- Health Care, Drugs & Insurance
My Five Days in Barcelona
A piercing scream filled the open area of the first two floors of the Catalonia Catedral, a quaint boutique hotel nestled within the wall of the Gotic district in old Barcelona. The scream occurred only 8 hours after we had arrived in Barcelona on a British Airways flight from London’s Heathrow airport.
A very bad accident had occurred, and I was the victim! I had just misjudged the number of steps in the hotel bar, thinking that two steps were in reality only one. This misjudgment threw me completely off balance and sent me flying through the air, landing with my full body weight on my left knee. I ended up crushing the bones in my Tibular Plateau and shattered the back of the Tibia itself.
As I lay on my back absorbing severe pain and realizing that my knee was facing outward, my mind traveled to a place I don’t remember going before. It was despair. Total despair! I mean I wanted to be taken. I was ready to give my body back to the universe. I just wanted to be gone – a totally foreign thought within my consciousness.
Within seconds of my scream, my husband was at my side trying to comfort me, knowing it was an impossible task.
A few minutes earlier we had been outside in the hotel’s courtyard revisiting our first few hours in Barcelona. These hours had included a nap after our arrival, then walking through the old Gotic district, then having tapas dinner at a charming cafe, followed by another hour of exploring the Gotic district. As we were talking, a hotel guest near our table lit up a cigarette; we decided it was time to retire to our room for the night so we could get an early start in the morning.
It was dusk and time for sleep, but first my husband wanted to talk to the front desk about the “Hop On, Hop Off” bus tour that had been recommended, so he left the outside area a few minutes ahead of me. When I left, I gathered up my purse, my light jacket, a half of glass of wine, and an empty bowl which had been full of peanuts.
As I entered the main hotel bar, I noticed the room appeared much darker than when we went to the courtyard. Because I hadn’t paid enough attention when we went outside, I had not noticed the number of steps leading from the bar to the courtyard area. It was not until my husband took pictures the next day that we fully appreciated what had happened to me.
The truth was that there were two steps leading from the courtyard area down to the main floor of the bar. These steps were finished in hardwood. There was a blue carpet runner on the top step, so that one was easy to see. However, the wood grain pattern of the second step blended completely into the wood of the main floor. I thought I was on level ground when I took my next step forward, only to find there was another step. Unfortunately, my foot caught part of the second step (but not all of it), and I lost my balance sending me flying. With things in my hands, I could not break my fall and the weight of my body landed awkwardly on my knee. As it did, my jacket and purse went flying and landed to my left, and the breakables shattered, scattering glass and porcelain all over the bar floor.
The hotel staff rushed to my aid, along with my husband. My head was cushioned while ice was applied to the injured knee. My husband saw the seriousness of the injury and asked the hotel manager to call the Spanish version of our 9-1-1 system.
I am not sure if I was in shock but time became an illusion with memories of sirens in the background, then sounds of people running up the stairs from the lobby, to seeing a man and a woman looking down at me, both youthful and dressed in dark uniforms carrying a stretcher and a blood pressure cuff. My next memory was inside the ambulance with sirens blaring overhead.
Even in this state of mind, I was aware that the ambulance ride was not long. Our destination was the Hospital Del Mar, which was located right on the beach near the harbor where the cruise ships departed. In fact, while I was in the hospital my husband caught a glimpse of our Oceania Cruise Line ship leaving the harbor the day before I was discharged. The ship held about 600 passengers and was heading for the French and Italian Riviera. We had booked a wonderful penthouse suite which was now going to be occupied by some surprised but happy couple. (A good example of how one person’s misfortune is someone else’s good luck.)
When we arrived at the hospital, I was wheeled into the emergency room on the ambulance gurney and directed to a cubicle across from the main nurses’ station. I was transferred from the stretcher to a bed that was similar in size. The cubicle was about 8 feet by 8 feet, and each cubicle had two small beds. Cubicles were separated with white curtains. To protect the patients, tall metal railings were situated on both sides of the bed. I ended up staying in that space on my back for over 48 hours before I was finally transferred upstairs to a room in the main hospital. During those two days and three nights I was keenly aware a lot was going on around me.
Before I settled into this foreign space, I had a quick set of x-rays taken. After these x-rays, I was approached by a nice looking Spanish doctor who spoke English. He explained to my husband and me that the left knee was broken in several places and recommended surgery as soon as possible. As my husband and I mulled over our options, we decided that I really needed to get back home as soon as possible and have the surgery done by doctors we knew locally and be in a familiar hospital.
He said OK but one thing could not wait – straightening my lower limb which was now at a considerable left angle from the rest of my leg. He said he would be back to get me for that procedure.
I thankfully had no idea what that process entailed, but soon another doctor approached me, and I was wheeled off to a private operating room. I don’t remember being transferred from my bed to a surgical table, but I do remember I was told they would be numbing my knee cap before straightening my leg. Even then, I did not comprehend the pain I was about to experience. Then as three doctors pulled in unison on my dislocated limb, my screams permeated the room and carried down the hall to where my husband was waiting. As the screams continued, he begged to be by my side, but it was not allowed. A security guard was in position to block any unwelcome visitors. I remember a bearded, light skinned doctor continually telling me to relax, that it would be OK. I wonder if he ever had a dislocated limb straightened. It would have been a blessing if I could have passed out, but that was not to be either.
When I returned to my ER cubicle, I was exhausted. I am sure I was given some kind of pain medication, but I don’t remember if I had an IV inserted at that point or not. I do, however, remember being asked, “Pain?” to which I emphatically replied, “Si!”
As my body responded to the medicine and the hours of trauma, I fell asleep but awoke at the sound of footsteps in the next cubicle, along with sounds of a foreign language with some English mixed in. The English words – shot, mafia, and witness protection – were quite clear. (I think the people felt they were safe speaking freely because not many people at Hospital Del Mar spoke English.) It seems a couple had been brought in, and the woman had been shot. I also heard “FBI” mentioned in the conversation. For some reason, I got the impression this was a married couple who were Italian, and the woman was wounded in the leg. I don’t think I fabricated this scenario because the next day a man in a suit kept walking by my space checking out the cubicle next to me. He had a large badge that said FBI. For the next 24 hours, I paid attention to their conversation which was quite clear because the cubicles were separated by only a thin linen fabric and the English words stood out in the conversation. The man did not seem to be injured but his presence was annoying because he snored loudly and used a C-Pac machine at night. It seems I had a real life drama playing out next to me.
Around this same time, I became aware that I was surprisingly pain free, probably because I hadn’t turned down any offer of pain medication. At one point the effects of the meds were wild. I started hallucinating. I opened my eyes and thought my room, the nurses’ station, and the walls and floor had changed. The walls had become the floor, and as I looked down at my feet I thought I was standing on a ledge looking down at a 12 foot drop – the distance to the nurses’ station. I must have been having some kind of LSD-like experience (but since I never took any LSD I am only guessing what that was like.) It was a scary experience, but at the same time intriguing.
On my second full day in the ER, I was very aware of the new morning nurse. As soon as she entered my aura, I realized this was one unhappy lady. It was unfortunate in my opinion because she could have been very attractive if she projected a little softness and empathy. Instead, her movements were so deliberate and I think her face would have cracked if she had smiled. She used all her energy to intimidate the force, and by the end of the day she had made many of the younger nurses and aides cry. Yes, she definitely was the nurse intimidator.
Because I was not having surgery in Barcelona, I was at the bottom of the list for a room within the main hospital. Luckily, at 8:30 pm on the third night I was taken upstairs and put in a double room. I felt better being in a more comfortable space but also realized that I had to go to the bathroom. Few of the nurses spoke English, but when I said “pee pee” to the attending nurse she nodded and came back with a bed pan. As I relieved myself, I again felt grateful. That feeling did not last long because when I tried to be helpful by removing the full bed pan, it stuck to my butt, then tipped and spilled. Urine was now all over the clean crisp sheets. I was sad and embarrassed and it was depressing realizing how dependent I was on other people. When my nurse returned and saw the wet bed, she could not hide her disgust. I felt so bad I placed my hands in a prayer position and continually said, “I’m so sorry.” A few minutes earlier, my mood had been on the 20th floor, but this incident returned my spirits to the basement.
Even with this upsetting situation, I was still better off upstairs than down in the ER. Although my bed was a standard twin, it felt like a queen size after experiencing the one in the ER. Because most of the staff did not speak English, they avoided me and focused on my roommate who was an 87-year old local woman who was deaf or nearly deaf. Because she had a hearing problem they were constantly shouting Spanish words at her, especially “Hola!” Oh yes, and I was fortunate enough to be there for her 87th birthday on May 8th (ironically the same day that my dad would have been 100 years old)
But the biggest surprise for me was on the night before her birthday. She woke me speaking languages I did not understand or even recognize. Suddenly, she said, “Not from here, live in far off land.” As I processed that, I realized she was speaking English now – a language totally foreign to her. This was strange to say the least; she must have been speaking in tongues
Because the staff knew about her birthday, the nursing aides would stop by frequently to sing Happy Birthday songs using their loudest voice. And when she wasn’t being serenaded by the staff, she had large numbers of family visiting to make her feel at home. This family played a lot of word games with her and laughter filled the air. Yes, and this was all very loud.
Because I was in the first bed inside the door, and because the curtain between our beds was always drawn shut, I wasn’t able to see the world famous Barcelona beach right outside our window or the nearby harbor where our Oceania Cruise Lines ship was waiting to depart.
Before I moved upstairs, my husband was making calls back to the states talking with our doctors and with the insurance company staff. Initially their doctors thought I could travel in a normal airline seat with my husband as my escort. Between my husband and the Barcelona doctors, we were able to convince the insurance company’s doctors of the seriousness of my injury. The Spanish doctors wanted to have me med-evac’ed all the way home, but the $100,000 repatriation limit on our insurance policy would not permit this. The compromise was that I would be allowed to travel in a commercial first class cabin with fully reclining seats. Plus, it was agreed a nurse from the States would fly from Fort Worth, Texas to escort me home.
So on Thursday, May 8th at 3:30 p.m., Kristi from Texas appeared in my room after the long journey from the States. Details of my travel were still being set up in discussions with the insurance travel group. The final outcome was that on Friday morning at 10:30 a.m. I was released from Hospital Del Mar and entered the back of a large black SUV van which was waiting in the Emergency Room parking area. We would be traveling on Delta back to the States. At this time, I started my list of “Thank you’s”, which included:
- My release from Hospital Del Mar.
- My ability to lift myself up to the back seat while having my leg supported by Kristi.
- Getting to the airport.
- Being met by a wheel chair equipped porter arranged by Kristi’s company.
- Making it to the first class lounge in the wheel chair and then making a successful bathroom visit.
- Changing from the wheel chair to a special “aisle chair” made to fit inside the aircraft, again supported by Kristi while my husband lugged all the baggage.
- Getting into my sleeper seat and being able to elevate my leg before takeoff.
- Making it to Kennedy Airport in New York City with only one bathroom trip in the aisle chair (9 hours). (In my 39 years of flying as a flight attendant, I never thought I would ever be the one at the mercy of this very narrow aisle chair. I also didn’t think it would take several attempts to get me into the bathroom. A flight attendant and my nurse had to back themselves into a closet which faced the bathroom so they could maneuver me in.)
- Landing at JFK (which filled my soul with new determination.)
- Having a wheel chair attendant at JFK who knew the in’s and out’s of getting through customs and immigration speedily. (His tip was the best money we spent on the trip.)
- Flying from JFK to Los Angeles (LAX) without a bathroom visit, which would have been impossible given the layout of the aircraft on that segment of the trip. (That was my proudest moment and actually somewhat of a miracle.)
- One last thank you to my husband for getting travel insurance.
Once we landed at LAX I was met in the gate area by one of the staff my husband had arranged (and paid for). I was loaded into the back of the ambulance along with my husband and nurse kristi. The trip to the hospital should have been routine, but it actually took an extra 20 minutes because the driver took an alternative route and ran into a closed freeway exit which resulted in extra driving. At the end, my husband had to direct the attendant to the Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Ca. But I was finally home, or at least close to it.
So Barcelona and my five days of pain were behind me, but a new life experience was about to begin in Pasadena. To be continued.