Saturday September 22, 2018
So I've been home from Israel for six days, during most of which I've sniffled and coughed my way through! Yup, one more time after a long airline flight I've succumbed to, what is beginning to feel like, the inevitable and dreaded airline FLU. My seat mates from London to San Jose were a lovely Chinese lady, who was flying from Beijing to San Jose to visit her daughter and grandchildren, and a young man from Moscow, Russia, who I think was flying to Silicon Valley for work! What a world we live in! I'm certainly not making either of them the 'culprit' for my health demise this past week, but am acutely aware of how we are intertwined with the whole world when we travel. I'll not give up on my yearning to experience all the world has to offer; but, I know some of my great experiences come at a price - one I'm willing to pay because the experiences are worth it!
A thought about a past adventure - an anniversary trip many years ago:
We left Marin County, where we'd just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a party given by our three kids with relatives and many life-long friends. It had been a complete surprise, orchestrated by Kari with help from Jeff and Spencer, catered by Caravancary Restaurant in San Francisco. Little did we know at that time that Kari was beginning her preparation to become one of the world's best party planners and hostesses!
A couple of days after the Saturday- night soiree John and I boarded Quantas Airlines for the long flight from San Francisco to Cairns, Australia - crossing the international date line, a surreal experience. Our wonderful present to ourselves was a meticulously-planned 6-week visit to Australia and New Zealand.
We arrived in Cairns around noon as I recall, but I couldn't connect the time of day and the day of the week, weird! We retired in the afternoon and woke up the next morning. That first full day in Australia was lots of fun as we took a bus tour of the region, seeing all kinds of interesting sites and made several new friends, including a lovely couple from Alice Springs, a city in the 'outback' that we were planning to visit a couple of weeks later. Australians, in my experience, are very warm, outgoing people, always up for conversation and friendship. We found this to be true to a person, it's a very realistic compliment for these folks from 'down under.'
The Alice Springs couple asked us to meet them at a nearby body-surfing beach the next morning so we got up fairly early and breakfasted in our hotel before heading to a car-rental agency to procure a rental sedan for the next adventure, a drive of about five miles for our rendezvous and day at the beach.
John was getting himself accustomed to "driving on the wrong side of the road" on the sparsely-traveled country road along the coast of Australia, just north of the beginning of the Great Barrier Reef, which we'd also planned to investigate a few days later. We were heading a little north of Cairns and were preparing to turn Right off the coastal road to the little road that would lead us to the beach where our new friends were staying (this would be equivalent to making a left turn in the US). Not seeing any oncoming traffic, John started making the turn when, out of nowhere came a car, speeding way above the posted limit of 50 Km/hour (31mph), and, before we knew it, crashed into my side of the car. I don't remember too much of the actual crash but John says we spun around a couple of times and ended up off the side of the road in a sand dune. Immediately when the car stopped we checked with each other, finding John to be okay and me to be trapped in my seat, unable to move.
Within minutes the car was surrounded by people, many of whom were giving lots of what they thought to be valuable instructions about what should be done. I soon realized that I was the focus of their concerns and consequently I became super concerned myself! I called out for John, who'd gotten himself out of his driver's side of the car and was coming around to my side where he intended to try to open the passenger door. Just then a lady proffered a cup to me through the broken side window, "Would you like a cuppa'?" "No, thank you," I responded, feeling intense pain in the area of my upper back with difficulty talking, even breathing. I went into nurse mode and to John I quickly whispered, "Honey, don't let them feed or move me, I think my back might be broken." Arms were reaching out towards me from every direction, attempting to get ahold of my arms and head. I was adamant, "Don't let them move me. We have to wait for help!" Somebody had said they'd called Emergency and that help would be there in minutes - and it was. Fire Department, Ambulance, Police - all very professional, reassuring and helpful. They explained to us that they would have to use the "jaws of life" to cut me out of the car, as the left front wheel was now in the neighborhood of my chest - the car an accordion, the windshield frame behind my head, windshield glass gone!
After about 30 minutes of metal destruction with those giant jaws of life, the paramedic firemen were able to rescue me from the car and (with me giving military-class orders in the style of my dad and my nursing education!), they strapped me onto a backboard to restrict any motion of my head and spinal column, on to a gurney and into the ambulance for the 30-minute, siren-blaring trip to the hospital. Much of the next 24 hours is a blur - although I do remember I was covered with broken glass, couldn't move or breathe without considerable pain and was thankful for all the wonderfully conscientious medical personnel taking care of me.
I'm not going to recall for you all the memories of this experience; but I'll say that I'm forever grateful for the care I received at that hospital from the medical and nursing staff and including a friendship with one of my nurses that has lasted ever since. I spent two weeks as an inpatient, that included much therapy and cooperation with my doctors back home in California. I did not have any spinal fractures, which were my primary concern as I'd a history of multiple spinal surgeries for congenitally degenerating and ruptured discs and had undergone a four-level spinal fusion when I was 27-years old! My back had given me grief most of my life so I was rather hyper-vigilant about how I was handled. As the days went by I gradually lost the original panic I'd felt at the time of the accident. The main extent of my injuries were 14 fractured ribs, a badly fractured collarbone and a collapsed lung, causing pain and breathing problems that would prevent me from returning to work at Marin General Hospital Surgery for six months!
But, the wonderful part of the story is the friendship that started with that night nurse, Jeanne, after I was moved out of intensive care to a medical ward. She took such good nursing care of me - I was so very impressed with Australia's socialized medicine - if it's the same now, I'd still be impressed! - not only medically, but emotionally and socially, becoming a good friend. She and her husband also took it upon themselves to make sure John was comfortable and entertained during my hospitalization and they entertained both of us the several days we stayed in Cairns after I was discharged. During my hospitalization they had him over for Australian hospitality in their home, showed him around the area and helped him plan the future of our vacation, with all the changes and modifications that would be needed.
After approximately three weeks in north-eastern Australia, John and I flew to the capital, Sydney, Australia's largest city, where we were picked up by Jeanne's brother and sister-in-law, who accommodated my medical condition by having a wheelchair available for me upon arrival, providing all our transportation while we were in Sydney and acting as our personalized tour guides.
They made reservations for us to tour and have lunch at the famous Sydney Opera House on the beautiful waterfront, took us shopping in their wonderful downtown mall and, fulfilling one of my bucket list life-long desires - they arranged for me to visit the Taronga Zoo for a specially guided tour when it was not open to the public. They wheeled me in my wheelchair around the zoo, to see many animals that are just not available to see up close in the US. The highlight was at the koala exhibit where our guide went in and brought a baby koala out for me to hold. Mama koala came out too, to make sure her joey was going to be okay in my arms. What a treat - one I wouldn't have had if I'd not had that
accident! When you're given lemons, why not make lemonade? - so the saying goes!
I had, just the year before, graduated from Dominican University with a degree in Biology and Chemistry, so I was disappointed when I thought I wouldn't be able to see koalas and kangaroos up close. Those lovely people made my dream a reality.
Our Australia vacation had been planned for six weeks. The accident occurred on the third day and it took over six weeks for us to return home: two weeks in the hospital, three days in Cairns after hospital discharge, a week in Sydney, almost two weeks in Fiji (that's a story for another time) and finally over a week in Hawaii before actually making it home.