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U3A Writing: Much Worse Than Flu

“Soon I was chained to the bed by both arms which were attached to machines and drips…’’

When John Ricketts went to a clinic while on holiday in Spain, thinking he had flu, he was told more than he wished to hear.

I was not feeling well. I had had two very bad nights with quite vivid nightmares. I thought that I probably had flu so I went to the information desk at the hotel and asked if I could see a doctor. They told me that they advised residents to use the clinic in the middle of the town.

Calling a taxi I made my way there. I was surprised that everyone seemed to speak English. I filled in the forms they provided and went into the waiting room where there were people from many European nations, though Britons outnumbered the rest.

As soon as I sat down I found myself feeling better and decided that I was wasting the doctor’s time, but before I could leave I was called into the examination room. I told him that I was not feeling well and, after a brief examination he said he thought I might have a chest infection. Other tests followed.

Suddenly a group of four approached me and asked if I had had pains in my chest or back, and when I told them that I had they nodded and told me that I had had a heart attack, or maybe two. The next I know I was in a wheelchair being taken to the intensive care unit, undressed and put to bed with orders that I was not to move. Soon I was chained to the bed by both arms which were attached to machines and drips. All I could do was to lie there and look and listen to what was going on round me.

Just on the other side of an opaque glass screen was an old Scotsman who had lived in Spain for many years. While I was being examined I had heard the doctor telling his relatives that it would be useless to try and send him back to Scotland because he had only a few hours to live. He suggested that they kept him in the hotel where they would allow all his family to visit.

I doubt if he envisaged what actually happened. From the start of the evening they arrived in droves. The older ones spoke in broad Glaswegian, the middle group spoke in a mixture of Scottish and Spanish, while the grandchildren spoke only in Spanish. The old man himself spoke broad Scottish.

I think that someone must have smuggled in a bottle because after a while the old fellow talked about the Celtic teams he remembered in the past, and even sang a couple of verses of ‘Glasgow belongs to me’. The party went on until after two o’clock in the morning, and this in the intensive care ward. The next night was the same except that the old man died sometime after midnight.
My left arm was attached to a blood pressure machine which pumped itself up automatically every fifteen minutes and registered the results on a screen. The nurses came several times every hour to take blood, give me injections or medicines or to poke me to see if I was till with them

I had been in the I.C.U. for four days when I opened my eyes t see a fellow standing at the end of my bed. Someone I had not seen before.

“Oh you’re awake then,” he said in perfect English. My name is Señor Lucio. I’m the hospital accountant. I’m afraid that your insurance company has refused to pay for your stay here and they have told us to transfer you to a government hospital. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I nearly had another heart attack.

“How much is the bill up to now?” I asked in dismay. He opened the file which he had in his hand, used his calculator to work it out and said “Nine hundred thousand pesetas as a round figure.

I did a quick mental calculation and came up with the figure of four thousand pounds. Actually it is nearer three thousand six hundred.

“My credit limit on my Visa card is five thousand pounds so you had better make arrangements to move me.” Saying that he would do that he left me.

I lay back and thought for a few minutes and then I asked one of the nurses to fetch a doctor. When she arrived I told her what had happened and that I had decided that instead of going to the government hospital I would get a taxi back to my hotel where I would stay until it was time to travel home which was in four days time. She just refused to listen and said that I was not fit to be moved and that was that. It turned out to be a mistake and that the insurance company was prepared to pay for everything.

Eventually the cardiologist and told me he was going to move me out of the intensive care ward and into the recovery section, where, he said, I would be able to have a bit of peace and quiet. In the main section of the clinic there were about forty double rooms with en suite facilities. It was like a good hotel. Except for breakfast, which was poor, the food was better than at the 4 star hotel at which I had been staying, but with no choice.

The treatment in the clinic was very good, probably better than I would have received at home. I had dozens of X-rays and two ultrasound scans in which I could see my heart beating. I also had an angiogram where a wire is inserted into an artery and pushed round my body so that the cardiologist could see the blockages which caused the trouble.

They made a record on a disc of the angiogram which they gave me to bring back to the doctor’s here. When I gave it to the doctor at the infirmary he did not know what it was. When I told him he said that he’d never seen one before but he would ask a friend in Manchester how to use it. The doctor in Spain told me that I would need a double bypass operation and on the last Friday I was there he told me that if I agreed he would do the operation on the following Monday. As I wanted to get home I refused. Now I think that I might have been wiser to have it done then.

It had been many years since I was last in hospital and I had forgotten how undignified it is. The first morning I was in two hefty women appeared, pulled back the sheets and proceeded to give me a bed bath before changing the linen. I was too weak to protest. A couple of days later a fellow appeared and gave me a shave. It was deemed that I was too weak to do it myself. The next day a young girl appeared with razors and the rest for a shave but I soon discovered that it was not my chin this time.

After fifteen days in hospital the cardiologist decided I was fit to fly. The insurance company sent a doctor from England to look after me on the flight back. We were taken by ambulance to the airport where a flight for the two of us had been booked with Iberia. We were to travel business class.

I was taken, feeling a real fraud, straight through customs and immigration into the VIP lounge where we helped ourselves to refreshments which were all free. The doctor made a little parcel which he said would be for his supper.

When the flight was due we were paged and I was wheeled to the plane. We were the last on board. There were few in the business class and we had a choice of seats and a row of three for the two of us. As soon as we had taken off the stewardess came round with champagne, but my doctor would not let me have any and I had to content myself with orange juice.

During the flight we chatted and the doctor asked me about all the tests I had had. Cynically he suggested that I had so many because for each X-ray another fifty pounds would be added to the bill. I had brought a lot of notes with me which were all in Spanish. He translated them into English during the flight for the use of the Doctors here.

We arrived at Gatwick where we changed to a plane for Manchester. Someone had messed up and there were no two seats together, though they had been informed that we were doctor and patient. We insisted that they moved someone so that we could sit together. It was done with bad grace but it was done. At Manchester there was an ambulance waiting to take me to a hospital in Yorkshire.

So you see, that except for the interview with Señor Lucio I was very well treated. Though I wouldn’t advise anyone to be taken ill while abroad as it tends to spoil the holiday.

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