When your body says, stop!

When your body says, stop!


norman lebrecht

September 15, 2017

Our diarist Anthea Kreston was rushed to a Berlin hospital this week. It felt like back to the future.

I started feeling funny Saturday morning. The most curious thing was that, when I went to the breakfast in our glorious, stately hotel, snow-peaked mountains and roaring river outside my room, (quartet was in Italy for a concert), I didn’t go through the buffet like a category 5 tropical storm.  I am a total breakfast beast, and my colleagues know to give me a wide berth, as I can be embarrassing to be associated with during a morning meal. On Saturday, I was normal, and ate the same amount as the other humans in the room. “Funny”, I thought to myself. 

The rehearsal and concert went off without a hitch, although I was quite spaced out and was dizzy when I left the stage. I decided to not go to the after meal (another blaring red light – for the love of all things good, I was in Italy – how could I pass on a meal invitation?).

I promptly lay down on the green-room table – a long wooden affair – as no couch was in the room, and fell asleep, within moments – until a knock on the door woke me — colleague was delivering some food to me – a festive collage of greens in a deep, a-symmetrical dish. I felt like a wet blanket had been put on top of me – I was flabby, dizzy, nauseous, and had a headache. 

I pride myself on my heartiness – I am a reliable, solid person who actively cares for her health, and I have very high expectations for myself and my responsibilities to others. I haven’t cancelled anything in this past year – I can  push myself though anything, normally. But I knew I was heading down – I quickly called the Deutsche Oper, with whom I was supposed to start rehearsing with on Monday, and told them it would be wise to look for a substitute, just in case my hunch was right.

I fell asleep again on our way to the airport, and made a nose-dive to a horizontal position as soon as I got home to Berlin. I stayed mostly in bed (which is very hard for me to do) the next day, and I began to feel discomfort – physical.  On Tuesday, the doctor found a large, infected cyst, and put me directly into a cab for the Emergency Room. My first German Hospital experience. 

I was scared, a little overwhelmed, and in pain – Jason was able to get a last-minute replacement for his orchestra for the week, and friends came over to help with the girls while he juggled things. It is such a nice feeling to finally start building our web of interconnectedness here – people who can help out, and people we can help out. We are not so alone anymore. 



The hospital was very different from my American hospital experiences. I was bounced like a pinball from one office to waiting rooms, emergency and form-filling out rooms. The hospital itself was not “done-up” like the American versions, no fountains outside, no coffee stands or televisions or gift shops or walls of glass or plush couch areas. Everything was basic, just benches and walls. And everything seemed kind-of — how do I say it — like a 1950’s movie of a hospital from “some foreign land”.  The caulk on the walls was visible, the paint was not fresh, there was no art, and a lot fewer beeping machines.

My oldest sister, who lived for years in Paris, was texting me constantly (I was alone – Jason had to be home to take care of the girls). She said, don’t worry about what it looks like. All that matters is what is inside of their heads, their medical knowledge. 

The nurse showed me my room, a triple (as of now only one other person was in there).  She explained that I could pay for a private room, but I figured, if this is how they do it, I can do it too. I had just enough time to say hello to my roommate, text Jason goodbye, and lock up my wedding ring and phone before I was rolled away. This was happening fast. 

Being put under general anesthesia is no small matter. The complexity of monitoring – a breathing tube is inserted after you are under, blood pressure and heart are under constant watch – a controlled coma. When I woke up I was shaking all over, my throat hurt, and for some reason I was crying. The nurses tucked me in with a warmed up blanket, and gave me a Kleenex. Then the male nurse plugged his phone into the speakers and put on some 80’s classic rock. So silly but very nice (not sure how all the others in the post-op liked it, but the nurse and I had a pleasant little sing-along).

Back to my roommate – and an overnight at the hospital. Jason and the girls were waiting as I came out of the elevator – flowers, comfy blanket, stuffed animals, markers, my books, and Sudoku. They loved looking through all the cupboards in my room, hearing about my surgery, playing with rubber gloves. 

My floor was an interesting mix – babies were getting born next door, and women of all ages were recuperating or preparing for surgery. All night long, my fitful sleep was punctuated by the first sounds of babies entering this world, nurses and new mothers coo-ing and pacing, our own nurses coming in to check wounds and vitals. It was wonderful, actually, to have a reminder of the full circle of life. My roommate was a delicate, older woman. All night long she was a one-man-band of creative digestive eruptions. Sometimes it sounded like she was spelunking, others like she was triumphantly heading for the exit after winning the 2017 International Hot-Dog-Eating-Competition.  One was so percussive it woke me with a jerk, and I smashed my hand catheter against my bed railing. 

The other thing – in the States they are so concerned with privacy – those curtains in the rooms, attached to rods along the ceiling, changing rooms – not the case here!  There was no privacy – my roommate and I were face to face, and the doctors and nurses just whipped off those covers and dived in, privacy be damned!  

This was a place where your body was being fixed. You don’t need fancy wallpaper, glass sculptures, a latte or magazines.  Or walls of computers at the nursing stations, for that matter.  There are pencils and paper, tape, printers and envelopes. You are there to get well, and I felt that – the quickness and sensitivity of the staff and doctors, the no-nonsense, get ‘er done approach. They explained that there was now a “cave” where my cyst used to be, they removed a duct – it will fill with blood and drain – keep an eye on it and come back right away if anything begins to hurt in a new way. 

Jason picked me up today, settled me in a nice quiet nook at home, delivered toast, tea and eggs to me.  He gave me a little speech on the way home – no running around, carrying heavy stuff (one of my favorite things to do), working. I know this is the hardest thing for you – just stay put and we will take care of you.

So here I am, propped up and writing my diary, camomile tea at my side. Gosh, this will be fun!


  • Bruce says:

    Whew! So glad to hear everything is going well! And it’s great (and not at all surprising) that you already have a network of friends who can help out.

    Now be nice to yourself for awhile. None of that “It’s been 3 whole days — surely I can move this sofa a little closer to the window” nonsense 🙂

  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    Glad to hear you got such good care and wish you a smooth and unhurried recovery.

  • Geoff Cox says:

    never met but enjoy reading your thoughts – very best wishes, get well soon!


  • Marg says:

    Ive been hanging out for your weekly installment but this isn’t what I was expecting to be reading about! Phew …. glad you were at home and not in a far off land, and that friends swung into action to help out. Hope you make a full recovery and with no set backs.

  • bratschegirl says:

    All best wishes for a speedy recovery, and absolutely do listen to those telling you to take it easy!

  • ChiLynne says:

    Oh, dear! Wishing you a speedy and complete healing. Meanwhile, pamper yourself, and let your family pamper you. Addicted to your postings.

  • Barbara says:

    oh dear that was a startling diary entry from you. I do hope you continue to get stronger and, as someone else said, no “oh I’ll just move this sofa I’m feeling a lot better”.. All the very best.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    Crying when coming out of anesthesia is not all that uncommon. It happened to me once when I was under and had been given valium, but it seems to be associated with a variety of anesthesia drugs.

  • Allan Green says:

    Your pieces are always lovely and are compulsive reading. Best wishes for a rapid recovery.