Operating in Fear and Frenzy

Operating in Fear and Frenzy

By Hannah Black

My very tough, hardworking mother-in-law fell ill last week and was taken to three different doctors before landing in hospital on Friday morning.

I was told when I came home from work last Tuesday to her moaning in pain and vomiting repeatedly, that it was because she had eaten too late and, mistake of all mistakes, drank Sprite on an empty stomach.

To see her in such a state was shocking as over the past few years I have seldom seen her in bed sick, and if she has been, it was for a short time.

This time I could see it was serious and had my husband take her to a reputable clinic in Ubud where they said she had “maag” (heartburn) and gave her four different medicines for various things. I won’t be going there again.

She only got worse, though, and I suggested that it wasn’t maag, but could be something more serious like intestinal bacteria, or even her appendix.

In the night my brother-in-law Wayan woke us up and said she was in so much pain she needed to go to the doctor again. So off they went to another doctor, who again said she had maag but x-rayed her anyway, turning up a contraceptive coil that had been left in since after my husband was born, 31 years ago.

Now they’re getting somewhere, I thought, and after a trip to the gynaecologist it was concluded that she had an infection and needed a course of antibiotics.

However, on Friday morning when I checked in on my mother-in-law, she was writing in pain and her stomach had bloated up so enormously she looked four months pregnant.

Off to the hospital they went again and the doctors decided she indeed had an infection and needed surgery to drain the pus from her abdomen.

Now, I’m not a doctor, but I can note symptoms and make stabs in the dark as well as the next person – so I threw it out there that if she had such a serious infection, wouldn’t she be burning up?

Duly noted and ignored, they said she just needed the surgery.

It’s an extremely stressful thing for a family member to be taken to hospital, and especially so in Bali for a Westerner like me. Things happen so slowly and doctors poke around for a minute and decide they know what’s going on with so little care for anything the patient has to say that I want to scream.

At the same time I was trying hard not to stress my husband out any more with too many questions, and especially questions about doctors’ judgment; so I decided to leave and make myself useful at home.

I gathered all the kids and entertained them with PlayStation and cookie-baking, which seemed to distract them and myself a bit from waiting anxiously for my husband Ongky to call with news.

His mother was in surgery for about an hour and a half and with relief and tears Ongky called me to let me know that the surgeons had removed her very enlarged and rupturing appendix.

I delivered the news to my father-in-law, who had been holding the fort in the compound, who was very relieved to hear all was OK.

He hadn’t been to the hospital, which I found a bit odd but I understand the fear of hospitals and worry about leaving the house empty and vulnerable to malevolent influences is very strong for many Balinese people.

My sister and brother-in-law joined the masses to sleep on the floor in the hospital, which often looks like a refugee camp and Ongky came home to collapse into a deep sleep.

When we visited the next morning I commented on how much better my mother-in-law was looking already, to which Ongky suggested might be due to the slow drip of morphine circulating in her body.

The kids, who were a bit scared of their Dadong (grandmother) because of all the tubes sticking out from under her covers and the beeping of machines, got ice-cream and fizzy drinks and now want to spend all their time at the hospital.

Thankfully, she is recovering well now and should be out in a few days.

The relief around the compound is immense and everyone is happily sharing the extra work around the house, which is nice because it keeps everyone busy enough to prevent any thinking about paying an enormous hospital bill.

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