Sunday, December 23, 2007

Medical notes (part 2)

The one thing you don't want to hear when you are being wheeled in for an operation:

"We aren't ready for her. We need to test the machinery; the first lot wasn't working."

Not surprisingly I sat up and told them to take as long as they wanted to test the machinery because I wanted it working perfectly before they started operating on me. I may have got a little bit on the hysterical side and they decided that it would be a good idea to sedate me while they were testing their machinery.

Obviously I have lived to survive the tale. Apparently my gall bladder was packed with stones. Unfortunately they couldn't give me the contents in a little jar due to infection control policies but I was assured it was an impressive sample.

They certainly turn you around quickly in our hospital system. Within 24 hours of being put under a general anaesthetic and having part of my insides ripped out, I was discharged and waiting to be picked up. Lord knows what happens to those people who don't have family and friends to care for them in the days after an operation. Plenty has been written about the problems of Australia's public hospital system; my experience was both better and worse than I expected.

The doctors clearly believed I needed my gall bladder out and scheduled my operation within a week of diagnosis, which is very impressive for an 'elective' (non-emergency) procedure. It made sound economic sense - if I'd had another attack of pancreatitis, I could have easily been back in hospital for another week using up scarce resources - but there are plenty of examples of people having to wait months for so-called elective surgery. The strain on the hospital resources, however, was evident every step of the way. I was originally booked in as a public patient but on the day I was admitted I was strongly encouraged to sign in as a private patient. "It's a way of fundraising for us," a rather desperate-sounding ward clerk told us. "We bill your health insurance company instead of the government. We waive all the gap fees, so it won't cost you anything or make any difference to how you are treated but it helps us out A LOT."

Well, as long as it wasn't costing me anything extra... and they weren't kidding about not being treated any different to the public sector patients.

I felt like I was on a well-organised but over-stretched conveyor belt, moving from one docking station to another. Every part of the hospital showed signs of wear and strain but the staff were unfailingly professional, knowledgeable and capable. They just didn't have the capacity to provide anything - time or resources - beyond exactly what was needed. The bean counters would have been proud. It was just terrifying to consider what might happen should something go wrong, should a staff member fail to turn up to work or a piece of equipment fail - there did not appear to be any capacity to cover any gaps.

A cynic might suggest that the post-operative ward was designed to encourage people to return home and not linger beyond their absolute medical need. 16 beds for patients of both genders - divided by curtains - with one toilet, one shower and two nurses for all to share. The nurses were kept busy monitoring our vital signs and dispensing medication. Most of us were on drips and sedative painkillers, which made even the simplest tasks a challenging process. At one stage in the middle of the night I was standing on the side of the bed with my drip somehow tangled in the side rail, desperate to pee and wondering if I should press the nurse button because I could see how stretched they were. (In the end I untangled myself but needed to call for help to get back into bed.) And I had it much better than most patients - my husband was there during the day and was able to help me change into a clean nightie and walk me to the toilet but he was not allowed to stay the night. I found it hard to believe the nurse who said I would be fine to go home by 10am the next day.

The next morning, the nurses unhooked me from my drip, gave me another dose of strong pain killers and showed off my scars to the consultant surgeons. Before I knew it, I was in the discharge chairs, waiting for J to come and take me home.

The doctors gave me a script for Panadine Forte, which left me sleepy but helped me control my pain for the first few days. J channelled his inner Yiddishe Mama and made me home-made chicken soup and jelly while I was recuperating. I alternatively slept, ate chicken soup and watched Babylon 5 on DVD while contemplating some very simple knitting.

A visit to my local GP confirmed that the scars were healing well although I had a very slight surface infection that we should watch. But even that appears to have cleared up now. I am feeling much better today, although I still cannot lift anything heavy.

J, however, has picked up a nasty cold that he is blaming on the visit to the hospital. Lucky there is some of his left-over chicken soup for him.

Stash busting projects

I've been a bit naughty, buying myself some early birthday presents including a lace-blocking kit and some 2-ply silk/wool Zephyr from Yarns Online (I am definitely going to try a shawl next year, maybe the Swallowtail Shawl) and ordering Knitting from the Top and Crazy Aunt Purl's book from Amazon. Then an old colleague sent me two huge bags of yarn for Christmas (mostly a blue wool blend from a Spotlight sale several years ago). The stash is getting way out of control, so I decided that while I was resting up from the op and needing some very simple knitting to keep me occupied, it was time to engage in a couple of stash-busting projects.

Item 1 - roll-brim hat

An adult-sized roll-brimmed hat knitted from some rainbow variegated yarn in my stash. Maybe 80 grams? Slightly thinner than 8-ply, knit on 3.75mm needles. I had no idea what my gauge was or how many stitches to cast on so I knitted this from the top down, using the figure 8 cast-on. I ended up with 112 stitches all around. It fits me well but yellow is not my colour. It will probably end up as a gift for a friend.

Item 2 - simple ribbed mohair scarf

My eczema had cleared up, so I decided to take my life in my hands and use up some soft grey/blue mohair-based yarn in a simple 4X4 ribbed scarf on 5mm needles. I cast on 34 stitches, slipping the first and knitting the last stich in every row. There were about 2 1/2 balls of indeterminate weight and size, more than enough for a 150cm (60 inch) scarf plus fringing.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Coffee plunger cosy

Maybe it was the stitch markers, maybe it was my eczema calming down to mere dry flaky skin, maybe it was five days of bed rest, maybe it was many hours perusing Ravelry but I finally started knitting again.

I've been looking at all the tea cosies and thought I might use some of my left-over Zarina to make a second cosy. Initially I thought I'd send it to my tea cosy pal but it ended up too narrow and more blue-ish teal than green. So it's ended up on my own coffee plunger. I made up the pattern as I went; a few rows of garter stitch with eyelet holes; a cable twist, then ten blocks of basket-stitch pattern, a cable twist and the garter stitch eyelet border. A nice and relaxing return to knitting. I'm now using some other left-over yarn to make a beanie.

As with every swap, a lot of people are going over the top. We signed up to make one tea/coffee cosy and send some tea/coffee and bickies. The number of people sending extra skeins of expensive yarn, mugs, multiple cosies, chocolate, dishcloths, stitch markers and more is a bit overwhelming. I feel like the goal posts keep moving. I wish there was a happy medium between the people who go OTT and those who pike completely.

In my package I included the tea cosy pictured below, some Fair Trade Earl Gray tea, a tin of Oxfam Ceylon tea, a packet of shortbread biscuits and some Clover DPNs (from the promotion kit I bought earlier this year). So my pal shouldn't feel too ripped off. I also found a nice card featuring Labrador puppies which looks like her sort of thing.

I think I'll pass on the next Australian Ravelry swap (knitted bags) but I have until the first week of January to make up my mind.

Cute stitch markers

I returned from hospital to find a package from the UK. Crafty Librarian, one of the organisers of ISE5 had sent me the butterfly stitch markers as a prize for a competition she had run on her blog. I pinched the photo from her blog as every photo I tried to take of the stitch markers came out blurry. They are even prettier in real life. Thank-you Charlie!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Medical note

Apologies for the long time between postings but for once I actually have a decent excuse. I've been in hospital for half the past week.

The story began when I woke up last Saturday night (or rather Sunday morning, 2.30am) with the most excruciating abdominal pain imaginable. I was lying in bed when it came on really suddenly and it got worse and worse and I woke up J and said "I have really bad abdominal cramps and I think I have to go to the hospital." J tried to get me to drink some water but I couldn't even lift the bottle. Then he said "Can you dress yourself?" and I realised I was stark naked and couldn't go out even to the hospital like this. So I staggered around trying to find my baggiest underpants and my loosest top and skirt.

J drove me to the local hospital which fortunately was only moderately full for a Saturday night. I must have looked as bad as I felt as the triage nurse gave me a trolley to lie on right away. I listened to J filling in the admissions paperwork. The nurse asked me to rate my pain on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the greatest pain I could imagine. "10," I croaked.

It was a long night. Eventually I was pushed from the hallway into a little room in the emergency department. Various nurses regularly took my blood pressure and heart rate but it was a long time before a doctor arrived. I asked a nurse if there was any chance of getting any pain killers. Eventually I was given a couple of Panadine Forte for the pain and some other medication to settle my stomach.

The doctor when she finally arrived was nothing short of brilliant. She was so thorough that she picked up a couple of minor unrelated health issues, as well as diagnosing me with pancreatitus (inflammation of the pancreas). Once we established that I barely drink any alcohol (excessive alcohol consumption is one reason for this disease) I was sent for an x-ray and ultrasound.
It turned out the pancreatitus was caused by gall stones and there are a fair few of them still in there. And the only way to get them out is to take the whole gall bladder out (it’s kidney stones that get laser zapped). The doctors claim that one can live a perfectly normal life without a gall bladder and the risk of complications from this surgery is much smaller than the risk of having an even worse and more dangerous attack of pancreatitus in the future if I don’t have my gall bladder out.

I spent the next day on a drip, eating ice, and two days on a clear-fluid diet to settle down my pancreas. Once the pain went, I felt fine. I slept and read and had visitors. J was fantastic, bringing me in fresh clothes and mint tea bags and ensuring I had a constant supply of reading material. And had my blood pressure and heart rate taken on a regular basis. To my great delight, I discovered that the few kilos I've lost this year and exercise have already had a profound impact on my health - I no longer have borderline high blood pressure; every single reading was well within the healthy normal range. On the fourth day I was allowed to have real food and when that passed without incident, I was permitted to return home to rest until the operation.

So on Monday I return to the hospital for the operation. It will be keyhole surgery, which means minimal scarring, and is apparently a very common and straightforward operation. Several people I know including my father-in-law and a close friend have had the operation and returned to a normal life. But any operation is scary.

I'm under strict instructions to eat a very low fat diet until the operation.
The gall bladder stores bile which is released when digesting fat; It turns out that eating a slightly fatty meal after a month of eating a very low fat diet (damn J's birthday dinner!) almost certainly triggered the attack - as the bile was released, so was a gallstone. But with the number of gallstones I had, an attack was probably inevitable. I've had mixed reports about whether my diet will be restricted after the operation but to be on the safe side, I will stick to the low-fat regime. I need to loose the weight anyway.

So that's been my excitement for the week. I'll do another post about returning to knitting.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Indonesia's revenge

I don't know the real story behind Kopi Luwak, the world's most expensive coffee ($50 per cup!) made from coffee beans that have been swallowed and then excreted by the Indonesian Asian Palm Civet (for real... I couldn't make this up if I tried) but I would like to think it goes something like this:

One day a couple of poverty-stricken Indonesian locals were walking in the forest. They were particularly grumpy from a day of working in a hotel catering to rude Western tourists for a minuscule wage. One of them spots a pile of Asian Palm Civet excrement and says: "You know, I bet you that I can not only make those rich bastards eat shit but pay for the privilege too..."