Category Archives: medical


Now that it’s all over, I thought I would report first from the operating table. I spent the night before the birth in hospital, having a final poke and prod, and had  an amazingly good sleep thanks to some nice drugs which I wasn’t too pure to refuse. I felt remarkable sanguine about my fate, in fact, until I was on my way to the operating theatre, at which point I burst into tears of terror. I didn’t have much time to indulge, however, because I was hustled in by a nurse who told me there were ‘others waiting’.

I kept on crying while they  tipped me onto the table and prepared me. “You’ll feel everything except pain,” said the anaesthetist. In fact, the most painful part of the whole procedure was the wrist- slapping, designed to bring out a vein for the catheter. Otherwise, I had an anaesthetic so I couldn’t feel the anaesthetic, and a little curtain was erected to spare me the sight of a whole team in masks  grubbing about in my stomach cavity.

There was an enormous schism between the momentousness of this occasion for me, and the everyday nature of it for the operating team. Mine was far from the first uterus they had cut open.It wasn’t even the first that day (not that I’m complaining).They gossiped and flirted and I got a chance to experience- for the first and only time in my pregnancy- the vena cava compression effect, where lying on your back causes the huge weight of the pregnant mid-region to press on the vena cava, which in turn leads to a drop in blood pressure.

By the time it set in I was anaesthetised and had an oxygen mask on. I suddenly felt incredibly nauseous and faint and started to sweat. I tore off the mask and was ready to roll off the table and make for the door, dragging my numb lower half like some Calcutta beggar.

“It’s too late,” observed one of the masked figures at my head. “You’ll feel better when we get the little people out.”

And within five minutes, they did have the little people out. I only saw one, hoisted briefly over the curtain, grey and still slimy. I also recall hearing only one cry. From the corner of my eye, I could see their thrashing feet as they were weighed and checked over. A masked face loomed (later I would know that this was one of the hospital pediatricians) and gave me their Apgars, weights and lengths, which I don’t recall. I only registered that they were ‘in good condition’, and lay back to have a little rest while they sewed me up.

Whatever they had given me to raise my blood pressure had had a soothing effect. At some point I heard a slightly agitated discussion about what drugs to give me to make my uterus contract- my gynaecologist (who was in fact operating on me) had warned me that it might happen, and that the worst case scenario (“God forbid”) was haemhorrage and hysterectomy. There was some back and forth over which drug was better, somebody to my north arguing that it was better to give me Metergin because the other thing took an hour to work. My hypochondriac corpse lay peacefully on the operating table, half asleep, and I thought, “Well, that’s their problem.”

The rest of the day looked similar. I lay in the post-op room, stoned and still numb from the waist down. At some point they took Maja away to the intensive care because she was having some breathing trouble. I didn’t notice, and wouldn’t see her until the next afternoon.Marcin and my new friend Aneta, with who I had shared a room the night before, hovered outside the door. Aneta, due to have her daughter a couple of days later, took one look at Janek and burst into tears.

Late in the day I was allowed to drink some water, in miniscule doses, and eat some disgusting rice pap. At nine it was time to get up- I got a shot of morphine and a helping hand to the shower, and nearly passed out from pain, or hunger, or shock, or opiates. We had hired a midwife for the night to take care of Janek so I slept all night, waking up only for another shot of morphine to enable me to go to the toilet. At six in the morning, she wheeled my son over to me, declared her work done, and went on her merry way. I sat and stared at him for a while, then called Marcin to come as quickly as possible, because I had a child to look after and wasn’t sure if I could walk.





Filed under medical, pregnancy, twins

The magician

Yesterday we went for an ultrasound to check all the organs and the growth of my foetuses. At first I couldn’t concentrate because I was bracing myself to hear something I didn’t want to  (mmm.. where’s the heartbeat/brain/ major organ? etc ). The technician, who was meeting them for the third time, did his best to translate what he was seeing- Marcin had his nose stuck to the screen and when my paranoia wore off, so did I.

From the watery, wavering universe of the womb, our hipster ultrasound magician was extracting the mysteries of anatomy. A pair of  little white femurs, a waving fist, two pale smears which he assured us were the placentas. Where we saw inexplicable patches of darkess, he saw stomachs and kidneys and heart chambers. He pulled up a brain on the screen and showed us the cerebellar vermis, and then the movement of blood in their hearts, which was colour-coded into a crackling, blue- and- red  intrauterine aurora borealis. According to his calculations, they’re about 36 cm long and each weighs around 1400 grams.

As usual, the she-twin was uncooperative and wouldn’t display herself like her brother, but we got a 4D head shot of him. When I saw his fat crumpled little foetal face, (looking, unbelievably,  just like Marcin)  I finally allowed myself to believe that I was going to have two children, and spent half the night awake with the excitement and terror of it.

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Filed under medical, pregnancy

The Baby Jesus Obstetrics Hospital

On Friday night I finally got home after 5 stressful days in the hospital. Although I had dreamed that my newfound serenity would allow me to gain some perspective and not have a daily nervous breakdown, this wasn’t really the case. But the anthropologist in me couldn’t fail to make some observations.

One: patients wear pyjamas. My first faux pax came at admission time. There is a special ‘dressing room’ for getting into your nightgown for the duration of your stay- since I don’t have a nightgown I thought that my daily attire of tracksuit pants would be fine, but my failure to conform was duly noted.

Second: the stereotype about hospital food is all true, and comprised the main reason that I wanted to come home. Bread and luncheon meat for breakfast, gruel and grey meat for lunch, bread and cheese for supper. A deep disappointment and a deadly blow to morale. Luckily Marcin came every night with extra supplies, after which he  crawled into my bunk with me until visiting hours ended, warding off both starvation and loneliness.

Third: I was visited by the priest!!!! Twice in 5 days!! Since I have only ever seen movie priests in hospitals, rushing in to deliver last rites, his presence in my chamber made me nervous. Who had sent him? Why? But he just wagged his holy finger at my foetuses, admonishing them to stay put, and sidled off.

Fourth: nurses really do make a difference. The doctors on their rounds, with their chain of wet-behind-the-ears medical students, don’t invite confidence. But I will never again underestimate the comfort of having my arm patted in extremis by a stranger . The grey-meat, no-privacy institutional setting made me ridiculously grateful for a bit of human kindness.

Anyway, I’m full of steroids and ‘taking it easy’ on prescription at home. The idea of having to take it easy in the hospital is keeping me very conservative about my activity level.


Filed under cervix, medical

Being interfered with

I haven’t spent a night in hospital since I was 20 and almost died of malaria. I was delirious the whole time and don’t recall feeling concerned about the quality of the food (which I couldn’t eat) or the lack of privacy . I had a roomie at the beginning, but my condition scared her- she didn’t want what I was having- and she asked to be moved.

Given that this is my main hospital experience, perhaps it’s not surprising that I felt some trepidation about coming in to a Polish hospital for steroid shots to speed up lung maturity in the babies. I dread being poked and prodded- I agree on some level with Marcin’s father, who firmly believes that ‘if they look, they’ll find something.’ And they are looking, hard, all day and all night.

Four times a day, I shuffle down to the nurses’ station to have my blood pressure taken. This process in itself unnerves me to the point where it rises (reading from anticipated measurement: 140/90. Reading from ambush measurement when nursie sneaked up on me with a cuff because I forgot: 120/70). Four times a day, they check the kids’ heartbeats, including at midnight and 6 am (just so you don’t think it’s a holiday and sleep all night).

Yesterday I had an ultrasound -they weigh 750 and 850 grams, if anyone’s interested- and was interrogated about the health of my forebears. Then I got measured to see if I’m having contractions. Today my task is to record my fluid intake and output by filling a huge Ali Baba jar with piss. I’m hoping that the whole experience will innoculate me against my medical phobia through sheer exposure.


Filed under around Poland, medical


For all of our conjugal life, I have been able to keep up with Marcin. I can ride as fast and as far, drive better, manage as well in foreign countries. I break my bones less, although I have to admit to a severe deficit in the field of pushups, and a slight deficit in the field of navigation.

But now it seems we have been thrown back to the early fifties. I, fragile and female and tending slightly towards hysteria, lie on the couch feeling faint and alone. Marcin strides out of the house with his manbag at 9 to earn a living. When he comes home, I am still wallowing in my sickbed and happy the day is over. He is worn out after his day of secret, intense manly activity (sitting in front of the computer).

This is what biology has done to our modern marriage. I am inescapably Female. There is no way for us to move in harness now.


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Filed under bed rest/ house arrest, dealing with adversity, medical, pregnancy

Relations with the body

I am 35 years old and for most of my adult life I have lived in relative harmony with my body. It has been fairly obedient the majority of the time, and amazed me more than once with its resilience and strength. Until now I have more or less known how it works and maintained it regularly. I know that it affects my mental state, and that I’m not (this is my father’s phrase, which I love) just a ‘mind in a vehicle.’ We have been at peace, me and my body. Until now.

Pregnancy has changed my feelings for my organism altogether, making me regard it with suspicion and incomprehension. I simple have no idea what it will do. Creakings, eruptions, odd shooting pains. Leakages and weaknesses. Now it turns out that my cervix is too short and I have been ordered to stay at home and do nothing for an indeterminate amount of time. So here we are, me and my body, confined to quarters, while I watch it carefully as if it were some dangerous animal, unwilling to lower my guard, analysing every twitch and twinge. My customary escapes of work, exercise, socialising, are denied me (though I do spend plenty of time on cervix forums. Yes indeed, they do exist).

I’m not inclined to ask, why me? After all, what are the chances of twins? Ending up in Poland? Being 6 feet tall? And so on. That way madness lies- statistically unlikely things happen, and they have to happen to someone. But I do wonder, in my brief self-improvement moments,  if this experience can serve me in some useful way. Are there important lessons to be learned, about Hope and Fear and Endurance? Perhaps it really is a perverse gift from the universe. I will keep you posted.

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Filed under medical, pregnancy, twins

Springtime hypochondria

There’s something about the sight of my own flesh emerging from its winter layers like a great white larva that fills me with alarm. Having spent the winter neglecting to notice my earthly vessel, I have trouble believing that it’s really mine. My hypochondria, relatively dormant throughout the cold months, awakes and I have to take my spotty hide off to a grinning dermatologist to assure me that my forgotten freckles are not neglected and advanced melanomas.

But why stop there? I also visit a glowering gynecologist. The examination is much more comprehensive than the one you get in Australia, and for the first time in my life I know the capacity of my uterus and the size of my ovaries. I spend a happy few days browsing the hypochondriac forums with my cryptic Polish description of my reproductive system in my hands, dictionary within arm’s reach, and assure myself that all is normal.

Thence to the dentist. Apparently two years of doubtful dental hygiene have taken their  toll and I have a gigantic cavity in one tooth. The dentist tells me with relish that if I don’t take action now, I am months away from a root canal. She fills the tooth, and it’s back to the hypochondriac forums to find out why it still hurts to bite 2 weeks later.

All checkups over, it’s time to start building the requisite paranoia to force me through the same unpleasant procedure this time next year.


Filed under medical