Though I have a much more limited set of photos from this trip as had anticipated, there are a few gems. This was one of the two days that G was ambulatory and we got this pic with the Lumix in Istanbul outside of the jewelry shop that the tour bus required us to visit.
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It is 11:15am here in Athens, Greece on Saturday. We are seven hours ahead of U.S. Eastern DST. Our two week European cruise vacation has been sidelined and extended due to an illness and a series of ship infirmaries, clinics, ambulances, flights, ambulances, and finally a proper hospital here in Athens. Poor Gwen had what started as a backache when our flight landed in Rome two weeks ago today and then progressed in to full blown medical emergency.
In Rome, we thought it was just back pain from the odyssey of two long flights, luggage and airline mishaps, and a day that had started 24 hours before we landed. We boarded the Celebrity Reflection a day and a half later thinking that she was just suffering from jetlag as she had no symptoms of illness, and certainly nothing that would indicate that her gall bladder was done with her. By the second day on the ship, sailing to the island of Santorini, she was feeling fine and we thought that all was well. All was not well.
The third night, she started getting sick again and we knew then that things were not normal. We went down to the ship’s infirmary and the very nice doctor diagnosed her with heartburn (acid) and sent her back to the room with generic Prevacid. The following day, things were worse and she was able to see the senior doctor on the ship. He felt her abdomen for two seconds and declared pretty quickly that he felt it was her gall bladder. He said that we should go to a clinic at the next port and get an ultrasound.
The next day, we docked in Istanbul and a car took us the two blocks from the port to a ship-affiliated clinic. She recieved an ultrasound that confirmed that her gall bladder was inflamed. This was a relief as we now had a good diagnosis. The doctors at the clinic said that the even better news is that we could continue on with our vacation and wait until we got to the U.S. to have any surgery or more medical intervention. They gave her some really good antibiotics as well as some painkillers and we boarded the ship again.
We had one more day in Istanbul and Gwen was feeling fine. We went on a tour of the Boshphos straight and of part of old Istanbul as well as the famed Spice Market. We thought the worst of the symptoms were behind and were able to enjoy almost two full days of our long awaited and hard-worked-for vacation.
Alas, all was still not well. The next morning, we docked at Esphus, which is in another part of Turkey. Gwen wasn’t feeling well but I went out on the excursion, hoping to grab her off the ship in the afternoon for some adventures. By the time I got back to the ship, though, she was in enough pain and discomfort that it merited another trip downstairs to the infirmary. They had gotten to know us pretty well at this point and the nurses and doctors took good care of her. Finally, they decided that it was time to say goodbye to us, get Gwen off the ship and to a real doctor. This was not as simple as it sounded and the ship had since left Esphus.
The initial plan was to keep her on the ship for two days, until the boat docked at Athens. As the hours ticked by, though, the doctors on the ship decided that she had to go to Athens ‘now’ and said that they would be transferring us off when we docked at the Island of Mykonos (Greece) on Monday morning. They would have us go to a clinic, which would then take over her care and start to make all the decisions. This is exactly what happened an in a flurry of packing (we had two weeks of luggage and contents all over our stateroom after a week!) and other hasty arrangement, Gwen and I left the cruise after seven days and she was taken by rural ambulance to the clinic in Mykonos. This was the farthest thing from a hospital imaginable, but the doctor there was very nice, took care of her, and determined that we had best get on a plane to Athens STAT. They assisted us in booking tickets for the commuter flight that afternoon and took us by ambulance over to the airport. Poor Gwen was not in good condition at this point but they had enough painkillers in her to make her able to get on a plane.
The short flight (35-40mins) to Athens was a bit bumpy but uneventful. When we landed they had an ambulance waiting on the tarmac and it took her directly to the Hygeia hospital in a northeastern suburb of Athens. The check-in process took a while as I speak no Greek and though many people spoke some English, wading through the hosptial-check-in-beurocracy process in any language can be difficult. The doctor saw her right away and said that her gall bladder would be surgically removed the next morning once they had her stable enough. They then performed another ultrasound and gave her IV meds overnight.
The next morning (Tuesday at this point) we me the other surgeon, who had cut his own vacation short for this case. He was very nice, professional, and had supposedly done 2,000 of these surgeries. Gwen’s parents stopped by, as they had been on the ship as well and it had just docked at Athens so they took a cab, an they got to say hello to a pretty delirious Gwen just before she was wheeled in to surgery. The procedure was supposed to take 1-1.5 hours, but she ended up being in the operating room for over two and a half hours. Afterwards, the surgeons came out and told us that 1.) the surgery was successful and 2.) it was one of the most complicated and worst one of these they have ever had to perform. After he sat us down he explained that her gall bladder had gone gangrenous and was about to burst. He said that if it had burst (perforated) on the ship than she could had died, and that it should have been removed surgically many days ago. After he took the gall bladder out, he dissected it quickly and found not only that it had been gangrenous and infected, but that the inner wall had actually sloughed away and there were nine (NINE) stones in it. He then showed us pictures of everything. Trust me, you do not want to see these pictures. What amazed us is that there were absolutely NO signs of this before we set sail! She was completely asymptomatic until, well, it was an emergency.
Anyway, the surgery was complete, she was in recovery, and her parents were able to get back to the ship before it set sail to Naples (UGH). Oh yeah, and there was an earthquake in Athens on Wednesday. (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/08/07/earthquake-greece_n_3718027.html). It was small, but the hospital swayed a bit.
Gwen’s recovery was more complicated than the usual gall bladder removal, and has required two blood transfusions. It wasn’t until Friday, three days after the surgery, that she was feeling better, but now she is back to almost-normal and can at least walk around the hallway in the hospital (albeit slowly) a bit.
We are hoping to leave the hospital on Monday (fingers crossed) and hopefully the travel insurance company will let us fly immediately (or close to that) afterward so we can get back to the U.S. All of this, of course, depends on her health, her recovery, and her ability to travel safely.
That’s the story so far! That is why there have been very little pictures and updates here. I’ve been here in the hospital as I didn’t want to stay in a hotel and leave her to fend for herself in a foreign country where we cannot read the alphabet or speak even a little bit of the language. She is, at least right now, happy reading her new Samsung Galaxy Tab and enjoying free Internet. Greek TV is something of a mystery and the only English language channels play the same terrible shows over and over and over.
The weather here is hot and dry and it mostly a ghost town as everyone is away on summer vacations / holidays. I’ve done some walking around the hospital and as we are in a suburb, it’s really difficult to find things to do. I did finally find a restaurant across the street (an 8 lane highway!) for food, and a mall not far away so we can get a change of clothes. We were scheduled to be back in the U.S. by now and only packed for two weeks with laundry facilities planned – this was not in the plans while we were packing… We are right near the huge athletic arenas of the 2004 Athens Olympics and I might try to find some time to explore there with my camera later. In the meantime, the nice air conditioned hospital room does fine.
That’s all I have for now. Long couple of weeks. Could have been a lot worse, and in the end all will be well and she got the care she needed just in time. I’m wicked thankful for that.
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VERY quick pic of our day in Rome. This pretty much sums it up. Poor G was sick the whole day but she is better now and we are enjoying our day out on the Mediterranean! More pics soon.
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