There comes a time in every man’s life when he is faced with his own mortality. Unfortunately these moments come at the most inopportune times and they are unattractive, unsettling and offensive. Regrettably for me I had two such moments all on the same day. Once at a very small airport on an Island called Nosy Be in Madagascar and the second more protracted one on the international flight back to Johannesburg all culminating in just over 12 hours of unadulterated hell.
This past December hubby and I agreed to take our annual holiday and spend it in Madagascar. We both had a hellishly busy year and needed to get away to place that was remote, tranquil and quiet. We decided to go back to Sakatia Lodge, a place we visited back in 2009 which met all the requirements for the relaxing break we so desperately needed. We decided to stay for 12 glorious days, and glorious they were, at least up until day 11 that is.
You see, for the first 10 days we lounged around, I read three books, we swam, snorkeled, scuba dived and went horse riding. It was utterly fabulous! Then came day 11. I woke up not feeling my normal gay self. There was a distinct discomfort in my abdomen and I had a slight fever. Naturally, I thought I was constipated seeing as I am full of shit most of the time anyway. But, even though I was in some pain we went ahead and did a day trip and we were also scheduled to do quad biking in the afternoon.
The day trip was pretty much overshadowed by me being in pain, having difficulty walking and secretly wishing that I could have a bowel movement to ease the discomfort I was feeling. I ended up in three rather dodgy public toilets, each time sitting down waiting for the dump that never came. By late afternoon we made it to the quad biking. By that time the rational side of me knew it probably wasn’t a great idea, but seeing as it was our last day in Madagascar I was determined not to ruin anyone’s fun and try to have some fun myself. Sadly, it was not on the cards.
You see, when you have the apocalypse happening in your innards going up and down hills on a quad bike for two hours is not as much fun as one would think. I was in pain, being shaken about, getting dirty and sweating profusely. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t fun. It felt like it would never end. But two and half hours later it did end and after taking the boat back to the lodge and consuming a large number of laxatives I finally made it back to our bungalow, stripped down to my underwear and lay on the bed in front of the fan reeling in pain.
The lodge manager eventually brought me a handful of pills: a strong laxative and something for abdominal and ovarian cramps and spasms. It did help somewhat and I made it down for dinner even though I didn’t eat anything, but I did have a couple of gin and tonics. At exactly 4 o’clock the next morning, an hour before we needed to take the boat that would take us to the taxi that would take us to the airport; I woke up in excruciating pain.
I was crawling on the floor unable to stand upright. I thought I was going to die! A couple of pain pills and thirty minutes under a warm shower, I managed to get dressed, get on the boat, then into the taxi and got to the airport. Then the real hell started. Our flight to Antanarivo was cancelled due to the plane’s engine having some kind of problem. We ended up being delayed for four hours waiting for another plane which could take us directly to Johannesburg.
In the mean time the pain I was experiencing grew exponentially worse to the point that I was actually hyperventilating, sweating and unable to stand up straight. This placed me in a very precarious situation. If I looked too sick the airline could prevent me from boarding. After all which airline would knowingly welcome a medical emergency 30 thousand feet up in the air over the Indian Ocean?
All I could think about was that I didn’t want to pass out and wake up under a mosquito net with a Catholic nun patting down my sweaty brow with a dirty wet towel while praying for me, with the sound of chickens and goats outside, while hubby is being molested by a priest and the natives rummaging through our luggage. Luckily my tan and Botox sufficiently concealed how sick I was and standing and sitting in the airport with my hands placed on either side of my ribs made me look more annoyed that our flight was cancelled rather than me being in pain.
After what felt like an eternity our plane finally came and we boarded. The plane took off and 15 minutes into the flight I turned to hubby and said “I don’t think I am constipated. I think I need to go to a Hospital!” He had a look of total helplessness on his face and from that point on his job became to give me a pain pill every 20 minutes and to pray for a tail wind. The 3 hours and 26 minutes flight was utter hell. I was in pain, couldn’t breathe and was alternating between having a fever, chills and sweating. At that stage the cabin crew knew there was a problem but choose not to get involved.
As we were making our final approach to Johannesburg I was never as happy to see that smog filled skyline. I was almost home and I was going to live. The plane landed and within an hour I was in hospital. First they thought I had appendicitis and then after numerous blood tests, X-rays and a CAT scan I was finally diagnosed with double pneumonia.
Relieved that we found out what was wrong with me, I was ready to go home and have a shower. As I was collecting my stuff to go home the doctor looked at me with a very perplexed expression on his face and said “No! Stop! You are a very sick man we are admitting you to hospital now.” To which I responded “Ok, but I’ll go home, have a shower, get some stuff and come back.” To which he rather abrasively responded “There are showers in hospital! You are NOT leaving”
Then there was the HIV issue “I know this is a sensitive matter” the doctor said “Are you immune compromised?” he asked. “Well, I smell like shit, I am in pain, can’t breathe and have been in transit for the last 12 hours in my condition, the only thing that is compromised right now is my fucking patience! AND NO I am NOT HIV+!” I responded and then proceeded to ask him whether they always assume that all gay men who come into hospital with pneumonia have HIV. In retrospect I guess I was a bit hard on him, but then again I was not in a good place at that moment. I was admitted minutes later.
I was in hospital for 5 fucking long days, had blood drawn 17 times and had 12 injections. The day of my discharge I had a particularly rough morning. The student nurse who tried to fix my IV ended up bursting one of my veins. I completely lost it! I phoned hubby sobbing pleading with him to come and fetch me.
After composing myself and returning to my room, my doctor came and just as he asked me how my evening was I lost it once again but this time spectacularly so doing the ugly cry with snot dripping from my oxygen tubes that were stuck in my nose. Like an emotionally disturbed child I was sobbing holding out my bruised and battered arms pointing at each of them while being completely incoherent. He ended up discharging me but under strict conditions.
The doctor told me to monitor my temperature every 4 to 8 hours, I had to return for more blood tests, was to get bed rest for at least one more week and if I had any breathing problems or if the pain increased I was to return to hospital immediately. In the sternest voice I have ever been spoken too he conveyed all of these conditions and ended with saying “If you do not follow this you could die!”
I have been home now for a couple of days and am feeling better. They say it takes some time to recover from pneumonia and I can attest that it is not fun. I will not be going out in public for at least a couple of more days, my arms and hands are still bruised making me look like a heroin addict. At least I made it home, am alive and maybe someday I will look back at this experience and think it is funny. But for the moment it really isn’t very funny at all!
(Disclaimer: This blog post was written entirely in bed while medicated. I'm in no position to operate heavy machinery and I suspect I should not be blogging at the moment either!)
Till next time.