Saturday, March 30, 2013



Woke up in my own bed, with my family.   I had good coffee in my pajamas from my own cup.

Life is good. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Where were we? 

Put off on the pier in Cartagena, stressful. 
No tickets today, no bueno.
Luxury resort, but not for our intrepid explorer.
Dinner break...ahhhh.
Up again and off..lost cash, AHHHHHHH!
Found cash, never really lost.  Duh.
Back to the airport, on the plane.  Business class. 

And back to the action after this completely unrelated tangent.

Have you ever traveled with someone who is so annoying that you would rather stuff them in their luggage and ride next to a large pile of their soiled clothing?  Me neither.

So, back to the plane.  We get Mr. Patient up the stairs, under his own power mind you, and tucked into his seat, swaddled in blankets and pillows.  He seems like a nice guy who is more than a little embarrassed by this whole escapade.  Mrs. Patient sits down next to him and I am in front of him.  I strike up a conversation with the gentleman sitting next to me who happens to be from Freeport, TX and in Colombia on business.  Nice guy.  He compliments me on my Spanish as he heard me talking to the stewardess and gate agent.  It is certainly getting better.  Since this guy lived in Mexico for 11 years, I am pretty happy. 

When we land in Panama, we wait for everyone else to get off and then find a wheelchair waiting at the jetway.  Luckily it wasn't another rolling staircase.  We wheel up and get a guided trip through the airport to the gate for our next flight.  Of course, we have to go through security, but the AA agent gets us to the head of the line and we are the first through.  Mrs. Patient is becoming agitated that no one speaks English and she is demanding a bottle of water for her husband.  He just flew business class with a nice lunch and beverages, I think he can wait for a moment.  Well, she doesn't seem to like my lack of activity on their behalf.  So, she ducks under the roped off area and goes into the nearby luxury travelers club.  They don't give her anything as she is not a luxury travel club member.  So she reappears, cuts through the line of people waiting to go through security, ducks back under the ropes and rejoins us to begin pleading with me to get him some water.  Mr. Patient has not asked for water. 

Of course the gate agent watched her do all of this.  Of course she comes storming over and starts asking me in rapid fire Spanish just what the hell is going on.  I am starting to see a small problem developing.  I try to explain to Mrs. Patient what the agent is saying.  Mrs Patient takes it upon herself to start defending her actions by loudly stating in English that she had already been through security once and she doesn't need to go again.  The agent looked at me to translate.  I caved.  "No habla."  The agent storms off and I try to explain to Mrs. Patient what the breach was and the gate agent returns with a large security guard.  To my relief, she has only brought him over to translate.  Eventually, to avoid a confrontation, he allows us to stay under the agreement that we won't be doing that again. 

At this point another gate agent appears with the boarding passes for Mr. and Mrs. Patient.  Of course, there isn't one for me.  I am starting to mentally figure out what I am going to do when I have to stay the night in Panama.  Of course my phone doesn't work.  Luckily, it was only a small delay.  I got my pass and we were quickly led onto the plane.  Again, business class.  By this point Mrs.Patient is livid.  There were actually too many transgressions to name here.  Buy me a drink some time and I will try to list them. 

The flight to Miami was uneventful.  About halfway, I asked the attendant if they could call ahead and arrange for an ambulance to meet us as I was told to do.  He said they could and would. 

When we arrive, there is no ambulance.  There is no wheelchair.  We have to wait.  Apparently Panama people didn't call ahead to get a wheelchair arranged.  Apoplexy is too mild a word for Mrs. Patient's response.  Eventually, a poor harried man arrives with a wheelchair, for another person who was on the same flight.  He has to return for Mr.Patient.  When we eventually get up the jetway, we find the wheelchair man has a full cart of people and will have to come back to take us to Customs.  So we wait.  Meanwhile, the Patients are busily working the phone and telling everyone who they can find that they can not, will not, won't not stay in Miami and insist they be allowed to fly home to Boston.  I tell her that it isn't my call.  I am just to get them to the ambulance here in Miami.  Much discontent ensues. 

Eventually, the cart guy comes back and the Patients get on, resigned to their hospital visit in Miami.  We get to the customs area and are wheeled to the head of the line again.  Thanks to a few very nice customs agents, we are through the line and off.  The Customs and gate agents all recommend that I put them in a large taxi to get them to a hospital as the response time to the airport can be quite long and they likely won't take them to the Ft.Lauderdale hospital.  Ft. Lauderdale, Mrs. Patient exclaims, why are we in Miami when we are supposed to be at a hospital in Ft.Lauderdale.  Good question, I assume that it was the best that could be done on short notice and tell her so.  She isn't buying it.  So, we collect their luggage and proceed to the taxi area where I get them on a large taxi to the hospital. 


Then I take the wheelchair from the ship that we picked up in baggage claim and trundle it back to the check in counter to get my ticket back to Costa Rica.  The ticket agent takes a look at my passport, my itinerary and asks me what countries I have been in over the past 6 days.  I list off, Aruba, Curacao, Colombia, Panama.  He asks me if I have my yellow fever vaccination card.  I state that I don't and he tells me that I am not going to Costa Rica as that a yellow fever vaccination card is required for anyone who has been in Colombia within ten days prior to entry. 

Well, then.  I call the travel assistance company from my now working cell phone and they get to work.  So I went out by the curb, sat in my wheelchair and waited.  Eventually I found that I would be in Florida until the ship returns.  Which is where I remain as I type this.  I have switched hotels, but that is another story. 

I would like to state, for the record, that I think my company did well by me and by the patients.  Considering what needed to be done and the time frame involved, I think they did fine.  Now, there are a few other things I have problems with, but I'll tell you about them when you buy me that drink.

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.