Surgery in South India

“Hello mum, I do not want you to panic, but I am having emergency surgery tomorrow morning!”

That is the last thing any parent would want to hear from their child when they are abroad in a foreign country. That is exactly what my mum had to hear on the 17th June 2016 when my appendix burst in rural India.

*warning : this post is going to get very graphic*

As you may have seen from my previous post, I have just returned from three months in Tamil Nadu, India, where I was volunteering with Restless Development, ICS. For the first 4 weeks I was there, I was absolutely fine. I was actually one of the only people to not have experienced number 7 on the Bristol Stool Scale.. but then it all went down hill.

On the morning of the 6th June, I woke at 2am with the sudden feeling of sickness, and to be truthfully honest, I knew the shits were coming. I was lucky that in our host home we had a western toilet, so I rushed in there, and *warning here comes the graphic part* it came out both ends. Four times that night/morning I was up and in the bathroom crying as I pooped.

I stayed off work the next day, which was a massive shame because it was World Environmental Day and our team were planting trees at the local Government High School. That night it again was a repeat of the night before, and I felt like absolute death.

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World Environment Day

On our Restless placements we have a kind of rule that says if you are being sick or doing a number 7 for two days then they’ll take you to the doctors. I had the most painful stomach cramps at this stage, and I was convinced it was my appendix. So on Tuesday 7th June I ventured from the village to Thiruvallur town on the bus to go to a local hospital. It was pleasant enough, and they gave me an injection in my bottom which made me feel 100x times better straight away. A doctor insisted that I have an ultrasound scan to see what was wrong with me. Slight issue, they wanted me to have a full bladder for the scan, and I couldn’t keep anything down. Long story short, I drank 4 litres of water, and threw up about 3 litres of pure water in the hospital corridor.

3 attempts at an ultrasound scan later and the doctor concluded it was not my appendix, but it was in fact colitis, an inflammation of the colon. Suddenly I started feeling really ill again, and I’m not sure if I was fainting, or if I kept falling asleep sitting up. Either way this happened in the hospital waiting room as I was waiting for my medication, at the bus stop where I had to wait an hour and a half for the bus home, and also on the bus, where I always threw up into a bag which had to be chucked out the window.

However, when I woke up the next day I felt a lot better. I ventured to our youth centre after lunch, and for the next couple of days the pain went away and I actually started pooping normally again. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves though. From the beginning of this post we all know it doesn’t end here.

By the following Monday, when my medication had finished, I was starting to feel bad again. The pain in my stomach was now just on the right *major red flag*, and the code brown was back. I was still convinced it was my appendix, but I didn’t want to sound like a hypochondriac, so I tried to lay off the spicy foods, which is quite hard to do when you’re living in rural India.

I remember this day perfectly, it was the night England beat Wales in the Euro’s, and it was the only time we actually watched the tiny combi television our host family had. I went to bed mid way through the match with the host horrendous stomach cramp which I put down to constipation because code brown had changed to code nothing is moving at all. My stomach was so swollen, I thought it was just bloating, and I looked about 4 months pregnant.

2:30am I woke it the most excrutiating pain (I later found out this is the moment my appendix burst) and I couldn’t sleep for about 2 hours. Eventually I either fell asleep, or passed out, who knows. I woke up the next morning, and the pain had completely gone. Eager not to miss anymore time out of work, I went to one of our schools to do a session with the children. Mid way through, it all went down hill. The pain hadn’t come back, but I felt weak and I nearly passed out on top of the children. Back to hospital I go.

 

2 hours later the taxi finally arrived and I was off to a different hospital in Thiruvallur town. This time I was put on a drip and left in a room by myself for 30 minutes, and again I straight away felt a lot better. The hospital recommended I have a CT scan, but they said they weren’t able to do it until the next day.

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The drip in my second hospital visit

After two not great experiences at the local hospitals, I told my team leader I wanted to have the CT scan at the city hospital, Sri Ramachandra in Chennai. It was a 2 hour taxi ride, but I knew it would be worth it. The second I arrived  the next day I was taken into the surgeons consultant room and he straight away was convinced it was my appendix. I was whisked straight up to the International ward, where I was told the terrible news that my visa didn’t cover me for surgery. I was finally in hospital, but now I was being told to go away so my Indian team leader could go to the embassy and get a emergency medical extension on my visa before any tests or surgery could be done

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Blood tests aren’t my thing

Luckily our charity had an office in Chennai, so I ended up going there for 3 hours whilst I hoped and prayed my visa would get extended. Whoo it did, and I was back to hospital. After 8 capsules of blood, 2 failed attempts at inserting an IV and a CT scan later, I was told my appendix had been burst for 2 days and I was having emergency surgery at 6:30am the
next time.

 

Jump back to the beginning of my blog post – “Hello mum, I do not want you to panic, but I am having emergency surgery tomorrow morning!”

As you can imagine, before I even finished the sentence she was in tears and trying to book the next flight out to India. Thank god I convinced her against this idea. She can barely cope in a city like Birmingham, let alone the crazy city of Chennai. At this point I was led in bed with drugs getting pumped into me to stop the spread of the infection that was probably racing it’s way through my body.

5:30am

The time for the surgery had arrived. I woke up in a pile of my own sweat, to a nurse giving me a bed bath with a baby wipe. School girls in India have their hair done in tied plaits, and the nurse insisted on doing this for me as another washed me.. lovely. It’s strange, but I wasn’t actually nervous about the surgery, I was more nervous about the needle in the IV line, and that was over and done with now.

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Getting wheeled down to surgery

The recovery room was probably the highlight of my surgery. Every time I blinked 10 minutes passed, and when I looked up there were different people hovering over me. The only thought that was running through my head was how numb my bum was. Every time I woke up I kept trying to wiggle around to stop it from cramping, but I kept drifting off again.

Next thing I know I was being wheeled back to my room and this is when I started to properly come round. For some reason the doctors were convinced my name was my surname, so no one called me Courtney the whole time I was in hospital. I arrived in my room to find my team leader, and three other remembers of the Restless Development staff eagerly waiting for me.

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The day after surgery

Shortly later I found out I was in surgery a lot longer than expected, and they nearly had to open me up further due to all the pus that had been collected from the burst. Luckily they were able to operate through keyhole surgery and my surgeon thinks the scars will be gone in around 8 months! The surgery was a success, apart from the fact I had E-Coli poisoning from the pus and a really painful shoulder from the medication.

There was definitely perks though of having the surgery. I had an extremely comfortable bed, Western food on demand, a flat screen TV, no cockroaches or mosquitos, and air conditioning.

Surprisingly the recovery time was really quickly. I was up and about the next day, and by day 3 I had the draining tube from my side removed *graphic moment* it looked like Sex on the Beach, blood and pus.. sorry if I’ve ruined that drink for you now. 

After 4 nights in an Indian hospital, I was finally released back into the wild. It had already been arranged that our Mid Placement training in Pondicherry was on Thursday, so instead of me going back to the village I was allowed to stay at the Chennai office with another volunteer for the two nights beforehand.

Within a week all the bandages were removed, and I was fully mobile, my eating was back to normal (without extreme spice) and I was back at work again.

I’m not really sure if there is a moral to this story, but what I am going to say is, if you do think you are ill, especially abroad, do get a second opinion, because I was left for nearly two weeks with an appendicitis, which could have sent me into septic shock, or probably even death if it had been left untreated for another 48 hours. I’m not saying it was India that made me ill, because even if I was home back in the UK it is likely my appendix still would have burst. I understand that sometimes the good hospitals are far away, mine was a 2 hour car journey, but it’s worth it in the end. If I hadn’t gone that day, my surgeon said another two days and I would’ve been unconscious with major complications.

I would like to thank the medical professionals and all the staff as Sri Ramachandra Hospital in Chennai (Madras), who saved my life and cared for me throughout my whole stay. If it wasn’t for you, I probably wouldn’t be here today. Thank you.

Until next time,

Courtney x

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India | 3 months of magic

From Cheltenham to Chennai

– an ICS adventure

Hello world and welcome to my blog

From a very young age I was always interested in the world. It started around the age of 6 when my mums friend bought me a light up globe for christmas and I couldn’t stop staring at it. 14 years later, I decided it was about time to explore that globe in real life, and stare at the wonders it held in front of me.

However.. slight issue. I had just left sixth form, and was on basic salary job, with little savings. I trolled the internet for volunteering placements abroad, from elephants in Thailand to orphanages in Brazil, but they all cost extortionate amounts of money, which I did not have. Down beaten, I turned to FaceBook to express my anger about my predicament, but before I could click the final button on posting my self wallowing status, something just below caught my eye.

ICS (International Citizen Service) was sat right there, right below my moaning status about my lack of funds and bundles of ambition. I clicked curiously on it to see it was an organisations that sends British youths abroad to volunteers in Asia, South America and Africa for 12 weeks at a time.. at absolutely no cost. There must be a catch I thought, but I applied anyway.

Long story short, 7 months later on the 4th May 2016, I was stood in Heathrow Airport with 30 other volunteers about to fly off to India to volunteer in the southern state of Tamil Nadu for the next 12 weeks.

 

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Heathrow airport before departure

 

The Adventure Begins

Sitting on the plane I thought to myself ‘have I made the right decision?’ I know that sounds dumb considering I had been dreaming about a day like this for years. But when you are actually sat there and you realise you are going to be thousands of miles away from home living in a tiny village  with a national host family with strangers you have only met for two days, living and breathing rural culture, it suddenly hits you that this is very real and it isn’t as simple as getting the bus home from London.

The first week was basic training, preparing us for what we would face when we arrived in placement. We would be split into four different teams across the state, Vellore 1, Vellore 2, Kanchiparum and my team, Thirvallur. As well as the 30 international volunteers, there would also be 30 national volunteers, who lived in the areas we were going to be volunteering in. The English was limited, but a lot better than what I expected it to be.

We were briefed on the sort of issues we would be teaching about, health and livelihoods. There was the WASH program, ‘Water, Sanitation and Hygiene’, and also MHM, ‘Menstrual Health Hygiene’. I knew the MHM would be a struggle because of the ways the girls are treated when they started their periods, and throughout their puberty.

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First team photo on the way to placement in Thiruvalangadu

After two weeks we finally went off to placement, and I arrived the village I would be living in for the next 8 weeks, Thiruvalangadu. We knew we going to have a YRC (youth resource centre) but nothing prepared us for the 12ft x 7ft metal shed on the roof of a third floor building. I think I was naive when I was expecting the sort of church hall you have for your 7th birthday party.

The planning was a struggle at first,  we had a school placement lined up from the start, but organising the sessions was difficult. We were told most of our classes would be 9th and 10th standard (14, 15 and 16 year olds), so we had to tailor them to their age.

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Energiser in our school sessions

 

Before my eyes the weeks started whizzing past, and then we were at our top up training in Pondicherry, and I realised we were already half way through our placement. Back in the village we carried on with our sessions, and it was time to tackle MHM and female empowerment. We ran two sessions with the 9th standard girls at the local Government High School, one on girls empowerment and another on menstruation and puberty.

We were apprehensive on how the sessions would go because we had been previously informed on how little the girls knew, and how it was such a taboo in India. I was strangely impressed in how much the girls knew about the puberty side of our sessions, but little was known about the menstruation.

My highlight of the session was when I laid an A3 piece of sugar paper on the ground with the outline of a female body drawn on. I handed out some pens and asked the girls to draw on the puberty changes. The leg hair and arm pit hair was drawn on, and I asked them if they knew any other hair they grows on the female body. The girls all stared at me, and I could tell they knew but were too embarrassed to say anything. Finally a girl grabbed one of the pens are stared at the paper. Moments later she scribbled on some pubic hair, and ran out the circle in embarrassment whilst all the other girls laughed. It was an amazing moment to see her do that. Although that is something so simple for someone in the UK to do, for her that was breaking her own countries taboo.

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Puberty and Menstruation class with 9th Standard

 

A massive passion of mine was Womens’s Empowerment and Equality, and in India I had the opportunity to host my own women’s day in Thiruvalangadu. It total 35 women arrived, and we had our female village President do a speech, as well as my ama (the wonderful host mother I stayed with). It was beautiful how passionate the women were about their equality in a country when men are definitely viewed as more important and superior. Instead of adding all the details in this post about the women’s day, I’m going to write a separate post about it soon.

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Sari competition at our Women’s Empowerment Day

 

The weeks carried on and before I knew it we had reached over 500 youth and taught them life important skills about health and livelihoods. Then before we knew it, the dreaded day (exciting day for some) had arrived, and we were back in Chennai having our debrief before we flew home. It was emotional to say the least, because although we are getting to see the International volunteers again at Action @ Home training just two weeks later, the chance of realistically seeing the National Volunteers again is about none to 100.

I formed a proper bound with my National volunteers, but it hurt to see them go back to Thiruvalangadu, but I know we will keep in contact, and the stuff we have taught each other will carry them on into their futures.

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Martha and I with our host Ama and Apa

I am going to write a separate post about ICS and all the information you will need for it. I truly do recommend applying if you do want to see the world and make a difference whilst you’re doing it. There were times when I was sad, angry and homesick, but the majority of the time I was so happy and full of energy that you forget those bad days straight away.

 

Thank you for reading my first blog post. I hope I didn’t ramble on too much. Please do leave any feedback below.

Until next time,

Courtney x