Making (unplanned) major life changes

This post is going to pretty personal, won’t mince words, and doesn’t really have anything to do with teaching, but I wanted to share it to get it out of my system. Feel free to skip it, or to scroll down to ‘The moral of the story’.

(Bear with me – there is a point to this, and a reason I’m telling you in such detail…)

What happened?

In December 2012 I was off work for a month with diarrhoea, which I believed was brought on by exhaustion (a lack of holidays during the year – my own fault because I filled it with London 2012 and Delta) and stress (Delta again). I went to the doctor a few times and they gave me various tests, including a blood test for coeliac, which my mum has, and another for iron – low iron is also a family problem. The coeliac one came back clear, and my iron was low, but not low enough to treat me for it. After 6 weeks of feeling tired and drained, it eventually cleared itself up.

In April 2013, it came back for a couple of days, but I started taking iron tablets and that seemed to sort it.

In mid-August 2013, it came back with a vengeance. I assumed it was stress-related, connected to my move to Sevastopol, and not knowing what was happening with my visa/date of arrival and more, although I didn’t feel particularly stressed. Again I went to the doctor in the UK and they did a stool test, then told me there was nothing wrong. I went back again when I had blood too, they suggested that perhaps it was a urine infection, and contracted the advice of the previous doctor. This was two days before I was to leave the country, and I didn’t have any confidence in the doctor, so I decided not to pursue this theory.

In mid-September I finally arrived in Sevastopol, after three months of paperwork going backwards and forwards to get my visa. Three days later, my first Saturday in the city, I was worse than I’d been at any point so far. I phoned Olga, my new manager, and asked her if we could see a doctor. A couple of hours later I had an appointment for Wednesday and some medication to tide me over.

It has now been 12 days since that appointment, and those days have changed my life forever.

Wednesday: see the gastroenterologist, get more medicine
Saturday: no food or drink for three hours, have blood tests (testing about 20 different things – not an exaggeration), then have an ultrasound – my spleen was a little enlarged. No food for the rest of the day.
Sunday: no food all day, colonoscopy – I have colitis, but they’re not sure what kind
Monday: see the gastroenterologist again, with all of the results. The colitis I have is called ‘ulcerative colitis‘, and the blood I have now had for over a week is a sign that it’s pretty bad right now. It was almost certainly the same thing in December, but went undiagnosed. I have two choices: go back to the UK or stay in Ukraine for treatment. I choose to stay, as I think returning to the UK will be a waste of effort and money, as well as causing Olga more problems, and the treatment I’ve had in Ukraine is faster and more efficient than that in the UK.
Tuesday: appointment with the ‘chief gastroenterologist’ at the state hospital, conveniently located practically next door to school. She keeps reminding me that it is a very serious condition because she hears me laughing and doesn’t think I understand. This is one of those, if you don’t laugh situations though… She writes a detailed explanation of the whole situation to help us try and claim all of this back on my medical insurance. More pills and a prescription for a series of injections.
Thursday: two injections, which I will need to have for ten days, in an attempt to sort everything out.
Friday: repeat
Saturday: repeat

The last ‘meal’ (very small) I had was on Tuesday night, and since then I’ve been on chicken broth to try and give my body a chance to recover. On Friday I had a little mashed potato, and again on Saturday. On Saturday I added a little fruit juice for variety, but it will probably be a while before I can eat normally again. I am finally starting to feel a little better though, which is a huge relief after about 7 weeks of gradually feeling worse and worse.

The moral(s) of the story

I have described this in depth to tell you (if you’ve made it this far), that if you have ANYTHING wrong with you, and are too scared to go to the doctor, stop being scared, get a grip, and go. Your health problems will not go away by magic. If I had avoided going to the doctor, I wouldn’t know about this condition, and I wouldn’t know how to treat it. It is an auto-immune condition, so I will have it for the rest of my life. No-one really knows what triggers it, although genes probably have something to do with it, and there is no known cure. However, because I know about it, I can do my best to avoid flare-ups in the future by looking after myself, controlling my diet, and trying to minimize my stress levels. It is not life-threatening, but has some potential complications which could be, and now I know what to look for, I can make sure I’m treated quickly if I notice any of them.

At the same time, when a doctor tells you there’s nothing wrong, listen to your body. I think that if you know something is wrong, and your body is telling you there is, especially over a long period of time, then you should keep pursuing the doctor until you’ve ruled everything out. I had a six-year process of visiting doctors in two countries before they finally told me that a problem I had with my knee was not just being overweight, but was actually a problem. (Of course, moving cities/countries doesn’t help you to keep a complete medical record…)

The less health-related stuff…

I can honestly say that all of the doctors and nurses I have seen in Ukraine have been quick, efficient, and very understanding of the fact that Olga has had to translate everything for me. The tests they gave me were thorough and got to a diagnosis incredibly quickly – six days from initial consultation to diagnosis.

Olga has been AMAZING – there is no way I could have got through this without her help. She has taken time out from her very busy life to come to every appointment with me, to translate everything I needed, and to make repeated trips to the pharmacy. She spent a day with me at home to keep me busy when I couldn’t eat anything and needed to be near a loo. And this is on top of all the other help she has had to give me to sort out my legal status in Ukraine, including visits to uncountable government offices. She is the kind of person I hope everyone meets when they go abroad – unquestioning help and support, and just being there. I feel guilty that I arrived and dumped all of these problems on her, but she has been so understanding, and I really owe her. I owe her family too, especially her husband, who has helped by driving me to various appointments, and home when I was too exhausted to face getting the bus one evening.

So, my first three weeks in Sevastopol haven’t been quite the ones I was planning, but I have seen aspects of Ukrainian life that your average tourist would never experience (not necessarily ones I would have wanted to!). I have discovered that state hospitals have virtually no resources, so you should take your own sheets and towel to a state hospital. We had to buy everything for the injections too: the medicine, the needles, the bandage to wrap my arm afterwards. And I’ve discovered that even when they’re saying caring things, Russian sounds pretty aggressive!

But in the end, the whole experience has not been anywhere near as traumatic as it could have been, largely thanks to the help and support of Olga. I’m not as tired as I thought I might have been after a week of almost no food, and I feel like I’m finally starting to recover. And I’m still living in Crimea, with a year, and probably more to explore it and make up for lost time.

44 thoughts on “Making (unplanned) major life changes

  1. Sandy!
    I’m so sorry to hear that you are going through this! I wish I could visit you with soup – I make good soups!
    Now that you know what you have and how to behave with it I’m sure you’ll be feeling better soon. Nothing like a diagnosis.
    Excellent advice – everyone should listen!
    Be well soon!


  2. Well done on going and getting this sorted Sandy 🙂 You will learn to live with it. I had a similar experience about 15 years ago and initially the doctors thought it was cancer of the bowel. I had to have blood tests every fortnight for a year and the video exploration of my bowel every month for the same period – not very pleasant! In the end it was found to be severe IBS triggered by certain foods and stress. I have to be careful with my diet as I know there are some foods I can’t eat but I lead a perfectly normal life now 🙂 We shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about our bowels – good luck getting it under control


    1. Thanks for sharing what happened to you. I agree that it’s not pleasant, but until another form of diagnosis comes along, it’s vital that people don’t shy away from it. I knew the colonoscopy would be unpleasant, but I have to say it was nowhere near as bad as I expected it to be. You have to distract yourself by thinking about something else. I’m glad that you know what it is now and can deal with it. I’m working on finding out the balance, but am already feeling better. Thanks Sue.


  3. Hi Sandy,

    Thank you for putting us in the picture and telling us clearly what has happened. You have been very fortunate to have Olga’s support. We wish we could have been with you to help, but we think you have made the right choices.

    Love Grandma and Grandy XXX


      1. Looks like Grandma and Grady hacked my account (or I somehow left it logged in!) So pleased you are getting sorted and have such good support in Olga.

        The Meads send their love too x x


  4. I am very proud if you Sandra for keeping going throughout all of this – I wish I could have helped you more. I am disgusted at the lack of a diagnosis in the UK when we have a family history of auto immune gut problems. – me with Coeliac’s and Microscopic colitis and your Uncle Nick with Crohns’s. It is a relief that you have a diagnosis. I know you will learn to live a full and happy life with this as we are experienced in doing that as a family.
    Lots of love and hugs, Mum


  5. Reblogged this on musingsofacoeliaclibrarian and commented:
    This post has been written by my daughter about he experience with the medical systems in England an Ukraine. I have to say that Ukraine wins hands down- 10 days to get a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis after the National Health system in England had taken 8 months to get nowhere.
    The moral of the story is to listen to your body no keep going to te doctors until you get a resolution to a medical issue.
    I am extremely proud of her as she has kept working throughout out this experience, including moving to a new country . She would not gave coped so well in Ukraine without an absolutely fantastic new boss who, with her husband, have given her a lot of support – especially as Sandra ha not learnt enough Russian yet to navigate the medical system.
    What makes this worse is that ou family have a history of auto immune gut problems – I am a coeliac and also have microscopic colitis, one of my brother’s has Crohn’s. My sister has another auto immune disease – rheumatoid arthritis. In light of this the lack of a referal to a gastroenterologist in England is amazing to me. At least in Ukraine you can to straight to the specialist without having to go through a general doctor.
    I hope that her experiences help you to have a better result from the NHS even if you have to be persistent.


  6. Sandy, so glad to hear you’re on the mend, not what you needed when moving to a new country but at least you can see the positive side of it all and everything should seem easier in comparison from now on!
    Take care and get fully better soon.


  7. Sandy, well done for sticking with it and listening to your body. I hope that you will now steadily improve and get back to full health. Glad to hear that there are lovely people to support you out there. Only sorry we are not near enough to come and give you a big hug. So accept this as a written one! Much love Marian x


  8. Dear Sandy,

    Thank you for sharing your story here. So many of us put health to the side in order to take care of “more important things.” You illustrate here that there is nothing more important than your health. I think teachers need to be reminded of that. I know I did, so thank you for your courageous sharing here.

    I’m happy to hear you had support all around you and that you are now on your way to learning how to take care of your new self. 🙂

    Take care my dear!


  9. Now that’s what I call a rocky start! But it’s good to know you start feeling better and is very nice to read you have such amazing people by your side. Hang on there and in my version of your stay that was the worst thing to happen and now it’ll only get better!
    Hugs from the alps


  10. Sorry to hear about all that you are going through with this condition. At least you’ve finally got a proper diagnosis and that you have received the care and treatment you needed. Thank heavens, too, for Olga. As you say, she is the kind of person [you] hope everyone meets when they go abroad – I recently had the same thing happen to me in China and I relied upon my boss who spoke a lot of Chinese. My condition is psychological, of course, as you know. But I am now seeking proper professional help. So, although your moral about listening to your body doesn’t apply to me quite so much, I agree that you shouldn’t take no for an answer and seek second and third opinions when necessary. Take Care and I hope you recover to shine at Sevastopol and the opportunity turns out as you had originally hoped. Phil x


    1. Thanks a lot Phil 🙂 I hope you manage to get everything sorted too – I believe that whatever problem you have (or anyone), be it medical, psychological, technological…there is always someone who can help you with it or make life easier for you, so you should look for them, rather than trying to get through it alone. As Ela says, we’re stronger when we work together. Good luck, and hope your opportunities work out too! xxx


  11. Hi Sandy, So sorry to hear that you have been having such an awful time recently. Do hope you will be feeling back to normal before too long. Hope you manage to enjoy your time in the Ukraine without too many difficulties. Keep your chin up! Love, Kathy xx


    1. Thanks a lot Kathy. It hasn’t been as awful as it might sound, although it’s not been a picnic. I’ve still managed to enjoy myself here so far, and there’s humour in everything! Thanks for the message. Love Sandy xxx


  12. I had no idea, Sandy. Hope it’s all plain sailing from now on. Wishing you a speedy recovery and a bright future! Be waiting on your stories… Chin up!


  13. Sandy, an enemy that you know is only half so fearful. Knowing why you felt awful at some point of your life and knowing that you can prevent/tackle it sounds pretty positive to me. And knowing you I have no doubts that you will study the limits and follow the right path diligently :).
    Sad to hear you diagnose, but I am glad that you are in good hands.


  14. Thank you for sharing your story with us all and for the valuable lessons. I am glad you have a diagnosis now – and yes, the first thing we thought of was your family pattern with auto-immune gut issues and how the doctors here should have picked up on that. I’m so glad you had Olga there to help, too. You are a brilliant and helpful person yourself, and it’s good to know that that has come back to you.

    I know that you will be able to manage your condition now. I have got pretty good at managing and predicting my IBS although it still sometimes ambushes me, and even that can make your life a misery. I hope your time in the Crimea improves now and am so glad you’re OK. Matthew sends best wishes, too.

    Liz x


  15. Hi Sandy,

    First of all, I was very sorry to hear about your condition and I hope you get better soon. Three people in my immediate family also have lifelong conditions (not the same ones as you but still things that have to be constantly checked/managed) and it is tough but also soon becomes part of the routine. There is no better incentive than keeping yourself healthy!

    Having these things happen when abroad can be a stressful experience and I think you were very lucky to have support from your employers and your own common sense. All too often, we hear stories of EFL teachers getting seriously ill while abroad either because their school doesn’t help in the early stages (or even tells them to shrug it off and get into class) or because the teacher him/herself ignores the problem (or a combinaition of the two). I have been lucky enough to work with good, caring employers in my time in Turkey but even then I have still taught while standing on a stress-fractured leg (didn’t know it at the time but had tired to ignore it) and with a temperature of almost 40C (no teachers were available to cover apparently…)

    Anyway, I’m glad to hear you have a clearer diagnosis now than you did a few weeks ago and hopefully, it will be something easy to manage and prevent from recurring. And thanks also for highlighting one of those issues of being a teacher working abroad that is often overlooked or forgotten!

    Take care,



    1. Hi Dave,
      Thanks for the comment. I agree that it is so important to have employers who realise that you are a person and not a machine. I’m so sorry that you had to go through those two situations, and I hope it never happens again.
      One of the reasons I chose to publish the post (I thought about it a lot before I did) was to show that having a medical problem abroad doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your trip, and to compare the attitudes of the two medical systems. I’ve experienced the medical system in every country I’ve lived in, bar one, and people always ask me whether I was worried about it/scared of it/etc. Actually, I find if you have some of the language, or are with someone who does, most of the time it’s OK. I’m going to try and avoid experiencing any more medical systems though!


  16. Hi Sandy

    I’m so sorry to hear what you have been through. I had no idea, as you always are so cheerful, active, hard-working and on top of things. Thank god they have finally found what is wrong . I admire your courage and how you are dealing with it now. It must have been really difficult in a foreign country, at the start of your new job there.
    It’s good to hear people have helped you so well.
    I wish you all the best for the future. Take care and look after yourself. I really hope things will get better soon.


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