Hotel For The Sick

Val Langelair

© Copyright 2002 by Val Langelair

This story goes into detail about the recent hospital stay mentioned in my other piece “My Beautiful Missy.” It shows how life is odd and sends you experiences and encounters as lessons to be learnt. The most important thing is that you learn from them. 

Six weeks was enough suffering before some divine intervention (I suspect a guardian angel or two) thankfully pushed me in the right direction. For what you might ask? Well let me tell you the story from the beginning.

Two years ago, coming back from a wonderful Compay Segundo concert in Lido di Venezia, Italy, where Compay miraculously graced us with his company for 1½ hours of music, I am tested by my destiny. “Do you realise that life is precious?” my destiny enquires. Well it wasn’t quite like that. It had been blisteringly hot all day and by the end of the concert, the rain clouds decided to let us know how oversaturated they were by letting go of their load and soaking us in the process. Running to our car it turned a little chilly and as we jumped in, the windscreen soon steamed up with all the hot steamy breath coming from its five passengers. As we begin our journey, on goes the air conditioning with a touch of warm air to help clear the mist even quicker. Not two seconds later and I’m gasping for breath. I feel like one of those bags that a vacuum machine has sucked all the air out of leaving a screwed up deflated packaging instead. My hand reaches out and turns it off then quickly opens a window to the stifled cries coming from my mouth asking my husband Fran to do the same “..can’t breathe…” splutter… “…open up…” he gets my message, stops the car and everyone opens the window nearest to them. “What’s happening Val?” he worriedly enquires followed by “Are you alright?” from the others. After a short while my breath returns and my lungs refill with the blessed air which is given to us on a daily basis. “I don’t know,” I manage to finally utter. “I just couldn’t catch my breath.” That time, after a day or so of not breathing properly, I’m taken to the Pronto Soccorso, the emergency unit in any Italian hospital (whilst visiting my in laws at the seaside) and diagnosed with Asthma. Five long hours later and a body full of two huge drips laden with cortisone, I’m allowed to go home with the promise of investigating further through my own doctor.

To cut a long story short, I’m given a two month cure and am fine with no more signs of even having Asthma until a few weeks ago, where my story really begins.

Driving again after a visit to see a friend, this time with my recently absent from his heart hubby, the air conditioning is going full blast. No real bad reaction, just a feeling of cold in my chest area, so we turn it off. A few days later and I feel a little blocked up. “Only a summer cold,” I say to him and do nothing about it. Another couple of days and we begin to have heavy frequent downpours. On day two I’m awoken by the sound of my car alarm going off ..”help me, something’s wrong.” I open the shutters to see my poor car submerged up to her doors in muddy rainwater. Our courtyard is rapidly filling up and we are now being given the luxury of a free unplanned (be it unheated and muddy) outdoor swimming pool. I close the windows and get back into bed. Two minutes later she calls me again…”help, I’m drowning.” I can’t do very much for her, so turn her alarm off once again with the electric key and leave her unlocked so she can’t call again. After all it is 4am and the elderly neighbours seem to be sleeping soundly through the storm. A light suddenly clicks on in my brain. Didn’t those same neighbours say when we moved in that “…a few years back when we had heavy rain our whole basement area was flooded and we lost all our pasta and cheese which was stored there…” Panic as their basement has now become ours since they moved in next door to the smaller part of the detached house. I quickly jump out of bed, open the door and walk down the stairs into the basement. Oh dear! The whole basement is flooded, now giving us an unplanned indoor swimming pool already being well used by my husband’s various musical instruments stored there; everything is floating. Apart from his stuff, my boxes I’d finally gotten round to sorting out containing old love letters, cards and diaries are also enjoying themselves in the water. They are of course made of cardboard and are slowly disintegrating before my eyes as they bump into each other, say “hello” then float on. All those thoughts and words written by loving hands and passionate hearts have now run into each other creating new relationships and stories of their own, “John you are the love of my life. Love you always my precious….from Bill.” Oh dear what a tragedy! I turn around and walk back up the steps closing the door. I can’t do anything anyway and certainly don’t intend to chance stepping into the water in case of electric shock. “Tomorrow,” I say out loud. “Tomorrow I’ll sort it out.” I get back into my now tepid bed and call my hubby in disbelief. He always seems to be away when things like this happen (like earlier this year when the washing machine decides to flood the kitchen. OK enough that’s another story). Where were we? Oh yes. My hubby advises me to “go and try to unblock the drains in the road.” I won’t tell you what I reply, but suffice it to say I manage to get back to sleep without a second thought after putting the phone down.

Next day starts the big clear up and throw out which continues for four days. At the end of those four humid days, with the sun now burning up everything in the garden, I don’t feel well and have difficulty in breathing. Obviously whatever viruses came in with that muddy rain water crept surreptitiously up my nostrils and directly to their new home in my lungs. I cough now and again but still ignore this and feel its just a bit of hay fever or a summer cold.

Hubby returns and I go with him to a local gig he’s playing. It goes well and as a bonus to getting paid for his efforts, we are offered an abandoned female kitten (later baptised Missy) who needs a good home. She’s really tiny and only about 3½ weeks old so sticks to me like glue from the time we get back to our place.

The cough returns and a visit to the doctor diagnoses Bronchitis. He gives me tablets which are too strong and make me feel worse. Another visit and further tablets and I’m still no better. Something is wrong and I guess I know what, but decide to bide my time a little longer.

Famous last words “a little longer” and I find myself in hospital after having a bronchial crisis early one morning. I’m diagnosed with Bronchial Asthma and for the first time in my life have to spend time (more than a few hours) in hospital.

I’m wheeled into a room for three and come eye to eye with two old dears already residents in this hotel for the sick. They eye me up and the formalities begin. We introduce ourselves in the formal Italian way (which is the equivalent of calling each other sir or madam) then slowly drop the formalities and talk to each other on a first name basis.

The first old dear Pina, a 75 year old spinster, has been driving the other old dear Francesca, up the wall for the past week. She has this ruling, almost mother hen “do as I say and not as I do” nature about her and tries to control me also. She soon realises that my chickadee will is much stronger than hers, so retreats to her corner after only round one! We talk further and amongst comments about my non Italian background (of which I don’t take much notice as I’m used to people’s attitudes after over 7 years living in this country) they continue to ask and give background information about their lives. She soon finds out about my Venetian husband’s (one of her own) job as a musician, and by the five o’clock news slot the whole hospital knows and have been ordered to watch him on TV the following Saturday.

I’m quite sad when she leaves two days later with the request for my phone number followed by kisses and good wishes all around. Francesca on the other hand, is so relieved she almost jumps for joy. This is obviously only figuratively speaking as she’s 64 (going on 80 in appearance) and is quite chubby and wobbles around on her swollen legs. She fortunately has gotten over her bronchial lung problems, but unfortunately has had such a terrible reaction to the cortisone used to do this, that her motherly body has retaliated by leaving her full of fungus sores which constantly shed their crusts all over the room and bathroom. We talk and she tells me about her satisfaction of being the mother of three and happy at her simple life as a housewife. She seems quite introvert with others yet very open and at ease with me. Every day she saves any food left over from our meals and asks me for any of my unused bread or fruit which she then hides away for her husband to take home for his meals. Talking about meals. I cannot eat any type of meat (yet strangely fish) as the enzyme in my stomach doesn’t work efficiently and cannot break down these tougher animal fats very well. This in turn causes me to go into anaphylactic shock if I’m not careful. A dietician came to talk to me on the first day of my internment and carefully wrote down everything I could and couldn’t eat. Then why I ask myself since I’ve been here, all I’ve eaten is cheese, cheese and more cheese? On the fourth day I’ve had enough and ask my husband Fran to bring me in something a little more appetising. In the meantime due to personal feelings of loss and some uncalled for treatment by certain staff, I burst into tears in the corner where no one can see my but my inmate Francesca. Bless her, she tries to comfort me in the best way she can but I feel really low. Only a few days into this unwelcomed hotel stay and its already taking its toll on me. Those aforementioned nurses have been rather rude because they can’t understand why I (a foreigner in their eyes) have to be given special treatment diet wise, and to top it all have the most daily visitors. (On one occasion, they actually asked my in-laws in a discourteous way to leave only one minute after visiting time was up). Anyway hubby (who has now recently replaced me as Number 1 in his heart) brings me some delicious pasta, crab and salad to eat that night much to their annoyance. We hug and kiss each other goodnight and I feel better. I finally go to sleep with Francesca looking at me from her bed and blowing me her nightly kiss saying “Ti voglio bene,” which means I care about you a lot/I love you.

Fifth day and I’m awoken again at 5am (I’ll never understand why they have to torment the sick at that ungodly hour) for the first of my twice daily drips. This takes a little longer now as the original needle caused fleabitis and they have to insert a new one every time. I feel like a pin cushion (that’s now turned black and blue with all the haematomas emerging from beneath my café latte skin) and drugged to the eyes (with those same cortisone laden drips, the three types of spray I have to remember to take morning and night and not to mention the various doses of medication in tablet form they keep pumping me with during the day). In between all this I’m also continuing with various ECG’s, blood and urine tests. In my state I don’t know if I’m coming or going, so of course understandably feel tearful at every lucid opportunity.

The afternoon of that same day, 3½ kilos lighter and I’m fed up with the still cheese and salt less greens diet. Not only that but I haven’t been to the loo (bathroom in English slang) for days caused by this wonderful new diet they’re giving me. I can’t stand it anymore and feel really bloated so go and sit on the loo in the hope that something will come out. An hour later and nothing’s moving, not even my legs which have now gone numb and cannot carry me back to my bed. Ring, ring. I desperately pull the emergency bell cord in the hope that some female nurse will come sooner rather than later to help me. Luckily my prayer is answered and a thin blonde bespectacled girl arrives in 3 minutes flat. She listens to my problem and offers me a choice of “a glycerine enema or other help with a water injection.” I’m embarrassed and opt for the first choice which I can insert myself. Another 15 minutes and no joy. My legs have definitely died on me and I ring the bell again. I’m escorted by two female nurses this time (lucky girl that I am) and put on my side in bed. My body is shaking traumatically and those damn uncontrollable tears again which show my dismay and weakness a little further. One of the nurses decides to take action, be it leaving the door to the room open (which leads directly onto a busy main corridor with loads of people walking up and down) and Francesca looking at the whole experience from her bed. The nurse begins to excavate my back passage manually which after a while begins to burn, then finally gives me a water injection. “Hold it. Don’t move,” she says. “Keep it in as long as you can.” Where does she think I’ll be going with the feeling just beginning to return in my legs and the embarrassment of it all? (I wish at this point that some hole would open up, like in all the best horror films and suck me deep into its bosom). No such luck and after three minutes the urge to push is so strong that I ignore the pins and needles in my legs and rush to the toilet finally letting out my heavy burden. Heaven. That nurse is thanked verbally then over and over again in mind, as I don’t think I’d ever be able to do what she did for me. She is definitely an angel in disguise.

A further few days of internment and my lucky number finally comes up. All the test results have come back and the head doctor visits giving me the go ahead to go home. My problem is Asthma triggered mainly by allergy to cats (my poor Missy) and dogs. I have to continue on the medication and visit again for follow up tests in November. The cook comes by shortly afterwards with a surprise. “Here you are,” she says with a smile. “Your lunch of pasta, grilled fish and salad.” She must have known this was my farewell meal and thought she’d send me off in style. I say my goodbyes and thank the staff (as most of them were nice) then kiss and hug Francesca wiping away loads of tears (from both of us) and the promise to visit her while she’s still an inmate.

I walk arm in arm with my husband out into that beautiful sunshine. I feel ready for anything my destiny now has to give me and happy at my unusual experience which taught me a lot about relationships with people, but mainly the relationship I have with myself.

I thank my lucky stars that on my return appointment a few days ago I was allowed to temporarily come off the main drugs and keep only the emergency one to hand at all times. This was the best birthday present (which I celebrated yesterday) that I could ever have wished for. Funnily enough Pina was in again for another delicate operation to stop a slight leakage and being only two floors down, we popped in to see her. She’s asked and I’ve promised to visit her soon at home. Fingers crossed everything will be OK from now on and life will continue to be the daily marvellous experience it truly is.

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