My less creative friends and particularly family (read: husband) are always bugging me about cutting the drama, just getting to the point and giving the punch line, for goodness sake!
I’m a teller of stories, so I ramp up the drama and tell them to shove it.
How could I possibly just say: I fell five days into a European cruise and am now rehabbing at NHC?
Just doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. What about the bum’s rush getting us off the ship? The remote Italian hospital where no one spoke English? Don’t you want to know about Daaaaarlin’ Luis and my savior Ben from University Orthopedic Surgeons? The militant doctor and five Italian patients with family during visiting hours? I can’t leave out the picture-of-a-picture CAT scan or an almost-overlooked email from Rural Metro that led to a Hawker 800 swooping in with Capts. Stumph and Wes and healers Xavier and Tony to save the day, can I?
I think I have made a good case for telling it my way, so I will continue.
Spoiler Alert: The patient lives, so there will be no made-for-TV movie …
More than a year ago, Neville and I and Knoxville friends Amy and David Melendy began planning a 12-day/13-night cruise through the Mediterranean. The itinerary was fabulous. The price was right. And the anticipation of sharing our love of cruise travel with these first-time cruisers was the icing on the cake.
Things were going great as we met new friends, Susan and Lee, and I discovered Maryville friends on board as well. Day five began with a tour-bus excursion from the port in Salerno, Italy, through the incredible Amalfi Coast, with my fingers cramping from taking one incredible scenery shot after another. We were back at the pier at 5 p.m. to board before dinner and a 6:30 departure. However, a disaster was waiting. (Cue Lester Holt “Dateline” narration – oh, wait, I said no TV movie …)
As I was walking to the gangway, the toe of my right shoe caught in a broken place in the pavement, and I fell hard – flat down to the hard pavement on my left side.
I got up with the help of my husband and the ship’s crew. At first, I thought I was just sore and would walk it off. After taking a few more steps, I asked for the wheelchair and was rolled into the ship’s medical facility.
So many things went wrong at this point that I am truly still processing how a seasoned doctor on a ship and the ship’s crew could get things turned so many wrong directions. But, through a series of rushed missteps from the doctor, confusion and a promise of help that never came, my husband and I found ourselves and our bags packed from our stateroom, shoved into a taxi and ambulance, en route to what turned out to be a remote Italian hospital where not a single medical person spoke a word of English as the ship set sail for Venice.
Our friends were still waiting for us at dinner when someone arrived to tell them we wouldn’t be joining them.
Italian hospitals are different, and the cultural differences were more comical than anything else: strict visiting hours with all doors to the hospital locked until the appointed time; wards with six beds in each room suddenly filling with friends and family, all speaking Italian – rapidly and all at the same time – as they brought out food and water and spray cleaner to clean the beds and tables; no soap, hand sanitizers or even cloths to wash with; kettles of warmish water poured over strips of cotton that were held with long-nosed scissors as you were bathed. The food was seriously bad.
The danger came because the language barrier was real. It is hard to comprehend what they see on scans and X-rays when no one can understand a word you are saying and you can’t understand them. Luis, an orderly who must have learned his English from “Friends,” called me Daaaarling and tried, but he didn’t know the medical terminology.
There was a discussion of surgery, then no surgery. Then they decided I could not leave the hospital unless I could keep my leg extended with no movement. The Italian doctor could not figure out how to email my scans to my doctor in Knoxville. Ben Wendel in Dr. Mike McCollum’s office finally got to look at a picture I took of the scan the Italian doctor had on her phone to tell me: “It’s fractured, but not displaced, so you should be able to travel home.”
That, a bunch of signatures under Italian words I couldn’t read and the purchase of a new wheelchair was finally enough to get me released after four days in the Salerno hospital.
Now all I had to do was get home …
(Go ahead and cue Lester Holt. We’re racking up serious expenses here.)
Commercial airlines were out, not because I couldn’t bend my leg, because I could, but because of transfers from wheelchairs to aisle-size wheelchairs to seats. That was when an often-overlooked email popped into my husband’s mind. We are members of Rural Metro for our Knox County fire protection. They sent an email some months ago to tell us about a new benefit we now had as a result of some acquisitions and mergers. We had a membership in AirMed. After a couple of phone calls and some heavenly understanding of our situation in Salerno, the great people at AirMed took on our case.
It wasn’t long before the heavens opened up, a Hawker 800 descended carrying captains Johnathan Rick Stumph and Wes Kilgore and medical team Tony Fields and Xavier Ritchie and swooped me home to Tennessee.
OK, there were refueling stops in Rotterdam, the Netherlands; Keflavik, Iceland; and Goose Bay, Newfoundland, Canada, intermingled with the swooping, but all stress left when AirMed arrived (and from Birmingham, of all places!), so that’s how I remember it. After a mere 12 hours of flying later, Ben and Dr. McCollum had discussed my break thoroughly in English, and surgery was set for the next day.
My husband says we are never leaving the country again, but, like labor and delivery, the bad is getting pushed away by the good, new memories, so don’t count on my wings being clipped just yet. There are things that I will not allow to happen again, so we have learned some good lessons.
I am happy, however, to give Lester some time off and turn the drama volume to zero.