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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.


At 3:23 PM, Blogger Gayle said...

Wow! I imagine anybody who had been through what you've been through would have their emotions laid bare!

What a terrible run around just trying to get Airline tickets. I think I would have been pulling my hair out just out of sheer frustration. You did good!

At 7:42 AM, Blogger Kathleen said...

Hats off to you for successfully navigating this nightmare! I began to feel queezy as I read this last installment. Just getting flights home took the collective brains and stamina of two highly competent and resourceful men. Can you imagine what a regular Joe would have experienced?

It's time for you to sit back in the lounge chair and rest as best you can. Time to take care of yourself and conserve your strength. Janet and your family need you to be well.

Be assured that you and Janet are in my prayers.

At 3:00 PM, Blogger Norma said...

I can see this was an ordeal, but you're well enough to write about it, so I'll just wait for the next installment for the "rest of the story."

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

So now how is everyone? How are you? Hows The Wife?

At 5:50 PM, Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

Saur, that's a fair question, and I should have answered it. Jan is doing very well, though she might not agree. In the three weeks we've been home she has graduated from walking (using a rolling walker that was mine back in the past)the length of the living room to a "mall walk" (still with the walker) of over twenty minutes last week. We go to water aerobics three times a week (I do water aerobics, thus far, she just walks up and down the pool and does some kicks but she exercises almost an hour this way. She is most frustrated by the way her hands shake, by some loss of hearing, and lapses of memory. She, like I, is becoming convinced that if we hadn't gone to Finland when we did that this might have happened in a place where she couldn't be saved. She said today, that her greatest joy is the way the children responded (I'll get into that in the blog). If there was any doubt how her children thought of her, the doubt is now dispelled. We had been planning (since June) a trip out to Washington State to see our son, his wife, and the grandchildren. We had made two timeshare reservations up in the mountains of northern Washington and were planning a stay. Alex(our youngest son) had even been installing a whole new bathroom so that we could avoid the stairs. We were informed by both her doctors here that the trip was out of the question. She might take a trip like that in March or April. It was a pretty big comedown for us and for the kids. She begins physical therapy to try to strengthen her left side (which was most affected by the stroke) next week. Three of our kids had planned a trip to Mississippi while we were out west. I think that they may continue that plan and we will have a very quiet Christmas (I doubt that we will even put up the tree). Her biggest frustration right now is that I can't keep the house as neat as she would like it, and she is unable to step in to do it herself. I am trying to repent and do better.
(this is my third try, I can't even do my own word verification)

At 4:30 PM, Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

12 08 06

Dear Richard:
Thanks for sharing your ordeal as well as giving us an update of your progress, Jan's progress and so forth. As I read the comments and posts, I was amazed at the support network that you guys had and the expertise of the Finnish doctors, barring the unprofessional wheelchair experiences;) I was also pleased at how clear minded you and your children were about this. It is so wonderful that Jan is recovering and given the timetable, quite rapidly! For Christmas, perhaps a relaxing time among some beautiful scenery may be exactly what you need:)

I have been off blogging lately because I have been dealing with the Alzheimer-like dementia of my mother in law and my father in law's inability to reconcile this fact with reality. I have spent the past few weeks going to doctors appointments and trying to get them BOTH to sign an advanced directive. The medical care that they have received is inadequate at best and revolves around this question: "Does it make sense for someone with dementia to self-report?"

The one thing that has been so bothersome is that everyone is far away and not all of the children are willing or able to help. The stress of all of this has been overwhelming.

In contrast, the response of your son and the clear headedness with which your affairs were handled in Finland show that you all have it together. If I don't visit your blog soon, I hope you and Jan and the rest of your family have a GREAT Christmas and New Year:)

At 2:47 PM, Blogger Kathleen said...

Dear Richard,

It is amazing and wonderful to hear of a family so close and united. Jan should be very proud and grateful. Her well-being is in good and loving hands. Something we would all wish for in our hour of need.

I will be thinking of you and your dear family this Christmas. It has reminded me once again that there is little we cannot overcome with the support of a loving family.

I hope you will rest and take it very easy this holiday. Don't be afraid to let your family know what you feel and what you need. It is a blessing to know the truth and to be needed.

If I don't speak to you again before the holiday ... Merry Christmas and may there be Peace on Earth.


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