27 April 2011

My left foot

Geoff and I at Lone Pine Memorial,
Three years ago today I was in Istanbul, Turkey, with my friend Geoff. A couple of days earlier, we had been through the incredibly humbling experience of spending Anzac Day at Gallipoli, and the following day we were due to catch the train to Athens to continue our holiday (we’d planned two weeks in Greece and two in Italy). So, we were enjoying our last day in Istanbul – we'd shopped and seen the sights and walked for miles. We enjoyed a delicious seafood dinner at Hamdi Restaurant, overlooking the Bosphorus, then went to a little bar not far from the Blue Mosque to meet some friends for a farewell drink.

We were having a great time, the chat was good and there was plenty of laughter until … when I was returning from the toilet, down a very old, step flight of stairs, I lost my footing, slipped down the steps and broke my left ankle!

It wasn’t a dramatic head-over-heels fall – I just slid down about 10 steps, landing on my bum. I didn’t even realise I was hurt until the bar manager came over to ask if I was okay and I looked down at my feet. My left foot was turned sideways, facing in entirely the wrong direction!

Within 15 minutes an ambulance had arrived and the female paramedic managed, very carefully and caringly, to remove the boot from my foot. It looked pretty horrible! Nothing dramatic like oozing blood or bones sticking through the skin – it was just the angle my foot was pointing in.

Within 30 minutes I had had my first ever ride in an ambulance, complete with lights flashing and siren blaring, and was lying in the Accident and Emergency Department of the German Hospital. Incredibly, for midnight on a Sunday night, an orthopaedic surgeon was waiting, ready to treat me – once he had talked to my travel insurers back in New Zealand to confirm they would pay the bill, that is.

Now comes the horrible bit! If you’re at all squeamish, don’t read this paragraph. In broken English, the surgeon explained that he needed to straighten my foot as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the tendons, ligaments, whatever. A nurse gave me a shot of morphine but they didn’t wait for it to take effect. While two nurses and two orderlies held me down, the surgeon pulled and twisted my foot back into its correct position. I screamed, then cried with the pain, but it was over very quickly.

I was wheeled off to the most luxurious hospital room I have ever seen (see pictures). Not that I was really paying attention by that stage. The morphine was taking effect – and was continued via a drip during the night – and I soon drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, x-rays were taken and that afternoon the surgeon operated on my ankle. It turns out I had broken the bones on both sides of my ankle, and I now have some flashy titanium hardware, a plate and eight screws on one side and pins on the other. I spent five nights in hospital, then flew home – my first time in business class! – to recover.

At Istanbul airport, waiting to head home
It’s at times like these that you learn some important truths – for me these were the importance of travel insurance and the value of good friends.

I received first-class health care in that Istanbul hospital, both Geoff and I were flown home business class and he was then flown back to continue his holiday, our expenses in Turkey and New Zealand were covered and, six months later, I flew back to Turkey to continue my holiday – all paid for by my travel insurance. I had paid about $200 but the total cost to my insurance company was just over $50,000.

And, as for my wonderful friend Geoff, I can’t praise him highly enough. He liaised with the insurance and hospital people on my behalf, he interrupted his holiday to help me return home, he even gave me an injection in the stomach just before my flight home – I needed some meds to thin my blood and there was no nurse or doctor at the hotel we stayed at on our last night in Turkey. Geoff was the best of friends during that difficult time.