The Worst Month Of My Life

I was in Cusco, Peru, in late April, with around 10 days left before I planned to head north to Ayacucho, then Lima, and finally to Ecuador. Cusco is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, but I was looking forward to moving on.

Then, around 1:30am on a Tuesday morning, I awoke after sleeping for just 30 minutes with an upset stomach. I put it down to a mild case of indigestion but wasn’t able to fall asleep again as the discomfort got worse, but not to the point of calling it outright painful. I started my day a few hours later with a work meeting, all the while noting the discomfort had turned painful, though not much.

I resolved to take a walk around 10am in the hopes that the indigestion would pass. I was perhaps 2km from home when, in the space of maybe 5 minutes, I suddenly felt more dehydrated than I ever had before, with my lips suddenly on the verge of cracking. I grabbed a water and a taxi home, then chatted to a doctor friend of mine back in South Africa. The short version of her advice was “go to the hospital”.

I have no idea how I walked to the corner to catch another taxi. The pain was throbbing. When asked where I wanted to go, I just said “to the hospital” in my broken Spanish. The driver asked which hospital, and I said whichever was closest. Then he asked if I was a tourist. On nodding in the affirmative, he said he knew where to go and rushed me to a private hospital around 10 minutes away. 10 minutes of agony.

The hospital is called O2 Medical Network and caters to tourists, with staff that speak English sufficiently well that communication was not an issue. My broken Spanish is good enough to order a meal at a restaurant, but nowhere near good enough to describe a medical problem. A quick scan later revealed acute appendicitis, and emergency surgery required. It was my first time staying overnight in a hospital. I’m not a fan.

The surgery was simple enough, though my fever refused to subside so I remained in observation for a further 2 days, for a total hospital stay of 3 nights. While the pain had certainly lessened, it was by no means gone, but the surgeon assured me this was normal after an appendectomy.

I was released on Friday afternoon. Friday was horrible. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to eat. I could barely stand. But I assumed things would improve over the next few days.

Saturday was worse. What was a mild pain at the hospital seemed to magnify exponentially, and by Sunday morning the pain was excruciating. I lay in bed dreading another hospital visit. Another night or three with a needle in my arm, unable to rest, bored out of my mind. But the pain was enough that I knew another hospital visit was required.

On Sunday morning I checked myself back into the hospital. A scan revealed my gallbladder was inflamed and full of stones. A second surgery was required. That would be two surgeries in 5 days. Once again the procedure was straightforward and thankfully this time, the pain had eased. After a further 2 nights, I was discharged.

Phase 1 was over. Phase 2, recovery, was just starting. I suppose it wouldn’t have been too bad if I’d had help, but I was alone. 23 hours a day in bed meant I had a constant headache. I had no appetite at all for the first 2 weeks, and realized after a few days that I felt so weak because I wasn’t eating. So I made a point of forcing myself to eat something, anything, at least once every 8 hours. That’s surprisingly difficult when you have no appetite. My energy levels, even after my eating regiment was put in place, were very low. Sitting up drained me. I dreaded walking to the table to eat. After 5 minutes I’d need to lie down again. Silly as it sounds, I’d make a plan in my head of all the effort I’d need to put in before leaving the table. 6 steps to the sink to drop off dirty dishes, 2 steps to the fridge to put away left overs, 4 steps back to the chair so I could rest. Then came the pep talk: “You can run 10km. This is just 12 steps. You can do 12 steps.” It wasn’t fun.

My recovery period, as per the doctor’s instructions, is meant to be 5 weeks after the second surgery. I have around 2 weeks left. Things have improved considerably. I can eat normally, and walk into town for dinner, though even moderate exercise is still enough to drain me thoroughly.

I’m hoping to be back on my bike this weekend. I can’t travel yet, but I think I’m ready to at least take a short ride around town. My visa will have expired before I leave Cusco; I already checked with migrations and it’s not possible to get an extension. I just need to pay a fine when I leave, and even that may not be required if I plead my case with the border guard. I still need to visit Aduanas (customs) to try and extend my motorcycle permit in the country.

And that brings us to 26 May 2022. My ordeal is far from over, but the worst of it is, and for that I am very thankful. I hope to be on the road again soon but for the next few weeks at least, I’ll be calling Cusco home.