Day 17 After the Fall
Okay I’ll admit I was a bit anxious about the journey home. Thrilled that we were finally getting out of Italy, but now suddenly conscious of the possible dangers of flying a very long distance with a man who’d had major surgery 10 days earlier and might still be at risk of a blood clot. By the time I reached the hospital at 7:30 am, dragging my small bag behind me, my stomach was in knots.
We waited. Ashley and Keith did not arrive on time. Ashley had suggested the day before that Jay might want to wear something, like a shirt. He did not…the effort of trying to get something over his head was too much. Blankets would suffice to keep him warm, as we understood it could get pretty chilly in the Lear jet.
Half an hour late, our medical team arrived, Ashley apologizing profusely. Her phone had run out of charge in the night so her alarm had not gone off. She took the helm at once, hustling us all down to the ER entrance where both ambulance and taxi awaited. She and I took the taxi. Keith went in the ambulance with Jay.
“What if something goes wrong while we’re in the air?” I asked.
“Like what?” said Ashley.
“A blood clot?”
“We’ll monitor him constantly, but if there should be signs of distress, there isn’t much we can do. We’d land.”
“Land?’ This was largely a trans Atlantic flight, I thought.
“We’d have to get him to a hospital, so yes, we’d land as soon as we could.”
I was not reassured, although I guess I appreciated her honestly.
Arriving at the airport, we began a most fascinating journey into a world which largely belongs to the very wealthy: the world of private jets and airports.
The passport police, for example, came to us at every point, not vice-versa. Ashley collected all our passports and flashed them. The officials peered into the ambulance at Jay, checking his face against the passport photo (to make sure we were not smuggling out a criminal or something I guess!) We were waved through and out onto the tarmac.
We met the two pilots. Clearly our four travelling companions knew each other very well. They worked not for GE but for a company specializing in emergency repatriation. The four of them had flown all over the world together, rescuing people.
The plane was frightening small. “Lear jet” conjured images of, I don’t know, the presidential plane from West Wing? This plane had exactly enough space to squeeze in 2 pilots, three seated passengers and one patient on stretcher, with not an inch to spare. Getting Jay’s stretcher in was a four-person job. I don’t quite know how they managed it, but they did. I sat in the furthest back of the three single seats on the left of the plane, my knees nuzzled against the back of the seat in front. Jay’s stretcher filled the right hand side. The “aisle” was less than 18” wide, and Jay’s toes were at my elbow. There was no moving whatsoever once we were in.
It was very loud and initially very cold but warmed up soon enough, and I have never experiences smoother take-offs and landings. No one spoke. Keith and Ashley checked all the monitors attached to Jay fairly regularly and fell fast asleep between-times. I gazed out the tiny window and read. Jay looked horribly uncomfortable as the stretcher was so narrow he could not even rest his arms at his sides.
5 hours passed, then Ashley nudged me and indicated via sign language that we were about to land. “Iceland,” she mouthed. I’d made it without a single bathroom break!
We landed at a tiny airport, with no one else around. Ashley led me into the “terminal” which was more like a private rest stop. There were free snacks, tea and coffee, water, a lounge with TV, even showers. We all raced to the washrooms, then strolled about for the half hour it took to refuel. Ashley and Keith took turns, one of them staying with Jay in the plane. Ashley returned with lunches for us all, which we ate on the next leg, as we flew over Greenland, which was a spectacularly beautiful…much more white than green!
Jay was clearly uncomfortable, but he endured.
Next stop, our home and native land! I’d never been to Newfoundland, and I can’t say I learned much more about it than I had about Iceland. The day was grey, blessedly cool compared to Italy. The customs officials came to greet us, glanced at the passports and waved us on. We refuelled, drank and ate cookies, used the facilities and clambered back on board for the final 3 hours to Toronto.
We hit our first hitch in Toronto. Traffic on the 401 had delayed our medical transfer vehicle which was coming from Exeter to take us to Stratford. We waited, none too patiently, Jay still in the jet as they had nowhere to put the stretcher, for about half an hour.
Then we bid goodbye to the pilots and Keith who had been called to set off to somewhere in Europe the next day. Ashley would travel with us to Stratford. We were super impressed by all members of this operation: so capable, experienced, helpful and proficient at speaking English! Real pros working for a first rate organization called Foxflight. We learned a lot about their tiny specialized world. Pilots could only work quite limited hours without a break but the medical attendants (both of ours had been ER nurses prior to taking on this work) sometimes worked long hours…flying from South America to Europe and back to Canada on a single job.
The ambulance was roomy but very bare bones and lacking in the shock absorber department. Shortly after we began our bumpy trip along the 401 Jay asked for painkillers for the first time that day. Ashley obligingly injected him with morphine and soon the pain eased. I’d texted Mike the moment we landed; he and Hannah would come pick me up at the hospital as soon as we had Jay safely ensconced. I couldn’t wait.
And then, finally, our long ordeal ended. We arrived at Stratford General at 4:30 on a Sunday. No fuss at admission, Jay was wheeled straight to his waiting bed, in a large very quiet room – without roommates, creepy or otherwise. Our family doctor was away that week-end, but he’d arranged to have a colleague check in on Jay. Fifteen minutes after we arrived, the doctor was there.
And so were Mike and Hannah, cheering and hugging us and presenting Jay with a good old homemade sandwich. For the first time since that fateful fall, I relaxed. As it happens that day, August 18th, was our anniversary… and one I doubt either of us will ever forget!