Last Saturday morning I was woken by entirely unexpected stomach pain. My bed at home was clammy with sweat and the pain was intense enough for me to cancel all plans, such as they were, in favour of the suddenly urgent “spend the day rolling around going ‘urgh’ a lot.”

This Saturday morning I was woken with by now entirely expected stomach pain similar in intensity. This time my clammy bed is in a hospital. A friendly nurse comes to hand me a strong painkiller and to change my enhanced saline drip. My plans, such as they are, now consist of finding out how my emergency appendectomy went yesterday, why I now have a plastic tube coming out of my side leading to a bag marked ‘waste’, and if that is now a permanent thing. Oh and when I can go home.

I’m a bit scared, to be honest, by which I mean I’m totally shit scared.

I’m in quite a bit of pain. That codeine I just took isn’t working, and I’m not very good at handling pain at the best of times. As a man capable of turning the simple act of stubbing his toe or banging his elbow into a five act dramatic opera worthy of a full libretto by Goethe, being hospitalised with an Actual Condition is like catnip to me. Reader beware.

Following the operation yesterday I have had to figure out learning how to pee all over again, something I never thought I’d need to revisit, but which now comes with several new and entirely unexpected New Game Plus style constraints, including but not limited to these:

a) I am in a hospital ward full of grumpy strange men each in individual curtained off cubicles,

b) I cannot walk very far unaided or possibly at all. I have not yet investigated this one, but even if I knew where the toilet was, I do not know if I could get there, nor how long such a journey might take, given that it currently takes ten full minutes to reach a spot two feet from my bed,

c) I have a waste bag connected to a plastic tube coming out of my side; the entry point of the tube is tender and hurts to touch,

d) I have two drips entering via a valve in my right hand, this is also tender, wobbly, and hurts to touch,

e) I have to pee in a special cardboard bottle of admittedly ingenious design,

f) I have to do this standing up, not dropping the bottle or spilling it, and,

g), worst of all, the act of ‘letting go’ to pee is suddenly itself searingly and shockingly painful. But my bladder is hurting too from the volume of fluid, so the only option is to persevere.

All this is taking place bang slap in the middle of the worst global pandemic for over a century, so I have a mask permanently attached to my neck and have spend much of the days since arriving in hospital navigating unexpected new complexities of mask etiquette, including the man from hospital catering who delights in walking directly at my bed glaring and yelling ‘mask’ before unwillingly removing the cold cup of coffee I never asked for.

Most people, if they have an appendix story, have the same one, which ends ‘and then they said if they hadn’t removed it in time it would have burst.’

I can’t tell that story, because in my case, the pesky appendage had apparently burst already and then magically mended itself, all before I arrived at hospital, without me noticing anything more than a bad stomach ache continuing to be bad. I am far too busy being terrified by all the other stuff to pay too much attention to this but it turns out that my previous theory of ‘you don’t need to worry about unknowingly suffering a burst appendix because X’ fails due to a lack of valid values for X.

It’s a huge amount to cope with and I am incredibly grateful to live in a country with a functional health care system. This means that at no point do I need to worry about paying for any of the care I am receiving and continue to receive. The NHS in the UK, like functional health care systems across the world, is free at the point of use.

Although I am being looked after very well, it’s still all more than a bit shit and I remain genuinely terrified and will do until I find out more about how my operation went.

I cannot begin imagine how horrible it must be to experience the same kind of thing and have to factor in how you will pay for it all as well.

Needless to say, in such a place, I would not now be writing a light hearted blog post. I would be dead.