As most of you wonderful people, who have been sending me well wishes in regards to my surgeries know; the two weeks since I had the initial transplant has been fraught with frustration and difficulty. Things have moved so quickly that even most members of my family were left unawares to my recent predicaments. I thought I should sit down and note down exactly what happened following the original surgery two weeks ago.
The First Phone Call
After handing in my final paper for the Semester on Friday 16th of December; due to no sleep at all that week, after work that evening, I was dead on my feet. I turned down all invitations for a celebratory drink or meal and I decided to go home and sleep for as long as I possibly could. I was exhausted. I thought, ‘hey tomorrow night’s gonna be better to go out and celebrate because I won’t be tired’. So off to sleep I drifted, unawares of what drama lay ahead of me. To my surprise at 1pm that Saturday afternoon (yes I was still sleeping) My phone started ringing from an unknown number. Half asleep I answered. It was the hospital. They said that a donor had become available and they were going to extract the tissue the next day so if I was willing, I could accept the donor tissue and have the operation on Monday.
Of course I said yes immediately. I had been living blind in my left eye for nearly a decade now, this was the big chance I was waiting for. But I was careful not to get my hopes up. The last time the hospital had called the tissue was extracted from the donor and unfortunately it was damaged and couldn’t be used, so I had to wait again. At this point though I inwardly knew that it would be different. All the timing was right, I had finished school, I had managed to keep enough money in the kitty to finance it, and I just had a feeling it was going to work out.
That Sunday a lot of my friends in the ROK had organised a Brunch at a place called “Butterfingers” as a kind of send off to Anina and Phil as well as a mini shower for Kate and Stu and it gave us all the chance to catch up. Our good friends Nive and Erik were getting ready to depart to NZ for their upcoming nuptials as well, it was our last chance to see everyone before everyone broke off for the usual festive season celebrations, and it happened to be the first weekend I was free from school commitments, I wanted to be around familiar faces again, so it was with great joy I entered the restaurant and ordered my brekkie. And it was after I had scoffed my bacon and eggs that I got the second call from the hospital. The tissue was viable and that I had to go to the hospital right away to be prepped for surgery.
The Dreaded Korean Bureaucracy
It seemed like a straightforward matter, I had to go to the emergency department, they would sign me in and set me up with a bed in the ward and there I would await further instructions. But boy did it prove to be a drama and a half. I got to the emergency room and no one seemed to understand what I was trying to tell them. One man thought I needed emergency assistance and admitted me to the emergency ward/triage centre! I knew they had no idea what was going on. I got sent to the second floor eventually, which is admissions where the man told me that I had to pay $10,000 as a deposit for the surgery. This was ludicrous I told him. I asked him why I had to pay such a huge deposit, he said because I was a foreigner, (at this point my Korean became fluent) as I argued with him that he can’t realistically expect me to pay that and if he checked my records he would see that I was not some random foreigner off the street, that I had been a patient at the hospital for 3 years and that I had medical insurance.
And this is where it went from bad to worse. He proceeded to tell me that my medical insurance had lapsed in May. I explained to him that my old insurance lapsed at the end of May when I changed employers (when I moved to Seoul) and that they had taken out a new policy for me. (By Korean law, all foreign nationals must have medical insurance 50% paid by their emplpyer). Incensed, I called my boss, I didn’t care that it was Sunday, If they had not completed the medical cover for me, I knew that I would not be able to afford the operation. It would be too expensive, all costs at least treble without medical insurance. At this point Admissions sent me back to the emergency room where the guy there called the International Health Care Clinic to get me some translation help. I got hold of my boss who told me she would call the admin lady to see what was going on. At this point I had been at the hospital with Tessa and One for nearly 3hours, unfortunately those two were of no real use because their Korean is worse than mine lol. So I sent them on their way to pick up supplies (they went shopping for 3 hours HAHAHA)
I got a call back from my boss to confirm what I had feared, my school never registered my medical insurance. So I was being ripped off by my school. Luckily the big boss found out what had happened and was really shocked and he called the hospital and agreed to be guarantour for me. And finally I was called into the ward after 3 1/2 hours of wasted time due to ridiculous bureaucracy.
The First Surgery
Monday 19th of December, I had the major surgery. This was the original transplant. Everything went well throughout the surgery, it took about 3 hours to have my cornea extracted and my donor’s cornea implanted and fixed in. Now obviously it doesn’t just slide in and out at a surgeons will. So they use a process that I think is called ‘sutraing’ the new cornea to my eye. So basically the new cornea needs to be grafted to my eye tissue so that the cornea can become part of my eye. I stayed in hospital overnight and in the morning my doctor checked my eye, my vision had improved greatly in just one night. It was amazing I was able to make out details, I could actually read the letters during the vision test, It was a wow moment for me. Surprisingly I was in very little pain, my surgeon was very deft with the scalpel and had managed to minimise any discomfort for me.
I was ready to go home that morning, but I had to stay in the hospital to wait for my medical insurance to be processed. My school knew they were in big trouble if they didn’t get it sorted, I could have sued them for it. But what does a Kiwi know about suing anybody, you can’t sue anyone in NZ, that’s what we have ACC for lol, so I just waited patiently for my medical insurance to clear, and when it did, finally I got to go home with a MOUNTAIN of medication, and the doctor warned me that I had to make sure to be vigilant and take care with everything, I was laid off work for a week, and luckily my employers were gracious enough to hire a substitute teacher. I had to return to the doctor the following monday before I resumed work
The Unexpected News
My recovery had been relatively uneventful, and I went back to the doctors in high spirits on Boxing day for what should have been a routine check up. Instead when I got there, the doctor gave me the news I had not been expecting, due to the weakness of my eye, the grafting hadn’t stuck, and my eye was leaking fluid from the inside, it had to be repaired immediately. So I was put under a local anesthetic and my doctor went about re-sutraing the cornea to my eye. As it wasn’t major surgery and I didn’t feel any immediate pain following this operation, I was allowed to go home a couple of hours after surgery. Much to my relief. and I started work the next day as scheduled after a quick check up on Tuesday morning, I was back into the swing of things. The strangest part of this procedure was being awake while my eye was poked and prodded by my surgeon.
The Accident and the Third Surgery
On Friday morning, while trying to change the dressing in my eye,( the doc said I had to change the dressing every time I instilled my eye drops, no mean feat considering I had to instill them four times a day) I had an accident. And it was the most painful sensation I had experienced in my life (aside from the time I woke up underneath a car being dragged along our driveway) I knew something was seriously wrong. It’s so hard to change the dressing on your own, and as I was cutting the tape the roll flicked back into my eye. I tried to shield it from hitting my eye, but that made it even worse, as I ended up poking myself in the eye during the process. My wound instantly reopened, I knew it was bad, fluid started gushing out of my eye and I was in extreme pain.
I called the hospital and asked to see an eye specialist as soon as possible, my surgeon works at a different hospital on Friday’s so I knew she wouldn’t be in. Instead I was seen by another just as talented doctor who told me that it was really bad, my iris had been exposed and they had to operate immediately. So less than four days after my second operation I had to have the same procedure done again, but this time with the added pain from the accident to contend with. And it was long too, what was supposed to be just 20minutes turned into over an hour of me sitting there watching my cornea be shifted around, constantly, bright lights shone in and out, I thought my eye was going to fry and never stop crying, throughout the operation I was in pain due to the accident, the doctor tried to numb the pain as much as possible. At the end she could tell that I was still really worried, and she called out to me to “Don’t worry Patrick, everything will be ok” Just the reassurance I needed. They said that I would feel more pain than last time and that I would be nauseous and experience headaches and stomach pains, apparently it was unavoidable. Also there would be no going home for me this time. I had to stay in the hospital. And boy was she right on the money.
About an hour after surgery, the first pain attack started, and my body nearly went into shock because of it, my breathing became uneven and I kept crying out in agony. The nurses drugged me up as much as possible, but still it got worse and worse, not better, relief didn’t seem to be in sight. I had injections, oral medication, pain relief through an IV and it still didn’t do anything, I was in so much agony. Finally after inserting I don’t know how much morphine the pain attacks subsided nearly 4hours after surgery. Andy (who came out as soon as she heard I had to be hospitalised) said that I looked like death when she walked in, and to be honest, I felt like it at that moment.
The doc came back in on Saturday and was able to clear me from the hospital, with the proviso that I come back today to see my main surgeon to make sure that I didn’t need more surgery, because the wound was so unstable, the doctor wasn’t sure whether I would need a procedure or not.
The Second Check up And The Current Situation
So I just returned from the hospital after seeing my surgeon who was really sympathetic and didn’t grill me like I thought she would, but she just told me to be very careful and instead of using a dressing to protect my eye, I have to wear an eye shield. No more eye patch, she doesn’t want me risking another accident she says that the seal is stable now, but my eye is so weak and can break at the slightest pressure, so I have to be very very careful and will have to visit her regularly for a month. And during this time, I am not to wash my face under any circumstances. (Yuck, but necessary)
So that’s what’s happened so far. It’s been a very turbulent start to the year, but a necessary one, I’ll have to take it easier than I expected, but what’s a month? I’m thankful that I didn’t need another surgery, if I did, I was seriously going to call my Mum and make her or my Sister come to Korea to be with me, it was getting too hard to do it on my own. I think I’ll be ok now!
Onwards and Upwards! Welcome to 2012 I look forward to owning you like I did your predecessors 2011 and 2010! 🙂