Monday, March 25, 2013

3-24-13 through 3/25/13

OK, so an explanation is in order.  But first, sorry Mom, for freaking you out.

Let's pick up last night (3/23/13).  Michelle and I locked ourselves into the cabin and watched Life of Pi.  Since the clocks turned back, I figured I had time to go check email and use the computer.  I was surprised to see the passenger doc and the lead MO still up.  They were discussing a patient that was being disembarked the next day.  Since he had been seen initially while Miche and I were wandering Curacao, I really knew nothing about him.  So they give me a brief overview.  I don't need to know much because we arrive at 7 and I start first call at 8.  At most I will help see him off the ship.  He isn't even in the infirmary, so no watch.

This morning I come in to find a line at the door when I open.  Oh joy.  So I am running a fairly busy clinic and not paying too close attention to the machinations going on about the disembarking patient.  I hear bits and pieces.  Then the patient arrives with several family in tow.  Now they are none too pleased at the current turn of events.  I do my best placating.  The morning stretches on and I learn more.  Specifically that they are waiting for flights back to the US.  In a slow moment I peek my head into the office and take a taste of the full, scrambling battle between insurance, travel, cruise and medical. It wasn't pretty.  The argument settled around the need for a full chartered medical evacuation flight versus a commercial flight.  Since I had nothing worthwhile to add, I kept quiet and ducked back out.

It turned out that the compromise was perhaps a nurse escort.  There was a brief discussion about hiring one and sending them down to pick up the patient and family member.  This was tabled and I started to see squinty, sidelong glances in my direction.  There are still no tickets for flights since there has been some argument about what is going to happen.  At this point, the Captain and Staff Captain come in and close the office door.  The day is growing late and a decision must be made.  The Staff Captain emerges and says, "See you mate."  I am told to go pack a small bag as I will be escorting the patient to Miami. 

So I do.  Michelle is none to happy about this and frankly neither am I.  Doesn't really matter though.  So I pack and change clothes and go in and check on flights.  Nothing.  So, we wait.  I continue to try to run the clinic.  No information on flights.  It gets to 11:30 and still no flights.  I figure I have no idea when I am going to next get a chance to eat so I head up and eat on the Lido with Miche.  After food I head back down.  No flights.  It is past noon and the ship is scheduled to leave at 1.  Still no flights.  So, they hand me an envelope with some cash in it, the medical records of the patient and lead us off the ship.  We stood on the pier and watched the ship sail away.  Still no flights. 

Kind of a disconcerting feeling standing in a foreign country escorting a medical patient and spouse on their journey via a TBD mechanism.  There wasn't even a car on the pier to take us anywhere. We stood under a 5x5 foot awning for shade, well I stood in the sun, the patient was in a wheelchair.  Then four guys come with a cart to take the awning away.  Luckily they waited.  The port agent was there and eventually a car came.  We loaded up the luggage and drove through Cartagena with two junior port agents, the patient, his wife and me crammed into a Chevy Aveo or something of that nature.  The wheelchair was roped to the back of the car.  One of the agents mentioned the idea of going to a hotel to wait until we got flight information.  He asked us if we wanted an economy hotel and the wife grew apoplectic.  She started loudly stating she wanted a Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton.  I voted for a mid range hotel. Silly me. 

So they took us to a beachside resort and conference center with a gate guard and tall spiked fences.  When we were allowed in, we started speaking with the concierge type lady.  In order to stay, we would have to pay for one night at just under $400.  Well, they gave me $500 emergency cash.  I'm not staying.  I tell them that I think that is a little much to stay someplace cool for a few hours and suggest a frequent flyer club at the airport if they are members.  Nope.  Fixated on the hotel.  Eventually the concierge feels sorry for the wife and agrees to let us use a room until 9pm for $100.  The hourly rate I guess.  So we get the patient settled.

Then the port agent gets a phone call.   You see, his phone is the only one that works.  Mine is useless.  He hands me the phone and the lady on the other end is from the travel assistance company.  She says there are no flights for us until tomorrow.  We will have to overnight.  We still don't have tickets for tomorrow.  Looking at my cash, there is no way I can stay the night at this hotel so I tell the patient and his wife.  She states there is no way she is moving him again and proceeded to go on a rant which I don't feel comfortable repeating here.  Suffice it to say that I chose to find my own place elsewhere.  Luckily the port agents were there for me.  They took me to a hotel a few miles away where the company has an account.  It isn't a five star beach resort, but it was nice by my meager standards.  And, it was directly billed.  I get to hold on to my finite cash reserve.  Now that I am safe in the hotel I spread out my, hastily packed things to get to my book and my touchpad so I can connect to the world and then I have something to read while I take a nice relaxing bath.  Well, the drain wouldn't close so I got to connect anyway.  I get a phone call from the travel assistance company.  They have arranged a flight for me back to Costa Rica after I get to Miami.  Still no flight to Miami.  Frustrated and hungry, it is getting late.  I head out in search of food. Since I am away from the tourist areas, I take just a little bit of money out, change it over to Pesos and head out for some cheap eats at a sidewalk cafĂ©.  I didn't want to walk around with a bunch of cash in a foreign country. It actually turned out pretty nice.  Just watching Cartagena pass by.

Then back to bed.  I get an email that tells me the patient and his wife have tickets.  They are working on mine.  They will be by to pick me up early 0700.  I set my alarm for 0600 and hit the rack.

The alarm rings after a somewhat restless night of sleep.  I get up, pack and head down for breakfast.  With nobody at the desk, I leave my key on the counter tucked back where it isn't obvious and head outside where the port agent drives up.  We are off. 

Over at the posh resort we pick up the patient and wife and get them loaded.  Then off to the airport.  Once there, the port agents talk to someone and get us up to the head of the line.  Did I mention how awesome these two young men were?  I will.  So, standing in line, I do a pocket check.  Passport, wallet, phone, cash?  Cash?   Oh Caaaasssh?  There is no white envelope in my pocket.  I can't recall what I did with it? Did I leave it at the hotel?  A quick search on the outer pockets of my backpack reveal no cash.  So I grab a port agent and try to tell him what I think has happened, he doesn't seem to understand.  In a moment, his friend shows up and he speaks much better English.  He gets it.  About this time, we get a call from the travel assistance company saying that if my ticket doesn't go through, I will just stay in Cartagena and the patient and wife will go on alone.  So, I will be in Cartagena with no cash.  No to mention probably owing my employer a tidy sum. 

The airport gate agent prints three boarding passes.  Apparently my ticket came through.  She also states that we have to visit the clinic so that the airport doctor can certify that the patient is able to fly.  That gives me a few minutes.  So the port agent and I run out to the car and speed through Cartagena back to the hotel where I stayed.  Nobody else seemed to notice the speeding.  The traffic rules were similar to those in Athens.  More like suggestions.  We get to the hotel and I explain what happened to the clerk.  She looks up the room and says, "I'm sorry sir, that room is already occupied."  WTF?  I only left about 90 minutes ago.  My heart sank.  I hadn't really been expecting to get the money back, but I had hoped.  I ask her to check again, and this time give her my name.  She sees that it is occupied by me.  Since I hadn't officially checked out this morning, the room was still occupied.  She prints me another key and I head up.  I open the room and find the bed still unmade and my towels right where I left them.  And no white envelope anywhere to be seen.  I search everywhere I can think of.  Then I pour out the contents of my backpack on the bed.  There, tucked in deep where I wouldn't lose it, was the white envelope.  This time all the cash goes into my wallet.  I am used to keeping track of my wallet, not a white envelope.  Travel lesson learned. 

I run down and get in the car.  We dash back to the airport while the port agent looks at me like I am an idiot.  It was OK because, for the moment, I was.  Back at the airport I use my broken Spanish to find my way to the patient in the doctor's clinic (Sanidad in Cartagena) while the port agent parks the car.  At this point they wheel us over to Customs and leave us for a moment while they finish some paperwork.  We wait.  I formulate a plan for the port agents to keep the wheelchair and store it at the port so the ship can pick it up.  I mean, the airports will have wheelchairs and it isn't really a carry on item anyway.  That would also keep me from having to check it back and then lug it around Costa Rica.  Yeah, that didn't work.  They came back and wheeled us through customs via the back way because of the medical issue.  The port agents can't come any farther and we now gate check the wheelchair right before we have to climb up the ladder leading up to the plane.  It was somewhat difficult to get the patient up, but we managed.  After that it was a business class flight to Panama.  I will try to continue the story from there tomorrow.  I'm tired tonight and this is wayyyyy too long already.