BUT I TOLD THEM TO WAIT FOR ME RIGHT HERE.
It was the summer of 2011. After a year of planning we were ready to leave for a Mediterranean cruise with my with my cousins and their families. It was going to be amazing. There were 14 of us. We would start in Barcelona and work our way thru France, Monaco, Italy and Sicily. We were so excited. We were taking three seniors with health issues but would be traveling with a doctor, dentist, podiatrist and a pharmacist. what could possibly go wrong? Right? Right?
The first stop was Monaco and a small Medieval village in France called Eze. We had two lightweight wheelchairs. One for Dad and one for my Aunt. The girls signed up for a wheelchair friendly tour with the seniors and the guys headed off to a tour about some car race that is held in Monaco. I had everyone totally organized. We had bottles of water, extra meds for the folks, Euros, Passports (hidden in our secret pouch under our shirts), snacks and even set up our cellphones to work in Europe. The sun was shining, I was surrounded by family and we were in the South of France. What could go wrong. Right? Right?
Eze was at the top of a small mountain The bus climbed the narrow roads and finally we pulled in to the edge of the village. It was exactly what you dreamed a village in the South of France would look like. Small cobblestone streets, fresh flower and vegetable stands, an amazing view and even a French man pulling his donkey down the street. Wow.
I pushed my Dad around town as much as I could but since the town was built on a mountaintop I couldn’t get them everywhere. We only had a half hour left on this stop, so I left my parents in the shade of a little cafe not far from the bus. I told them to stay there for a few minutes while I took a quick walk up the hill to see the view. I would only be about 10 minutes. Nobody move!
Paula, Jude and I hurried up to the top of the village. The view was beautiful. We checked out the souvenir stands and started back down the tiny street. I knew there was a bathroom in the cafe we had been in. I told Paula and Jude to head on down and I would be a few minutes behind them.
I hurried back down the street and saw a crowd of people gathered around something on the ground. Hey, where did my parents get to? And what is everyone looking at down at the bottom of those steps? Was that an ambulance pulling up? Paula and Jude were part of the crowd so I rushed over to them. It was Dad. He was on the ground at the bottom of the steps. He didn’t look good. French EMTs were working on him. Mom was crying. Jude was putting a sublingual nitroglycerin under Daddy tongue. My heart dropped. Shit. Shit. Shit.
From what I could figure out, the tour guide was starting to gather up the group and getting them to wander toward the bus. Daddy decided to get out of his wheelchair and push it ahead of him down these old granite steps leading out of the town. I don’t know if the momentum of the chair pulled him down or he lost his footing, but down the steps he went. A round little man in a grey suit pushed thru the crowd and started listening to Dad’s heart. I think he was trying to figure out if he had chest pain and it caused him to fall or he fell and it caused him to have chest pain. The doctor pulled Dad’s shirt open revealing his heart surgery scar. When he saw that, he motioned to the EMTs to put Daddy in the Ambulance.
At the same time the tour guide was telling Jolene, Paula and Jude that they HAD to get on the bus. They were going to leaving NOW. They HAD to go. The EMTs motioned to us that only one person could go with Daddy in the ambulance. Mom pushed me forward. Karri. You go, you will understand what’s happening. Before I could even answer, they pushed me into the ambulance and we were off. The ambulance did that European DOO-DAA-DOO-DAA thing. It pulled out of town and onto a narrow mountain road. I could see we had a police escort ahead of us. Daddy looked white and scared. I was trying to figure out where we were headed. The EMTs spoke just a few words of English. I was able to figure out that we were headed to a hospital in Nice. They somehow communicated to me that the hospital in Nice was large and they would speak English there. Oh, thank God.
Then the thought hit me like a brick. Where was Mommy? How would she ever know where we were? How would she get to us? And hey Dad? Does Mommy have her passport and any money? He looked even more pale if that was even possible. No, he said. I have her passport and all the money. Shit Shit Shit.
The ambulance sped along the mountain road. The EMTs were smiling and trying to tell me something. I couldn’t even think. I couldn’t believe I left Mommy behind with no money, no passport, in a tiny mountain village where no one speaks English.How would she ever find us?
And these EMTs kept trying to talking to me. What the heck were they trying to say? With a few words, lots of pointing and some sign language I realized they were trying to tell me that this was the road that Princess Grace went off of when she was killed. Thanks guys, that really helps. I kept trying to ask them if they knew where my mother was. They kept smiling and making a drive off the cliff motion with their hands. Shit. Shit. Shit.
The drive to Nice to about 30-40 minutes. I was so stressed it was hard to tell. We pulled into an old building’s courtyard. The building looked like a cross between an old castle and a prison. Shit. When I climbed out of the back of the ambulance I saw…….MOM! She said back in Eze she was crying so hard that a policeman put her in his car and drove her to the hospital. They were behind us the entire way. She kept telling him that her niece had put 3 nitroglycerin under his tongue and he was still having pain. She said her niece was a Dentist. The officer said, Yes we are going to Nice. Be there soon. Finally Mommy gave up and just cried full time.
They wheeled Daddy thru the swinging doors and we were motioned to take a seat. No one spoke English. The registrar called to me….in French. I handed over Daddy’s insurance card. They made a copy and handed it back. And thanked me…in French. Shit.
After an hour or an orderly came to get us …in French. They led us to Daddy’s cubicle. He was on a heart monitor and looked scared. He said they had taken blood, done X-Rays and started an IV. I asked if the staff spoke English. He said no, only French. Shit. Shit. Shit.
The day was flying by. I started to worry about how we would get back to the ship. How far were we even from the ship? What time would the ship leave for the next port? Would they let us get back on board if they knew we were at a hospital all day? Suppose it was his heart? Would we have to stay here? All our things were on the ship. Shit. Shit. Shit.
By this time Mommy had completely melted down. She was alternating crying and expressing total doom. I told he to take a double Ativan dose and settle down. I had to think. There was a pretty French lady who had brought her mother in right outside our room. She approached me and said she had been to America a few years ago. She had been to a city called Philadelphia. Did we need her help in translating? Oh, thank God!!! Yes, we very much needed her help.
She went to the nurse’s station and spoke to the team. She came back and told us that they were waiting for the test results to come back. I told her about the cruise ship and that we didn’t know how far away we were or how to get back there. Finally the doctors came over. Our new friend’s English was not great but we appreciated every word. What we got out of it was that Daddy had 4 breaks in 3 ribs. They said something vague about some shadows but we didn’t understand. They said he was going to be discharged soon. Oh, Thank God!!!
Our French friend told us she would help. Do not worry. She got on her cell phone and made a call. She was our Angel! We were released about 30 minutes later. When we reached the street there was a taxi-van waiting for us. The driver spoke ENGLISH! Our friend had called a taxi company, explained what happened and arranged for a van that could accommodate the wheelchair and a driver that spoke English. He knew our entire story and was happy to help us. Oh, Thank God!
The French lady had somehow found out when our ship was departing and told the taxi driver. He said we had plenty of time before the ship left. He felt bad that we didn’t get to see much of this beautiful area and decided he was going to take us on his own tour of Monaco and the French seaside. We told him it wasn’t necessary but he would not take no for an answer. He drove us around for about an hour an a half. He brought us right up to the door of the casino in Monaco and told us to peak in when the doors opened. He drove us all over and told us the history of each spot. He drove us past all the ship security and right up to the gangplank. We gave him a nice tip but he really didn’t want too take it. He felt bad that something bad had happened to Daddy in his country and wanted to make it right. What a kind man.
In the end, we all enjoyed the trip more than I can say. It was a special time and made our close family even closer. When we got home and checked in with our family doctor he did new X-Rays to see exactly what was going on. That’s how we found Daddy’s lung cancer so early. Daddy lived 4 years and that is a long time for lung cancer. I guess what seemed like a catastrophe at the time was really a gift.
One more thought. Travel whenever you can. Take your family. We never thought that would be Daddy’s last trip. The window of time for that part of my life has closed. Our lives were never the same after that. You just never know when that moment is coming. That turning point when everything changes. But we have those memories. Those adventures. Time shared with the people you love. Those are the things you CAN take with you.
Fun Facts about this Story:
1. The entire medical bill arrived a few months after we got home. In French. Total cost: $350.
2. The hospital in Nice had art on the ceilings for the patients lying down to enjoy.
3. Every French person we met was kind and helpful.
4. Jolene was crazy with worry about leaving us behind. Paula had to do everything she could to stop Jol from hijacking the bus and forcing it to go back for us.