Dear readers, I apologize for my three-month absence, but boy do I have a story to tell you.
I had devised the perfect spring vacation: a long transatlantic cruise to Northern Europe, including a week in Norway, the land of my ancestors, followed by a month’s stay in Amsterdam, one of our favorite cities. Neither my husband Ray nor I had work obligations, and the two-month trip shimmered like a miraculous mirage.
The first two weeks lived up to the hype. Holland America’s newest ship, the Nieuw Statendam, left Ft. Lauderdale on its inaugural eastern crossing under sunny skies and calm seas on April 28.
We drifted along: a perpetual food feast on fthe Lido deck; live classical music every afternoon followed by Motown every night; mind blowing light shows accompanied the clever choreography of the resident dance troupe; and the occasional shower did not spoil the ease of our voyage.
First landfall was the Azores, which surprised us with their rugged beauty, but the afternoon bus ride with coughing passengers also open the door to Ray getting bronchitis.
We stayed on board during the days stop in Normandy, saving our energy for a lovely day in Bruges.
By the time the ship docked in Amsterdam to take on more passengers for the Norwegian leg of the trip Ray was feeling miserable. We cancelled our planned ship excursion to Keukenhof Gardens and went ashore by ourselves to search out medicine. We had no way of knowing that Ray’s bronchitis would save my life.
As Ray stepped into the pharmacy, I fainted on the sidewalk, though all I remember is looking up at the kind faces of very tall Dutch men.“The ambulance is on its way,” one of them said. Indeed, the adorable EMTs were there within minutes, clad in turquoise and spring green. My vital signs were normal and I felt fine. “Take us back to the ship,“ I directed. There was no way I was missing Norway.
The ship doctor met us on the dock: I guess an ambulance pulling up alongside a cruise ship is not a good sign, and he did not advise me to re-board. He and the EMTs got into a bit of a shouting match over who was right about how fine I was and I decided I was getting on the ship. Ray and I signed the waivers taking responsibility for our actions and up we went to our lovely room.
Ray headed up to the Lido deck to pick us up some lunch, and I fainted again, though all I remember is standing next to the bed feeling a little dizzy.
What happened next is not my memory nor would I have any real awareness of my life for the next three weeks.
Ray says now he has rarely been so overwhelmed: I was sprawled on the bed mumbling incoherently; something was seriously wrong. He grabbed the phone. Within minutes the ship’s medical staff, another ambulance crew, and every steward on our floor had flooded our room and Ray was throwing our things into three suitcases. I was carried out on a stretcher to the waiting ambulance.
It was a quick dash to the nearest hospital but it seemed an eternity to Ray as he chastised himself for not insisting that I go to a hospital after first fainting. Waves of guilt would continue to wash over him in the hours, days, weeks that followed.
The minute we were in the ER, a team began CPR. My body had given out.
Next: Part Two, Anatomical Triage.