IF YOU CAN believe it, that Sunday of the wedding was the 19th of July. I didn't end up going to hospital until the 27th. I lived a lot in the 8 days leading up to it. I was dying and I had no idea (not to beat a dead horse but let's beat that dead horse). To this day, I still believe I really and truly had no idea. And I was misinformed. I go into work on Monday morning the 20th of July. And I'm really a hurting unit, so I write a Gchat to my friend Al, I have to go to the real doctor. The trouble was, I didn't have a GP. So Al suggests that I try this place her friend goes to that is basically for people who need a gyno or go for yearly check-ups and they just want a nice calm atmosphere when they walk in and water with fresh slices of lemon in an oversized mason jar and couches from a Swedish design shop that isn't Ikea but basically has the same furniture at a higher price point and some sweet Norah Jones or Jason Mraz or Coldplay or Tibetan gong music playing in the waiting room. Like not cool music, but not waiting room music - you know? It's basically bougie as fuck and you have to pay a membership to be a patient there. They promise you better service, no waiting for appointments and more attentive treatment. It's dumbfounding to me that this is what healthcare has come to in America, but they have a great website and I love easy listening so I bit, I chomped down hard on the proverbial Kool Aid. I was desperate and so I pulled out my plastic and made an appointment. Also, since I didn't have a GP, I couldn't get any appointments for the same day on ZocDoc and at least this place came recommended. I have since got my money back for this membership because of the part they played in my care, which I honestly have to say was negligent.

Ken Kesey's Magic Bus 'Further'. These guys were for sure drinking the Kool Aid. Known as the 'Merry Pranksters'.

'Of course, they could fit me right into the schedule, no worries, come on down.' I got an appointment for 3pm that day. I went into my boss' office and said listen, I have to go to the doctor, and she said 'Yeah, you don't look so good. I can see you're unwell.' So I stay at work until about 2ish and bust out of there and hop down to 23rd street on the subway (it's weird that the most distant memory for me in this story is not the actual memories but what it's like to take the subway anywhere. So fast. So efficient. So germ-infested. So many pizza rats). I was so half-baked at this point that I didn't realise that I was going to see a Nurse Practitioner, not an actual doctor, not someone who had years upon years of experience, not someone who would recognize jaundice as a serious sign of trouble or say definitively 'BITCH, GET YOUR ASS TO THE HOSPITAL RIGHT NOW'. I have since pictured people going into this clinic for when they have something like acid reflux or multiple yeast infections or UTIs or Athlete's Foot or genital warts or Verrucas or a papercut or some other (admittedly annoying) but largely innocuous health issue. They're not the people you go see when your liver is about to fucking fall out of your vagina. I am pretty sure that's not how it works I would have to check with my doctor to make 100% sure but you know what I mean. But they're who I chose as my health professionals. I felt pretty angry at the woman I dealt with there for a long while. I oscillated between, well, she didn't know me, I walked in as a stranger with yellow eyes and she didn't know me from Anna. (Yeah, yeah the expression is from Adam but #girlpower). Who knows, maybe I scared her. 


I don't want to say she was incompetent, because the woman really was not. I am confident that she is good at her job but I don't really know if she deals with this sort of thing all the time. I think it was a perfect storm for me and just bad luck that that's where I ended up. I walked into her office, after sitting in the lovely, gorgeous waiting room with huge loft ceilings, sipped on some artisanal lemon water and listened to some trendy easy listening across from a well-manicured Flatiron woman who had most likely just come from Dry Bar or is one of those mythical creatures that gets her hair blow-dried 3 times a week and was rocking a next day blow out. Either way, I was in a place where health problems exist, but we can make it all better with interior design and making it seem like we're at Soho House. EXCEPT NO BUT YOU CAN'T DO THAT AT ALL NOT WHEN YOU'RE REAL FUCKED UP.  I went in to present the facts. Bear in mind, this is the second time I'm repeating the Bali story, because this is only the second medical professional I'm seeing. 

This is what this doctor's office had in mind when it was targeting clientele. People with entire Pinterest albums full of candles and crystals. Which is someone I could probably be if I really put my mind to it. Photo courtesy of SoulMakes

I tell her what's up and I tell her my theories (at this point I had a bunch of theories cooked up in my head, some of which I never shared with medical professionals, some of which I did). This woman is newly pregnant and just starting to show, I was so excited for her! I had just come from seeing my godson and nephew and how far along is she and does she have another kid or is this her first and you know just the normal small talk. Nothing. Woman gave me nothing to work with. It was pretty much like getting blood from the stone. She was so chill and nonchalant that I was truly thrown by it. And I hate chit-chat, I don't love small talk, let's get down to business for sure 24/7 if I don't know you, let's not waste time talking about our lives. I don't care, you don't care, neither of us care so let's just get down to what we're here for. But something about her attitude was so bizarrely asleep at the wheel that I was like, I have to get human with you on some level. I need your help and you are not giving me anything here so I need to endear you to me SOMEHOW (more on how I was the most charming and loveable patient NYP has ever seen later). 

I had been having a pretty good year, I was exercising constantly, drinking gallons of green juice, wearing cute outfits and feeling pretty good about the direction I was going in. Photo courtesy of Feedly.

So I move on from the small talk, I was pretty painfully aware that I wasn't going to be buddy buddy with this person: so let's do this thing. 'Basically, I went to Indonesia for 2 weeks, I started vomiting not this past Friday but the one before and it's been pretty steady ever since.' (UH, HELLO THAT'S OVER TEN DAYS WHY DIDN'T SHE TELL ME TO SPRINT TO THE HOSPITAL LIKE DON'T TAKE A CAB JUST FUCKING RUN RIP ALL YOUR CLOTHES OFF AND SHOW UP READY FOR TESTING), 'and I've now developed this jaundice; I'm exhausted and I just can't shake it and it's strange because at first I thought it was jet-lag but now it's just lingering and I don't know what to do. Also I think it has something to do with my ovaries so if you could check those that would be great.' I had this bizarre hunch that there was something wrong with my ovaries. Let me explain.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Antonoff

I had this guy, Pak Durit do this very intense massage on me in Bali. He's friends with my friends and he is an older guy, a healer, a medicine man (Pak means Mr. in bahasa Indonesian, but it's a respected way to address someone, it's mostly for an older person. The female version is Ibu). He comes to your house. The whole story is much longer than what is intended for this post but the first time he did it he touched on a point in my shoulder (from which I had been healing from a surgery for the previous year) and I completely lost my shit. He pushed on an emotional portal or something and I started uncontrollably crying for almost two hours. I got on my scooter to drive to dinner with tears streaming down my face like just bawling my eyes out in the rice paddy. It was wild. Needless to say, I definitely scared the children: 'Aunty No-Wa, why are you so emotionally unhinged?!' Just kidding they didn't say that they are both under 3 years old they don't know how crazy I am yet. Anyway, I saw him again before I left because dude is really a miracle worker, the above anecdote notwithstanding (for what it's worth I thought that emotional release was so rad and just what I needed). When I was lying on my back he went up to my abdomen area and touched on something there. He goes 'Sakit disini' I say 'Sakit mana?' And he points. Pak Durit doesn't speak English and I do not know the words for any of my insides in Indonesian. He was saying 'You're sick here' to which I answered 'Where?' THE NEXT PART IS MY BAD. So I can't exactly remember but I think I somehow worked out that he was pointing to my ovaries. And to be fair, I did end up having cysts on my ovaries which is actually very common and nothing to worry about.

A text I sent to my friend Jenny right after massage-gate 2015. I always laugh at her reply 'That sounds really crazy...' loosely translates to 'You are a total nutjob Nora...'

But I just couldn't let the ovary thing go. I remember it being the morning of my transplant or maybe the day before and asking my surgeon 'Is someone going to listen to me about this ovary thing or WHAT?' No one would let me have a goddamn ovarian ultrasound because they basically knew for a fact that I was dying of liver failure. But I couldn't let go of it. I was like YO MY FRIEND DURIT SAID IT WAS MY OVARIES AND DUDE IS NEVER WRONG. I didn't end up getting that ultrasound until after transplant (when I insisted on it) and ooh buddy it was painful with a gaping Mercedes Benz scar in my middle and having had a catheter in me for days on end. Insert Kelly Clarkson lyrics here. But Pak Durit also looked pretty scared when he was telling me, and he maybe was feeling something wrong with the liver, too. And maybe he could feel that I was in for an absolute world of hurt. And if I had been staying in Bali, I would have been. I would probably actually have been dead by the 6th of August instead of getting a second lease on life. So I think that's what he was so scared about. I can't wait to see him again so I can ask him what went through his mind. I am going to have to learn the words for liver, intestines and ovaries in Indonesian by then which I think I can do and also where the ovaries are in relation to the liver. No I know that second one now so that's one thing I've learned from this experience. Basic human anatomy which I think you're supposed to learn when you're 12 or 13. I'll get back to Durit in another post he is a wise man and an absolute legend. I have wondered, so often, if he knew right there and then what was going on. If it could have saved me all this to-and-froing from Urgent Care to nurse practitioners. I don't know why neither myself nor Claire thought to call the guy in between. Oh well, spilt milk and all that. 

At dinner with the kids and still crying my fucking eyes out. Claire was not impressed. I was like her third child. 

So the most nonchalant, lackadaisical Nurse Practitioner on the planet gets an earful about how I think I have something wrong with my ovaries (Why? Oh, just because, I just have this feeling, you know I'm in touch with my body. No I did not tell her that a Balinese medicine man told me so now I have accepted it as truth).  I know she was pregnant so this is probably not the case but she honestly looked like she had taken a massive rip off a bong before she saw me. I just was not interesting at all to her. Or maybe I terrified her because she was pregnant and I could have some insane tropical disease. Indonesia was, after all, an obsession of every single doctor I met. There was indeed the possibility that I had Hepatitis E and that's what she presented me with. She ordered some labs, she asked for me to send her the blood work I had done at the Urgent Care place and she prescribed me some Compazine (an anti-nausea medication that I would come to know and love with the utmost affection and gratitude, shout-out to Zofran too, love you buddy, thanks for getting me through the first 6 months post-transplant). 

Pak Durit, me and the kids looking on as I got worked THROUGH by him. Look at how cute those kids are. Damn, my ovaries are telling me to procreate so I can have some cute kids like this. 

Meanwhile, I asked my mother to drive me back to Brooklyn because for one, I was just staggering around like a goddamn drunk and also because I hadn't seen her since I got back from Bali. So she picked me up in the car on 21st and 5th and we drove back to Greenpoint. I asked her to stop at this pie shop called The Blue Stove and I got us some apple pie and some other cheese thing and some iced teas. We sat in my back garden and we each smoked a cigarette (best way to quit smoking--go into hospital for 30+ days and don't leave at all and have a few surgeries in between). She cleaned my pool because she has a compulsion to clean things and make everything 'nicey-nice' as she would say. Anne and Barrie were having dinner at a place down the road from me and we went to meet them to say hi. I picked up the Compazine at CVS but they didn't have it so I went to a different CVS down the road which did have it and then I spent another night hugging the toilet bowl. My poor roommates. I don't know how much they could hear but it wasn't pretty, the auditory section of my nighttime routine was not the most calming environment to be in. I remember Keenan sending me off to work everyday 'So you're gonna go? You ok?' 

My mum came to Brooklyn to hang out with me on the Monday after my doctor's appointment, she cleaned the pool.

So the Compazine doesn't work and I'm going for more blood work and urine testing in the morning. And it's only Monday night. We have another 7 days of this shit. God only needed 7 days to create the world and I only needed 7 to realize that I was in a world of trouble, one foot in the ground and knee deep in horse shit and more importantly, needed to get myself to the Emergency Room STAT. Oh wait sorry I needed 17. Guess I'm not God after all. The next morning I would go into their testing facility and pee in the cup. The results would show up as 'Cloudy' and 'Abnormal'. So many Abnormals in that test report. So many. One thing is for sure, I only have the medical degree I received from being in hospital for over 30 days (they give one to everyone once you reach a certain amount of days + procedures), but this urine does not look like the urine of a healthy person. 

I show you this photo of my urine not as an overshare but because to give you a true life story of what you get at a bougie medical office in NYC: burlap bags for urine. Like an episode of Portlandia, but exponentially worse. 


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.