This is another post about a past medical event. It’s pretty interesting, so I thought I would share it.
Late December 2008, while I was in the Czech Republic suffering from an acute case of Necrotizing Pancreatitis, I was finally deemed stable enough to be air transported to a hospital in Canada. The Canadian Embassy had been pressuring the Czech Republic to send me home, and it had taken roughly 2 months until the doctors gave the green light to do so.
A tiny medically equipped plane arrived in Prague from Toronto. It was so tiny that it could only hold 6 people: the pilot, the co-pilot, a doctor, a nurse, a respiratory therapist and me! There wasn’t even room for my father, so he had to take a commercial flight home (he ended up getting upgraded to First Class for free. Boo hoo!).
Since the plane was so small, it didn’t have the capacity to carry a lot of fuel. So for the flight from Prague to Toronto, there were two scheduled fuel stops: one being in Reykjavik, Iceland and the other in Gandor, Newfoundland.
During the flight, I was strapped into the plane on a hospital bed. I fly in style, yo. Due to my condition, I couldn’t speak (from having a tracheotomy), couldn’t move, and took in fluids and food from an IV. It was pretty sucky, but I guess under those circumstances you adapt. I recall watching my nurse eat a sandwich and drink from a 1L water bottle. I was jealous! It had been at least 2 months since I had eaten anything orally, and I was missing it terribly!
As we stopped in Reykjavik, Iceland to refuel, my nurse gave me a sleeping pill so I’d be more comfortable for the remainder of the flight. I needed it because flying freaks me out! I recall customs agents approaching our plane and the bitter cold wind blowing in from the open hatch as they checked our passports. It was so cold, that my medical crew was reminiscing of their coldest airport experiences – including one where the water in the toilets had frozen! Brr!! Starting to feel drowsy, I began to drift away as the flight crew prepared for takeoff.
The first indication that there was trouble was when we began to taxi onto the runway. Apparently the plane’s front landing gear did not want to steer towards the right. In a troubleshooting attempt, the pilot exited the plane and kicked the tire to try to loosen it. Yes. Kicked.
I began to panic from the thought of a plane crash and tried to fight the effects of the sleeping pill. I had to – no, needed to – know what was going on. I mean, if I was going to die I wanted to be aware of it. Was there something wrong with the plane? Were we going to crash? Were we going to – gasp – die?
I continued to listen to the pilot kick the front tire in vain for the next few minutes. Panicking, and unable to speak or move, I felt totally helpless.
Finally at some point it was determined that we could not take off in a plane with faulty steering. A call was made to Toronto to bring over the other medical plane. However, that would take a minimum of 13 hours to fill out the paper work and fly it over. What were we to do then? Sit at the freezing Icelandic airport? Would I get to witness the frozen toilets firsthand (even though I had an ileostomy and catheter – but STILL)?
Thankfully none of that was the case. Instead, an arrangement that I stay in a Reykjavik hospital for the meantime was made and an ambulance came to transport me there.
Driving through a blizzard (or normal Icelandic winter weather), it took only a few minutes to arrive at the hospital. It was a week before Christmas, and as I was being wheeled through the hallways, I admired the decorations that adorned the walls and the pretty lighted tree they had at the nurses station.
When I entered my temporary hospital room, I was speechless (literally haha)! It was large, with a kitchenette, a couch, and a television seated on the floor. And best of all – it was a private room!! You have to understand that the ICU in Prague was under renovation, so patients were placed in a temporary room. It was pretty big and consisted of dozens of beds. There were no privacy curtains – no televisions. I had seen more elderly people naked than anyone should ever have to see in 100 lifetimes. So, this new private room felt like the penthouse in the Ritz Carlton!
Someone from my medical crew had to be present at all times, so they alternated between 6 hour shifts. A hotel was across the street, and when not on duty, they would go there to rest and sleep. Speaking of sleep, that sleeping pill never did take effect. I guess the thought of burning fuel and shards of metal counteracted its effectiveness.
The Icelandic hospital staff was so welcoming! They brought in a pastry tray for the crew filled with a variety of danishes, donuts and croissants. If you recall, I was not allowed to eat orally, so watching them consume the yumminess made me extremely envious.
The rest of the night was pretty uneventful. I didn’t end up sleeping at all and spent the night watching random music videos on MTV (the only channel in english). As my medical crew changed shifts, I would watch them eat more delicious pastries brought in by the Icelandic nurses. Grrr!
Roughly 15 hours after my arrival at the hospital, we got the call that the new plane from Toronto had arrived. My nurse was the one currently on “duty”, and I watched as he pulled out a huge wad of American cash and paid my hospital bill. Cha-ching!
The weather was clear and chilly as I was transported back to the airport. I noted with a sigh of relief that the landing gear was fully functional as we were taxiing out towards the runway.
I was off to Canada! The rest of the trip – including the refueling stop in Gandor, Newfoundland – was uneventful. Thank goodness for that, although I did arrive 1 day behind schedule. ;)
I’d like to thank the medical staff in Iceland for accommodating me and the staff in the Czech Republic as well. As I was leaving Prague, the staff had handed over a box filled with extra medication (“Good Luck Diane” was written on it) just in case of an emergency. And good thing they did too because of the unexpected layover. It was a perfect added amount as I had just run out of my meds during the ambulance ride from Toronto, Ontario to Hamilton, Ontario (where I was to be admitted to the ICU).
I love to travel, and even during times of crisis I apparently manage to continue doing so. I’d love to visit Iceland again – but this time without a stretcher! ;)
Thanks for reading. Diane.