Saturday, 26 June 2010

I had been hoping to end the season with style, and I do indeed find myself in a not-unstylish situation. Yesterday I had a private tour of sunny and beautiful Wiesbaden, and I have been put up in a room surrounded by green leafy spaces, with birds singing, my own marble bathroom, and a balcony with ample room for four chairs and a table.

The only drawback is that the trip was in the back of an ambulance, having been admitted to hospital with the agonising pain of a herniated disc (I think). I suspect the damage had been lurking since I fell at the feet of that pilot, certainly the pain was radiating along the same lines of left shoulder into fingers, but whilst lying in bed reading (not generally considered a high-risk activity), between one page and the next I was catapulted into the most excruciating agony and only just managed to stagger into the courtyard to fetch help before fainting in a coldly sweaty heap.

The entire experience at the first hospital remains a complete blur. Luckily the lovely building management lady who first helped me had fetched my handbag from my flat, so that I had my insurance card with me and didn't have to go filling in any forms. I vaguely remember trying not to howl constantly whilst crouching at the foot of a bed, hanging on to the corner for dear life; X-rays where sitting with my back straight against a wall was a real challenge, and an MRI scan that gave off the most amazing sounds, which I chose to interpret as modern music (I suspect someone had given me some drugs by this point). The doctors I saw were wonderful and very reassuring, even though they had to run through the risks of surgery with me (the surgery was unavoidable; it is not possible to live with such pain, and besides, I was getting neurological symptoms down my arm and into my fingers). As it involved one of the cervical (neck) vertebrae, there was an risk of paralysis of the vocal cords. Of course there are risks inherent in any operation, but I have to say that one, for a singer, is not an easy one to contemplate. Still, it had to be done, and I was scheduled for the operation yesterday afternoon.

I do remember one utterly, utterly blissful hour in all this; because nothing was touching the pain, I was eventually given a gloriously strong opiate drip of some sort. Within minutes, I was floating in the sort of happiness that fills the vacuum left by agony. Really, a shining light in a dark day, and something I thought even at the time would be useful to remember for the stage.

Didn't last, of course; it appears from the number of times I threw up that I might be allergic to that opiate; there was a horribly disorienting time of pills, potions and indignities to be had before I was finally loaded up into an ambulance by sweet men who, noticing that I winced at every bump, said they would make the drive as slow and scenic as possible. Wiesbaden in the sunshine is a truly beautiful sight; it seems rather ungrateful to moan about having seen it from the back of an ambulance!

And as to the facility in which I now find myself; well, this is illness diva style!!! I have my own room, somewhat bigger and better appointed than my flat, with a marble bathroom and balcony with room for a table and four chairs. Friends who visited yesterday were amused yet somehow unsurprised that I'd managed to end up here. I would point out that this is on the basic German mandatory state health insurance (at least I hope it is! I gave them my health insurance card, which carries all the details; am fairly certain I am here because of a doctor sympathetic to the peculiar needs of opera singers - very nice man, he was!).

The operation, I am speechlessly relieved to say, appears to have been a success, and my vocal cords felt untouched when I came around (speaking French, apparently, and inclined towards a three-octave scale to test said cords). The anaesthetist had taken me seriously during our discussion, and used intubation of a size normally used on babies. His first question upon visiting me this morning was, never mind how you are, how are the vocal cords? The surgeon was vastly calm and reassuring, and complimented me post-operatively on my exquisite neck musculature. Goodness, am I collecting some interesting comments!!

The next few days will involve rest and recuperation. Given the family tendency to run before walking in such matters, I have issued stern warnings to myself not to overdo things. As the world-class drugs are starting to wear off, I can feel my body slowly starting to realise that yes, actually, its throat HAS been cut...

I have been deeply grateful for the support of friends and family in the past few days, both for support from afar and in practical matters like fetching clean underwear and reading material, helping me shower, and holding my hand while I cried in panic. Nothing will help more in quickly getting back up to snarling dramatic mezzo power than such unstinting love and assistance. Thank you all! (I am deeply disappointed that my beloved Daddy will not be able to see my last performance of Herodias in this production, but given just how much being kicked around and slipping in pools of blood it involves, maybe it's better for him to come and see me in something less appropriate!!)

Now, while I think about it, for anyone (not just singers) considering living in another country, here are some phrases which it might be useful to translate before moving. Just in case.

  • Please get me to hospital. NOW. Thank you.

  • No, it does not help to lie down. Or to sit down. I prefer to cling to the leg of this bed. Thank you.

  • Hello, nice to meet you, my name's Katy; please excuse the howling like an animal, it is not personal, nor is it catching.

  • Goodness, what an impressive scar. Thank you for showing it to me.

  • Please give me all the drugs you can muster. Thank you. (For those in Germany, you might like to use Medikamente rather than Drogen, as the latter are considered more appropriate for getting arrested with than for demanding in a hospital.)

  • How interesting that the man shouting below has neurological damage rather than being a mad axeman with access to my balcony, and that the screeching of whatever wildlife it is is probably intensified by the full moon. Now please may I either have a third sleeping pill or one of those nice drip things? Thank you.

Hopefully normal service will resume soon! Meanwhile, for me, translating such experiences into something approaching readable phrases has a very cathartic effect - it never fails to amaze me that people read this and even appear to enjoy it - so, thank you for reading!


  1. Reminds me of one of my favorite Steven Wright jokes: "I got into an accident . I was speed-reading and ran into a bookmark." Not only do I read your blog , I think this entry is my favorite one yet.

  2. I am very very happy to hear you are okay. When I heard what had happened I sent prayers your way. It makes me smile from ear to ear to hear how diva-like it all turned out. It sounds like magic almost.

  3. I'm glad to hear that the operation went well, and that you're recovering. My thoughts are with you. Take care of yourself, don't overdo it, but don't coddle yourself either.

    Brava Diva!


  4. Aren't you glad this did not happen in the USA? Imagine how much that would have cost you!!!!

  5. The Gorgeous One told me to point out what happened when he was being disintubated, as witnessed by his then secretary, and his ex...

    "Leave it in, leave it in, it feels so good!!"

    He must have been on some funky drugs is all I will say to that!!!