Planes and hospitals

When we traveled to Japan some years ago, during the SARS or Avian flu crisis, I always wondered who in their right mind would step forward and surrender to the white coats, admitting one was sick. Who knew what would happen to you afterwards? But when I landed in Paris on Saturday morning I would have thrown myself in their arms. I was sick as a dog, having a hard time breathing which created panic and more constriction.

I had about 3 hours between flights and dreaded another 7 and a half hour on a plane in my condition. I pondered whether to look for a clinic but by the time I decided I should do so, the track to the clinic was so long and required me to enter France with thousands of other tourists and might have risked missing my flight, so I soldiered on.

It was the longest return trip to the US, longer than my circuitous trip from Mongolia via the DRC. In hindsight, that trip was a piece of cake. Everything is a piece of cake when you are healthy. I tried to limit my coughing, respectful of my fellow travelers. I hate it when I am surrounded by coughers (I actually was on my way out, so that’s maybe where it all started). But the hardest part was the shortness of breath, not being able to take a big deep breath. I had gotten used to the coughing by then.

By the time I landed and exited from the immigration area, Axel said I looked decidedly grey. We resolved right then and there to go straight to the emergency room. And that is where I spent the next 6 hours until they admitted me to the ward around 8 PM.

I wasn’t able to sleep until 10 PM when all the diagnostics were completed. So while I was being poked and questioned I imagined I was upgraded to business class and had a seat that turned into a bed – the same up and down buttons allowed me to pick a position that was most comfortable.

But the food couldn’t compete with the airline food, not even economy class. At 8 PM I was ravenously hungry, not having eaten much during the last 24 hours. I received a plastic box with a cup of chicken salad, 2 slices of wonder bread, a half cup of apple sauce and a small bag of chips (“a joy in every bite”). Emergency services clearly do not think of nutrition as a variable in getting better.

I have not had wonder bread since my youth in Holland. I think it was called King Corn bread and came from America so it was very cool. I thought it was so much yummier than the rough brown bread that I miss so much now. We used it also for fishing bait as it balled up nicely to put on a hook. I was thinking of those fishes going for the white little ball as I chewed my emergency dinner, trying to get the big globs of tasteless white dough to a size small enough to swallow. My hunger made me very impatient.

I was put on nebulizer treatment which made me jittery as if I had an overdose of caffeine. After the third treatment, although super jittery, I was able to relax and breathe a little more easily. I was also put on a drip and started on antibiotic treatment. X-Rays and a scan were made to determine whether I had pneumonia, and if so, what kind. Given the number of countries I had visited in the last 6 months the infectious disease specialist was also called in. Had I been in Ebola territory? Had I been in hospitals and in contact with patients? I explained that in my line of work public health is not about direct patient care. Interesting the doctors said. You have ants in your pants, said the nurses.

Finally, after I had already left the hospital the next day, the confirmation came through: streptococcal pneumonia. I was relieved it was not a virus and the antibiotic treatment is in full swing. It is an excellent time to recover at Lobster Cove.

Throughout the ordeal I counted my blessings: to live in a place that has good care, good hygiene and an insurance that pays. I thought about the many people around the world who have the same affliction until they die or are so miserable they can no longer participate in life. You don’t appreciate good health and health care until you need it. Still counting…

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