Relatively speaking, the three months following our return to Canada were a picnic compared to the three weeks immediately after the accident, though not a picnic I’d want to repeat.
He had a steady stream of visitors, bearing flowers and gifts. A number of people brought him food on a regular basis, some from local restaurants, some homemade, some accompanied by wine. He became the envy of his roommates once he moved to the rehab floor.
His physio took a long time, but we all cheered the day he first sat up, stood, took a step. He came home, in a mobility bus and wheelchair, for a few hours at Thanksgiving. Mike, Hannah and I prepared a table in the garage as there was no way to get him up the front steps into the house. The weather was chilly but our spirits very warm.
A week or so later, he took the same mobility bus to the Avon Theatre (where normally he’d have been working) and sat in the wheelchair booth to watch a show.
The next day, he complained of numbness and pins and needles in his arms. The doctors became alarmed and raced him down for various upper body scans. When he’d first arrived back in Canada, they’d done lots of scans of his pelvis. There had been some concern that Dr. Panti had not put sufficient screws in the Titanium plate. I spent a sleepless night imagining another surgery. They sent Jay to London to a specialist, who proclaimed the plate looked perfectly secure.
But the Santa Maria della Misericordia hospital had NEVER sent any medical records or test results and no one had suggested there might be anything wrong except the broken pelvis. Now, the medical staff became frenzied with anxiety that they might have ignored a damaged upper vertebra.
I remembered talk of a fractured vertebra in the early days in Italy. I had understood very little but got the impression they had decided the vertebra was not a problem (at least they had stopped mentioning it.) The Canadian doctors seemed to have a very different opinion. They had been planning to discharge Jay at the end of the next week. Instead they slapped him into a neck brace, immobilized him and raced him off to London in an ambulance. He was admitted to the neurological ward and subjected to a whole battery of tests. We all held our breaths. Surely there would not be MORE complications…
In the end, they decided that although there was a tiny fracture to one vertebra, it seemed to be healing fine – which is, I believe, what the Italian doctors thought would happen.
And rather than readmitting him to Stratford General, they discharged him from London. This came with its own challenges, as it meant dealing with all the social services and supports from London rather than Stratford. But Jay was so fiercely determined to get home that he arranged the ambulance and delivery of a hospital bed to our house from his bed in London.
Jamie and I moved furniture so we could fit the hospital bed into the living room, as Jay still couldn’t do stairs. A couple of carpenter friends had redesigned our stereo cabinet to accommodate our flat screen TV so he’d be able to watch it from his bed. The living room was cramped to say the least, but before Hallowe’en Jay arrived, on a stretcher, carried in by yet more ambulance attendants – and finally took up residence at home.
He had literally been 90 days naked (well except during physio and at the theatre!) – and if he writes his own memoir of these events, that’s what he’ll call it. Now he slowly, slowly began the journey back to full mobility and a clothed state. A couple of weeks before Christmas we had the hospital bed removed, as he could climb stairs to the second floor – and take showers again!
He did not get out often at all. It was a brutal winter, with deep snow and too much ice for comfortable perambulation, but he continued to do physio at home and by early spring was out and about, driving, walking with a walker, then a cane (with a set of spikes on the end) and finally without assistance.
And the Italian nightmare faded, as nightmares do.
In fact what I now remember best are the positive moments: the cool breeze in the trees of my children’s park, the view of Perugia from my balcony, the wonderful warm evening meals at La Collina – and above all the extraordinary kindness of friends, family and complete strangers – who lifted our spirits when they were at rock bottom.
When I began this blog, I promised to provide readers with helpful tips gleaned from the experience. I have not done a very good job of that, so will attempt to remedy the situation in closing:
Tips For Dealing with Emergencies in Foreign Countries
- Take out travel insurance, especially medical. Although we had horrendous problems with GE, without insurance we would be out of pocket close to $100,000 now. And that was with very reasonable Italian medical services. A fellow diner at La Collina told me in Italy they NEVER deny essential medical services to anyone. Had we been somewhere like the States…
- Call your medical insurance company before getting ANY medical attention, otherwise they may refuse to cover the costs.
- Do NOT let them bully you into doing their work. You’ve paid them, all of us have paid them, hundreds of thousands of dollars over our lifetimes. Now it is their responsibility to help – to obtain the requisite reports and test results, even ‘fit to fly’ orders. Of course it is easier and more economical for them if you do this work, but you do not have to!
- DO call your Embassy right away – whenever you are in trouble abroad! If Sandy del Castello at the Canadian Embassy in Rome is anything to go by, you will get immediate and invaluable assistance.
- Don’t expect people to speak English if it is not the official language of the country. In today’s world, we tend to assume this will be the norm…as you can tell from this cautionary tale, it ain’t always so.
- Did I mention not to buy expensive SIM cards at the airport, no matter how convenient it may seem?
- Whenever you travel, take the contact information for all the people you know…because you never know when you will need to contact that old family friend or doctor or work colleague … you just never know.
- Use the technology available to you (translation programs, skype, etc.)
- This one is admittedly easier said than done, but try to follow that excellent piece of advice from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Don’t Panic!
So ends this chapter of travel twists… with my heartfelt thanks to the many many people who provided lifelines to us:
SCARLETT. Michael and all my old school friends. Becky and Sandy for their amazing availability and translation skills. Dr. Panti. The nurses on the orthopaedic trauma ward at Ospedale Santa Maria della Misericordia. GIORGIO. My sister Frances, old friend Dr. David Goldbloom and family doctor Mark Wilkinson for advice medical and otherwise. Neil Dennison for listening, flowers and pressure. Sons MIKE and AARON for wrangling with GE – and being there for me in my hysterics. David Lester for early morning translation. Marion and Eleanor for visiting in Perugia, bearing gifts from home. Everyone for the gifts. Terry and Janet Manzo – Terry for photographs of Charlie and support, Janet for Giorgio! Keith Handegord for organizing and loading the iPod. The power people for taking it to GE. Friends and family who emailed and kept me sane. Stephen and Doug for adapting our stereo cabinet. Susan Dunfield for bringing Jay a birthday steak from Down the Street two days after we got home. Marcia and Roger for the gift of a hospital parking pass. Kim for bringing dinner to our house every week for 2 months once Jay got home. Everyone who visited Jay in hospital and brought food and books and videos and love. Everyone who called and offered their support. Pretty much everyone we know!
Despite that one moment of really super bad luck, we’ve been pretty lucky.