Having lived abroad, one of the thing I miss is universal health care. Though when I ceased being a student that doesn’t apply either but that’s another story. So, Indonesia, my wonderful and lovely home country doesn’t yet have a comprehensive health plan like the NL or UK has. If you’re sick you gotta pay. No money, no doctor. Or as the general public would say, “Poor people are not allowed to be sick over here!” Or so the conventional wisdom goes. Well in practice it is not as cold as that, hospitals do help people without money, there is some form of medical help for those without insurance but it is sealed thick with bureaucratic tape etc etc etc. Well, as it turned out, not going to the doctor when sick is not just the poor’s domain, but also lots of other better off people. For example : my mom.
Now, my mom. Ok, we’re not terribly rich but, Alhamdulillah, better off than most people. We have roof over our head, 3 square meals per day, etc. So we could afford a simple doctor’s appointment when needed plus she does have insurance courtesy of my dad’s work. But my mom, she is not one to cry pain at a moments notice so if she felt something is wrong, most of the time she brush it off. When she’s sick and I offered to take her to the gp, she mostly refused. She’d said it’s nothing let’s have lunch instead. Well, most of the time it is nothing, until this time, it is not.
My mom had felt some pain during the week, but as usual brush it off as stomach flu or ate bad food. Come Wednesday she felt really ill so very early morning she went to the ER because of massive stomach pain. We all got called, that dreaded early morning call. After arranging our household affairs, my sister and I were promptly at the ER around 8 am. Then with the three of us there (my brother was the one to take my mom to the ER) the doctor proceed to explain their action plan. Initial tests result from the ER doc requires him to consult the Internist. The Internists suspected they might need to operate, thus he consulted with a surgeon. Due to her age, the surgeon then proceed to order ever more tests just to be sure.
My mom undergoes a series of blood test, USG, x-rays, and finally, CT Scan of the abdomen. She also got checked by a cardio doctor (is that what you called a heart specialist?) and lung doctor. After all the results came in, the team of doctors don’t actually know what was wrong with my mom. They suspect it could be appendicitis, but it could be something else since the tests were inconclusive – it’s just conclusive that something is seriously wrong. The only way to figure out what’s really wrong is surgery.
The surgeon and the internists (there’s 2, abdomen and lung, remember?) came up with a plan, first they are going to do a laparoscopy, it’s minimally invasive and would let them take a peek to find out the problem. If it is appendicitis, it would only take around 30 min to fix. If its something else, they ask permission to do laparotomy or actual cut open surgery which they estimate would take around 2 hours. We agreed, signed the consent form and pray for the best.
Around 6pm, my mom is wheeled into OR. As it turned out, the appendicitis were ok. It was her stomach (I sure hope I got the translation right). It was ruptured/punctured/holey 1cm in diameter and was oozing out puss. Her entire abdomen was covered in it. Before they venture with the laparotomy they asked a member of the family to be present to see it, has to be someone who can stomach blood and gore. Good thing one of my aunt is a dentist, off she goes into the OR to see my mom’s abdomen. It was just as the surgeon described. Filled with puss. It made the organs sticky and that’s what been hurting. He also said that these kind of infection takes time, more like months, not days. As my aunt is a doctor, they offered her to stay for the whole operation process but she declined. Seeing the first part was enough for my aunt. After she left, they proceed to suck out the puss, So clean it up and fix the hole in the stomach. All in all the whole operation took 3 hours.
Later my aunt say, she actually wouldn’t mind looking at the operation, she is a doctor after all so always fascinated with the human organs, but because it was my mom, her sister, she couldn’t. She said it was a good thing they covered my mom’s face otherwise even she probably couldn’t see just the first bit of the procedure.
What caused it? According to the surgeon it is usually due to excessive drinking, partying, drugs, or cancer. Since my mom is not a drinker nor a party-goer, it only left drugs and cancer. To figure out what cause it, they took some tissue samples. Thank God it was not cancerous! Which means… drugs!!! Apparently for some time now my mom has experienced some leg pain and been taking some pills to help ease the pain… which would be fine if she was under doctor supervision. Which of course she was not. I’m not sure what this drug is, apparently it’s some sort of pain-killer? It made the leg pain go away so she can go on with her myriad activities but it’s not supposed to be used long-term because one of the side effect is well.. she just proved it.
Anyway, operation is a success, mom is recovering well and slightly ahead of schedule. Having to lay in the hospital for 2 weeks really makes my mom rethinking her health plan. It now exists! Because she was seen by tons of doctors, she’d like to follow-up with one of them to discuss her asthma and the surgeon recommends some doctors to see about her leg pain. No more self medicating! Proper doctor guidance only from now! The surgeon was amazed at my mom’s high threshold of pain. He said usually people would be crying pain when the stomach wall was scraped. Here it is not only scraped, it’s puncture and ripped to boot! 1 cm diameter is no small thing when it comes to stomach wall.
Now my mom is already discharged from the hospital, safe and sound with the comfort of home. Recovery is slow, she’s not allowed (nor able) to really get up and about yet, but it’s getting there. With patience, she’ll be up and
running walking, attending to her work and hobbies as usual.
So remember, if you feel persistent pain, perhaps it is time to visit your gp. If it keeps coming back, do not brush it off, go get second, third, even fourth or fifth opinion if you have to. More importantly, don’t self medicate! We’re lucky to be able to treat my mom in time. Other people may not have the same story.
Stay healthy peeps 🙂