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…)
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.
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.