21 August 2014

I won’t die from skydiving

Considering my past Counter-Strike experience and my constant foolish desire to save the world, I had carefully planned an itinerary to visit my new team members in Turkey and from there board a plane to skydive at night into Syria and attack terrorist strongholds. My backup plan was to scuba-dive into the Tigris river from Baghdad all the way north, and attack by surprise. Alas, I have been forced to cancel both of these plans – not because some American drone or intelligence had detected my superbly designed plans but because of some unexpected surgeries that sent me to the emergency rooms of Swiss and French hospitals in the past four weeks.

My July training had consisted in coping with a just-avoided plane crash and in building up some more muscles after a thorough blood test had revealed I couldn’t be more healthy. Swimming elegantly in the lake, diving beautifully at beach volleyball, jumping gracefully at badminton, scoring at football like Zidane, even running barefoot (when I actually hate running in the first place because I don’t find it fun enough – and barefoot because it was raining and I didn’t want to ruin my only pair of non-branded tennis shoes) all kept my morale high and my stamina in top shape.

And then that fateful Friday arrived, the last Friday of the month of July, a day after my birthday. Cycling back from a lunchtime work-organised football match, I couldn’t breathe anymore upon arriving at the office. I couldn’t even sit down for 45 minutes. I thought I had torn some upper body muscles and had really played too hard in the midday heat although I had been drinking regularly and always played for fun, never for performance. I had after all this quote from a dear friend of mine in my head: “greatness doesn’t know any limits”! 36 hours later, I woke up during the middle of the night, not able to breathe, hyper-ventilating, thinking it was some kind of panic attack – I rushed to the front door to shout for help, but collapsed on the floor before I could find my keys.

Just a malaise I thought the next day. I had often been called over-sensitive to pain so I decided I wouldn’t complain – and pain was subjective so how could I tell whether something was more serious or not. I psychologically wanted to feel good. Showing up at work on Monday scared colleagues, family and friends – a reluctant phone call to a doctor in my family made me head to the nearest hospital in the late afternoon. I grabbed a bottle of water, glanced at my mobile phone charger but left it, thinking I’d be back soon enough.

Blood test and electrocardiogram results were both perfectly fine, of course. But the chest x-ray's was not: (too much) air had gone between the pleura and my left lung (it’s called a spontaneous pneumothorax), crushing my heart a little (well, I always knew I had heart problems but not of that physical nature). That meant surgery – yay – to drain the air out. I opted for local anaesthesia, wanting to be strong and take the ‘tough’ route although I always request to hold – clutch – a nurse’s hand – to be fair, I end up caressing her hand... Two days later, I was out, with a hole on my side and mandatory rest prescribed for a few weeks. Pain wasn’t that bad so I refused to buy the four different types of painkillers on my script. Friends and family visited me, emailed, it was good not to feel completely alone.

Sebastian at the hospital

The weekend passed, it was the street parade in Zürich (although I avoided dancing on techno beats, I still wasn’t that well), and since I was banned from air travel for a couple of months, I thought I’d get some work done with colleagues in Paris. A day after I arrived in France by train, I saw it coming: the same symptoms, the same malaise. It was a relapse. I was told to expect it but I didn’t expect it so soon. So I was back to hospital emergencies, and this time, a 'simple' drainage was no longer possible, it had to be a delightful heavier surgery in yet another hospital to stitch back the lung by making the pleura bleed.

I didn’t have the choice this time: it would have to be general anaesthesia – it must have been the tube that I still felt in my throat for the following two weeks – and almost a week at the hospital, with a couple of drains and additional tubes on my side and back. I could only whisper, I became very tired probably due to the morphine and other drugs that kept dripping into my veins, and the pain prevented me to move to the point I wouldn’t be able to reach out to the one-click morphine injection remote control if it wasn’t already in my hand.

Yoghurt and soup made up my meals and every day started to look the same: x-ray of my chest directly taken from the best as the nurse tried to lift me up to put a large square plate behind my back, injections, blood pressure and heart pulse tests, drips filled up, my mother kindly showing up every day. I was too drugged to do much except work a bit here and there, responding to a few emails. Initially, a one-paragraph email would take me twenty minutes to compose as I fell asleep after every single word; I’d wake up again and half of the time had to delete the incorrect word or the multiple identical characters since my thumb kept pressing the phone.

But I can’t complain. Despite insurance issues (when does one not have insurance issues when one needs the help of an insurance anyway?!), I still have the luxury of being treated efficiently and being able to afford it. Nurses were on average very kind (no further comment at this stage ;-)... I did vocalise my fair share of 'thank-yous' and 'sorrys' this time again) and while I refused most visits, including from family, it was more helpful to receive photos of everyday life than being seen at my weakest. I really couldn’t complain: I’m (almost) perfectly healthy and this is no disease, simply sheer bad luck. In fact being healthy allowed me to get more drugs to alleviate the pain and allows for a speedier recovery than if I had been a smoker (I can’t believe how often I was asked if I had smoked marijuana – I know my scruffy face didn’t help in being convincing when I said I had never touched a cigarette nor drank a sip of alcohol or coffee in my life).

I’ve been a week out of the hospital now and it’s been driving me crazy to feel too tired to be doing much of my days, if anything, even if I’m frustrated not to be on deck for work and to feel too drowsy to write or read. Well, I did watch most of House of Cards, which doesn’t help in being less cynical about things, haha. I’m still not at my best though, going through physical and mental ups and downs (not necessarily helped by the several hundred pills I have yet to ingest), also a little bit paranoid that I’ll have yet another relapse, probabilities being unfortunately more than significant that this will indeed be the case one day, happening again completely randomly – with nothing I can do to prevent it, which is what bothers me the most since I’m always in control of everything otherwise.

Sebastian in recovery mode, despite the zombie-selfie look

Although my stitches are gone now, I’m still “Iron Man” thanks to a bit more than a dozen staples patching up my wounds. But now that I’m permanently forbidden from scuba-diving and skydiving, besides having a number of other temporary bans on travel and sports which are really, really, really annoying considering my appetite for both, I’m really no superhero. In fact, with a beard growing over the past few weeks, my nickname has truly become “metallic werewolf”. Got to reverse that pathetic image though, and invent some stories about my upper body scars instead, especially since I seem to be undergoing surgery from once a year to once a week nowadays. Stay tuned!