After our arrival in Italy, I felt great physically. I had little, niggling pain now and again, but nothing that was of great concern. We were settling in to our new life- looking at schools for Clara, learning the neighborhood, getting a handle on our job here. I can’t say that I loved it- Rome is a very chaotic city and honestly, at first, I couldn’t be out in the city for more than a few hours without becoming cranky and overwhelmed. Rome is also not the cleanest city I’ve ever lived in and the idea of civic duty is lost on Romans. Everyone lets their dog poop on the sidewalks and garbage litters the streets. I was shocked by all of this, having travelled in the northern parts of Italy (think pristine and beautiful). So, I was not in love with being here when we arrived.
We finally moved in to our permanent apartment in mid-December. We celebrated Christmas and, as New Year’s approached, one evening I woke from a dead sleep, having the most intense pain I had ever felt. It felt as though I couldn’t breathe- the pain that radiated around my mid-section was incredible and I woke Erick immediately, telling him we needed to go to the hospital (seeing as I had been blown off in DC because I had never had blood work done during an acute episode of pain). Honestly, Erick was skeptical and we called an on-call nurse back in the States which proved to be useless. She told us to go to an Emergency Room. Of course. We then called the Embassy doctor and she called ahead to the hospital so someone would be expecting us. A sweet neighbor came to stay at our home with Clara, so we didn’t have to wake her.
I was scared - of what the doctors might find (or not find), of leaving Clara, of going to an Italian hospital, but mostly, I was scared of the pain. I felt like my body was failing me in the most basic of ways.
While we were driving out to the hospital, the intensity of the pain diminished greatly, which, in retrospect, indicated to the doctors that perhaps I had passed a leftover stone (from the gallbladder removal) through my bile ducts. In any case, I was admitted to the hospital and, to the credit of the Italian medical model, they took a thorough medical history, ran extensive blood tests and wouldn’t let me leave the hospital. Erick finally left to go home around 4:30 in the morning, and I tried to get some sleep, listening to Pema Chodron on my iPod for her soothing voice- knowing that my anxiety was not helping my body and wishing desperately that I could relax and be okay in the moment.
The next morning brought more tests. Unbelievably, here in Italy, doctors actually perform sonograms and CT scans. The GI doctor that was working my case took me personally to have the tests done and was given results on the spot (therefore, so was I).
Here is the rundown: My liver enzymes were through the roof. This, combined with slightly dialated biliary ducts, indicated that I had passed a stone and/or the papillae between the bile ducts and the duodenum was dysfunctional. The CT scan showed nothing unusual. I ended up staying in the hospital another night, until my liver enzymes were coming down. The final morning, they finally gave me some weak tea and a piece of bread to eat. Food had never tasted so good, let me tell you!
My doctor insisted that I have an ERCP to rule out the possibility of any other stones in my bile ducts, and, they wanted to take a look at the papillae. This was scheduled for mid-January. Leaving the hospital on New Year’s Eve, I felt pretty good. I felt confident that I had passed a stone and that they would find nothing during the mid-January follow up. At least, that was my hope.
Mid-January came, and, to read my perspective in that moment you should read this. To hear about my hospital stay during the procedure, read this.
By the time I had the procedure, I had been dealing with the pain on and off for eight months and was thinking that the procedure would be the conclusion of this story. I was focusing heavily on nutrition and self-care in an effort to “be better”.
Little did I know that really, the path toward my healing had barely even begun.