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Three score and ten or more

Thursday, November 30, 2006

November 28 Just past Thanksgiving

November 28, Just past thanksgiving

The title is intentional, at this moment, I am just past Thanksgiving;  not finished with it, but just past the holiday.  I still haven’t been able to figure out how to tell about the time in Helsinki.  When I start, it goes into the book phase, much too long for a post, and too short, and personal, to really publish.  One of my sons says, “Just write it all and you can go back and edit it later.”  It is probably a good idea.  What I am going to do today is to tell you a little about the trip home.

I wrote a “daily dispatch” Email to the members of both my family and Janet’s family while she was recovering.  In that, I mentioned that the surgeon, soon after the surgery, stated that the earliest possible time for us to return to the states was November 3.  Being a pessimist, I immediately went to Finnair, the local representative of British Airlines (where we had return tickets) and asked for those tickets (originally scheduled for Saturday, October 6) to be postponed to November 6, assuming a few days of glitch.  They were glad to take my hundred bucks and make new reservations.  As the hospitalization went on, we were  presented with several other options.  The hospital representative stated that there might be three possibilities for transit home: 1. A hospital flight (leased, rented, or possible donated by a major corporation).  2. A stretcher flight on  a regular commercial airline, which would probably require the services of a nurse for the trip, and which, according to the Finnair representative would cost as much as three business or first class tickets, or about 9000 Euros. 3.  The outside possibility that she might be healed enough to make the flight in a wheelchair (Not actually fly in a wheelchair, but transported in all the airline  processes in a wheelchair) .  For much of the time she was hospitalized there were different organizations  (the U.S. consulate, the Insurance representative of my University, several of the doctors on the staff, especially Dr. Kaarne, the surgeon, and, I discovered later, some folks from my church.) trying to arrange for some kind of hospital flight, or at least some insurance payment if we traveled with her as a stretcher patient. As November 6 approached, I was informed by the airline that: 1. If she traveled by stretcher, the airline must be notified at least 7 days in advance, and if there was to be a change in schedule the airline must be notified 7 days in advance to make changes in arrangements.

After I had informed the doctor of this deadline, a “meeting time” on October 30 (how convenient was the implied relationship to Halloween) was established where I would meet with one or more of the doctors and a decision would be made about timing for departure.  It ended up being a meeting with only Dr. Kaarne who stated that Janet was making so much progress that it seemed unlikely that she would have to travel as a stretcher patient, but that he didn’t really believe that she would be ready to travel by November 6, so I was asked to change my reservations to November 13.  I went immediately to the airport and changed the reservations.  On looking at the reservations I had one concern.  We were scheduled to fly into Heathrow airport and depart for Atlanta through Gatwick.  We had about two and a half hours to make that transfer.  I expressed some concern to the ticket agent about making the transfer on time, and she stated that she would “look into it”. It was now time to notify my family of the situation and the changes.
My youngest son, Alex, whose work at Sharp Electronics takes him to Japan and India rather frequently had made arrangements to take off work for a week and come to Finland to help us make it home.  My first task was to Email him our flight schedule so that he could get tickets on the same flights.  I did so, and received a reply on the same day that he tried to get those tickets through British Airways and was notified that these flights were not legitimate connecting flights.  To travel with us from Helsinki to Heathrow and from Gatwick to Atlanta he would have to  procure separate tickets for each of the legs of the trip (meaning big bucks- he did make a reservation anyway).  He had been told by British Airways that there was a continuing flight from Heathrow to Chicago, and a connection from Chicago to Atlanta, and that these were all legitimate connections.  Feeling an immediate sense of alarm, I hied my porcine old body back to the ticket agent at Helsinki/Vantaa airport, where, after a lot of discussion that expended most of my remaining Finnish and a lot of the ticket agent’s English I found a recommendation that if I planned to fly to Britain with my reservations, I should change them again so that I stayed the night in London because there was no way in Old Billy Hell that I was going to make that connection in two and one half hours.

This began a period of negotiation between myself, my ticket agent, her supervisor and someone in London who was obviously speaking English.  I finally  changed both my reservation and Alex’s outward reservation to “the same flight to Heathrow,  changing planes in Heathrow (which ended up being almost as much hassle as trying to change airports—Whoever designed Heathrow must have either eaten a couple of funny mushrooms before he did it, or have a really wicked sense of humor), for a flight to Chicago, then changing planes in Chicago (another couple of airport hours) to fly home to Atlanta.”  It would cost me about ninety Euros in addition to the hundred bucks I already owed them, so I pulled out my trusty credit card, but the agent suggested that I wait until the departure date, in cast I had to make more changes.  It was going to cost Alex about twenty seven hundred dollars (about twice what the same flight would have cost had we made the arrangement a couple of weeks earlier, and several times what we paid for the original reservations.)  I went home to inform Alex of how much of his money I had commited to the project, and when I brought up my email, I had a message from him that he had located a flight from Helsinki to Stuttgart then from Stuttgart to Atlanta that would cost a total of three thousand dollars for the three of us, but as I contacted him and Finnair and heaven knows who else I discovered that he had reacted to an Email sent to him be the airport and had already purchased the ticket, so that was moot.  At this point, I went to the corner of the room, sat quietly in the corner for awhile and sucked my thumb.  (I think it was my thumb though, it could have been a bar of  Finland’s Fazer Blue Chocolate, which is, I am certain the best chocolate in the world.  I have done side by side comparisons with Lindt, Marabou, and a few others, and I am convinced it is the best.  You also know, at this time, why, in spite of all the stress, I didn’t lose a pound during this Finland jaunt).  

I then went back to the Hospital and told Janet that we had reservations to leave for home on November 13 instead of November 6, and she was so angry  she could hardly stand it.  “Why can that doctor make decisions about when I go home?  Why don’t you just bring me some clothes and we will get out of here?”  Back to sucking the thumb (or whatever.)! But it was October 30, and I had a real sense that we would be on the plane November 13.

Alex arrived on Sunday November  5, and we had a number of adventures with him and his mother.  She had improved so much and had more or less accepted the fact that we probably wouldn’t get out of the hospital till our departure day, Nov. 13.  The Doctor did come in and give her a very thorough exam on Wednesday, October 8, but when Janet all but pleaded with him to let her out of the hospital early he just shook his head.  That afternoon, I called him (how many doctors give you their cell phone numbers?) and pointed out that the plane departed at 7:40 and that I would have to get her out of the hospital at about 4:00 A.M. to get to the airport, turn in my car, and get to the flight on time. “Who”, I asked “Would be there to check her out?”  

“Well,” he replied, “That is a bit early, but I could get the charge nurse to come in and do the check out on Sunday if you wish.  If you don’t want to do it on Sunday, maybe you could just come check her out on Friday, that way it wouldn’t create any problems for the staff.”  The he chuckled.  While he was chuckling I danced down the hospital hall to tell Alex and Jan that she would get out for the whole weekend before her departure.  When I told her, I am not sure which emotion was strongest, joy that she only had two nights to go in the hospital, or irritation that the doctor didn’t tell her when he examined her that morning.  Joy won out, I think.  After that, everything was logistics.  In the first place, Alex and I were sharing a room in the home of the Stromberg home (another family from our church that just shifted their lives to take care of us).  It was a small bedroom, and I wasn’t really sure that they would have a place for Janet.  In the second, I knew that Jan couldn’t walk very far, and that I would have to get a wheelchair for her.  There was a third and a fourth and probably even a fifth logistical thing but these were primary.  

The Strombergs quickly made up a hide-a-bed in their room for Alex so that Jan and I could be together.  When I asked the Doctor where I could rent a wheel chair, he frowned.  We don’t do that here.  I will make an arrangement so that you can borrow one from the county Social Services office.  One of the next things was to arrange a plastic chair to go into the shower at the Strombergs (There is no way Jan could have stood under the shower to bathe.) And there were a dozen other things like sorting her clothing and making sure she had clean clothes to wear and stuff like that.  We took a clean outfit into the  hospital so that it would be there in plenty of time, gassed up the rental car so that I wouldn’t have to buy a lot of even more expensive gas on departure day and so forth.

When we arrived at the hospital at about 8:30 Friday morning Jan was all dressed in her civilian clothing sitting in a chair and tapping her foot impatiently.  “The Doctor has already been here, checked me out and gone to a staff meeting.  If you had been here when he was here, we might be on our way by now.” (I discovered later, that she had put on her “civies” the night before and worn them to bed.  Talk about impatient.)  I discovered that we weren’t going to get away all that early, though the hospital staff brought breakfast for her and for Alex and myself.  The doctor had to finish an English language summary of all her treatment.  The nurses had to go into the pharmacy and get a week’s worth of medications (in envelopes labeled Monday 8:00 A. M, Monday 1:00 P.M and so forth.  (Three envelopes for each day for a week to get us home).  We moved out into the day room where they had comfortable chairs and impatiently waited.  Finally at about 11:30 A.M. everything was complete.  The doctor came into the room, shook my hand and gave me a one inch thick envelope of papers that were copies of her charts along with diagrams of each surgery and an English language summary.  The nurse came in with all the envelopes of pills, labeled and in order, then they said good bye, turned around and left.

Now everyone who has been in a U.S. hospital knows that the next step is that some nurse comes in with a wheelchair, plops the patient in it and takes everyone downstairs to the door.  Not in Finland.  We sat there for awhile, no one came, so I went out and asked how we got downstairs.  One of the nurses smiled and said “Right out there, take the elevator to the third floor (the main floor) and away you go.”  When I asked about borrowing a wheelchair to take her out, a nurse said that everytime one of their wheelchairs goes downstairs with a departing patient, someone from another ward, generally orthopedics, steals it and it takes weeks to get it back.  “Go down to the cloakroom in the lobby, and the check girl will show you where you can get a wheelchair.”  I did, she did and I made my way upstairs with a wheelchair that was the wheelchair equivalent  of a car recently used in a demolition derby.  It took all I could do to wheel the thing empty, and once Jan got in it, I wasn’t sure it would make it to the elevator.  I finally got her out the door and to the car just as the coat check girl came to make sure I wasn’t stealing it.  It was really strange.  Up to that moment, everything in the hospital had been caring, efficient, really impressive, but I guess once you are checked out, you are checked out.  The silly thing is, that following Dr. Kaarne’s instructions my “landlord, or host” and I had checked out a brand new wheelchair the previous day, but I hadn’t thought to bring it to the hospital based on my “American” experience.

Well, the next installment will discuss our three days of freedom in Helsinki, the one following will take up the “trip” itself.  If I have your interest (again, still, or yet) you can drop in and see what’s going on.  I have read most of the blogs I always do, but have been very sparse with commentary.  My emotions are still a little too laid bare.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I have been trying to write a post about the last month here in Finland, and I haven't quite wrapped my head around it. There was so much pain, but there were so many really wonderful experiences. At any rate, Janet will be released from the hospital Friday the 10th and we will go home on August 13. Thank you for the many personal notes and the comments on the blog.

I am even trying to catch up with my blog reading. I don't have a lot of time on line.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Pictures blogger wouldn't let me send with the prevous post. Above is the reindeer meat booth
Open air furrier, from reindeer skins to ermine and silver fox.
Below are folks with a boat selling herring

Above left, kalakukko wrapped in foil

Here we have salmon loaves, observe the filets baked in side a bread loaf.

MONDAY October 2.
This was one of the best days I can imagine. We began with what has become our “regular” kaurapurro with raisins, and this time I used chopped walnuts and a little honey for a middle eastern approach. Add a little fresh sour rye bread, good Finnish butter (there IS a difference) and some new cheese I found that probably is a derivative of havarti but with a slightly milder flavor. We dressed in rather dressy casual, since we planned to go into the temple openhouse but weren’t sure if there was a dress suggestion.
We took a new road into Helsinki, stopping for just a moment or two at McDonalds for a one Euro strawberry ice cream sundae (we felt an obligation to have something fattening.) The road into Helsinki was curvy and a little more scenic, though we were in a season where, if you look, everything is scenic. We passed rocky little bays in the Gulf of Finland, crossed the odd stream, saw a lot of evidence in the highway cut-aways and even in a granite hill or two of the granite slab theory of Finnish geography. The leaves were still trying to turn yellow, red, orange, and brown. Not having already seen where the highway would end, we just followed the signs that said “Keskusta/ Center and ended up pretty close to the center of town. It was a trip that took a little more time since the speed limit was eighty k per mile where the limits on E18 range from one to one hundred twenty k per mile. We saw some of the docks and shipping centers then came to a Tori (market square) called the Hakaniemi tori. We got out and wandered a bit, but it was Monday and it is not one of the great days for the tori. We finally went into the Kaupa tori (Indoor market) and shopped for more Finnish bread and cheese. For a country that makes some of the best cheeses in the world, we have found that a lot of the cheese in the stores is like rubber. I asked the lady in the cheese shop if they had some butter cheese (a wonderful soft porous sweet cheese that was a family favorite forty years ago. She held up a package of Philadelphia cream cheese, and I groaned.. I asked then for Havarti cheese, which is a little like a harder butter cheese. She sneered “The Danes make Havarti cheese from goats milk for heaven sakes, you want goat cheese. Oh well, we found some really good bread then later, on a trip to a monster mall, we found some Turun cream cheese ( nothing like Philadelphia and exactly what we wanted- though we hoped for some cheaper stuff of the same quality. Getting back in the car, we headed for the Tori on the sea front, near the docks. It was busy and exciting. They were having a herring festival so boats were pulled up to the edge of the tori and were selling pickled and fresh herring out of the backs of the boats. There were many booths wish real furs hanging; furs ranging from ermine and silver fox to reindeer hides.
We had a Liha Pirakka (like an unsweetened, large filled donut with meat filling) from one of the food booths which was good but didn’t touch our memories of the same thing. Maybe nothing ever matches one’s memories of forty years in the past.
We the walked down the row of boats from which they were selling fish. I had to look and smell and laugh, but Janet doesn’t like fish at all, and she especially doesn’t like the smell of fish. The topper however was when we came to the booths selling kalakukko.. Kalakukko needs its own explanation. The name means fish cake, or fish loaf. (actually fish flower) There are at least two kinds. In one, bread dough is formed around four or five filets of salmon. When all the fish is covered, it is baked, then when served it is served in heated slices (I actually like this kind, which the people at the tori this time called Lohi kukko which would translate to “salmon loaf”or “salmon cake”. The real kalakukko is made by forming a loaf around a whole bunch of little bitty fish. I don’t know whether they are smelt, sardines, or herrings but they are mounted in the loaf whole, so that when you cut into the loaf their little bitty eyes are staring at you, you can feel the teeny bones on your teeth, and if that doesn’t repel you, then you are a Finn. A Finnish doctor told me, many years ago, that there are a number of Finnish recipes that leave the bones in because the Finnish soil lacks calcium, and eating fish bones helps. For a country that produces all kinds of dairy stuff, the explanation doesn’t quite make it for me.
Any way we walked past booths with Lohi kukko, regular kalakukko cut in half so the you could see the helpless minnows in their cooked state, and other kalkukko wraped in foil so that you could talk them home and cook them. I can hardly tell you how swiftly Janet walked down the rows, smiling, at last to come out where man was demonstrating his hand made knives, or leukos. You can see by the pictures (if blogger is kind) the boats, the booths with kalakukko (the aluminum wrapped ones and the lohi kukko which looks like loaves of brown bread with large spots on the sliced end. We had a pleasant time at the tori, made resolutions to go to Stockman’s Department store tomorrow (Stockman’s was identified as the largest department store in the world in the sixties. There is a saying, Helsinki is the capitol of Finland, and Stockman’s is the capitol of Helsinki) but it was well past mid day so we determined to go back to the temple site and go through the open house (It is a fact that over 50,000 people went through the open house. There are five million Finns. That is an enormous percentage). When we got to the site, we were informed that we would have to back-track down the highway to a sports stadium where they provided shuttle busses. Just then, a car left the main parking lot and we were able to slip in. For marginal walkers this was a blessing. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the openhouse, but it was a beautiful day, the temple is lovely both within and without, and much of the wonderful furniture was hand made here in Finland. The exterior is polished granite, and in it, you can see the reflection of the birch trees across the street. We left the place with very full emotions. I had hoped to meet some people who were in Finland fifty years ago, but I failed.
We then left for Porvoo and Isnas where our cabin was. We took one of the circuitous routes from Helsinki to Porvoo seeing a wide variety of country views. The granite slab story of Finland was made clear with every highway cut, and in fact we saw one house built on top of what seemed like an impossible enormous granite mound that looked like the biggest cowpie in the world. ( If you don’t know, don’t ask) .
Part of the road we traveled was part of what is called the King’s highway, that stretches across the southern tip of Finland from edge to edge. It is called the kings highway because it was the route taken by the kings of Sweden and the Czars of Russia to travel across Finland, with secure villages or miniature castles spread along the road, each a normal day’s travel apart..
When we arrived at our cottage, we were elated with everything that had happened that day. We added a little sausage to our usual meal of bread, cheese, lingonberry jam, then went into the Sauna, and then to bed. There was nothing in that day that might have indicated that at about 2:10 the next morning our world would seem to fall apart.