Friday 3rd August, 7.26pm
My hands were shaking as I dialed 111, sat doubled over in pain on the sofa, tears rolling down my cheeks. It took me around half an hour to pluck up the courage to finally ring, after telling myself that the discomfort was only temporary, reminding myself that I was getting on a plane in less than two days, urging my body to just stick with me whilst I took this well-deserved break with the girls. I eventually gave up trying to convince myself. The pain had moved once again, no longer just uncomfortable and sore, but incapacitating and unbearable. It had travelled to the upper left-hand side of my abdomen, nestled right behind my ribs, producing spasms that felt like I was being slowly and continually stabbed from the inside out. I was alone that night, too. Typical. A calming and friendly man answered my desperate call, I stifled back my tears and politely answered his initial questions, grimacing through the pain whilst kneeling on the floor with my head on the arm of the settee;
“Where are you right now?”
“I’m at home”
“Okay and is anyone with you, Jasmine?”
“No, I’m on my own”
“Alright, and would you be able to give me an address for your location in case we need to send a medical team out to you?” … “And what’s your date of birth for me, Jasmine?” … “Has there been any sign of blood loss when passing urine at all?”
Good lord, I hadn’t even told him what was up yet and he practically had enough information to clone me. To be honest, the rest of the conversation is not one I remember very well. All I know is that I purposely attempted to play it down. It was like I’d called for help but didn’t actually want any, I avoided revealing too much just in case the lovely man told me I needed an ambulance, or that, just by what I was saying over the phone, he’d be able to diagnose me with some sort of life-threatening illness.
“Have you any pain in your chest at all?”
“No. Well, it hurts to breathe if that counts” (Yes that counts, you stupid idiot)
13 minutes and 28 seconds of excruciating chat later, I’d been told that I needed to be seen by a healthcare professional within the next six hours. Hmm, twenty to eight. Did I really want to drive myself to Portsmouth at that time, whilst in a serious amount of pain? No. Should I have called for a taxi or asked a friend to take me? Probably. Did I do either of those things? No. My ridiculous answer was no.
I lay down on the settee and shut my eyes. Isla bounded over and nudged me all the way up from my feet to my head, making small squeaky noises as she went. Excellent, I’d managed to convince my fur-baby that I was dying. Not only that, but because she’d been so clever and unbelievably cute, I had a proud dog-mum moment and started crying all over again. There I was, sprawled out in my living room, clutching my rib cage and weeping whilst my small dog tried to lick me back to health.
I sent a list of my symptoms to Ashley and Stephanie, hoping they’d tell me I was being over-dramatic and, if anything, just a bit annoying:
“I’m really hot, my heart rate is quite high, I have pain all across my abdomen, but it’s most painful in the upper left-hand side. It hurts when I breathe in. There’s an underlying pain there constantly, but every so often it gets really bad. I don’t feel particularly sick, but I do feel dizzy and really exhausted. The stomach pain is like a mixture of cramping and stabbing”
Both of them told me to get seen to that night, and when I protested, the pair of them made me promise to go the next day. And that really was the plan – I would get some sleep, I would wake up early, and I would go in the morning. Except, that’s not what I did, instead I was a moron for the 100th time in this tragic tale, and I left it – despite spending the entire night on all fours, in bed, sobbing my delusional heart out because it felt like I was giving birth through my rib cage.
Saturday 4th August
My parents were due back in Fareham in the afternoon. I’d text my mum the night before, letting her know that I’d rang 111 and that it was recommended that I see someone within 6 hours, but that I was going to go in the morning instead. There’s something about mums, isn’t there? As soon as you have a health related crisis they come swooping in like Mary Poppins, forcing the back of their hand onto your forehead saying “my goodness, you’re very warm!” when all you did was stub your toe. Unfortunately, long gone were the days where any amount of Calpol was going to fix this situation, and, actually, when I saw her in the afternoon after not having even attempted to go to the walk-in centre that day, she was far from sympathetic. My logic for not going was a bad one – I simply didn’t want anything to get in the way of me and the girls going to Italy. All three of us needed this holiday; Stephanie was stressed up to her eyeballs at work, Ash hadn’t slept properly since last June, and I’d spent the last four months in pain whilst working a job that had chipped away at the last remaining piece of my sanity. My mum walked past my room to find me hunched on my bed scowling.
“Look at you, you’ve had weeks to sort this and now it’s the day before you fly out and you’re in this much pain. Do you even think you’re going to make it tomorrow? You’ll let the girls down if you don’t go”
Oh lovely. So not only was I dealing with the agony of my insides ganging up on me, I was also being guilt tripped by my own mother about being a bad friend. I started my response to her through a weepy tone, I could feel my lip wobble whilst I tried to find words that would excuse my incredibly poor decision-making. I tried to explain that the pain had eased somewhat during the day, and that I did already have an appointment with my GP for the Wednesday after my return, and that walk-in centres aren’t really suitable for that sort of thing anyway. Thankfully my mum softened, Mary Poppins was back.
“Well we have to do something, darling, you can’t go on like this it’s ridiculous. What about trying a pharmacy? They might be able to give you some advice on what it might be. They might even be able to give you something that makes it all better”
You truly do have to admire her hopefulness. Although at the time I suppose I was also just as hopeful that a simple trip to the pharmacy would provide the antidote to all of my problems. We got in the car and headed to trusty ASDA. ASDA would provide the answer. ASDA wouldn’t deprive me of Italy or pizza or red wine. The pharmacist was dull but helpful, I gave him a very condensed version of the past few weeks, highlighting the most prominent symptoms, reiterating about five times that I was off to Italy in the morning and that I one hundred percent, absolutely could not miss it.
“It sounds to me like it could be a digestive problem given the churning in your stomach”
“Even with the pain in my ribs?”
“Yeah, the pain can travel, especially if you’ve had it for a while. It’s most likely to be indigestion or tapped wind”
Indigestion! Of course it was! Honestly, what on earth had I been so worried about? So I came away with a ruddy great big bottle of Gaviscon, some little Gaviscon sachets that were hand luggage friendly, and a crate of Yakult. Looking back it’s highly amusing really, I was trying to cure cancer with a tiny yogurt drink and an antacid with a main ingredient of seaweed. The thing is, I still wasn’t certain. I was slightly relieved, yes, because I felt as though I could go to Italy with the knowledge that I had at least done something about it before leaving, but indigestion? Trapped wind? Really? Still, I felt fit to go, I text Ash a simple ‘we’re going to Italy, it’s trapped wind’ text, and followed it up with our travel itinerary for the morning. It’s mightily fun travelling with Ash, I plan and organise everything and she turns up when I tell her to. She’ll arrive in Ray-Bans and heels looking beautiful, and I’ll rock up looking primed and ready for a geography field trip – it suits us both down to the ground. (I did however wear heels for our flight to Rome last year, and due to a slight mismanagement of time and my inability to run in 4 inches, we very nearly missed our flight. I blame Ashley due to the fact that she couldn’t decide on which shade of lipstick she desired in duty free).
Sunday 5th August
I thought that Friday night had been the most painful night I was to ever encounter, but I was sorely mistaken. Saturday night had left me with no sleep at all. I was now unable to lean on, touch or even move my left side without being in a hideous amount of pain. It felt like my entire side was bruised, as though I’d been kicked repeatedly in the ribs. Could I see myself flying one thousand miles to Italy? No. Was I still going to go? Of course. Sunday train service from Fareham was shocking, and there was no way I was driving myself to Stansted, even if I’d have wanted to I don’t think for a second that my dad would have allowed it. The plan was for him to drive me to Basingstoke where I’d meet Ash and we’d catch the 07:20 train to Waterloo together. It was an early start, and despite a lack of actual sleep I still struggled to haul myself out of my slumber. I opened my door and sat on the edge of my bed.
“How are you feeling this morning, my love?” My dad looked at me hopefully.
“I feel so much worse. Last night was awful”
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”
“Not really to be honest. But I’m going”
I sat holding my side whilst concentrating on trying to breathe like a normal human for the entirety of the drive. My dad kept glancing over, looking concerned. We finally got to Basingstoke station, and there she was, my fabulous best friend looking glam, albeit slightly worse for wear considering the all-nighter she’d just pulled, getting home only an hour before we were meant to meet. I hugged my dad goodbye, I think he was half hoping that I’d change my mind there and then, but I was still very much set on this Italian trip, pain or no pain. The pair of us laughed as we boarded the train, Ash struggling with her colossal hangover, me trying not to collapse and cry every two seconds. Ash looked at me and tilted her head.
“We really don’t have to go you know. I honestly don’t mind and Steph will understand”
“Don’t be so ridiculous”
“Jasmine, you’re in so much pain!”
“Ash, we’re going on this holiday whether it kills me or not”
And that was that. And no, if I’d have known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have gone, but I’m so glad I did, even if the first 24 hours of the trip did prove pretty darn eventful.
We arrived at Stansted and did the necessaries; Ash had most of her liquids confiscated during security, I was practically overdosing on paracetamol every two seconds, and as soon as we spotted a Boots we genuinely RAN towards it. Both of us desperately required the assistance of a pharmacist – Ash was about to puke her alcohol soaked guts up, and I was just about ready to lie on the floor and announce my retirement from life. Once again, I explained my symptoms to the lady, this time the response was a little less assuring:
“I’m going to give you some Omeprazole and some Codeine, but I’m just concerned because it does sound a little bit like stomach ulcer territory. It would be sensible to get checked out by a doctor”
Oh my, an ulcer? Was that bad? Was travelling a good idea? I knew the answers but I chose not pay attention to them, so I bought the overpriced tablets, ploughed my way through a pretty dissatisfying veggie breakfast, and later boarded the budget flight. Hello Italia! We arrived at our Airbnb feeling exhausted, resulting in a completely undeserved small nap before heading out to discover what Treviso had to offer. By this point I really did feel like shit. The pain in my side was getting even worse and any kind of movement was becoming torture. We walked around the walls of Treviso for what seemed like forever, I was getting slower and slower as the pain in my stomach became intolerable, and I could see that Ash was getting increasingly concerned – a genuine look of stress doused her face every time she looked behind her to see me trailing along. At around the 45 minute mark I clocked a sign for Treviso Hospital, I’d really hoped Ash had seen it too as I was getting pretty desperate. Seconds later Ash turned to me:
“Do you want to go to the hospital?”
We stood still for a minute, hoping that by some miracle there would be a taxi nearby – no such luck. We eventually found a small Tobacco shop and asked the shopkeeper if he spoke English, to which he replied yes. I gave him my phone to call for a taxi, and, I don’t know if it just takes that long to order a car in Italy, but he managed to make the conversation last for TEN minutes. In the end I was just looking at him making theatrical pained faces, hoping to hurry him along. Anyway, we eventually got our taxi. We arrived at the hospital, I checked myself in where I was given a colour and a number, and we sat down to wait. I started to cry:
“I’m so sorry, I’ve ruined everything”
To which my beautiful and incredible best friend replied, “Oh stop it, no you haven’t”
And then she hugged me.
We decided that we should let Stephanie know, she was supposed to be meeting us in Genoa in three days’ time – but it was looking less likely by the second. After a good 3 hours of waiting, a set of observations, a cannula fitting, a drip, blood tests and a urine sample, I was asked back into the assessment room.
“You have a UTI”
Interesting. Not what I was expecting, but definitely a relief. We left the hospital feeling lighter – I had a lovely list of prescribed drugs in my bag, and I wasn’t dying of some awful disease, perfect.
But then, not perfect, because in various parts of my unsuspecting body, I had gatherings of little cells that would once again leave me hospitalised exactly one month later. However this time, a 3 hour stay would turn into 19 days of hell.