Have you ever had a day where everything is going along great and then, all of a sudden, you wind up in an ambulance on your way to the hospital? Well, that happened to me Tuesday, March 30th. I was attending an English immersion program, working as a volunteer to help Spanish people improve their English. We were at a hotel in Mengibar, in the old part of town, where public sidewalks and private pavements can be uneven.
I had left the hotel at the coffee break in search of cloth masks to wear as required during this awful pandemic. I had brought two pretty cloth masks with me but both had disappeared over the course of the five-day conference. Once outside the hotel I started to search around for a pharmacy. Unfortunately, at that very moment, the sidewalk had gone from a flat surface to a steep step downwards. I put my left foot out into the air and landed on the ground with my left leg turning at a sickly right degree angle. I also heard my bone break.
Once down on the ground, I called out to a young man nearby wearing a red sweater to, “Llame una ambulancia.” He was kind and took off his sweater, putting it under my head to give it support. He asked me my name and, luckily, I was thinking clearly and gave him my lanyard with name badge that conference attendees wore during the event. He went inside the hotel and brought out the kind middle-aged man who was in charge of the conference. We waited together for the ambulance to come. It was very hard to wait as I was in a lot of pain. After about 10 minutes, an ambulance arrived and the medical workers slowly and carefully got me into the white van for the 15 minute drive to the Neuro-Traumatologico Hospital in the mountainous Spanish city of Jaen, in Andalucía.
Thankfully, the conference leader was with me for all of this, both on the ambulance ride and in the emergency room. I was grateful for his companionship.
Upon arrival, the medical staff decided I needed to have a Covid test so I got Q-tip-like objects stuck up both nostrils before anything else happened. Now this is a definitely a prime example of adding insult to injury! (I received a text message that night that my test result was negative).
The conference leader had gone outside and bought me an I-Phone charger at a nearby store so I could continue to use my phone while in the hospital. This phone was my lifeline to my family and friends.
After I left the emergency room, I was X-rayed. It was discovered I had broken my femur, the longest bone in one’s body, in two places! After this painful procedure was done, I was transported to my room. Now I was truly alone and decided this was a really good time to cry. I did this without hesitation. Many tears were shed.
My husband couldn’t join me at the hospital as he was four hours away in Orihuela Costa, in the Province of Alicante, taking care of our cat and dog. Also, travel between provinces was not allowed and our car was still in the hotel parking lot in Mengibar.
Later that evening, medical staff wrapped my left leg in gauze and attached a rope to my ankle with a big weight at its end to help realign the leg. Two mornings later, a surgeon was available to do my operation.
While waiting for my surgery, I got to enjoy the beautiful mountain ranges around Jaen. As a flatlander from Chicago, seeing mountains always gives me a thrill!
When they wheeled me down to surgery Thursday morning, I took the opportunity to ask the surgeon in Spanish if he had a lot of experience doing this kind of procedure. He replied that he was 44 years old and had been doing this operation for 20 years. “Okay. We are good to go, I thought!” This was great news and the exact type of thing to be grateful for during such an awful experience: I was in capable hands.
After about 3 hours of surgery (so I was told since I was out for the whole event), I woke up and promptly threw up. I only had enough time to say to the medical team, “Voy a vomitar” and voila, it happened.
I always had to speak Spanish during this ordeal as no one admitted to speaking more than a few words of English. Here are some new words I learned in my own hospital-based Spanish immersion program! Cuña is bedpan, pañal is diaper, muletas are crutches, manta is blanket, pastilla para dormir is sleeping pill and timbre is bell (to call the nurses). This last one is key!
Here are some Spanish phrases I learned: To tell the nurse that my bell, my pills and my charger cord fell down, you need to say, “Mi timbre, mis pastillas y el cable del cargador se cayeron.” If you want the nurse to open the window, you need to say, “Puedes abrir la ventana?” If you want your IV off, you say, ¿Puedes quitarlo?” This whole experience helped me improve my intermediate-level Spanish. So that was undoubtedly a blessing!
Once my surgery was over and I was wheeled into recovery, I discovered I was the only patient in a post-op room normally as busy as a train station. The two nurses there said the room typically had 20 to 25 people in it. It turns out that this was the day before Good Friday, though, so only emergency surgeries were taking place. I was lucky to have been operated on when I was. Semana Santa is a big deal in Spain so things really slow down Easter weekend. This was something to be grateful for after such a traumatic injury.
Anyway, once back to my hospital room Thursday night, I was glad to have the operation behind me. The next day was Good Friday. Nobody came by to help me start walking again, as one doctor had led me to believe might happen.
Both Friday and Saturday were days of resting in bed and replying to the many messages of sympathy and support I was receiving from family and friends via What’s App, text message, email and Facebook Instant Messenger. I had never felt so supported by so many people in my entire life! This was another blessing during a dark ordeal. For example, our older son Alex called me three nights in a row and this was something that had never happened before. I was feeling the love!
Finally, on Easter Sunday, one nurse let me use a walker with a plastic seat to move around my room. “Nancy Klein is risen today. Al-le-lu-i-a!” I was never so happy in all my life to be able to use the toilet. This is something we take for granted in normal times, of course. But after five days of using bedpans, I mean cuñas, I was thrilled to use a toilet. Plus, I could never bring myself to take a dump in the bedpan so using the toilet after five days lapse was a major blessing!
Also on Easter, I received the best meal of my stay. It included roast pork, green peppers, paella and fresh peaches. This was something else to be grateful for. I was so pleased I even took a photo of my meal.
The next day, I thought my physical therapy would begin. Instead, the doctor who operated on me came in my room and said I could go home! Lord have mercy, was I excited! This was the best blessing of all!
Unfortunately, it cost me $600 to take a four-hour cab ride home because my medical insurance company wouldn’t pay for my transport. Nonetheless, I got to sleep in my own bed that night with our ginger cat purring by my side. That experience was priceless!
Life Lesson: When things go horribly wrong, try to focus on what you can be grateful for, rather than wallowing in your misery.