Wednesday, June 20, 2012

An Emergency in Italy....or, How We Spent Our Vacation

June 5, Tuesday evening: John and I have a truly memorable dinner at “Billy’s Trattoria,” at the top of the mountain in Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy. We can see the Meditteranean twinkling below the beach and the town ….the sun is setting…the scene is magical….

June 6, Wednesday morning: We take two trains to Florence, and check into our hotel. John notes that he has something wrong with his right eye. He has a permanent blind spot in the other eye, so he’s concerned.

June 7, Thursday morning: John wakes up worrying about his vision, and by 10 am, he decides it’s an emergency and we go to see English General Practitioner, Dr. Stephen Kerr, who sends us to the Ocular Emergency Room near the university in Florence. The doctor doesn’t charge us for the visit, and tells us that Florence is a university town with wonderful teaching hospitals. He assures us that we’re in a good place for an emergency.

June 7, 10:30 am: We wait for five hours at the Ocular Emergency Room (an ocular hospital - what a fantastic idea!) to see the doctors. They are wonderful and do their best to explain things to us, but the language difference is definitely a problem. The diagnosis is a detached retina. We are told John should have the surgery on Saturday and he will have to stay in Italy for a minimum of one month, while he heals. We go into panic mode.

June 7, 4 pm until midnight: We return to our hotel and begin making frantic and long phone calls (what will the bill be?) to John’s American physicians and to American Express, to see if they can get John home quickly, within the next 24 hours. We’re now in a race against time, because it’s critical that John receives surgery as soon as possible in order to save his vision. Remember, he has a blind spot in the other eye, so he has no eyes left. I’m calling the company that’s hired me to teach to see what my options are to cancel the workshop or find a substitute instructor: my workshop begins in 36 hours. John needs surgery as soon as possible to save his sight. The American doctors aren’t returning our calls, so I finally get on the phone and discover the messages aren’t being passed along….thank God it’s six hours earlier in the US and we still have time. We finally get hold of John’s American ophthalmologist and he has a long discussion with her.

American Express helps us change John’s itinerary (it costs, folks), and he’s now slated to leave Italy the next morning at 6:30 am.

John’s ophthalmologist gives us the go ahead to fly John home to have his surgery; he does not want to stay in Italy. He tells me I must stay and do my work, while he heads for home.

I’ve contacted my son, David, in the US, to see if he can get from Philadelphia to Washington-Dulles airport. He’s on his way.

I’m in contact with the workshop company again; we decide it’s not possible to find a substitute at the last minute. I now plan to teach the workshop as contracted, and perhaps leave one or two days earlier than planned….

Friday, June 8, 4:00 am: John’s vision is greatly impaired. His left eye is useless, and now the right one is, too. I take him in a cab to the airport (22 euros each way) and we explain at the ticket counter that he’ll need a wheelchair and help at the transfer in Vienna, Austria. The flight leaves at 6:30 am.

Friday, June 8, 2:45 pm: John hasn’t slept since Wednesday night. His plane arrives in Washington, DC, from Florence, Italy; David picks him up, gets him on the “parking lot” bus at the airport, helps him find the car, drives and takes him straight to the doctor in Fairfax. The right eye has gotten much worse. John is having a lot of trouble seeing anything, except for large shapes. There’s been no sleep for either of us since Wednesday. The doctor in Fairfax cannot perform laser surgery, as we hoped for. John will have to have a more complicated surgery, and he’ll need to see a surgeon in Maryland….the next morning.

Friday, June 8, 7 pm: I receive a phone call telling me John will see a surgeon in Silver Spring, MD, early the next morning because they cannot do the surgery in Fairfax. John requires a more complex procedure. David and John finally return home around 8 pm and try to sleep; they must be in Maryland by 10:30 am the next morning.

Saturday, June 9, 10:30 am. The surgeon in Maryland agrees John must have surgery that day. He sends them on to Fair Oaks Hospital. Traffic is completely backed up on the beltway and they have to divert to the back roads, reaching the hospital by 2:30 pm.

The surgeon is late arriving, because he was backed up in traffic, too: John will be his third surgical patient on that day…..

Surgery doesn’t happen until 10 pm that night. Remember, John hasn’t slept since Wednesday, and has jet lag on top of that, and he hasn’t eaten all day because of the expected surgery! After surgery, he’s finally home by 2 am and must get up early again the next morning.

John must keep his head DOWN, parallel to the ground, for 75% of the time for the next week…..

Sunday, June 9, 8:00 am: No sleep again! John and David return to the doctor’s office in Fairfax for a post operative check. Everything looks good. Finally, they can sleep after they return home from the doctor’s visit. Elizabeth comes in that afternoon, and David trades the car with her at the airport and he leaves for Philadelphia, while Elizabeth drives to our home to care for her dad.

Meanwhile, I’m still in Italy. John has demanded that I stay behind and “do my job.” This was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I didn’t sleep well, or relax, during the whole week. It’s too hard, thinking about someone you care about, suffering, when you cannot be with them.

I do my best to teach the workshop and perform in a professional manner. There’s not much cell phone service (I have to stand in one particular spot in a field), and I rarely have time to check internet…. and I can’t often receive a signal. Finally, after several days, I get my flight changed to an earlier departure…for thousands of dollars and after spending more than three hours on the phone with the folks at Travelocity (via India). Oh, well. I hope my travel insurance will cover this expense. I need to get home to help with John’s recuperation.

I must say that many folks in Italy went out of their way to be helpful to us: a tour guide sent us to the British Dr. Kerr, who saw my husband without charging us and sent us to the Ocular Emergency Room; kind Sylvia, at our hotel, bought us a 5 Euro phone card ( which had hours and hours of phone minutes on it) and refused payment for it; the cab driver who got us to the hospital; the wonderful doctors at the emergency room in Florence, who treated John and found an English speaking resident to explain things to us; the folks at San Fedele – at my workshop – who helped the entire week, reserving a train ticket for me, booking a hotel room in Venice, and, literally, putting me onto a bus for my long journey home; the wonderful, wonderful students, who were so concerned about me and wanted me to go home; and, to Michael, with Il’ Chiostro, who kept giving me big doses of “hugs,” which I really, really needed.

June 20, 2012: Today, John returned to work for the first time. His vision is beginning to return as the gas bubble is absorbed into his body. Fifteen days of patience, perseverance, positive thinking……..

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