Indonesia

THEY THOUGHT IT WAS HEP E AND MADE ME LEAVE THE BUILDING by Nora Logan

I WENT INTO work after urine and blood testing on Tuesday morning and it was pretty brutal. Things were, unsurprisingly, not going well. I should have, as I've said before, just packed up right then and paid $100 to take a pedicab to the hospital or just found the first police officer with a horse and got him to let me bareback up 5th Avenue. But I wanted to wait a cool 7 more days before I really and truly got the message and, after an awful ultrasound at Beth Israel, checked with my insurance about which NYC hospitals were in network and took a cab up to New York Presbyterian (even then, it was my mother who threw her hands up and said: enough is enough already). So I'm sitting at work and my liver is just casually failing and I feel so unbelievably shit and by this point I'm getting sort of scared but not thinking your liver is really on it's last legs you need immediate medical attention because I didn't know and I also didn't have direct contact with my liver like I do with my new one. Nothing like a transplant to get you really in touch with your body. And also, we hadn't got the test results back yet. And because the actual last thing from my mind was my liver failing and the only thing more preposterous than having my liver fail was the idea of having a transplant. I mean, I didn't even know what a transplant was. I still am not quite sure what it is. No, ok I admit, I knew then and I know now, but like a lot of you who might be reading this blog and going, I just don't really understand and it's so out of the realm of possibility and I can't even conceptualize and oh that's the sort of thing that happens to other people and it seems so sci-fiey and I'm just not educated on it. I didn't know anyone my age at the time who had ever had any sort of transplant. The closest I was to it was my friend's mother, who has had a couple of kidney transplants and is one of the strongest people I've ever met, but like the twenty-something I was, I never paid it too much attention. It was also far from my mind because I was TWENTY EIGHT YEARS OLD AND WHY WOULD I EXPECT TO BE DYING? Have you noticed that in your twenties you do all manner of terrible things and make awful decisions because you really have no concept of dying or death? I guess it's a pretty common theme through out history and all of art and literature so I'm not breaking ground here. I used to drive a motorbike in Indonesia everyday for 2 years with my headphones in on full blast weaving in and out of traffic as if I was Evil Knievel. I don't even have a real driver's license. That doesn't even scratch the surface of idiotic things I did in my 20s.

Photo courtesy of We Heart It

I have since found out that there are a great number of young people who have to have all sorts of transplants, and a lot of them are children. Although the average age of a liver transplant patient veers more on the side of 60+, it's really not uncommon to see young people having to have these operations. What surprised me even more, is that 1 in 5 people who go into liver failure never find out the cause. There's such a stigma that surrounds liver transplant in particular in society at large, that it's just old alcoholics and drug addicts. I've experienced this stigma first hand, which I'll talk about later. It's a complete fallacy. Yes, of course there are alcoholics and drugs addicts who have to have liver transplants, and they are also completely deserving of them. Liver disease  often stems from another disease: addiction. But there is a whole host of other people, too, who never know why but their body just fails them. 

Warner Bros. via    gif-database.tumblr.com

Warner Bros. via gif-database.tumblr.com

My friend Alex suggests I go try to take a nap somewhere. Which is just not really done, at least at my job, and I would assume all of your jobs unless you work at Blockbuster in the 90s. I don't think anyone has successfully napped at work since 1996. First I go to my friend Zarah's office which is otherwise known as a broom-closet. It's great for hiding because people don't know where it is and she can't really be found. At the time, anyway. She has now graduated from broom-closet office to office-office. I've since returned to work but I still can't find her. So I'm lying on the floor in her tiny office contemplating my fate and Zarah is doing work and wondering what the hell I'm doing and giving me a look like 'Fuck man, you look like shit.' Fair dues, I did. She was polite enough to not say those words though. She talks a lot with her eyes. She kindly let me use her space for a good 15 minutes and then I staggered back to my desk. This was unsustainable: the fatigue was so bad I went back to my desk, then to the toilet, then did a lap around the office and then, feeling skittish, back to Zarah's office.

Oh, I'll just be over here quietly avoiding my liver failure. Photo courtesy of observando.net

Then I remembered there is a sweet nap room upstairs at the nurse's office. So I walk in and tell them 'I'm just so tired and feeling unwell, do you have somewhere I can take a nap?' At first, they let me use the room, you just go and sit in a comfortable chair and breathe deep breaths and attempt not vomiting. Oh wait that was just me in that moment. If anyone else were to use it they would just find a calm and peaceful environment. It was somehow connected to the office by a sliding door and I could hear them start to discuss my 'case', much to my dismay. I essentially blagged my way into this nap room unnoticed and the nurse on duty (she was smart and experienced) wanted to know why I was here and why I needed a nap. So she grills me, gets me up out my nap chair where I was having a great time not vomiting. 'What's going on? You were where? Bali? What? Why are your eyes yellow?' So I told her the story, 'I'm under the care of a doctor who thinks it could be Hepatitis E,' (minor lie, she wasn't a doctor), 'but I have tested negative for A, B and C. And yes, I was in Indonesia'. This is where she switched on me. 'You can't be in the building if you have a potentially infectious disease, you're just not allowed on the premises, if you stay any longer we are going to have to contact disease control.' Um, excuse me? No no no. You don't understand, I just had two weeks off and then I got stuck because of a volcano situation which is just like me to get stuck in a volcano cloud and I missed another day and a half of work and it just doesn't work like that and no I am not leaving the building. What actually came out was a swift nod (she was very scary and authoritative, to which I generally respond) and 'Ah ok, well can I go downstairs and tell my boss and get my things together? Do I have to leave right this minute?' She let me stay to tell people I was barred from the building and gather my things. 

It was then that I decided to call the Nurse Practitioner I mentioned in my previous post. I had already been trying to get her on the phone because this was all getting a little too real and I wanted my test results immediately. It was extremely difficult to get her on the phone, she had patients back to back and she was running around. When I finally do get through to her, it's that same old asleep at the wheel attitude - if I didn't know she was pregnant I honestly could have sworn she was chaining joints. 'Hi, I really don't feel any better, I'm still vomiting all the time and I just took a nap at the nurse's office at my work which is really not normal for me. Do you think I should go to the ER?' 'Well you can go in if you want to but honestly I think it's Hepatitis E and we should just wait for those test results to come back.' I swear this is the medical advice I was given. It's jaw-dropping looking back. 

Would have loved a little direction like Patsy would give. 

I know you could be reading this and going ... well you know, the girl was in liver failure, after all, maybe she has a foggy view of things. Oh, I was for sure foggy. But I remember how this all went down. It was life and death, after all. And I have NEVER got to say that before and meant it. So you better believe I'm going to commit everything to memory. Also, as proof, here is a direct quote from an email exchange the very next day with this woman on the 22nd of July (5 days before going into hospital), and the first time I found out my liver enzymes were abnormal:

'I am assuming that this is hepatitis E  - you could come back here for the test during lab hours which are 8am-11am or 12pm - 3pm  - I will order it. I don't know that going to the hospital will speed anything up, but they would be able to give you some IV fluids and some IV anti-nausea medicine, so it depends how you feel.'

IT DEPENDS ON HOW I FEEL?!?!?!?!? DID SHE NOT SEE ALL THE ABNORMAL TEST RESULTS?!!? I was in a fragile state, and for that very reason that I was a bit foggy and out of sorts, I needed my medical professional to tell me to go to the fucking hospital. Not 'feel it out myself'. She was, what can only be described, as trippin.

HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME. Photo courtest of Whimsy Dreams

I do the long walk from the elevators back to the office and steel myself to prepare to tell them I'm leaving the building and why. I relay the news to my boss and I somehow still feel guilty despite it being completely beyond my control. My problem was that I was under some delusion that any of us have any control over anything at any given time. She's very kind and she says well you absolutely have to go, maybe next time don't go to Bali though, just an idea. So I jump into the G train and go back to Brooklyn. My feet are like weights. I'm on a chain gang and the chain gang is my body because my body isn't working. That night, another beefa, Layla, comes over to take care of me. Layla is a good girl: she's a mother hen, a protector and was another one of my dragons throughout this experience and has been there with me all along the bumpy road. She came over to cook dinner for me because she wanted to help and I think it's more than likely I probably requested her cooking services. She had been away for a few weeks and we wanted a catch up and she offered to come round with food.

Layla that beaut when she first came to see me at Club Cornell, as I affectionately call it. 

Her mother is a doctor and another very wise woman (apple doesn't fall far from the tree) and part of me thinks, looking back, that the daughter of a doctor in Layla wanted to come have a gander at me, give me a once over for herself after hearing my symptoms. And probably see her mate too. So she comes round my house, we hang out and she catches me up on the last few weeks and we have an early night. It's a pretty nice evening, everything considered. It's high summer and there are obviously lots of stories to tell. We hang out with my roommate Keenan, who is seeing me through this whole thing and living it with me, day-to-day, and none of us can really understand what's happening. So we choose to, for the most part, ignore it and carry on as normal. This is only Tuesday night. At this point, and I can't stress this enough, I didn't even know my liver enzymes were up. I probably had a couple of glasses of wine. Ignorance is bliss. 

WHEN YOU GO TO A FOREIGN COUNTRY, DOCTORS GET REAL UPTIGHT by Nora Logan

SO I WENT to Bali last summer. My best friend Claire lives there part-time with her husband and two kids, Atlas and Sochi. Sochi is my godson and I had never met him before, and he was already 18 months. The last time I had seen them was when Claire peed on a stick in Bali and found out she was pregnant again and I watched her experience the gamut of emotions one can experience when finding out such joyous (and terrifying) news. I was determined to meet him when he was still baby-ish and so I booked a slightly irresponsible flight to Bali in January 2015. I have a long story with Bali, that could fill a blog or 3, I lived there for 2 years and I started a business there and I learned a LOT from living on an Island in the middle of the Indian ocean. It's the sort of place that affronts you with its lessons, and comes at you head on. It's a second home of sorts: I learned the language, I set up an office, I planned Claire's wedding with my business partner at the time, I rode everywhere on a motorbike, I lived by myself in a really creepy old house where it rained into my bed and bearded dragons lived in my shower and I never once got ill. I never even had 'Bali-belly' or Dengue fever which are both real things that people get all the time in Bali. Claire has a well-known instagram account and when things got really hairy and I went on to the transplant list she posted this, and I was floored by all the love that came flooding in from friends and strangers alike: 

Screenshot 2016-02-03 00.04.19.png

In fact, I was never really ill with anything serious a day in my life. I was a colicky baby but I don't remember that! Babies don't remember that shit! I did have jaundice as a baby too-- was that foreshadowing in the story of my life? I don't know. Who knows these things? Only god above us and the universe and the planets and Mother Nature and Pacha Mama and the Virgin Mary and Joan of Arc and Ghandi and all the dead people who have come before us. The most extreme thing I ever experienced was exactly one year PRIOR to my liver failure, which was a shoulder surgery in August 2014. I was a big baby about that. But it really hurt. This is me in a sling laughing at my friend standing in a bathtub at a hotel. 

Dear August 2014 version of myself: just you wait and see what happens, mothafucka.

So I go back to Bali to meet my godson and see my adopted little family. We have a pleasant couple of weeks together, a beautiful reunion and a few weird experiences go down (stories which I'll save for another time), I get stuck in Bali because of a volcanic eruption and I go home. Three days before my departure, Claire and I have dinner with some friends who are also visiting Bali from London and who, it just so happens, are also doctors (and who would help me immensely as I got deeper into liver failure and the need for a transplant was so obvious to everyone but me). We sit down to our delicious meal, I have had one cocktail andone glass of wine with the food (not enough for the exorcist situation that's about to go down). In the middle of our dinner I book it to the upstairs bathroom to spew my guts out, involuntarily. I'm such a weirdo that I go back to the dinner table, and not wanting to ruin dinner for everyone, keep schtum about the Apocolypse Now situation going on in my stomach, unable to eat another bite. That's right, I didn't tell my friends WHO ARE REAL LIVE DOCTORS. I never claimed to be clever. I fess up at the end to Claire and say 'I feel so bizarre, I had to go be sick in the middle of dinner.' 

Me and my little nuggets. I think I was already on my way to liver failure at this point.

In the days that follow I'm trying to get on every and any flight out of Bali to get back to New York for work Monday. Unfortunately there is a backlog of people who have been trying to leave for days and a LOT of angry, hot tourists and a LOT of extremely inefficient Balinese airport officials without any information whatsoever. It's chaos. All the while, I am vomiting pretty consistently and I'm so confused because I've never felt this sort of sensation before. It wasn't your typical vomiting situation. It's hard to describe but it was pretty much like nothing I had ever experienced. And listen, I have done a fair amount of vomiting in my time. Another BFF, Barrie, who features heavily in this story, always says 'You've always been a puker', when I have complained about the never-ending nausea that accompanied my transplant. But that was my only symptom at first. Besides feeling a pretty irrational and extreme anger at all times for about 3 weeks--I'll get to that later.

My layover in Hong Kong, where I met some illustrious local men.

So I finally get on a flight that gets me in early Tuesday morning. I'm a day late for work and freaking out about it by the time I get back to NYC. I'm also in liver failure, which I did not know nor have the slightest inkling about. Looking back, there were signs, and I really should have. Bizarrely, I made it through the 35 hour flight and transit time without any incident and without being sick. My body was kind to me for that time and I'll always be grateful that my old liver held the sickness at bay so I wasn't spewing all over a 747 from Bali to Hong Kong to Vancouver to JFK. 

The erupting volcano on my way out. I hated it so much at the time.

A lot happened in between the 14th and the 28th, when I finally went to hospital, dragged by my extremely intelligent, astute and charming mother. I'll get to that later, too. 

Cut to 2 weeks later, and I'm in hospital and being asked anywhere between 20 to 40 to 60 questions over and over and over and over and over by different groups of doctors. They. Just. Could. Not. Get. Over. The. Bali. Thing. It was a Thing and everyone seemed sure that I went to Indonesia and got some scary illness that they just had to get to the bottom of and that was decided and that was that. Doctors would begin every conversation (more of an inquisition if you ask me) with 'So I hear you went to Indonesia, start from the beginning...' And I'd have to tell the story of how I went and what I did and what I ate and what I drank and where I slept at least 20 times a day. I'm not exaggerating. They were very concerned with whether I ate mushrooms. The meant magic, I thought they meant cooked. I'd reply 'Well, I think I had a curry, there may have been mushrooms in there, I can't really remember.' No one ever corrected me until much later on, which I found rather strange once I finally did find out they meant the mushrooms that get you high. Well doctor, I have done mushrooms--in fact they featured rather heavily in my adolescence (shout out to growing up in London when fresh ones were legal at Portobello and Camden Market and going to Amsterdam when I was 16, 17, 18 and probably 20 and discovering myself through the medium of hallucinogens), but this holiday with my two toddler nephews? No, no, they did not come into play this time.

They never found out what was wrong with me, and I'm still not wholly convinced my liver failure, which decimated my old liver in under 3 weeks, was caused by something I picked up in Indonesia. Third world countries already get a bad rap for being unsanitary but I know how to operate in them correctly. Needless to say, I was exasperated with their obsession with my trip and I was also dying, so with each day my patience (and stamina) waned for hearing the same questions hour upon painful hour. 

Now whenever I tell people I got sick in Bali, many of them say 'Right, well, there go my Bali plans. Never going there now.' And I have to say, no, no, no. Bali didn't commit this crime, man! This was some next level, who knows, mysterious, unknown parasite, toxin fueled, spiritual attack type of shit. Bali is a part of this story but it shouldn't scare anyone from travelling or being adventurous. If anything, the fact that I went to Indonesia and came back so sick should spur you to do more, explore more, travel more, live life now and stay in the present. Because you never EVER know what could hit you, and you never know when your time is up. We have no control. The control is just a myth we tell ourselves to try to stay sane. I understand the need for the myth, but it's not real. 

Bali was just the beginning of the most radical journey I have ever been on in my life. And listen, I have a lot of airmiles.