Friday, June 03, 2011

A week-end spent in a hospital

This past week I have had the chance to experience something new, a stay at a hospital. The event was not entirely negative. Here is a recollection of the sequences of events.

In spring 2010, I contacted my local health centre about recurring diarrhea and stomach pains. I had been having problems for a year, but after a positive test for lactose intolerance, I was pretty sure cutting off milk products would do the trick.
After additional tests for various food allergies, some of which were slightly positive, I was sent to a coloscopy and a gastroscopy. The examination itself did not show much, and I went back home with the diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrom (IBS). Further analysis of collected samples showed however some form of inflammation. So did my blood samples, showing low levels of B vitamins.

All this lead to getting an appointment with a specialist at Södersjukhuset in Stockholm during autumn. Further analyses and blood samples did not really clarify the situation, I went back home with a somewhat uncertain diagnosis of ulcerative colitis.

Winter went well, but around mid-march, my troubles started again, on and off. In a desperate attempt to ease the symptoms, I simply stopped eating, keeping myself to water in order to avoid dehydration. Here is some good sensible piece of advice if you are having similar problems and considering fasting as a solution: Don't do it. Although it seemed it was working for me the first time, a relapse quickly came, and this time my body had no reserves to get over the flare.

I contacted my specialist and was invited to come in the next day at 7.30 for some analyses and possibly taking part in an experimental treatment. The treatment would involve filtering my blood of substances that trigger inflammation.

I showed up the next day at the hospital, where examination showed I was in no shape for the treatment. It was also not clear if ulcerative colitis was the cause. I was admitted and administered intravenous cortisone and nutrients.

The cortisone had immediate effect, relieving the pains and burns. Getting normal stools took about a week. The intravenous nutrients got me back on my feet after one night.

I was released after 5 days, during which I exclusively ate soup, lactose-free "filmjölk", hi-carb food supplements and "Skorpor". It may not sound like the most savory meals, but after what I went through, they tasted exquisite. This episode has had me rediscover and appreciate food to levels I had forgotten. Eating, and tasting, is a simple yet intense pleasure I had forgotten.

Doctors and nurses were fantastic. Although obviously very busy, they took the time to answer questions. I think I'm an easy patient, never complaining. Not all patients behave that way (which is understandable, some spend a lot of time in care, which can get boring and tiresome, I imagine), nevertheless nurses were always in a good mood and showed patience.

The state of the building and in particular its cleanliness is horrendous, though. It is infuriating to see what recent governments and their budget cuts are inflicting to health care. You would expect that a department filled with patients with digestive troubles would have their toilets and bathrooms cleaned up regularly. I have seen cleaner toilets in football dress rooms. As far as I could tell, toilets were rinsed once a day. Judging by the smell, they were not properly cleaned or disinfected. Happily, hand-disinfectant dispensers were available everywhere, and I made heavy use of those. Visitors are well advised to do so as well.

I spent a night in a single room, then the rest of the stay in a room of four. I'm a bit mixed about that. I think there are advantages to being four in a room, namely social contacts. It's probably better than being two, as two incompatible people can easily get on each other's nerves. When it comes to sleeping, nothing beats single rooms.

I'm sad I did not take pictures from my window, because it was fantastic. It offered a view over Årstaviken, a water area separating Södermalm (one of Stockholm's islands) to the mainland on the south. When you have little energy to do anything and a lot of time, being able to look at the forest on the opposite bank and boats sail by is valuable. Here is a picture grabbed from another blog, to give you an idea.

All in all, the experience was positive. I am now back at home with a leave of sickness, enjoying some relaxing time and salivating at my next meal. Contact with a team of competent doctors and nurses has been tightened, making me better prepared for future flares, which I know will come. Having an official diagnosis for my constant level of tiredness these past years is also comforting.

Big thanks to my family also for constantly checking up on me from a distance. I live in Sweden, they live in France, and they must have felt frustratingly powerless. I felt your support nevertheless, and be assured I was in good hands. Thanks also to my friends who brought me clean clothes and my laptop, and paid me a long visit on Sunday. By the way, the hospital has a free wifi which I found very valuable; it was fast enough to sustain streaming a movie from (mobile phone coverage, on the other hand, was shaky). My employer was also very quick to send me beautiful flowers, it's nice feeling the workplace is not just all about work, but people too.