Friday, 7 March 2014

Italian Job

Forgive me reader for I have sinned, it has been three weeks since my last post, this has never happened before, and this is why…

Italian Job

As I climb down from the ambulance struggling to keep up with Youngest who is being rushed away from me lying on a high wheeled stretcher, the urge to empty my stomach, which I have been fighting through every twist and turn of the vertiginous mountain roads through which we have just passed, becomes irresistible. 

I just about manage to mutter the word "sick" in time for the thank-god-he's-an-English-speaking-paramedic to hurriedly proffer one of those cardboard kidney-shaped receptacles before emptying the contents of my stomach - the delicious evening meal I recently ate with friends back at the chalet, when the world was nothing but warm congeniality and sitting around a table chatting with our three healthy children nearby and not a cold, dark arrival at an unfamiliar hospital on a late winter evening with a frighteningly sick child, a mere hour or so ago - into it. Oh and I wet myself at the same time as well. Just a bit. Well I am a 40-something mother of three, it's par for the course.

A short time later, as I stand in the triage room and they are taking Youngest's temperature and jabbing tiny plastic taps into his thin little arm for blood samples and I am holding his hand and gently stroking his brow and leaning over his face to look into his eyes to reassure him that everything is ok (is it?), the second-nature reaction of every concerned mother who ever found herself with her child in A & E, I happen to glance floor-wards and think: why the hell did I pull on my pair of pink Hunter wellies?

I was in a hurry when we left the chalet, that's why, and couldn't quite believe the turn the penultimate evening of our skiing holiday was taking. Even though every instinct told me that Youngest had appendicitis and not just a bad tummy upset, I still could not quite believe we were about to leave for a hospital in an ambulance together. 

I had worried about possible broken bones, twisted ankles, young heads hitting trees at speed, I hadn't thought to worry about appendicitis. I've never been in an ambulance before, hell, I've barely ever been in a hospital before, two of my three children were born at home. 

Upon arrival it turned out that pink Hunter wellies and slightly damp undies were the least of my problems, but these are the sorts of things you fret about when you are a mother in an emergency and you can't speak the language conducted all around you that is involving life and death decisions about your own flesh and blood.

That sense of surreality, utter dislocation from events, continued for the next five days. Five days that Youngest and I spent together in a symbiotic harmony, sleeping, eating and washing, with little else to do, before and after he had his appendix out, in that northern Italian hospital, at the end of our family skiing holiday, in the stunningly beautiful Dololmites. We never did get back to that chalet.

After they wheeled him off to be operated on at 10 am the next morning, I sat in those same pink wellies (and a stupidly short green dress I had changed into for dinner the night before), now encased in fetching blue plastic bags issued in the sterile pre op room, where I had moments before been telling my baby not to worry, he wasn't going to wake up during the operation as he feared because if he did this nice anaesthetist lady here would lose her job, (she thought this was very funny), and I then sobbed, quite loudly. 

They told me to go down to the coffee bar and get a drink but I couldn't. I sat right there outside the doors of the operating theatre, alone, with people walking past on their way to visit relatives, or start their morning shift, paying no attention to the English woman wailing in her wellies. Why would they?

Over the next few days, never leaving the hospital except to sit outside the front a couple of times in the sunshine to remind myself that, yes, the world was still turning, this sense of alienation was compounded by the fact that I was deaf in one ear the whole time, the result of unpleasant ear wax build up I had failed to have seen to before it reached crisis point and I got water in there from washing my hair in the bath, turning me almost entirely deaf.

So as I padded about those bouncy linoleum hospital corridors, pressing lift buttons that quietly pinged, to open doors that gently swished, all that padding and pinging and swishing was even quieter and consequently even eerier to me than it might have been. 

And when eventually I did venture down in one of those lifts to find the coffee bar on the ground floor and sit in the corner with my cup of incredibly strong coffee, the mostly German chatter around me sounded even more bazaar, to my ears at least, for being conducted entirely underwater.

But let's fast forward a little because if I take you through every moment of the past few weeks, including the holiday itself (very nice thank you) and the appendix operation and the post op recuperation and the frantic and ultimately fruitless phone calls to the insurance company made by Husband and my mother back in the UK, and to a lesser extent by me in Italy, we will be here almost as long as Youngest and I were stuck in that place. 

So here we are five days later - Tuesday lunchtime - I am standing at the Seek Assistance counter at Innsbruck airport. I have Youngest beside me in a wheelchair I picked up at the entrance, just in case he feels tired. A bespectacled lady in front of me, all Austrian-efficiency thin, over-plucked eyebrows, hair suspiciously black for her years, starts to issue our boarding cards. Midway through the process she looks up to say, "Can I have your fit to fly document please?" in impeccable English. 

I don't have a fit to fly document, not specifically. I have documents explaining what has happened, I have his discharge papers from the hospital and from the doctor concerned, but I don't have a fit to fly document. I feel myself go hot and then cold and start to tremble ever so slightly, imperceptibly, I hope. 

Perhaps we won't be able to fly home today after all? Perhaps, having made this hour and a half taxi journey through the Brenner pass from Italy into Austria, which cost me 180 Euros in cash that I had to get out of the cashpoint in the hospital lobby, we will now have to turn back? Or Youngest and I will have to go and find a hotel near by, just the two of us, alone in Austria, as we have been alone in Italy because the others had to fly home as planned on Sunday night while we stayed on?

"Of course," I answer brightly, and hand over the papers I do have, papers that were filled in for the insurance company who in the end did neither arrange, nor pay, for us to get home because they insisted that we stay on in Italy for at least another three days before our case be "reviewed", possibly a total of ten more days, post op, despite the fact the doctor said Youngest was free to go. They should be renamed - Insure and Stay. 

"Oh no," says the efficient Austrian lady, "there is no fit to fly document here. Which was the hospital?" 

Luckily I do have a letter from the hospital, in Italian, with the discharge document, detailing what has happened and that Youngest is recovering well and able to go home. A friend who is a nurse in the UK recommended I get that. I hand it over. 

"Good," says the Austrian lady, "I will ring them."And I head for security leaving her reaching for the phone. 

I wheel Youngest through security and they decide to search my rucksack asking me to turn everything out on the conveyor belt in front of them. It turns out they don't like the First Aid kit I decided it might be handy to have with us on the journey. They inspect it slowly and carefully, and then hand it back. We are through. 

Youngest is wheeled over to a special area where there is a disabled loo and the cafe near by and, joy of joys, free WiFi. The first time in five days we are properly able to log on. I download a short film for him to watch and get a coffee. I eye up the planes on the runway. The bright sunshine is hitting the snowy mountain tops all around. It's a stunning location. We are in an immaculate, modern, glass airport. The drive to get here was through some of the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen, the whole experience could be a delight, but all I can think about is getting home. Never has an orange liveried aeroplane, sitting on some tarmac only a few metres away, held so much promise.

Someone walks towards us. He has something in his hand. It's a piece of paper. This is it, I think, they are going to tell us we can't catch this flight, the last one out of here to London today. My heart is in my throat. "Here you go" he says, "we are moving you further forward on the plane." He gives me the new boarding cards.

A short while later, after placing us in a special bus and clamping the wheel chair to the floor of it, after a special platform on that bus is raised to aeroplane door level allowing us to walk the few steps on to it, we are in the plane. We are walking along the aisle. We are seated. We are fastening seat belts. The plane is taking off. 

It is the best plane ride of my life, and not just because the view of the mountains on all sides of us, as we rise out of Innsbruck, out of Austria, back towards the UK, is utterly breathtaking.




This morning I read a doctor's account of a busy A & E department in east London in the Guardian newspaper and counted our blessings. If you are going to be rushed to hospital while on holiday then I recommend northern Italy/the Austrian border. Looking back I realise that Youngest's care could not have been better. The ambulance came quickly. He was seen immediately upon arrival at the hospital. There was virtually no waiting around for anything. He was admitted onto an immaculately clean, modern, children's ward within an hour of arriving, to a spacious room that we shared with another child for only one night. Mostly we were alone together there, our beds side by side, en suite bathroom nearby. We were looked after by attentive, mostly English speaking, doctors and nurses and fed wonderful food (even if lunch did rather mysteriously arrive at 11.30 am so that I had considerable trouble doing justice to its three courses plus salad at that time of day). The doctor in charge justified the fact that Youngest was not given antibiotics telling me that in the UK we prescribe them too readily, he said he didn't need them, and it seems he was right. The wound is healing well. After a full week off school to recover he is now back at school. I am breathing a sigh of relief and gearing up to try and get something back from the insurance company for our travel expenses. All the health care Youngest received at the hospital is, of course, fully paid for already courtesy of his health card, the E111. Long live the European Union.

Love E x

1 comment:

  1. It’s great that your son’s operation went well. I can only imagine all the stress and worries that you’ve been through regarding this situation. Your scenario at the airport was overwhelming, and it was only right of the hospital to give you a proper sendoff back home after all the things you’ve been through – not to mention the long and expensive taxi cab ride. Anyway, I hope things are doing great for you and your son nowadays, and thank you for sharing this with us.

    Sabrina Craig @ Medical Attorney NY