I have always been a relatively healthy person. Heck, I rarely came down with colds or flu let alone anything more serious. However, that all changed when I was hit with the “perfect storm” of illness, infection and unforeseen complications.
And all 10,000 miles away from where I call home. Worse yet, my US-based health insurance didn’t cover a single cent of expense.
It all started innocently enough…
I had been diagnosed with a double hernia. A hernia is a tear in the abdominal wall. Often, a lump or bulge is visible. (In my case two bulges.) The bulge is actually the small intestine filling the hole created by the hernia itself. Both men and women can get hernias, although they are far more common in men.
There were two options for hernia surgery: laparoscopic and open surgery. I chose the more invasive and longer recovery option: open surgery. Why? A higher success rate.
That’s because a plastic mesh is inserted to provide the support that the abdominal wall is no longer able to provide.
Little did I know the decision for open surgery would have far greater impact…more about that in a moment…
The next decision I made was having the surgery overseas. Why? Because overseas I had someone who could care for me after my surgery: my wife Sharon. She currently lives in Malaysia. We met and spent time together in the US previously. Now she’s awaiting her immigration visa so we can be reunited permanently. (She’s not a US citizen.)
Now before you think Malaysia is inferior in terms of health care, it’s actually not far off from where the US actually ranks according to the World Health Organization. What’s more, I was in a private hospital and one staffed with specialists.
The First(And Unexpected) Complication…
I didn’t have a double hernia. It was worse. (No, not a triple hernia!) I actually had a “sliding hernia.” In this case, the bladder slides to fill the hole in the abdominal wall that was created by the hernia. That made the hernia surgery more complicated.
The good news? Because I opted for the open surgery, it was easier to spot and repair. The bad news? It meant I would be outfitted with a catheter for 10 days. This would allow time for the bladder to heal.
I have a fairly high pain threshold but the pain post-surgery was significant. I was told that the mesh is actually stitched to the muscle. And sometimes the mesh rubs up against a nerve. In addition, a simple cough or sneeze caused immediate pain.
But at least the worst was over, right? Actually, it had only just begun…
EnterThe Dreaded “I” Word...
After 10 days the catheter was removed. The next day I had chills and a fever of 103 F. I had an infection. Now I’ve had urinary track infections before. No big deal right? WRONG.
I had cystitis, which is an infection of the bladder lining. I was given oral antibiotics. And while the fever subsided, something far worse took its place. These next four days were the most painful of my entire life.
Here’s what happened. When the bladder gets a serous infection, it can’t retain much fluid. So you have the urge to go. Frequently. Except in my case I was having serious difficulty. And the continual urge to go caused spasms, often only minutes apart. The spasms wracked my body with intense, unbearable pain.
And while I found no relief, I did discover something helpful. In between spasms, pacing back and forth in the bathroom helped me focus on something other than the pain. This also minimized any noise or disruption to my wife who was sleeping in the next room.
So over the course of four days, I was only able to sleep in small fragments, never totaling more than 2 hours per day. And the last day of that cycle I didn’t sleep at all. I spent the entire night in the bathroom.
Later that morning I was rushed to the emergency room. Where the next surprise was discovered…
The infection had spread…to my prostate. It was enlarged. Not sure if that made me more vulnerable or not. But it wasn’t just an ordinary infection. A CT Scan revealed an abscess.
I was readmitted to the hospital. I had the catheter put back in. And was given massive doses of antibiotics via IV.
Now where the prostate is located makes it difficult for antibiotics to do their job. And after several days it was apparent that antibiotics alone wouldn’t be enough…
Two SurgeriesAnd A Serous Hereditary Complication Later…
My urologist, Dr. Tong, recommended two separate but necessary surgical procedures. First, they would pierce the Prostate abscess and drain its contents. Second, because the prostate was enlarged and impeding urine flow, I was to undergo a Transurethral Resection of the Prostate (TURP).
However, there was a holdup to having the surgery. The hospital didn’t have my blood type available. I’m A- like my Dad. Only 1 in 1,000 have that blood type. But that’s in the US. And yet in Malaysia, it’s even more rare. Maybe 1 in 25,000.
Without any of my blood type available the surgery was put on hold. But that didn’t stop one enterprising member of my family, my sister Lisa…
The US EmbassyIs Called Into Play…
My Chicago area-based sister Lisa, called the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. I was in a hospital located in Johor Bahru, which is actually closer to Singapore. (Where my wife currently resides…temporarily we hope.)
Now securing blood for one of their citizens is a little out of the US Embassy’s jurisdiction. Even so, they did make some inquiries. And a US Embassy representative was kind enough to call both my sister and me multiple times.
And whether it was the Embassy or the hospital itself, the A- blood was secured. The surgery was a GO!
I had both surgical procedures at once. They went well. However, because the entire surgery is internal there is some internal bleeding and debris. For that reason, I was given massive IV fluids to flush that stuff out of my system.
And because I was still battling the infection, I remained under observation at the hospital for three days after the surgery. On the day of my discharge, I had the catheter removed. I was able to go on my own. YAY!
However, after a couple days, I began having difficulty again. So the catheter was put back in. And this was the 4th time a catheter was called into play. And I have to tell you, that whole process is not pleasant. I’ll spare you the gory details. Guys, I think you know where I’m coming from, right?
And that leads me to the real gist of all this…
This has been quite an ordeal. And my sincere hope is that the life lessons I’ve learned will be of benefit to you as well.
Truth be known, I was so focused on the physical impact of all this, I’m still processing the various mental, emotional and spiritual aspects. I’ve found that writing, journaling and ultimately going public about it all has been cathartic for me. It’s a valuable step in the healing process and feeling whole on all levels.
So what did I learn?
Life lesson #1:It can happen to anybody
Like I expressed earlier, I’m normally a healthy person. But that didn’t protect me from everything that happened. And sure, what I experienced, especially the sequence of events is quite rare. But it DID happen.
Life lesson #2:go BEYOND the physical
I was put to the test in multiple ways. How much pain could I endure before my body gave out? How could I function with no sleep for nearly 120 hours straight? You know what helped me get through this hell? My line in the sand: I refused to be a victim.
I realized this after confronting some serious self-talk issues. You know, “why is this happening to me?” or “Please make it stop, I can’t take it anymore.” Once I became aware of the unhealthy self-talk, I experienced a HUGE shift. Instead of feeling like a victim, I told myself “I’m a warrior and this WILL NOT beat me.”
That one evening where I was up all night I was I full warrior mode. I was armed with some prayers from the Bible about health specifically. I must have said each one dozens of times. That’s what helped me get through my absolute lowest point. And I’ll never forget it as long as live.
Enlisting the mental and spiritual gave me the needed strength to combat the overwhelming physical challenges confronting me.
Life lesson #3:Trust as you have never trusted before
I’m a VERY independent person. One of my biggest values is freedom. And yet with this onslaught of events, I was forced to put my trust in others. In doing so, you have to believe that those you trust have your best interests at heart.
This was made even more difficult because I was so out of my normal environment. In short, trusting new doctors, medical staff and many others in a foreign country.
Now, I didn’t trust blindly. I relied on my instincts. And the counsel of those I already trusted like my wife and family members.
But I also had to let go and trust that everything would turn out ok. And it did. I even trusted that sharing this with my subscribers (and you reading this now) was the right thing to do. It was indeed.
Life lesson #4:those who care will step up BIG time
There’s nothing like a crisis for you to fully appreciate those close to you. I was amazed and gratified many times over.
Especially how my family and friends mobilized on my behalf. And how they remained vigilant no matter what twist, turn, complication or setback came my way.
I’ll be eternally grateful for that outpouring of support. And more importantly, their actions that led to results.
Life lesson #5:There are ALWAYS silver linings
While I wouldn’t wish what happened to me on my worst enemy, it’s also true there are silver linings. And blessings. Here are a few that come to mind…
- I’ve grown closer to my in-laws
- I’ve grown closer to my family and trusted friends
- My wife Sharon has gone above and beyond her marriage vow of “in sickness and in health”
- I proved I can rise above even the most formidable of life challenges
And how about a totally UNEXPECTED silver lining? I lost my double chin! It’s true. The flabby neck fat is gone! Not sure if I was burning calories at an accelerated rate or what happened exactly.
And while I still have a ways to go, the worst is over. Thanks for reading about my journey.
UPDATE:heading home as things progress (and improve)
After nearly two months away, I’m going home. I had the catheter removed. I was told it will still take another couple months for “things to settle down.” I’ll also experience another first: I’ll be transported to the gates of my flights via wheelchair. Can I walk? Yes? Just not for long distances…yet.
I also want to thank my two primary physicians, both of whom had to think and move quickly as conditions changed. First, let me thank Dr. Ismail for performing my “sliding hernia” surgery and dealing with all the complications. Next, I’d like to thank Dr. Tong who performed my prostate surgery for the abscess and prostate resection along with the resulting complications.
Both physicians provided excellent care and took as much time as needed to answer ALL of my questions. In fact, western physicians could learn a thing or two about patient care from these two fine physicians. Thank you both. Considering how fast things were happening you both provided care and comfort in addition to your surgical skills. I wish you both the best.
Which life lesson hit home for you? Have you dealt with similar challenges? Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments below.