So it turns out I was actually pretty ill a few days back.
When I made the decision to go to hospital it was a little reluctantly – yes I was in quite a lot of pain and not even able to stand for too long- but I was convinced this was of my own doing, a result of pushing too hard, eating or drinking too little or just generally something minor. However when I reached the hospital it quickly became apparent this was something more – with the nurse taking bloods and then asking me to rest on the bed before going in search of a doctor.
The doctor was consulted and I was loaded onto a bed with wheels to be carted off to the emergency area. Still at this point I had no idea what was wrong – and was a little worried I was wasting their time. Still I said nothing and allowed myself to be wheeled along – happy to have an excuse to lie down and keep my eyes closed.
Shortly after arriving in the emergency department a trainee doctor came in to my room to examine me – taking more blood and checking a few things out. She also asked me loads of questions in almost perfect English – making me feel a little guilty that I can’t utter a word of Swedish – but also reassuring me that I was in good hands.
It was then that another doctor arrived and told me I was going for an emergency gastroscopy (I think it may actually be called something else but I have forgotten). Being completely ignorant of what this was I simply mustered a bit of a smile and said okay – receiving very odd looks from the nurses present but not entirely sure why. I was loaded onto wheels once more – this time in chair form – and taken to another part of the hospital. Just before we reached the theatre, the nurse asked if I knew the procedure – I said no and a look of understanding spread over her face. Suddenly she knew why I was so relaxed about the way I took the news before.
An ’emergency gastroscopy’ (presuming that is what it is called) involves threading a tube through the oesophagus, stomach and upper intestine – then threading a camera through that tube to have a look around. This is done whilst fully awake – with the tiny comfort of a banana (it tasted very little like banana) anaesthetic which was sprayed at the back of the throat.
Had I known this at the time of being told, I maybe would have panicked more, noting for the hundredth time on this trip that ignorance really is bliss on occasions.
Without going into too much detail of how this involved around fifteen minutes with a feel somewhere between drowning and suffocating, and with the horrific noise of constant retching – I can safely say this is one of the most horrific things I have ever experienced. I really sincerely hope I never have to go through it again and to anyone else that has had one – serious kudos.
So following this and about half hour to get my breath back, the doctor (who by the way was one of the scariest characters I have met so far – he took long pauses between sentences, never smiled, and it was tricky to tell what he was looking at) [after a while he eased up – think most of the confusion was the language barrier – which again I felt guilty for not being able to do the basics in Swedish] told me that I had in fact had a stomach ulcer which has been bleeding into my intestinal tract for the past week or so. This had resulted in the loss of half my blood volume, with my iron levels falling to 50 (I’m told that’s pretty bad).
Thankfully that was the end of prodding things down my throat and I was then transferred to a ward, where I received two bags full of Swedish blood. Having not given blood myself prior to this trip – this definitely struck a chord – and when I get home I will definitely be giving some back as soon as possible. I was then put on a drip for the night – as I was fasted and not able to eat. During the day I also had the usual blood tests every few hours, blood pressure and temperature, which was averaging over 38°C – not ideal. The day came to an end- I felt tired, I felt bruised from all the needles, my throat felt like it had been scrubbed with a cheese grater and the headache- persistent as ever – prevented me from moving my head too much.
But nevertheless I was able to sleep that night – perhaps due to the concoction of drugs and perhaps because I knew I was on the road to recovery.
So this morning rolled around and I awoke still with a headache but without any dizziness, and feeling a little rested. The day went on as yesterday had ended – blood tests, drips (this time with added iron and vitamins) and temperatures – which today have fallen hugely to 37.9°C.
Throughout the day I have felt my strength increasing, my headache has gone and apart from feeling abused by the needles etc. I feel pretty good for the first time in days.
So where do we go from here…
I have been told that to recover to full strength from this type of ordeal should take in the region of 1-2 months. Something, which initially sparked panic, doesn’t actually prevent me from carrying on on my journey. It does however mean I am forced to lower the pace and distance each day, until I am feeling fully fit again. This was disappointing for me to hear – it feels like it lessens the overall challenge – but it is also necessary if I want to complete the trip – so it is something I am coming to terms with.
I also have to stay in Kiruna for a little longer so that I can return for more blood tests next week. Again, a shame as it means progress is stalled, but necessary for a proper recovery. I am on a mixture of antibiotics, with 8 tablets to take each day over the next week.
In this case – the doctors have said the bleeding was caused by a bacteria which we all have present in our intestines, but that only causes problems in a few. It is basically just bad luck and bad timing. It was essentially life giving me a few lemons.
However, looking back even now, what seemed like an awful ordeal at the time is actually not that bad – I sought help, I’ve been treated, and I’m recovering. It is also not an illness – just an unfortunate turn of luck which nearly wiped me out – but again it was treatable and here I am. I have rarely entered a hospital for my own medical reasons over the course of my life, and still see myself as pretty lucky on that front.
And now I am bound to Kiruna until Wednesday – in a hotel which without the generous support of one of my most keen supporters would not have been possible. I am so grateful to this supporter (for giving me the chance to recover properly and for believing in my ability to continue), and in fact to everyone who has been in contact over the past few days. The amount of people who have offered help – either by sending funds, flying out, or just offering someone to talk to (which I apologise for neglecting as I did not feel much like talking) – has been phenomenal and I cannot thank you all enough.
So life delivered me a couple of lemons in the form of slowly bleeding almost to death without realising. But now I am sat here, following the truly incredible care from the staff at Kiruna hospital, feeling like one of the luckiest people alive.
I feel like I can take these lemons and, cliché as it is, make a whole lot of lemonade. 5 nights in a hotel in Northern Sweden, and the opportunity to keep chasing the dream afterwards.
For the first time in a little while I can happily say I am feeling good, I am confident that I will get stronger from here, and I feel like my adventure is truly getting started.
I could not be in this place without the help of others and I will not forget any of the support that I have received so far and in the future.
People keep saying I am amazing – but what is really amazing is the support from people that keeps me going each day.
Thank you to everyone, for helping me to make my dreams come true.