The L Word

Under the knife in another language

Photo: Shutterstock

by Sarita Rao

It’s been a while since I’ve been in hospital. Roughly seven years since my youngest child was born, and that was a “revolving door” job. So it is with trepidation that I find myself planning for surgery in a country where I barely speak any of the official languages.

I’ve never had an operation (not unless you count the struggle involved in removing an acorn from my left nostril when I was six years old). I’ve visited other people in hospital, brought grapes, read newspapers and sneaked in bacon sandwiches, but I’ve never been the person lying in bed trying not to expose myself in a backless gown.

Childbirth is different. Modesty goes out the window and you are prepared to take up any position so long as you get that baby out as fast as possible.

This time I am having something else removed: my gall bladder.

Relaxed attitude in Luxembourg

The surgeon in charge of the procedure is unperturbed. He is squeezing me in between similar operations and apologises for the delay. I have to wait five weeks. In the UK, I’d have to wait five years (or possibly forever) for this sort of non-urgent surgery.

“You are a bit fat,” he says with the honesty of someone who speaks English as a second or third language. Then he dutifully lectures me on the pitfalls of over-indulging in continental cheeses.

"Should I get a translator to come with me, to make sure they don’t accidentally remove the wrong organ?"
"Should I get a translator to come with me, to make sure they don’t accidentally remove the wrong organ?"
Photo: Shutterstock

My consultation lasts less than 15 minutes, in which time he has examined me and set a date. I’ve spent more time waiting for a bus, sitting in traffic, or deciding what to buy at the cheese counter.

At first I am upbeat about the news. After all what mother would not appreciate an overnight stay in hospital. A night without the kids, food brought to my bedside, it sounds positively like a spa retreat.

There is nothing life threatening about having your gall bladder removed, and I’m quite looking forward to showing off my gall stones at a later date. Apparently some grow to the size of golf balls, which would explain why I am in extreme pain every time I eat dairy products. Does this make me stop eating cheese? The “gooey gorgonzola” it does.

Call in the cavalry

“You’ll be back to normal in two days,” says the surgeon. I take this as written in stone (little sludgy calcium ones to be precise).

Then a friend tells me that recovery from general anaesthetic is not always that fast, and another points out that I won’t be able to lift any shopping bags for at least a week.

I can’t afford to be unwell for more than two days. I freelance. No one is going to fork out sick pay, and who will look after the kids.

In a state of panic I book a flight so my mum can come and look after me. It’s embarrassing to be 47 years old and have to ask your mum to look after you. It will be even more embarrassing when she looks in the oven and realises that I haven’t cleaned it since we moved in eighteen months ago.

What’s Luxembourgish for gallstones?

With back-up sorted, now all I’m worried about is the language barrier at hospital. Should I get a translator to come with me, to make sure they don’t accidentally remove the wrong organ? Perhaps I should write across my stomach what operation I am due to have with an arrow pointing to the right area. There are a lot of vital organs crammed into that part of the body.

I suppose though, if I am going to have an operation anywhere in the world, Luxembourg’s healthcare system is considered second to none. That’s reassuring, even if I might not have a clue what anyone is saying.

Just as well I’ll be out cold then.

Click here to view more of Sarita's columns

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