On July 29, I walked out of Amsterdam ‘s OLVG hospital, my home of twelve weeks, and into Florida’s Shands Hospital. It was almost as easy as it sounds.
We’d begun planning to get me back for weeks. Once my medical status stabilized (no feeding tube, no catheter, consistent blood readings, better strength), my doctor Emo cleared me to fly. My daughter, along with my sister and her college roommate, worked the travel, insurance, and rehabilitation bureaucracies to prepare for a medical evacuation to a rehab facility close to home. Emo compiled my medical and physiotherapy records.
The place turned me down. Although I was used to the fact that I had survived a dramatic health event, the story did alarm the rehab clinic. They wanted me to be cleared by an American hospital before being reconsidered as a rehab patient. But their hospital partner could not guarantee me a bed.
After the interdisciplinary excellence of my treatment at OLVG, I found the cautious and lawyerly American response offensive. I even explored the option of Dutch rehab: why not stay with the system that had done me so much good? No go: my insurance would not cover it.
Daughter Victoria solved the problem, like every other one that had arisen: I would go to Shands, the University of Florida’s stellar institution at which she’d begun the final hworking year of her doctorate. Yes, they’d take me, Emo’s counterpart told him; we just need to free up a bed. Perfect.
A few days went by. Then a few more. Pretty soon, we’d been waiting for two weeks, and Ray’s apartment lease was up. I was gaining strength, now able to handle walking on my own, though a bit shaky. My doctor Emo agreed: no medical evacuation needed, I could travel home with Ray alone. With wheelchair assistance in the terminal, I should be fine.
We were done with waiting. Maybe Shands would come through, maybe we’d need to go directly home. Either way, we were outa there.
On Friday, we booked Monday business class tickets on the only direct flight available that week, and Emo tried Shands one last time: the patient had identified the only suitable flight, which would bring them to Gainesville Monday night. Miraculously, the response was the right one: Shands would identify a bed Sunday night and was looking forward to welcoming me.
Sometimes you jump, and THEN the net appears.
The trip was almost easy: in fact, I highly recommend traveling by wheelchair. At Schiphol Airport, we were whisked past lines of mobile passengers through passport and security checks (yes, they do pat down ladies in wheelchairs), into the swank and spacious KLM lounge to enjoy a buffet lunch, and to the front of the line at the gate. “Passengers requiring assistance” was now me.
Our travel agent Tanya Kugel, http://www.enltravel.com, had secured us the first row of the business class, from which I took a picture of an empty plane as we boarded. We were four steps away from the bathroom, my primary concern in my post-catheter reality, and first to get the four-course meal. The seats slid into a nearly full recline. I dozed off and on, watched Amazing Grace documenting Aretha’s live recording of gospel music, and we were on the ground in Orlando before nightfall.
Another assisted whisk through a complicated terminal and we were curbside when the car service appeared to take us to Shands. We were in Victoria’s weepy embrace by 10, and I was in my bed being assisted by nurses and doctors by 10:30.
Next: finding out how I should live the rest of my life, or at least the next few months.