Today (Saturday 27th January) marks six months since I was admitted to A&E in Italy, where I was spending what was meant to be a relaxing family holiday! Spending it in hospital was not exactly what any of us had in mind. My friend Laura, who has just qualified as a nurse (well done Laura!) asked me to share some of this experience – I think it’s probably the most unusual part of this whole thing!
I’d been unwell for quite a few months, but I had only really started having headaches since about May, and they weren’t constant. They were also helped by paracetamol so I, perhaps naively, assumed that they couldn’t really be anything serious. I was much more concerned about the joint pain, particularly in my knee and my back, and then increasingly by my lack of appetite. I’m not always sure what was related to the tumour and what was something else, and so I don’t know when everything started. I ended up in A&E twice in May, both times in Glasgow after fainting in public, and it was put down to stress. So as we had a holiday to Italy booked, and had been told that I was under stress, I left the books behind and set out for time with good food, sun and the Italian lakes. I’ve always been a more cold weather kind of person (Stockholm remains my favourite place that I’ve been to, partly because of the snow while I was there!) and most of what I remember about Italy was that it was very, very hot, even with air conditioning!
The actual time in Italy is a bit of a traumatic blur – by the time I ended up in A&E I wasn’t really in any fit state to remember what was going on. On the Tuesday I saw the local GP equivalent, and then by the time I hadn’t improved on Thursday, I went to a smaller hospital where I was put pretty much straight into a CT scan. Apparently my heart rate increased to 243 when I was told that there was something in my head and I was being transferred to a different hospital by helicopter… I wasn’t even aware it was possible for a heart rate to go that high! Fortunately in the end I was transferred but by a normal ambulance, and I didn’t need to be blue-lit, which made an incredibly stressful experience slightly less so.
The next morning, I had surgery to remove the built up fluid in my brain – this was the first time I’d been under general anaesthetic and also (I think) my first time having major surgery. Because it happened so quickly I didn’t really have enough time to get nervous though, which I think helped. I ended up having to stay in Italy for longer than planned because the insurance company took longer than hoped, but fortunately my mum was able to stay with me (well, in a very nearby hotel!) so I wasn’t alone in a different country. The language barrier was probably my biggest issue – funnily enough, Italian GCSE doesn’t focus on medical Italian! Lots of the medical staff did speak English though, as did one or two of the other patients. If I’d been in a better mental place, I might have been able to pick up some more Italian, but as it was, it wasn’t really very high on my list of priorities!
I did get to enjoy some of the holiday before ending up in hospital – most memorable was Venice, and while I have no plans to go back to Italy, I certainly don’t blame it for my diagnosis (if anything, it meant I actually *got* diagnosed)! This summer, though, I’m quite glad we’ve decided to stick with a UK holiday!