Saturday, October 03, 2009


Best case scenario - Our Air France 747 Flt 95 takes off from Miami International Airport at 6:00PM on 16 Septembre, headed to CDG Airport in Paris, where after a four hour layover, we would board our flight to Barcelona, Spain. Two weeks in Barcelona and then, by train, to Montpellier, France for a couple days of sightseeing. Another train to Toulouse, where we would spend two weeks, and finally a flight to Paris for one month before returning home.

Actual case scenario - Three hours out of Miami, I passed out and became quite ill. Doctors were called and I was carried to the back of the plane where I was cared for until it was determined that I was too ill to continue to Europe. The plane made an emergency landing in St. John's, Newfoundland and I was rushed by ambulance to the Health Care Sciences General Hospital, where I was admitted to the Emergency Room. I remember everything from being carried to the back, up to the point where I was sitting at the front of the plane in a wheelchair. Other than that, it's just a blank until I was in the ER. After getting the initial ministrations, a doctor came in and really made my day. He proceeded to explain all my options for dying. DYING!! The conversation went something like this: You're in poor condition and we expect you may deteriorate. If that's the case, do you want us to let you go? There are things we are required to do to keep you alive if you so choose. He even went so far as to ask if I wanted Robb to make the final decision. It's interesting to note here, that they just assumed that Robb and I are partners. There were no questions asked about how we were related, or if we were related. They simply accepted it as fact. I replied that I was in no way ready to go anywhere and they should use whatever methods were available to keep me alive until it was determined there was just no reason to continue.

As it happened, there were two separate incidents during the first night when I was rather certain that I had spent my last day on earth. After surviving the second, I was petty much sure that I was going to make it through. Now, the really strange thing about those two incidents is that for my entire life, I have always thought that if I knew I was going to die, I would probably shit myself in terror. The fact turned out to be a totally different feeling. For whatever the reason, I was quite willing and ready to go. I felt at peace and my only concern, really, was for Robb and how it would all affect him.

There was a lot of concern about the H1N1, Swine Flu Virus because until they checked my statistics and blood samples, no one could enter my room without a gown, a mask and rubber gloves. Including Robb.

I was kept in the ER for a couple of days because the hospital was jammed and there were no other available rooms. Then, although I didn't need it, I was wheeled into the ICU department because they had an open bed and they needed my space in the ER. I spent a couple of days in ICU and was moved to CCU because I was the healthiest person and they again needed my bed space. I only spent a few hours in CCU before being moved for the final time to bed 5191B on the fourth floor.

During my time in ER, ICU and CCU, my throat was so parched from breathing nearly pure oxygen through my mouth, that I couldn't talk. I could barely utter a single word and most of the time I had to repeat it. It was extremely painful and, as you might imagine, I tried not to talk at all. I was also poked full of IV needles, which along with water and juice, were my only sources of nutrients for the first four or five days. I had my first "meal" in 5191B. Although, they brought a whole tray of food, the only thing I could even think about eating was the soup. That was a good choice because it really was quite good. Slowly but surely, I started to eat a bit of regular food, but it wasn't very good and I only ate it because I realized I needed something solid if I was ever going to gain any strength. Until I got to the fourth floor, I could not even get out of bed on my own, so I had to use one of those damned urine things (you know the kind I mean). Lordy, I hate those because I always get more pee on me and the bed than anything else.

Okay. Now all you Americans should have noticed something that DID NOT occur at all. At no time was Robb or I ever asked about medical insurance or how we intended to pay for all this. Money was not approached in any way, shape or form. I was never contacted about paying the bill (quite hefty) until I had already been released. And, even then, it was not so much a demand to pay, as much as if I could pay, and what kind of arrangements could be made to do so. I defy all you anti-social insurance dimwits to show me a single example of that in the wonderful United States! In fact, I can show proof of people who could not pay, being put into taxiis and dropped on the street because the hospitals here would not accept them and actually paid to have them taken away. Nice moral values we possess in the US. Sorry people from foreign lands but that's real life in the United States of America!

Meanwhile, there is attached to the hospital, a very nice hostel (the Agnes Cowan Hostel) and Robb managed to get himself a room there, which meant that he didn't have to go somewhere downtown and rent a hotel room and then try to find his way back to the place every day. It was a real time saver. Actually, I was quite proud of Robb. He somehow managed to handle all this with relative ease, though he did say he was panicked a little. He even went out a couple of times to check out the local area, without getting lost, and found himself a little mall where he bought some clothes. He came up to the room one day and told me about a restaurant he had found downtown. It sounded nice and turned out to be great.

Alrighty....let's talk about The Room. There were four beds in The Room, two by the doorway and two by the windows. Somehow, I was lucky enough to get a bed next to the window which gave me my very first view of St. John's. And what a view it was. St. John's is a beautiful place. Lots of unused real estate, rolling hills and the town itself (which I discovered later) is like a very extreme San Francisco; meaning that almost all the streets are either straight up or straight down, very few were level. Back to.....The Room, three of the beds were occupied. As you walk into The Room, the first bed on the left was empty, having just been vacated that morning (I arrived in The Room around 7:00 or 8:00 PM). The first bed on the right was occupied by Mr. Peter Healey. I was next to Peter, in the window bed. The bed across from me (second on the left) was occupied by Gordon Christopher Roebothan.

Mr. Roebothan had had a stroke several years ago and, though he could hear perfectly, could not understand a word. Imagine hearing someone speak a language you don't know; you hear it perfectly but you don't understand what you're hearing. On the other hand, he could read and understand everything he saw written. He had a large pad on which people would write whatever it was they wanted to impart to him, and he would reply in the same manner. He had been a teacher before the stroke. Why he was currently in the hospital, and had been there for three months, I never did find out. But except one day when he got no visitor, he was always upbeat and pleasant. As far as I could make out, his family was in the process of moving him to an Assisted Living Facility, which I gathered was very nice and, I think, paid for by the Canadian Social Insurance program. He didn't seem to object so I guess they were just trying decide which one it would be.

Peter Healey. Peter Healey. Oh yes, Peter Healey. He was a piece of work. He was maybe sixty-ish with thick gray hair. From what I was able to garner from him and his visitors, he had been a rather successful contractor. He had been diagnosed with cancer in most of his major organs, especially the liver, and had been sent home six months ago with three weeks to live (has anyone else noticed how often that seems to happen?). In addition to the cancer, he had an extremely painful case of arthritis in his left shoulder for which he received morphine shots, every four hours, that seemed to give only a few minutes of relief. Sometimes, after receiving his shot, he would fall asleep for an hour or so, not always. During the daylight hours it wasn't so bad. But after 11:00PM, was when the fun began. He would "call" the nurse(s) every few minutes asking for either more morphine or pain pills or something to eat or drink. He would wake from a very short sleep, screaming in pain. All night long, he would jump up and turn the lights on and off, on and off. He would sing out loud. He would make phone calls in the middle of the night. He would try to re-arrange everyone's privacy curtains. He would move the furniture around. He would putz around in his bedside table doing god-only-knows what and making a hell of a racket. In spite of his lack of comprehending how to live in a shared environment, and his very annoying night time habits, he was a likable guy. He was rather child-like really, which according to his daughter Charlene, was caused by all the cancer drugs and treatments. Several times when he tried to open my privacy curtain, I would tell him to stop and put it back. He always looked like a kid whose hand had been slapped, and ask, "Put it back?" Then he would do it and go back to his bed for a short while.

The fourth and final bed was occupied by at least six different people during my week-long stay in The Room. With the exception of one guy, everyone who took that bed eventually went to a private room. The most interesting guy was John Smith, Yorkshire. Yep, that's how he told you his name. He had moved to Canada in 1957, but sounded like he had just that minute gotten off a plane from Yorkshire, England. He often told the nurses to speak slower because he wasn't used to the language. And he was very demanding. In the morning, he would bellow, "Kitchen", and expect someone to come running in to take his order, which was; dry cereal, preferably bran flakes with milk made specially from dried milk. He was loud but he was funny. I was kind of sorry to see him go to his private room.

Needless to say, I didn't get a whole lot of sleep while I was in The Room. If Peter wasn't keeping me awake, it would be the nurses coming in for blood pressure, temperature readings, or giving us medicine. My nightly habit was very much like this: sleep for about an hour between 11:00PM and midnight, sit up and stare out the window, get up and sit in my chair, lay back down and stare out the window or at the ceiling. Sometime around 6:00AM, I would fall asleep just in time to be awakened by the night nurse wanting her final pressure readings before she went off duty at 7:30AM. All the hospital staff were working 12-hour days, 7:30 to 7:30, four days per week. Everyone with whom I dealt on the staff was really nice. Newfoundlanders have to be the nicest people I've ever met. Although, having stated that, they are a study in contrasts, because as nice as they are and as helpful and friendly as they can be (they would frequently go out of their way to take you where you were going instead of just telling you how to get there), they were like Parisians. If they were walking to a place, the straight line to that place was their space. If you crossed that space, they felt no remorse at all in kicking you out of their way. Many times, when Robb was pushing me in a wheelchair, we would have to detour around them because it would have been their space and they were not about to move aside.

I was supposed to have been released on Tuesday, 22 Septembre, but for some reason when they checked my oxygen level it had fallen quite sharply. I suspect it was their equipment because I felt no differently at all and was not having any problem breathing. In fact, the previous reading just a hour or two earlier, had been near perfect, as well as the one taken a couple hours after the disaster. Well, they simply would not have me leaving and demanded I go back on oxygen and remain in the hospital. That little decision, alone, cost me over twenty thousand dollars. I did mention this adventure was somewhat costly, didn't I? I was starting to feel like I was in Hotel can check out anytime you want but you can never leave.

On Monday, 28 Septembre, a new resident physician was assigned to my medical team. When he first came in to check me out, he asked how I was feeling. It was about 2:30PM. I told him that I had expected to be released at 2:00PM. The man is a God! He said he would talk to the main doctor and the rest of the team and find out what was going on. Evidently, he is the first man who actually did what he said he would do. Things started moving pretty rapidly after that, and I finally walked out of The Room shortly after 6:00PM. Okay, I suppose I should mention that one of the requirements for me to get out of the hospital, was to arrange for oxygen on the plane back to Fort Lauderdale. That was no easy task because Air Canada would not book the flight without authorization from the hospital and the hospital wouldn't give the authorization until the flight was booked. Catch 22 anyone? After finally getting that sorted out with the help of the Resident God, Robb found a wheelchair and we were off to the hostel.

Now, during all the time previous to my getting out, Robb had complained that the hostel was considerably less than great, and I was expecting to walk into a dark, dinky place. That was not the case at all. Our room was a nice size with blue-ish green walls. There were two single beds separated by a night stand. There was a nice little chest on which there was a small fridge. And there was a nice window, which unfortunately looked out on the parking area in front of the building, cars were parked only a few feet from the window. All in all, it was a nice, comfortable room.

My very first "meal" out of The Room, was breakfast at the Tim Horton Cafeteria in the hospital. I really liked the place. It wasn't just the average restaurant space. It was divided into small, cabin-like rooms. From the cafeteria, there was a wide vista across which we could see a few of the Memorial University buildings on the other side of a small lake. Library, class rooms, Auditorium. Right next to the University was a Canadian Radio building. Breakfast was a cheese croissant (not very good) and a cup of coffee; the first coffee I had consumed since before leaving home two weeks ago. I didn't really miss it. Then it was back to the hostel room and rest for the remainder of the day.

The next day, after breakfast (the regular croissant was much better) and a short rest, Robb and I took a taxi to the local mall. I had been given a prescription for steroids and could only get them at the drugstore in the mall (or any other private drugstore, but that was the closest). The reason for the prescription was that one can't just stop taking that particular steroid, one has to ease off it. I still have eight days to go before I'm finished with it. While waiting for my prescription to be filled, we wandered over to a store just across the way that sold T-shirts, where I bought this one: Front and Back. Did you notice that part that states; I don't have a funny accent? Oops, they do. It's really cool actually. Kind of like a mix of Scottish and Irish brogue.

Back at the hostel, we rested before going to dinner at the restaurant Robb had found a couple of days before. The Cellar was great. The windows were stained glass (not real, but realistic and a nice touch). The interior was large and very classic in design. In the middle of the main room, there was a double-wide stairway and over the stairway was hung the largest crystal chandelier I've ever seen outside of Versailles. There were maybe twenty to twenty-five tables around the room. One other couple (male-female) was seated in the far corner from the entrance to the dining room. Our table was one away from the entrance. I started with a fantastic Cauliflower & Leek Soup, while Robb in an unusual meal switch, had the Hot & Spicy Crab Chowder. We both followed that with the most delicious meal I've eaten in my life; Baked Seafood in Puff Pastry. It was served with a side of vegetables the likes of which I've also never had in my life. I don't know how the chefs prepared them, but the flavor of each vegetable simply burst onto my palate with an intensity I could barely believe. The main dish, seafood of various kinds, was too fantastic to put into words. During dinner, in fact when we walked in the door, they were playing a very mellow soft jazz. After about fifteen minutes of that, they began playing what must have been every song that Ella Fitzgerald ever recorded. We loved it. If for any reason you should find yourself in St. John's, Newfoundland, you must, you MUST, get yourself to the Cellar.

Air Canada only has two flight times out of St. John's; 5:30 AM or 6:00 AM. We had to be at the airport on Thursday morning, 1 Octobre by 4:30 AM which meant we had to be up by 3;30 AM. Very nice for someone who just spent two weeks in hospital. At any rate, we made it and even had time for a quick snack (at Tim Horton's, of course, they were every where) before getting to the security area, where I was met by an attendant with a wheelchair. I kind of liked that because it's always so far and, even under normal circumstances, I always get worn out before I get there. Because they had to set-up the oxygen, I was the first passenger to board the plane. A two hour flight later and we were in Montréal, waiting for the final leg of the trip home.

We were in Fort Lauderdale by 1:00 PM, where Geoff generously picked us up and brought us back to the apartment. Of course, we had nothing in the apartment to eat and had to go shopping, but it was surprisingly easy for me. I thought it would have been harder. I even drove.

Since it's now Saturday, 3 October, I've been home and recovering nicely for a few days. Apparently, the whole episode was caused because I got a flu shot (regular) while I had pneumonia and didn't know it. That combined with the lower oxygen level at higher altitudes, was my undoing. However, in spite of everything, this incident was an eye-opener for us and we're seriously looking into a move to Montréal or Québec City, so our next trip will be to Canada next year. You know, of course about the FREE health care, but there is the money situation, also. Our money is worth a lot more in Canada, so that's a great motivator. Temperature-wise, it's similar to Paris. Plus, we still get the great French ambiance we love.

Yeah, I know the title is a bit melodramatic (in my other blog, I titled this Brush With Death), but hey, you don't die that often. Okay, actually, I have had several close calls with death in my time. When I was a child, I fell out of a moving car. I have no idea how that happened, but I wasn't even banged up much. Walking along a river with some friends when a teenager, one of the guys behind me managed to rip a shot between my legs, that just a little higher would have been the end. Walking in a wooded area when I lived on a farm, I was standing next to a tree, when a bullet plowed into it just inches from my head. Skating in the streets of Philadelphia as a kid, I fell in front of a car which barely made it over me without so much as a touch. I was on the side of the car that was hit dead on in Miami one early morning hour and was rushed to the hospital throwing up blood. So, yeah, I've had my fair share of near-death experiences. But this particular incident is the only one that really seems like it could have been the end of my life.

If you're interested, there are a few more pictures of St. John's in my flickr albums under Newfoundland.

À la prochaine, mes amis