anything, immobilized with pain at night and thus unable to sleep, and constantly in the bathroom despite the meds they gave me. My fever had come back, and I was starting to become pretty weak. It was actually a pretty scary situation as I was severely sick at that point, in a foreign country, and the people who I'm supposed to ask for help didn't seem to think there was much wrong. For a couple days I had actually noticed blood when I went to the bathroom, which I know is a sign of something serious, so I called my aunt and told her this, along with the other details of my situation, like how I hadn't been able to eat, the cramps, etc. She must've called Maggie, because Monday morning I got a call from her telling me she was coming to pick me up to take me back to the hospital! I grabbed a few things just in case they decided to keep me over night, and felt such a sense of relief that I was no longer alone with this whole thing.
I was pretty weak at that point, and while we were in the waiting room I started to pass out, so they took me in right away. They were obviously concerned about the blood and the length of time my symptoms had lasted, so they sent me to the gastroenterology department, suspecting something with my intestine. Based on my info and symptoms, the specialist believed I had a severe intestinal infection and needed to stay for some tests and observations.
Well let's just say that my overnight stay to "run some tests" turned into 9 awful days spent in the hospital! I kid you not; looking back, the whole experience still seems unreal. One of the most memorable (and not necessarily in a good way) parts was my room, which I shared with 3 very old italian women. They were nice enough, but in the end I hated them all, but it wasn't all their fault. I think being cooped up with anyone for that long, in those circumstances would make me hate them. But, these still women gave me plenty of reasons to want to smother them with their pillow. That first night, I slept hardly a wink due to the unbelievable sounds coming out of these women's mouths; I have never heard snoring like that in my life, it seriously sounded like they were taking their last breath of life! They also talked about me because they thought I didn't understand. Nothing mean really just talking about my being foreign, not changing into pajamas at night, etc. One sort of nice aspect having them in my room was that their families came to visit them every evening around dinner, and they were all very sweet to me, but it also made me miss my friends and family. Maggie came to see me for a bit the first few days and brought me some books, but other than that I was alone.
The language was much more of a barrier than I would've expected. I think the staff thought I spoke and understood very little, and as a result, they never told me anything about my situation, which was probably the most frustrating part of the whole experience. For example, by Tuesday morning I was feeling a little better from the antibiotics they'd been pumping into me, and after not eating for 4 days at that point, I actually had a little appetite, and yet when the meals came that day, there was never anything for me. It wasn't until a few days later that I found out they had wanted me to abstain from eating for a bit so they could observe me on an empty stomach. They also never bothered to tell me the results of tests, or even why they were doing them in the first place. Basically the whole time I felt lost, confused, angry, and frustrated. Luckily my aunt started calling the hospital and speaking with my doctor, and could then give me updates on my status, but I still think that's fucked up. They could've found ways to explain things to me, especially considering I understood a lot more of what they said than they thought.
They kept telling me I couldn't go home until I had a certain test, which of course kept getting pushed back; first it was supposed to be Wednesday, then it was Friday. Then they told me I could go home for the weekend and come back Monday for the test; then they decided it was better for me to stay until Monday. I can't tell you how frustrating this was, getting my hopes up about getting out of that damned place, only to be disappointed time and time again. I had my first breakdown Wednesday evening when the worst nurse on the staff (whom I christened the bitch nurse, with good reason), came in to switch my IV from the bend in my left arm to my right wrist. The IV had a lot of this horribly sticky tape surrounding it, and let's just say when she pulled it off she was not gentle. Anyone who knows me knows I have a high pain tolerance, but when she took that tape off, I absolutely broke out in sobs. She took her sweet time, even as I cried and pulled my arm away, clearly in a lot of pain. When it was finally off, I could see that she had actually taken off a layer of skin with the tape! I think the combination of the pain and all the emotions I had been bottling up for the past few days was my breaking point. I still had a few more mini-breakdowns before I left, but nothing quite so bad.
I was finally allowed to eat lunch Wednesday, and was so hungry at that point that the hospital food was actually good. For the first few days it seemed like all I was eating was potatoes: pureed, boiled, with oil, without. But I quickly learned which things on the menu were safe and actually decent, like the pasta and rice, so I didn't eat too terribly while I was there. At least they were balanced meals, right? Thursday evening I was surprised by a visit from my friend Gabi. Maggie had asked if I had any friends I wanted her to inform about where I was, and I told her Carly and Gabi, but I guess she hadn't told any of the students anything. According to Gabi and Carly (who came later along with Justine), they had assumed I was still in my room sleeping when they had come knocking on my door. Up til then I had thought they just couldn't or didn't want to come visit; I hadn't really expected them to come actually, but I was a little sad that I hadn't even gotten a call or text from them. They finally found out I was in the hospital when Gabi mentioned something to Maggie and she nonchalantly responded with where I was. It was such a relief to have them come visit me the next several evenings. It was especially nice because I as able to have them bring me things from my dorm which I hadn't thought to bring since I hadn't expected a 9 day stay. We would go for short walks outside, and just being able to chat and laugh, get some fresh air, and be around people who genuinely care about me made a world of difference; every day I looked forward to the visits.
Boredom hit me pretty hard, too. My teacher had given me a few exercises from the book to do, but I quickly finished those. I passed most of my time reading or napping (those damn women didn't let me get a good nights sleep the whole time I was there). I went through 4 books while I was in the hospital, each about 300+ pages, and the majority of them weren't exactly quality literature. Meals sadly became the highlights of my day, along with the hot nurse I called the Russian because he looked more Swedish than Italian (Russian was the first thing I thought of though and it stuck). Being in a foreign hospital definitely left me with some interesting stories though. Most are thanks to my lovely roommates. One night I discovered that the woman in the bed next to me talks and mumbles in her sleep, so loudly that I couldn't sleep many times. All the old ladies also wore diapers, and one night the one next to me actually shat herself! I know this is actually kind of sad, but imagine waking up at 6am and smelling something foul, only to open my eyes and discover this 87 year old woman having her diaper changed. After I had been there a few days, the mother-in-law of one of the old ladies realized she didn't know my name, but when I told her, she said it wasn't a name! I tried pronouncing it as Raquel, which most italians do, but she still said no, and told me she would just call me Laura!! My doctor was also really funny. He spoke really terrible English, in fact I understood his Italian better. Sometimes when he would try to explain something to me, I would have him talk to Gina on the phone and then she would translate for me. The funny thing is that he knew she was my aunt, zia in italian, but he kept referring to her as my uncle in English! I tried to correct him several times but eventually just gave up. One final not-funny-at-all story is about the woman who replaced the pooing woman next to me my last night there. She was this little tiny shriveled old woman who literally slept all day. Around 4am in the morning, I woke up to what I would have sworn was banshee, screaming at the top of her lungs, "Maria, Maria, Maria" over and over. Who the hell Maria was I have no idea, but the fact that something that loud could come out of something so small was unbelievable; I've never heard anything like it, I thought she must be dying. And of course, the nurses took their sweet time to come shut her up. But instead of giving her something to sleep, they did nothing and the screams literally continued until 7am, alternating "Maria" with "infermiera" and "Piero". I was so close to smothering her screams with a pillow, and at one point I had to yell shut up, in English, which of course no one understood but it couldn't be helped. In the morning the other three of us in the room were beyond pissed since none of us had been able to sleep. Thank God I only had to deal with her for that one night, I don't think I could've handled anything more.
As the days passed, things got really frustrating since I started to feel perfectly fine again. But then I found out that my infection and caused complications with my pancreas and liver. I guess certain levels in my blood test showed abnormalities, so they wanted to keep me and run more tests to try and get more concrete answers. To this day, they still don't know exactly what happened or what I had. The best guess is that my infection caused me to develop pancreatitis. There aren't any symptoms, which is why I was feeling fine, but it's still kind of serious so they couldn't release me. They ran several blood tests everyday, including screening for hepatitis (I had a mini-panic attack when I heard them mention this), but most things came back negative. When Monday finally came, I got to do my wonderfully uncomfortable gastroenterological test, which I am trying to block from my memory and thus am not mentioning further. The very nature of my problem was uncomfortable; the questions, the tests, everything. All I can say is I wouldn't wish my experience on my worst enemy.
I have to thank God for my aunts. Not only did they call me several times a day, but they were constantly calling the hospital to find things out for me and relay any requests I had to them. I don't think I could have made it through the experience without their comfort, help, and support. I'm also thankful to my parents for calling so often, especially knowing how worried and helpless they must have felt being so far away.
I finally was allowed to go home Wednesday, partly because I told them I was leaving that day whether they released me or not. I honestly could not have stayed in that damn place another day without going insane. My tests were still very abnormal, so my doctor arranged for me to come in every Friday for a month to do follow-up blood tests and also made me an appointment with one of the top gastroenterological specialists in Italy at the end of this month, so I'm really hoping I'll find out that everything has gone back to normal at that point. The biggest downside to this whole ordeal is that while my intestines, liver, and pancreas are recovering, I can't eat certain foods (not an easy thing to do here since I live in dorms and have few veggie options in the mensa) so my diet has been less than ideal lately. And the worst part: I'm not allowed to drunk alcohol for an undetermined amount of time!! Not that I want to go out and get wasted, but I can't even have a glass of wine with dinner or the famous Padova drink spritz when I go out : ( I'm not such an avid drinker that avoiding alcohol is an impossible task, but I have plans to go the Oktoberfest the first weekend of October, and there's no way I can abstain from beer while I'm there! I feel like that would go against the laws of the universe. So I'm really hoping that when I see the specialist at the end of the month all my tests will be normal and I'll have the green light to at least drink a couple beers : )
As much as my experience in the ospedale sucked, it was certainly interesting and something I'll remember for a long time. I guess looking back it might even make a good story. It was certainly a side of Italy most foreigners never get to see. Again I'm so thankful to everyone who called, visited, or just sent me messages of concern and support! They made a tough situation much easier to handle. So now I'm back in class (only having missed 1 1/2 weeks out of 4weeks!) and exploring more of Padova as I slowly get my energy back. I know this post was kind of dull compared to my others, but I wanted to let people know what I was up to during my first week in Padova. Hopefully more exciting posts (with pics!) to come in the near future!

Un bacione per tutti!

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