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HEARTSICK

Dear readers! Today I bring you the final installment of student writing from my fall workshop at Koç. This piece, by senior literature major Ecem Kızıldağ, went through a particularly dramatic revision. It was originally only the story of Ecem’s kidney-stone-related misadventures. In class, it emerged that we wanted some kind of counterpoint to offset the negative/ comic portrayal of the hospital staff—something perhaps serious, sad, or affectionate. Ecem was like, “OK, I can do sad.” I hope you find her essay as moving as I did.

I’ve always despised hospitals. You know the feeling when your stomach clenches, right? That’s exactly how I feel when I enter hospital doors. The smell of medicine, the painful and tired look on sick peoples’ faces, cries, and moans… all these things terrify me. The worst thing is waiting for doctors to find a cure for you or for someone you care about.

Three years and four months ago I lost my mother. She had intestinal cancer and it spread to her lungs and liver. When I learned about it everyone told me to be prepared for everything; everything meant dying. How can you possibly wait for your mother’s death? How can you be prepared? It sucked to see her suffer and I am still trying to delude myself by saying that she is not in pain anymore. Accepting is fucking difficult. She fought cancer for three years. She was always in hospitals, either for chemotherapy or begging doctors to give her more morphine. I took her to hospitals a few times, and even argued with doctors and nurses because I wasn’t eighteen, not an adult. When I told them that there was no one else to call, they still asked for an adult. What the hell was their problem? They saw how my mom looked and I explained hundred times that she had cancer and was in pain because of the chemotherapy. Couldn’t they just give the medicine and wait for her to feel better so that she could register herself?

Her last weeks were in a hospital in Adana where my aunts and grandmother live. She went there because she didn’t want me to see her like that, and my aunts would take better care of her than I could. I was preparing meals for her and when she wouldn’t eat—she ate very little—I didn’t either. She hated that I was not eating.

While she was in Adana, we talked on the phone every day, so I didn’t suspect anything. I asked my father’s permission to visit her but he always made some excuse—he even took me to Belarus. I didn’t suspect anything. Then one day he told me that we better go and visit my mom. I still didn’t suspect anything. When we arrived in Adana, we went directly to a hospital. I couldn’t understand why we were going there. My father told me that my mom was in a hospital since she was in pain. I didn’t suspect anything because I knew that she had to visit doctors constantly. When the taxi stopped in front of the hospital, we met my favorite aunt. She said that my mom was in the intensive care unit. They dragged me to the intensive care unit and my aunt told me to stay calm and not cry. When I entered to the unit, the woman looking at me was not my mother. She was half her weight and her eyes were popping out from her eye sockets. She was forcing a smile. I hugged her carefully and she said she was sorry for her smell, since she hadn’t been able to take a shower for two weeks. She smelled exactly like herself, like my mom.

I did what I was told and didn’t cry until I turned my back and started to walk out of the unit. I didn’t want to believe what was happening. She was dying slowly in front of my eyes and I couldn’t do anything about it. I was way too angry with my father and aunts. They hadn’t told me that her condition was getting worse. They hadn’t told me anything. I had to face it all alone and all at once. I wanted to talk to her doctor, since nobody else told me truth. The doctor told me that the cancer cells were spreading, that now they covered all of her lungs, and that one should be prepared for everything. Asshole. We stayed three weeks in that hospital. My father and I stayed with my mother at nights and my aunts took the morning shift. Even though they were divorced, my mother still loved my dad like crazy. She was so happy that he was there for her. She knew that I had lost my appetite, and smoked too many cigarettes. She was worrying about me, while she was unable to stand up and walk. She still wanted me to be fine, while she was dying.

My mother died in that hospital, three weeks after I went to Adana. They say that it is forbidden to enter the intensive care unit. That’s bullshit. We even squeezed grape juice in the unit for my mom. I slept in the bed next to hers.

As you see I have had bad experiences in hospitals. I usually try to skip hospitals if I am not too sick. However, one day an unbearable pain in my stomach woke me up from my sleep. At first I thought my period was coming early, but then I realized it was not the same pain. I forced myself to get out of bed to go to the toilet. I couldn’t even walk straight. I had to bend double to take at most 15 steps to the toilet where I started crying from pain. I didn’t know what to do; I never felt anything like this before. I hoped lying down would help, so I went back to bed. It didn’t help. I was writhing in agony and crying my eyes out. Eventually I called my boyfriend and asked him to come and take me to a hospital. He freaked out when he heard me crying from pain like that. He told me that he was running to his car and hung up. After 3 minutes he called me and said that there were traffic jams as usual (it’s not weird since we live in Istanbul). He lives in Beykoz and it would take him more than an hour to come to Sarıyer and even longer to take me to the hospital. We decided that I would take a cab to the hospital and he would meet me there.

I called Martı Taksi and asked for a cab, which I knew would come in four minutes, so I tried to get dressed. By “dressed,” I mean wearing pajamas and a pullover, and believe me it was annoyingly difficult. I grabbed my purse and went out. When I got in the cab the driver looked at me with worried eyes and asked me what was wrong. I told him that my stomach was hurting so much that I couldn’t breathe. He immediately told me that I was passing a kidney stone, which scared the living daylights out of me. I remembered what my mom told me when my uncle was passing a kidney stone. She said that he was jumping around from pain and his head almost touched the ceiling. I tried to find another reasons for the pain and none of them fit: I thought of appendicitis (but my left side was hurting not the right), or volvulus. Either of them is better than kidney stones; just a small operation and you will be fine. With kidney stones, you have to wait God knows how long till the stupid stone passes.

I asked the driver to take me to Acıbadem Hospital in Maslak, which is not far from Sarıyer, and is one of the most famous hospitals in Turkey. I hate hospitals but if it is unavoidable to go, I will choose the least smelly one. Also when Ibrahim Tatlıses was shot in the head, that’s the hospital they took him to. I know, because there were hundreds of cars in front of the hospital waiting for the doctors or the press to release a statement about his condition. All the all the TV channels and newspapers were filled with Ibrahim Tatlıses’s life and current situation. There was even news about another patient in the hospital tweeting about what was going on around him, which bothered the authorities and eventually they took the patient’s laptop away (however, s/he continued to tweet from her smart phone).

The cab driver told me his terrifying experience about his kidney stone, which scared me even more. He closed the windows and told me to scream if I wanted to. I managed to keep it together and just moaned instead of screaming. When I arrived at Acıbadem’s emergency room, the nurses saw me walking in as if I was about to puke and rushed towards me. One of them gave me a cup and asked me to give a urine sample. The problem was I didn’t have to pee. At that moment my dear boyfriend entered. They helped me to lie down on one of those weird hospital beds with lots of buttons, and called the doctor. I think his name was Levent, but I’m not sure. He asked me where the pain was and if I was having my period. I looked at him as if he was crazy and said “It’s not like that pain, if it were I wouldn’t come to a hospital. Duh.” He handed me the cup for the urine sample. I repeated that I couldn’t. I was begging them to give some painkillers so that I could either talk properly or give the bloody urine sample. They replied that they had to figure out what was causing the pain first before giving me any medicine. I hated them. Okay I might not have been the worst case they had, but still it was unbearable.

Since I was not able to give a urine sample, they took a blood sample instead and kept me waiting in pain more than an hour until the results came. Finally, the doctor came in and told me that I had a passing kidney stone. The cab driver knew right away, but it took the doctor more than two hours to figure it out. I was immediately attended by an army of nurses—I think because there was only one other patient than me and the staff was bored—and finally I was united with my painkillers. I was in pain and about to lose conscious but still I was paying attention to the medicines they were giving me. They gave me a painkiller called Buscopan, which doesn’t even stop my headaches. I was pissed and told the nurse to give something else. She said that Buscopan should be enough and I should wait a bit longer for the drug to take effect. Eventually the doctor ordered the nurse to give me more painkillers and other drugs in a serum.

Two hours later the sharp pain struck me again and I had to wake up my boyfriend who was sleeping in the chair beside me. He called the bitch nurse and they increased the amount of painkillers. He was sleeping because he played a video game all night and didn’t sleep at all. When I called him crying at 11:30 in the morning he had been about to go to bed. After my third liter of serum the pain decreased. I think they even gave me some tranquilizer because I felt high and kept laughing at my boyfriend who was snoring away loudly beside me. I was trying to figure out the weird buttons on the bed to call the nurse to give me more painkillers, but my vision was blurry and I couldn’t focus on them.

I woke up feeling better. I used the button to call the nurses and told them that I was ready to pee. I handed the cup to the male nurse and he told me that it was not necessary anymore. For five hours they kept bugging me to pee, and when I did they didn’t bother taking it to the lab. Whatever. The doctor wrote a prescription for painkiller injections and some pills and told me to drink at least three liters of water and jump up and down for the stone to pass faster. How was I supposed to jump when I didn’t have the energy to lift my finger?

All the drugs they gave me were making me smell like the hospitals. Even my eyes were burning because of the medicines. When we got home I took a long shower because I smelled like a hospital myself. Four days passed and the pain was not reducing a bit. We decided to go to another doctor—my boyfriend’s grandfather’s doctor, in a smaller hospital than Acıbadem. The nurses were very sweet and helpful. I told them what happened and the prescription the other doctor gave me. They asked for a urine sample. When my results came, they told me that the stone was stuck and had infected the area around it. That’s why it was causing pain and was not passing. The doctor suggested that it was better to remove the stone with shock waves; however, I had to take antibiotics to stop the infection first.

Since I was a child I have had a problem with swallowing pills. My mother took me to doctors many times but they all said that nothing looked abnormal and it was probably psychological. Therefore, I asked the doctor to give me injections instead of pills. I am not afraid of needles or anything, but trust me, having twenty-four injections in total makes your butt hurt when you sit on it and it made me regret my decision.

The day of shock waves came and I was a bit scared. The machine makes a weird sound as if they are shooting guns. It is actually a painful process; you have to breathe very slowly and the waves hit you from your side to reach the stone. It is like someone is poking you with a sharp object. At the beginning it was annoying and hurt like hell, but after ten or fifteen hits I got used to it. I even started to enjoy it and asked the nurse if he could increase the level so that it would be over soon. He looked at me with disbelieving eyes—he said I was the first patient ever to ask for an increased level—and turned it up. I could feel the movements of the kidney stone and it actually made me happy because I was going to get rid of it.

I hoped they would say that it was over, but I am never that lucky. I learned that I have to go the hospital again for another shock wave session and I had to go back for regular checkups in the following weeks.

It took more time, more money and more energy for me to pass the kidney stones. If they hadn’t rejected the urine sample I gave at Acıbadem, I wouldn’t have to go to hospitals over and over again. I hate hospitals. I hate being in one. I keep remembering my mother and force myself not to lose it in front of other people. I hate the smell. I hate the nurses and doctors—especially the young doctors—because they are heartless and cold. They tell you bad news without any emotion, which makes them inhuman. I know an essay should end with a conclusion, but I don’t really have one. My only conclusion is that I will keep avoiding hospitals as much as possible.

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4 Responses to “HEARTSICK”

  1. Geoff Roberts Says:

    Well, maybe your cab driver knew what the problem was but he couldn’t have done much else to help except drive you to the hospital. Sometimes the doctors get it right, and treatment is effective right away but I know exactly what you mean when you say you hate hospitals but there are some people who are very glad that there are hospitals that can give them some respite from pain and suffering.

  2. Elif Says:

    just think if that cabbie got a medical license and a lithotriptor for the trunk – he would be unstoppable!

  3. Constance Vidor Says:

    Great story, awful experiences. I am so sorry for your loss. Your sentence “She smelled like my mother.” went right to my heart.

  4. Zeynep Says:

    I found it hilarious that Ibrahim Tatlises was some sort of justification for going to Acibadem, but my favorite part was the conclusion that lacked a conclusion. I really enjoyed this piece, thanks.

    - Zeyno

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