My surgery in Santiago

My list of new things done in South America is expanding constantly…

–          Climbed snow capped mountains in the Andes – CHECK

–          Peered inside a smouldering volcano – CHECK

–          Travelled 2000km through harsh desert conditions and gale force winds in a 35 year old citroeneta – CHECK

–          Learnt a new language – CHECK (well kind of)

–          Drank goats blood – CHECK

–          Had knee surgery and looked at photos of the inside of my knee – CHECK!!!

The 7 weeks since the accident happened seem like an eternity to me, although in actual fact since I realised it was more serious than just a sprain and started the process of dealing with doctors, hospitals and insurance, it has only been about a month.

The last few weeks leading up to the surgery last Thursday were rather stressful for me.  Dealing with medical situations is never stress-free, even in your own country and language where you are familiar with the system and what needs to be done. I had to deal with the insurance company in South Africa, their appointed agent in South America, the hospital, the doctor and a medical system that I knew nothing about and most of this was happening in Spanish. Not exactly a walk in the park.

Much of the organisation for this surgery had to take place on the phone and I still have a phobia about speaking on the phone in spanish, especially to strangers and especially about formal or important topics (knee surgery would definitely fall in this category for me). But I can´t really complain as I was saved from the agony of telephone conversations thanks to Rodrigo doing much of the calling…he was always the one to phone the doctor to ask for the reports I needed or to check on the procedure with the hospital etc…without him what was already a traumatic experience for me would have been even worse…

I was saved further stress when the lady I was talking to from the insurance´s local agent asked me if I wanted to talk in english. Clearly she could tell from my bumbling, non-intelligible spanish that I was having a hard time trying to tell her who I was and why I was calling. I swear I am going to send Virginia at Universal Assist a HUGE box of chocolates to say thank you for saving me (and her) from my long winded, badly constructed explanation in spanish. Since then, she was an angel and thankfully we conducted most of our business via email which is infinitely easier for my spanish abilities.

The last hurdle to overcome before I got a new ligament and a knee that was on the road to functioning fully again, was a change of hospital (and date) for the surgery because the university hospital where it was scheduled did not accept the guarantee my insurance gave them. This actually turned into an upgrade for me as the surgery was moved to the other clinic where my surgeon works – Clinica Alemana (“German Clinic”). This clinic is considered the best in Chile (no surprise considering its´ name) and is definitely 5 stars compared to my first option. Thankfully my insurance had no problem with the move even though this tripled the price of the surgery. Thank you Netcare!!!

Then the day finally arrived and I checked into the clinic last Thursday. Now as seems to be the case with EVERYTHING in Chile, schedules and times are rather flexible and instead of the surgery happening at 6pm, it was about an hour late, apparently due to a complication in the surgery before me. An hour extra may not seem like long, but it felt like eternity to me since I had been unable to eat or drink anything since 10am that morning. Any of you who know me well, know that I need regular feeding and even more regular hydration, so by the time I went into the operating room I had a pounding headache from being dehydrated.

The operation took just over 2 hours and was done using local anaesthetic in the form of an epidural. Thankfully though I managed to doze through most of the surgery and didn´t hear too much. Although at one point I did hear hammering and an image of them chipping into my bone came into my mind. I quickly tried to go back to sleep. Being in a spanish speaking country probably turned out to be a blessing in this case as, although I could hear them speaking through the surgery, I didn´t understand what they were saying and it was all just kind of a background noise. A further blessing was that I could not see the TV screen showing images from the scope they used. It is interesting to see the images of the surgery afterwards (they give you a CD of the pics, kind of as a souvenir), but I had no desire to watch it “live”!

The white fluffy bits are what remained of my broken cruciate ligament after the accident

I think this is the posterior cruciate ligament and so the photo above should have looked similar if I hadn´t had the accident

Apart from the broken ligament, the surgeon also had to repair a tear in the meniscus (cartilage in the knee)

I think this photo then shows the part of my patella tendon which was used to replace the cruciate ligament

I think the worst part of the whole experience though is the 6 or so hours it takes for the epidural to wear off. I had to spend three hours or so in the recovery room where the nurses kept asking me if I could move my legs. Obviously the answer was no at first and I almost had a panic attack since in my mind I was trying so hard to even move a toe and yet nothing was moving. I sincerely pray that this is the closest I ever come to knowing how a paralysed person feels. After a few hours or so, when I was asked for the countless time if I could move my legs and I replied no, the nurse told me to look down and I saw that my left leg was actually moving. She smiled and told me that you get the movement back before you get the feeling. You have no idea how strange it was to see my leg moving and not know it – it was almost as if it didn´t belong to me. After about 5 hours (by this time it was 2am) I started having the most awful pins and needles and the feeling started coming back, along with excruciating pain…all I can say is thank goodness for pain medication stuck directly into your veins!

Two nights in the hospital, many movies on TV, good food by hospital standards and fantastic service by all nurses and I was finally home and hobbling about. I must say, even in my limited hospital experiences in SA, this was an incredible hospital and I couldn´t have been in better hands. Now I face the long recovery phase starting with physio next week. I know the next few months are going to be a great lesson in patience for me as I am so impatient with things that limit my abilities in any way. My “one day at a time” motto is definitely going to be put to the test…

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2 Responses to My surgery in Santiago

  1. Helen says:

    Vrystaat!!!!! Most grateful all this could be done – you’re going to need that knee! What a saga in acountry where the language is a bit difficult … I have some sympathy – a friend and I had an accident in Luxembourg years ago, on our way from the UK to Switzerland. She landed in hospital (broken arm) but I was checked (black, blue, squashed ribs but nothing broken) and sent to a hotel, with no luggage, no pain pills, no face cloth, no pajamas/clean underwear, no French. And no way of knowing when she’d be discharged and how I could get to Switzerland! Or where the smashed car was being kept or how to get my luggage. Eish… All worked out eventually, but quite stressful.

    Give our greetings to Santiago…

    • ingridckoch says:

      Wow Helen, my story has the language issue, but at least it wasn’t an emergency and I had weeks to sort everything out!!! But as you say, everything works out in the end and you have an interesting story to tell the grandchildren!

      Greetings to Waaigrass!!!

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