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Thoughts about life, death and motherhood after 20 days in the hospital

Carlotta Cerri

I’m writing this post from a hospital room, on the bed where I laid for the past three weeks.

I can’t thank you all enough for making me feel your presence with all your messages and emails during this hard time: I haven’t been able to reply, but at the end of this post I’ll write a quick report of what happened, why it happened, and what we felt—I didn’t think I’d write about it, but it’s life, which is all this blog is about.

Here’s a list of my usual cobweb thoughts, because I really can’t write coherently about this roller coaster of emotions, pain and fear.

  • Health is your wealth. Without health there’s nothing, no being a better person, no raising your kids Montessori, no teaching them three languages, no saving the planet, no traveling the world, let alone making life plans and changes.
  • I went from being 100% healthy to spending three weeks in a hospital bed, three weeks of constant pain—a real roller coaster of emotions and fear, which, luckily, ended well for me. Anything can happen to any of us at anytime, we know it but we don’t really believe it until something does happen. This is such a scary thought—one that as soon as I’m fully recovered I’ll have to work hard to shake off, because I can see how it could tangle my mind with fear. Life is so frightening in itself already, we can’t afford to give in to fear.
  • I went from spending 24 hours a day with Emily to not seeing her at all and having to stop breastfeeding abruptly—an even harder roller coaster of emotions and fear. (And now that I’m home, I’m happy to see it was slightly unnecessary: Emily went back to being my sweet little girl—although she often prefers a dadd—and unexpectedly asking for titty, which faced me with another hard decision). Kids are the most adaptable beings, we have so much to learn from them.
  • Not everything was bad: we were forced to leave Emily in nursery 5 hours a day every day and, despite her crying when going in and sometimes inside, and regressing with her potty training, she surprised us all. It’s almost as if she understood we needed her help, and she helped. Never ever underestimate how much our children know and understand and are capable of. Trust children, always.
  • The first week I spent in the hospital, Oliver started talking a lot about death, he asked Nonna if I were dead. He pointed at the balcony and said, “If Emily falls down, then daddy falls down, then Nonna falls down, and then I’m all alone”. Oliver knows what death is, he understands the permanence of it, because we explained it to him when we saw the dead bird at the park or the frog smashed on the street. I think it’s important not to keep children in a bubble, and instead, to expose them to real life, which includes death.
  • Upside: Oliver spent so much time with my mum and dad (we’re so grateful for their help) that he started speaking Italian and now surprises me with cute little sentences in his funny accent. I love it. There’s always, always, always an upside to anything, we should exercise to find it in everything negative we experience, from a minor disappointment to a serious life obstacle.
  • When I was in the hospital, I knew rationally that I was not at risk of dying, but after not improving for 1.5 weeks, for a few days my mind went to some very dark places: it takes one major complication and a doctor’s mistake, and I’m dead, I kept thinking. That night I recorded messages for Alex and my kids, in case anything happened to me. I don’t think I’ll listen to them any time soon, but once again I realized that thinking seriously about our own mortality should be a weekly exercise in life.
  • Your people are there for you when you suffer. If they aren’t, they’re not your people. And your people are much fewer than you think. When I returned from Canada, I had already made a change and started to dedicate my time only to the important people in my life, and now I am even more convinced that that’s the way to go.
  • I had a lot of time to think, and I was happy to realize that I really am on the right track to create the lifestyle that I long for—I’m getting rid of stuff, I’m more and more minimalistic, I’m a more and more conscious consumer, I’m more mindful about our beautiful planet, I’m not filling my week with extra school activities and instead I’m spending afternoons with my kids. Except one thing: I have to stop feeling the constant pressure of growing the blog; I have to stop trying to squeeze a word into a post here and there in the afternoon while playing with my kids. I’ll create slots for my work, and afternoons will be exclusively for Oliver and Emily, my full attention will be for them and my phone will be ignored. Priorities are everything, make sure you set your right.

Last but not least, I’ll write about my personal elephant in the room. I’m sure the hospital and the doctors made mistakes. Doctors are only human, after all. I learnt that you have to trust them, because there’s nothing else you can do, you’re in their hands and they want to make you better as much as you do. But you have to be your own doctor at all time.

A week after they put the first drainage in, I realized they were still giving me pain killers and paracetamol every eight hours with the antibiotics. Of course I was feeling fine, I was drugged! I demanded they stopped giving me everything that wasn’t antibiotics, and that’s when I started feeling my body again and realized I wasn’t good yet: cramps and fever started again, and I wasn’t improving.

We live in a society where drugs and procedures are seen as harmless—the default answer answer to everything; where doctors give us and our children antibiotics and drugs for a simple cold; where grandparents want us to lower the fever right away—when the fever is our body’s best defense mechanism; where doctors want to run an x-ray on your baby’s hand to check if the nail that he’s loosing is infected (true story); when pediatricians want to put a catheter up your baby’s penis instead of having him pee in a bag to check for urinal infection (another true story).

We have to be more conscious about it all. We have to learn to listen to our bodies. We have to teach our children to listen to their bodies. We have to stop taking—and giving our kids—drugs for everything. We have to fight the urban legends and the myths of the past generations (you don’t catch a cold because it’s cold outside!). We have to be more aware and more informed and more conscious—without being reckless or irresponsible. And above all, we have to use our heads, our common sense, our instincts, and stop being sheep in the shadow of authorities—any authority.

That’s all. I said it all. And now I’m gonna go back to my birthday week.

If you haven’t followed my updates on Facebook or Instagram, this is an account of what happened to me.

On Monday 22nd of October I finished my normal day by going to a hard-core dance class, did all my abs as hard as I could, and danced my ass off. I felt great. Three hours later, I started having strong cramps in my belly, and I spent the night and the following day and night in pain, thinking it was a food poisoning. All the symptoms matched 100%, and I had warmed-up refrigerated chicken and egg salad that day for lunch.

On Wednesday morning, 24th of October, the pain shifted drastically to my abdomen lower right side, and fearing it was appendicitis at 6am I leaned on my mom’s arm and dragged myself to the ER of the closest hospital, Quirón, which is conveniently 150 steps away from home. And there it was: inflamed appendix on the verge of perforation.

I underwent surgery that same morning (the appendix was already expelling pus), and two days later I was sent home. I wasn’t feeling well, I still had contraction-like cramps and diarrhea, but since I was cleared to go home, I thought it was the normal recovery. That night was one of the worst in a long time: excruciating pain in my abdomen, vomit and diarrhea non-stop. The following morning, Saturday 27th of October, I went back to the ER and a cat scan reveled that I had an 11cm pelvic abscess (post-op peritonitis) in my lower belly.

They started me right away on the strongest antibiotics (Meropenem) and on Monday 29th of October they put a drainage through my glute, up my back and down into my belly, where the abscess had formed. I wasn’t given any sedative for the operation, making it one of the most traumatic and painful experiences I ever went through—so much that I sobbed with my mum for about half an hour when they finally took me back up to my room. The drainage worked for about 24 hours, and then it got blocked.

And so it’s November. On Thursday 1st, they started washes with an anticoagulant (Urokinasa) that was supposed to thin the liquid. That didn’t work, either. No more liquid was being drained, but I still had temperature, pain, and contraction-like cramps, and an echo soon showed the collection of liquid was still there and still big, about 8cm.

They kept doing washes once a day with Urokinasa, but the situation wasn’t improving. Four days later, on Monday November 5th, almost two weeks into my hospital stay, the doctor said they had to operate again with a cesarean kind of surgery to clean it all up. I was devastated, not only wasn’t it over, but I was facing a long recovery once finally at home with my family.

They had already booked an OR for Thursday 8th of November, but the following day the doctor came in with an alternative solution: a specialist from Malaga was coming that morning, who would change the drainage to a thicker tube. I was terrified, but they promised they’d give me so much sedative I won’t feel a thing, so I shook off the fright of the previous experience and went for it.

On Wednesday 7th of November, the new drainage was put in place—with no pain during the operation, and all the pain afterwards, of course—and it finally started working! 48 hours later, my blood values started improving and an echo showed considerably less liquid.

They kept me in for two more days over the weekend, and 20 days after I was admitted, I finally went home to finish antibiotics and recovery.

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