(Vsetín, Zlinsky Kraj, Česká republika)- [I started writing this on the 5th Sunday in Lent (6 April) then I got distracted. It happens frequently to me. “Oh look, a shiny thing…” Anyway, so it’s Tuesday morning now and I am catching up and yes the shiny thing was pretty. The Gospel on Sunday as you recall (there will be a test) was all about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. So I thought I would make a comparison to my time in the hospital to this miracle. In case you’re wondering yes I do think I am Gospel material. Here is the account started on Sunday.] Like Lazarus I have risen from a deep sleep this morning after two nights and two and a half days in the Nemocnice Vsetín (Vsetín Hospital). Well not completely like Lazarus, he died and I am still alive…wait…let me check…yes still alive. We have a pulse!
Thursday 3rd of April
I had gone in to the hospital on Thursday for an arthroscopic surgery on my gimpy knee which was scheduled for the next day, Friday. Why the day before? I don’t know. I still don’t know. But that is the way of things here deep in Moravia. I bunked with two other men apparently in for the same type of operation. Did I tell you that neither of them spoke English? Well, neither of them spoke English. One of them had “Google Translate” on his phone so when the student nurses came in to tell us to do something he was nice enough to type the instructions into his phone so I would know what was happening. The bathroom and shower was across the hall, the TV was coin operated and initially I had no Wi-Fi. So with the language barrier (I was the alien in the room) I kept pretty quiet writing in my journal from time to time and waiting for food and occasionally going outside to sit on a bench. Since I neglected to ask what to bring to the hospital I was towel-less and PJ-less. I was provided with these items. I haven’t worn PJ’s since I was in elementary school. At least it wasn’t your typical hospital gown open at the back and flapping in the wind. Jana and Honzik made my afternoon by dropping by for a visit and helping me to practice my English.
Friday 4th of April
No food or drink from midnight and the operation was scheduled for 10 am…or so they said. The night was punctuated by the incredible snoring of one of the men in my room. The sound woke me up several times during the night. I can only describe it as sounding like two, not one, bears fighting over some food. It rattled the windows. So what they say about hospitals is true. If you don’t want to sleep, go to a hospital. The student nurses came in early and gave all of us two pills. One to settle the stomach and one for anti-anxiety before the operation. I have to tell you that the anti-anxiety pill (I still don’t know what it was) sent me into orbit. They could have amputated all four limbs and I wouldn’t have cared much. Talk about a flash-back to the days when I still had hair on my head and all of my teeth. I felt like singing “When the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars…” I must find out what it was so I can have a supply, you know…just in case I get anxious or something. I mean, it’s always good to be prepared.
I was brought up for my spinal anesthetic around 10.45 am and felt my legs go completely numb. The operation itself took all of a half hour. I couldn’t see the surgeon nor could I feel whatever he was doing but I could hear him laughing. I’m not sure what he was laughing at but being me I was sure it was at my expense. My anesthesiologist who spoke some English was telling me what was happening, but I still really didn’t understand all of it. Afterwards my legs felt like lead for another 4 hours or so. Now I have a slight insight into what people with spinal cord injuries must endure everyday. I would focus my mind on trying to move my toes and nothing worked. It was freaky. Back in my room I was hungry since my last meal was 5 pm the day before. My colleague and friend Susan came to visit and brought some contraband pastries still warm from the oven for me. I inhaled them. So good… Jana came by later and was kind enough to lend me her smart phone to use as a “hot spot” for my computer so I was able to reconnect with the world. What a life-saver. So when I woke up in the night to the polar bear asleep next to me I was able to watch some movies until I was able to doze off again. I realized once again that it is the small things that make a difference. Here I am in a country far away from home in a hospital unable to communicate with my room mates and didn’t feel lonely. I guess I have become comfortable with where I am and who I am with, English or no English. Friends make the difference.
Saturday 5th of April
Going home day! The nurse had brought me in a few pain killers during the night which helped a lot. Again, English was not the language of the day but she did manage to explain to me that if I needed pain killers to ask for “ow-ow” pills. Sometimes simple English makes more sense in context. My used-to-be-favorite doctor came in this morning to check on the stitches and change the dressings and was chipper and pleasant. He spoke English which was very helpful. I say “used-to-be” because as he was chatting away he jabbed a needle directly into my knee to drain the blood out. He didn’t tell me he was going to do it he just did. I hit the ceiling and at least three floors above me. It really hurt. But to his credit, after about 20 minutes I was walking better. It just would have been nice to have him say, “This is going to hurt a little (well maybe hurt a lot!).” I was given my ”walking papers” to give to my GP, I said good-bye to my bunk mates and shuffled off into Saturday morning. My friend Hana was kind enough to pick me up and drive me back to my flat. She fed me delicious homemade soup which hit the spot. Lance, Jana and Lucas dropped by that afternoon and it was just nice to sit and chat for a while. I was happy to be back in my flat and my own bed and the peace and quiet of my neighborhood. That night I fell into a deep sleep.
Tuesday 8th of April
After returning to school yesterday I was amazed at the absence of the pain I had known for so long this year. I could put on my pants without pain. Put on my shoes without pain and climb stairs without pain. I was even able to walk over to my GP to deliver the report to him, albeit slowly and stiffly without the jarring pain I felt for so long. I know I am getting older and things don’t work as well as they used to, but this reprieve from chronic pain is a godsend. I suppose I could have asked for a private room at the hospital with a private bathroom and all but that would be typically “American” and at this point in my life in this country that is not mine I felt I could forgo that. Even with some of the draw backs it was still a good to experience socialized medicine. It does seem to work. And to the many folks who supported me and gave me encouragement during this time, your self-less gift was greatly appreciated. I would be hard pressed to reciprocate in kind. I know this sounds cheesy but like Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus who told the guys “unbind him [Lazarus] and let him go” (Jn 11 ff) I feel ready to go too, unbound and maybe healthy enough to dance a little bit…well maybe. But first I must find out what those anti-anxiety pills were.
…and so it goes