I’d like to start by saying, for those of you just hearing about this incident now: I’m ok! This took place on Wednesday 15 August.
On Tuesday 14 August, I was on top of the world. In the morning, I went skydiving in Cairns, helped fellow backpackers plan their trip down the East Coast, and even dyed my hair purple (don’t panic, it was a washout colour). Live music was on at the hostel in the evening and I enjoyed listening to the variety of acts while chatting with locals I hadn’t met before and new hostel guests. I had a glass of white wine and went to bed early, exhausted from the incredible day I’d had.
There had been a flu-bug, of sorts, going around the hostel, and knocking everyone out one by one. Everyone was feeling rough, with a serious case of the chills, but a few had even vomited once or twice. When I woke up in the middle of the night not feeling well, I assumed I’d caught what everyone else had. I spent an hour in the bathroom, vomiting and crying, which seemed usual for the flu. My body couldn’t determine if I was hot or cold, but I eventually calmed down and crawled back into bed. There was this sharp pain in my side that just wouldn’t go away, and I had trouble sleeping the rest of the night, unable to find a comfortable position.
Around 7am, the pain in my right side was unbearable. Not sure what else I could do, I resumed sitting on the bathroom floor next to the toilet. I knew something wasn’t right, because I don’t ever remember any specific part of my body hurting this much from the flu on previous occasion. On a scale of 1-10, the pain was a solid 8 right now. I began to Google, which is never a good idea when you are sick and scared. Not liking what I found, I text my mum hoping to talk to her about what was going on. As I waited for a reply, I realised the time was suddenly 8:30am and I was getting worse.
I struggled back to the room to wake Matt up and told him I needed to go to the hospital. Safe to say he was very confused, as he hadn’t known I was feeling unwell throughout the night. Worried that I was maybe being overdramatic, I questioned whether this was the right decision, but it didn’t seem there was anything I could do on my own to get better. We got dressed and quietly slipped out of the hostel, walking two blocks to the Cairns Hospital. Well, I say walked, but I was kinda crouched and holding my side as it was uncomfortable to walk, and Matt was a few feet ahead trying to find Emergency or where we could go for help.
When we got to Cairns Hospital, the ED (Emergency Department) was practically empty, except for three other people sat in the waiting room. We went to the staff desk, where I gave my details to a nurse and quickly ran off to the nearest toilet to be sick. When I came back and sat next to Matt, another nurse came over to ask me about my pain: where it hurt, for how long had I been feeling unwell, had I taken any medication, was I throwing up, did it hurt to pee? I could barely concentrate, I hadn’t noticed all the paperwork they had already given Matt, which he was quietly filling out.
Our conversation didn’t last long, as I was ready to be admitted and seen by a doctor. As soon as I was in the hospital bed, I vomited… it was lime green. Ew. Although it was nice to lay down, I couldn’t get comfortable and, to my embarrassment, I began to cry. Matt sat calmly next to me, as nurses began to take my temperature, blood pressure and monitor my pain level. He held my hand as we waited for the doctor to arrive.
I thought my doctor would be Australian, but she was Canadian, like me. Her name was Melissa, and she told me she was from London, Ontario (not too far from where I live, when home in Canada). She was kind and spoke to me in an authoritative way that kept me calm and reassured. She asked to take blood and urine samples for more tests, if I would be ok with an ultrasound and maybe even a CT scan (if necessary). It was too soon to determine the cause of my pain, but she asked questions about my previous medical history, my home, what I was doing in Cairns. I realise she was expertly distracting me from the pain while examining me. When done, she and explained her theories and the reasoning for the specific tests. Without knowing exactly, it could be one of a few things: appendicitis, kidney stones or perhaps a twisted ovary.
While pondering the severity of what could potentially be wrong and the impact it would have, a nurse came to ask Matt about my medical insurance and brought him into the hallway to discuss further. I was trying to listen, and caught a few words like ‘Medicare’ and ‘Canada’, but the doctor had come back to take blood. Apparently, I was very dehydrated, so it was difficult to find a good vein. After three attempts in my arms, we were successful in my right hand, and the blood was collected for testing. Thankfully, I was also given morphine to help with the pain and IV fluids.
Matt came back into the room with a handful of brochures and a worried expression. He asked me, softly, if I’d brought my passport. Silly me, I hadn’t even thought of that. He looked thoughtful, and said he would have to go to the hostel to get our laptop for insurance documents and some ID for me.
With Matt now gone, I was alone. The ultrasound was scheduled for 11:30am, but I didn’t know the time. I was hot, then cold, then hot, then cold, throwing up. The room was starting to spin, so I closed my eyes. I was so scared, the sharp pain in my side still present, but suddenly bearable.
My mind was racing. Would I need surgery? Am I covered for all the medical costs? How long would I be here? I have to tell my boss where I am and that I’m not working. I want to talk to my mom.
Somehow, I must have fallen asleep, because suddenly Matt was back by my side. The nurse had woken me for my ultrasound which would take place in a different department in the hospital, but Matt would have to wait here. I must have looked like I was going to cry again because he assured me it would be fine. He’d get a coffee and start on the insurance forms the nurse gave him until I came back.
Someone came then, to wheel me away for the ultrasound appointment, but he didn’t talk much. The journey made me queasy, so I tried to keep my eyes closed. Once where I needed to be, this new department had a different vibe, one I didn’t like at all. The man wheeled me directly against the wall, next to another patient and left. I don’t know how long I was there in total, but it was enough.
There were a lot of different people in the department, waiting for their own various scans, but nothing separated us from one another for privacy. I could clearly hear and see everything: a few other patients were sleeping, one was surrounded by police in a very tense scene, and another was very angry, even shouting at the staff. I wanted to leave so badly and be with Matt again. The pain was starting to come back and I was worried. I found this whole process very uncomfortable.
Finally, I was being brought to a room for the ultrasound. This itself lastest longer than I thought. The nurse was very friendly, but poked and prodded where it hurt to find the cause of my pain. She kept saying, ‘Breathe in, hold…….. breathe out”. I’m not sure what this was doing, but apparently, it helped to find the problem. We did a second ultrasound and this one hurt more. I was asked to stay very still while she took some photos and then said my doctor would discuss the results with me.
It felt like ages, but I was finally brought back to ED, and to Matt. I was so tired, we didn’t talk much about the ultrasound but he played with my hair and talked to me, mentioning our friends were worried and wished me well.
When Melissa came in, she said they found the cause of my pain: a 2mm kidney stone. The good news, she told me, was that the kidney stone was nearly at my bladder and because the stone was so small, it would not require surgery or any more medical attention. I was managing the pain better and would have to let my body do the rest. That’s the hardest and most painful part was over, thank goodness!! I would stay in the hospital a few more hours to be monitored and would be sent home later in the evening.
I’ll be honest, I slept through what was left of the afternoon. I occasionally woke to vomit or request more pain relief and then curled up on my side again to continue sleeping. Matt sat next to me, keeping me company while he made phone calls to the insurance company and updated our family. A nurse came over to check on me and said I was ready to go. She removed the IV and packed me up with a few scripts and some anti-nausea medication.
I was happy to be back at the hostel, have my own bed again and went straight to sleep. Matt informed a few people at the hostel that we were back but we would have a quiet night in the room together. Even though I slept for most of the day, he sat next to me while I lay in bed, and watched a film. I was so grateful for the company.
The next few days were uneventful in comparison. With a few days off work, all I had to do was relax, and pray this kidney stone would pass or dissolve on its own and give me some peace soon. I was drinking as much water as possible, trying to flush out the stone, while resting. Understandably, my body still hurt all over, and my sleep pattern was a mess. I mostly stayed in the room, but took a few long showers during the day (as the hostel doesn’t have a bath), talked with my parents over the phone, read a book and replied to all the messages my family and friends had sent.
I can’t thank everyone enough for the messages. Your thoughts and warm wishes were so kind, and when I found out some of my friends even offered to help cover medical costs… my heart was full and I cried, feeling all the love you were sending me. It meant everything.
There was only one thing left to do now that I was on the mend: the medical bill. We weren’t asked to pay when we left the ED on Wednesday night, so I had no idea what everything came to. Matt was given an estimate of $4000 AUD from some of the nurses, but we hadn’t received official papers from the hospital. When he told me, I swear my head spun. That’s a small fortune! I know the cost of my health is priceless, but as a backpacker, it’s just so much money. With the insurance company emailing for more details, we had to go back to get the information. Sure enough, the total came to just over $3500 AUD.
It’s now Monday night and we are still waiting to hear back from the insurance company or hospital, as they won’t speak to one another directly about what’s going on. I’m playing ‘middle-man’ and forwarding across invoice’s and emails, unable to do anything more, and still hoping I won’t be told to go in and pay the balance. For now, who knows. The good news is that I slept through the night without pain, and I’m feeling heaps better today! HURRAY.
Our travel insurance, which includes medical, is due to expire on 11 September 2018, and I have never been more grateful for thinking ahead and ensuring we were covered before leaving on this grand adventure. My theory: It’s better to have cover and unfortunately not need it, than unfortunately need it and not have it. The £600 was worth it, and we’re looking to renew immediately for another year worth of cover, especially as we look to country hop through South East Asia soon.
Overall, I’m not surprised at how scared I was during the pain. What did surprise me though, was that I had never needed to be with my family more than in that moment, in all my travels. I suddenly felt how far away I was from everyone in Canada and England, being in Australia. Having Matt was a huge relief but there was nothing either of us could do about what I was feeling. After further research, it would be impossible to tell what exactly caused my kidney stone, but I’m now monitoring what I eat, drink, the amount of rest I get and how much stress I’m putting myself through. I’m glad to be back to work, and I really am feeling heaps better. We just have to wait and see about this medical bill, but you can’t put a price on good health.
I want to give a huge thank you to Cairns Hospital staff, especially Melissa, for getting me immediate help, keeping me calm when I felt panicked, helping me to feel better and make sense of what was wrong.
Most of all, thank you, Matt. This would have been impossible without you! The support, concern and love you showed blew me away, and I’m so grateful you were there. I only hope that if our positions are ever reversed, that I could be there in the same way for you.