Friday, 29 November 2013

Only When I Laugh

I don't suppose the easiest of circumstances in which to strike up a casual conversation with someone is at the time when they're dragging a Bic razor (sorry about the advertising) all over your privates. "Off anywhere nice for your holidays next year?" doesn't seem the appropriate thing to say when you're flat on your back and naked from the chest to the knees, then you look down and see this bloke, all in green 'scrubs', lifting certain parts of your family allowance out of the way in order to make sure he doesn't miss a bit.

There's something that makes one feel deeply vulnerable when one's pubes are all gone and you look down at the area around your nether regions and it looks like a chicken just about to go into the oven. Having at the time still sported my hernia, the resemblance to the unfortunate bird was even more striking. I found myself wondering, "Does this bloke spend all day shaving people before surgery, or are there other aspects to his daily grind that make his life a little more worthwhile? What does he talk about when he's propping up the bar of an evening with his mates? Does he have a scale of 1-10 by which he measures the blokes he's shorn? "Tell you what Kosta, you'd have been dead jealous of this bloke I did this afternoon..."

Anyway, as you probably already know if you read my rubbish with any degree of regularity (like I said before, try therapy), I was in Rhodes General Hospital, "Andreas Papandreou Hospital" to give it its full and grandiose title, for a hernia operation. I was in two minds as to whether to inflict my tale on you, to be honest. But after having heard so many negative comments and derogatory words about the place from other ex-pat Brits who live out here, I now can speak from considerable experience and wanted to set the record straight, possibly also putting a few readers' minds at ease, should any of you out there in web-land ever find yourselves in need of treatment out here on Rhodes.

For starters, I was amazed at how soon I was booked into the system to get my op done, as you'll know if you've read this post, plus maybe this one too. So, there I was at the ridiculously early hour of 8.00am last Monday, November 25th, checking in at the patient reception desk at the hospital. Paperwork out of the way and a wad of A4 photocopies stapled together now in hand, followed by my trusty wife (laden down like a beast of burden) I made my way to the fourth floor, B Surgery Unit.

Why was my better half laden down as described above? Well, the Greek system has always been a little different from that in the UK. It has nothing to do with austerity or anything like that. It's merely the fact that here in Greece the culture is that a hospital patient usually has someone from their family at their bedside for the duration of their stay, you know, someone to find and put on your slippers for you; put them on your feet of course, not theirs. If they put them on their own feet you'd be seriously thinking about whether you made the right choice of hospital carer in the first place. This is due to the fact that the Greek health system never has spent money on some of the little extras that we expect in a UK hospital. All the staff that do look after you are professionals and extremely good at their jobs, let's get that out of the way first. But they don't employ as many ancillary staff as in the UK and they don't always provide stuff like a jug of water at the bedside, that extra cup of tea half-way through the afternoon and so on. 

So, my wife, ever the pragmatist, decided to come prepared for all eventualities. I had with me a rucksack containing my toiletries, tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt for my stay (haven't had a set of pyjamas since I can't remember when!) and my slippers. She, on the other hand, conscious of the fact that she'd be "camping" by my bedside for the three days or so of my stay, carried a pillow, replete with fresh pillowslip, a bag of mixed nuts and raisins, some crisps and savouries to nibble, a couple of bottles of squash, a vacuum flask, a bottle of water and a toiletries bag stuffed with all her creams and stuff. Oh, and a full-sized bath towel plus one of those 'scrunchy' things you use in the shower to lather up the shower gel, which she also brought along too. Then there was a bag of fruit (bananas, apples etc.) and a wind-up torch in case of there being no power during the nights. I thought she was being a little mega-cautious there, but she brought it anyway. Nearly forgot, she also had in a bag with her a few changes of underwear, whereas I'd brought one spare pair of briefs, which I only ended up changing into on the morning of our departure.

When we rolled up to the Sister's desk in the ward I swear they looked at her and thought she'd just come out from under a railway arch. Mind you, since there aren't any railways on Rhodes, perhaps not, but you get the picture.

I was soon signed into the ward and a very nice receptionist took us along to our room, which consisted of four beds, an ensuite and a fabulous view. There was even a wardrobe near the door for each patient in which to cram all the stuff they wouldn't need until it was time to check out and go home. There was the usual bedside cupboard and shelf, in fact, the whole place looked exactly like you'd expect of any modern hospital ward room. Mine was the bed furthest away on the right, beside the window, from which we had a view across to Turkey and Symi, plus of the coast at Ialyssos and we could see the northern end of the airport runway at Diagoras. Had it not been for the fact that that I was in for surgery, it would have made a very acceptable hotel room. I reckon the view was a lot better that quite a lot of hotel rooms on the island anyway...

During our hour-long drive up to the hospital, the weather had been dull. Not long after checking in, it deteriorated and all day long on Monday it was awful. Just as well we couldn't go anywhere really.
There then began the round of things that they need to do before you get "surgerized". First, I had to go for a blood test. Young chap in blue scrubs, busily chatting to his mate in similar attire about football, soon gets that out of the way. Well, actually it was his second attempt to find a vein that surrenders some of my blood which succeeded. I'm sure my body doesn't want to let any of its component parts go without putting up some resistance. It's understandable.

Then it was back to the ward to sit on the bed and wait. An hour or more goes by and then you're told, "off you go to get your chest X-rayed". Got to see if anything would affect you going under the anaesthetic. Nice little jaunt down to the ground floor, where I hand in my bit of paper along with the rest of the waiting inmates and I'm soon called in by a businesslike woman who tells me to stand in front of one of those unwelcoming cold panels. I was immediately put in mind of those newsreel clips about women going for mammograms. I had my hands thrown around each side of the panel and my chest pressed up against it. Before I could say "cold nipples!" she told me it was all done and I could return to the ward.

The day drifted by as we watched the weather close in ever more...

We were very pleased to find that my next door patient, a very nice bloke called Theophilos, was extremely amenable, as was his wife Soula. There were no patients in the other two beds, something which was to prove most useful. Chatting together helped to pass the time and eventually, some time around dusk, I was told to go and have my interview with the anaesthetist. Theo had already gone down for his surgery (same problem as me) in the middle of the afternoon. So I was rather keen to see what kind of state he'd be in when they brought him back, since it would have a bearing on what what I could expect. 

The anaesthetist was very nice, as was everyone I'd so far encountered. He told me that I could elect to have local or general. Local?! For a hernia?? I told him I was well and truly intent on being asleep for the duration thank you very much. Imagine actually hearing what's going on!! No way José.

They brought Theo back to the ward about two hours after he'd gone down. He was wide awake and chatting with the porter who was wheeling him along. Good sign then. The op itself only takes about half an hour, and his wife had followed his bed down with him and came back with him too. At this stage we didn't know whether she'd been allowed in to watch the whole thing, but rather expected not.

Next was my turn to be shaved, hence the scene described at the top of this post. After the bloke had completed his work and stood back to admire his accuracy and the cleanness of the whole thing, he hit me with: "Now, if you'd just turn on to your side, I have to give you an enema. This won't hurt..." Resisting the urge to say "I hardly know you!" or , "ooh, Matron!!" I did as requested. No further comments necessary about this bit.

My last "appointment" of the day was a final interview with the surgeon himself. I entered the examination room where he said, "Hello John. Everything OK? Drop your trousers, let's have a look." It's only people of a few very specific professions that can say things like that when you think about it. He told me to remain standing as I exposed the offending bulge. "Poh Poh!" He rather helpfully exclaimed, "einai mega'li!!! [it IS big!]". I have to say that he was right. To be honest, if I'd told you that I'd swallowed a tennis ball and it had migrated to the area of my lower left groin, you'd have believed me. Anyway, he then sat me down and ran through the results of all the tests I'd had done that day. The blood had revealed no problems with diabetes, no kidney problems, in fact everything hunky dory. In fact [and this is where I have to boast, folks, with all humility...] he clipped my chest x-ray on to the light box above our chairs and raved about how clear it was. "Like an 18 year old!!" he exclaimed. "Totally clear. Perfect!"

 See, there's a plus point to such an experience. You get a free MOT test thrown in. (For our non-UK friends, that's the UK annual roadworthiness test for vehicles over three years old)

By the middle of the evening I'd sampled the hospital food a couple of times. They allowed me to eat up until the evening and to drink water up until midnight. After that it was "nil by mouth" until after the op. The food is very acceptable. No, it's not Cordon Bleu, but it fills a hole and I certainly wasn't so averse to it that I'd have wanted to complain. They'd been told when I checked in that I was vegetarian and they gave me a pasta and cheese dish for supper on Monday evening, accompanied by a small side dish of Greek salad. There was yogurt and chopped fruit for dessert and a nice brown bread roll too. If I had any complaints at all it would have been that I'd have liked more salt. But that may well have had something to do with the fact that I was in a hospital anyway. In fact, the paper napkins that came with the food were emblazoned with the "Omorfos" logo. Omorfos is the very company run by my friend Vaso, the young lady who provided the lunches on the lazy day cruises that I did all summer for Thomson (TUI). Small world. If you go in to hospital out here, take a salt cellar with you, job done.

Next morning at six o'clock sharp the lights went on and a loud woman's voice announced that they were going to change Theo's drip (Ringers Lactate I think, to re-hydrate and take away hunger pangs while one recovers from the anaesthetic). That's something that seems to be common to hospitals the world over. No one, but no one gets to sleep on past 6.00am.

Three hours later, me now dressed resplendently in that paper gown thing that does up at the back, along with some knee-length stockings that are meant to help with the circulation while you're out for the count, the lady porter arrives to wheel me down for my surgery. My wife has an anxiety attack, then quickly recovers and follows the bed as I begin the trip down two floors to the theatre. As I'm wheeled along the corridors everyone I pass looks my way and says "Kali epitikia", which means something like, "good luck". To be strictly accurate, it translates as "good success".

Once out of the elevator (OK, "lift") we arrive at the swing doors leading into the surgery area and the porter tells my wife that it's thus far and no further. She can wait just over there, where there are a few chairs and a couple of other people looking anxious. Once through the doors I'm struck by how all the decor is now brilliant white, whereas elsewhere it's a kind of cream motif. Before a few seconds have past, and a few medical staff have done likewise, all looking like they're on a mission, I'm wheeled into a side room, where a bloke in the ubiquitous green "scrubs" is waiting for me. He wheels a stainless steel operating table alongside my bed, stretches a green sheet over me and bids me take hold of the top corners of it. Once I have done that, he, quick as a flash, reaches under it and whips away my bedclothes. Then he helps me transfer myself on to the operating table, which he'll then wheel a few metres further into the theatre itself. I find myself saying to him, as much for my own comfort as anything else, "It's like a factory isn't it. A constant stream of bodies coming in this door, out that one."

He replies, "Yes. Actually, we often say we're like bakers, shoving trays into the oven and pulling them out when they're done!" I'm now a figurative loaf folks.

Once I was in the theatre it all happened very fast. The anaesthetist I'd had the interview with the day before was there and soon began preparing to administer the anaesthetic. Next thing I knew, I was coming round and the surgeon himself was speaking to me. "All fine John. You're done, Everything went well."

A woman's voice to my right. I turn my head and there, not more than a metre from me, is a young woman, evidently waiting to go in from where I'd just come out. She's pretty wound up, not settling to this very well. I find myself, still woozy, saying to her, "Don't worry love. It's all going to be fine. there's nothing to it." before I can realise what's happening, some member of the surgical team pulls back the white sheet that's over her body and she's starkers!! But evidently very pregnant. I assume she's in for a Caesarian. Either that or it's their way of really waking you up! I have the presence of mind to look the other way and I'm instantly on the move again.

They keep you in there until you come around properly. Before long, though, I was back in my own bed being wheeled out through the double doors, where my wife arrives at my side. I'd been in there all told about two hours. She later told me that she'd been comforting a bloke whose wife was in there giving birth. I think I may have met her.

Back in the ward I am vaguely aware that there's a drip in my left hand, through a catheter. It has two stop-valves, through which they, over the next 24 hours or so, administer the Ringer's Lactate, some antibiotics and some pain killers. For most of the rest of the day (Tuesday) I sleep, wake up, sip water, then sleep again, feeling to be honest, extremely comfortable and protected, which indeed I am.

There's a substantial team of nurses and whatever else you call them, constantly coming and going, checking my pulse, taking my blood pressure, administering my drips, and every one of them kindness and professionalism itself.

Of course, once you're over the op, it's mainly downhill from there on. So I'd be up at the window gazing at the view and watching as the weather improved...

As you can see, I had a good view of the helipad, which was put to use twice whilst I was there.

The helicopter departs.

Meet Walter. He came to visit a few times.

Sea view at no extra cost.

All in all, when we finally "checked out" we almost felt quite sad. We'd only found out on the last evening that one can rent a telly [digital service] for €3 a day, so we did watch "Κάτι Ψίνεται" ["Something's Cooking", or in the UK, "Come Dine With Me") once. I thanked all the staff, the whole team on the ward, as I signed out at the desk and I'm even looking forward to seeing them again on Wednesday when I go in to have the stitches taken out.

The whole experience from beginning to end left me feeling deeply grateful to have been looked after so well and by such kind and professional people who work their socks off, much like medical staff the world over, it seems.


  1. Wow, what a lot of attention you got! When I had my inguinal hernia repair it was done under local anaesthetic and I went home in the early evening! Not a nice experience, I think I would have preferred your version quite frankly. But then I was SOOOOO much younger than you are!!

    1. Well, since I'm only 18, what age must you have been then?

  2. This was really interesting to me because I'm a surgical nurse in Alaska. It's a very good job here, but I've been told that's not usually the case in England and Greece. Here, an inguinal hernia patient would only be at the hospital for 5 or 6 hours, so would go home the same day. I was a bit horrified by the "starkers" pregnant lady. We're rather obsessive about protecting your privacy (and your privates:-). It's really interesting to hear how it's done in Greece. Glad everything went so well!
    Judy M

    1. Yea, Judy, I do wonder whether the member of staff who uncovered her realized that I'd actually come round!!

  3. John. Looking at the views from the ward windows, I am sure you were in the same room as me, when I had my hip operation in February

    1. Quite possibly Trevor. Didn't notice a brass plaque anywhere tho...

  4. Had a full anaesthetic then a long drive home just a couple of hours later! Yuk! Pleased to hear all went well!

    1. Yea well, Graham, I suppose it depends just how big the hernia was, but it's generally recommended that patients don't drive for a few days after a hernia op. Did the Doc know you were driving home? Where was this then?

    2. I wasn't driving, but Dorset windy roads didn't help! My head was spinning!

  5. Try the NHS for size.
    Phone at 10am to see if bed available.
    Arrive at hospital at 2pm.
    Get handed a razor and a gown and directed to the loo.
    Walk to theatre, climb onto trolley, get "put out".
    Wake up and get wheeled back to ward.
    Have tea and toast.
    Have a wee to make sure all is OK.
    Phone wife for pick-up.
    Hobble in great discomfort across to the car park to car for journey back home by 6pm.
    I thought Greece had the financial difficulties?
    Had two inguinal hernias done over three years: same procedure both times.

    1. Thanks for that Pwll. I deliberately didn't refer to the UK health service 'cos last time I made so bold as to compare Greece with the UK (I was on about crime at the time) I got some negative comments from one or two who seemed to think I was "dissing" my home country. But lots of people have since told me (and some comments we've seen above) things that indicate that one is rather well treated here in Greece, notwithstanding the financial crisis.

      As I stated in the post, I have nothing but praise for the whole surgical team and the fact that they keep you in a couple of days infuses you with confidence. Went back today for the stitches and the surgeon himself took them out. I took a box of choccies and a card in for the whole team on "B" Surgical!! One can't help thinking that the reasons why one is sent home seemingly within minutes of the op in the UK are financial and not due to concern over patients (here we go, more criticisms coming my way...)

  6. I don't like to be negative about what we have in this country but with the internet and the blogs of UK expatriates available from around the globe you sometimes wonder.
    I guess it is too much demand for limited resources.
    But to continue: it took ten weeks from seeing the GP to seeing a Consultant who commented "That's a beauty, we must get it done soon, I can do it in six weeks time"
    Luckily enough the stitches were the disolving type.
    Sixteen weeks of acute discomfort.
    But I suppose it wasn't life threatening.

    All the best.

  7. Glad to hear that you are on the mend! I have had a visit to hospital - I broke my tibia near my right ankle. I have a lovely moon boot and crutches plus some lovely painkillers!! I even asked if I get discount for being a NHS employee. no work for six weeks.

    PS Santa might bring me some books and DVD's

  8. Good to know you're 'fixed' John.

    Kalá Christoúgenna