Tulane Law School In Greece (A Special Memory)

Letter A - Appendectomy

In Memory of Steven D. Carby

July 30, 1966- May 26, 2017

 

Getting Sick on the Greek Island Spetses: A Tiny Island With No Cars. Steve and I Didn't Speak Greek and No One at the Hospital Spoke English


     Steve, my boyfriend at the time, later became my husband ... not just once, but a couple of times. My mom loved to tease him. Every time he did something she didn't like or whenever they argued, (I need to preface this with Steve's personality. He avoided conflict like an STD), and everyone, including and especially Steve avoided conflict with Barbara Sugar. She messed with him ... teased him, and she would say something like ...

     "Well, you're the idiot who keeps marrying her." "You must like misery, Both of you. Can't get enough of each other. Did Ya'll even make it all the way down the courthouse steps after the last divorce before you ran back up and got the judge to waive the three day requirement and marry you again on the same day?" It's a sickness you two have." 

     But she meant it all in good fun. She truly loved and adored her son-in-law. She loved him while we were married, separated and divorced. She loved him when he moved to another state. She sent him care packages during our first divorce, it was only a couple years. She and my sisters traveled to visit him. My entire family loved him. He remained family throughout the divorces.

     I mentioned to many of you last April that I was planning on writing short memoir essays for my A -Z Theme for Lee's Annual A to Z Challenge.



     Quite a deviation from my usual Crime Fiction Theme - A to Z, but knowing that my children's father was extremely ill with cancer I wanted to share some funny and poignant stories so they would always have them. Maybe not in April, but one day. But ... it didn't work out. Steve's health declined much quicker than we anticipated. We spent the next month and a half getting the one kid ready to graduate and off to college and basically preparing our kids for their dad's death. It came in May.


I'll shut up and just share my stories.


     "My stomach is killing me. I need a doctor." 
     "How the hell do I get a doctor?" Steve answered. "We're on a remote island, in Greece. No cars." He flung his hands into mid air. They stopped next to his ears with a pronounced chop "Shall I ring for a horse and buggy?" His face fell with heaviness into his tense hands and he massaged the pressure with his middle and index finger pads. "Toughen up."

     He ruffled my hair. A feeble, but meaningful attempt. He didn't know how to comfort me.
Stretching my cheeks into a smile for him tightened my stomach muscles and I doubled over grabbing the bed side table for balance. Please god don't make me cry in front of this boy. But how much longer could I hold it in. This wasn't like my period pain or any other pain or cramps I'd suffered. Every intuition and every spark of my brain told me I needed urgent and critical help. But, I really liked this guy.

     We'd only been dating for one semester of law school when we embarked on this surreal trip. It started out as far- fetched as all of our other dreams and fantasies A group of ten or so law students sitting in one of our apartments talking 'bout traveling to Ireland or Australia or well yea ... who knows. So we had this giant cork board and we planned and we mapped and we started with ten in our group. Ireland, Scotland, Paris,all the good catholic boys voted for Ireland. Ya'll remember that, Marty, Matty?

     Me ... I didn't care. I just wanted to go. And I wanted to go where he was going. He ... being Steve. The amazingly good looking kid in my living room, with way too long hair. The guy I pretended I didn't like. The dude I tried to convince my sister, who was so in love with him, oh gawd she had the hots for him, and I pretended that I hadn't even noticed him.

     I said, "Who him?" As I casually glanced around Ricks Tavern in East Lansing Michigan.
     "Yea." Ash repeated. "The really hot one that can't take his eyes off you."
     "Oh, I don't know.  I don't even think he's good looking. Do you?"

     Who are you kidding girl? Me, I guess, because the boy who pretended not to notice me and the dude I pretended wasn't cute ... well ... we just happen to end up walking out of the bar at the exact same time that night and we literally fell into each other and began kissing.
Not just kissing. I mean going at it. You remember making out?

     Now for those of you unfamiliar with E.Lansing, it's very freezing cold. We landed in the bushes, rolled around a little. Every time we stood back up, we kissed some more and fell back over. Still not exactly sure how we ever made it safely home to the fireplace that night.

     Oh my ... the fireplace. Thats' another story. But ... It was in the living room of my rental home on Beech St. in E. Lansing. The front door had a square window at the top of the door. If a curious person/peeping tom/voyeur/snoop were so inclined they'd probably grab some of the bricks from the patio, stack them up and stand on top of them and see inside the little square pane. Perfect view of anyone who might have chosen to take advantage of the romantic fire on a bitter, bone chilling cold Michigan night.

But I digress...

      My weak legs wobbled against the table. My balled fists clenched into my stomach. Damn I hope that Flying Dolphin or air ambulance or whatever the hell they call it gets here. I may not make it much longer.
     "It's probably the water you've been drinking, like you're a native. I warned you. You're still a tourist, you know. You'll be fine in the morning." He added with a sigh.

     His face belied his words.     

     An hour later, Steve summoned a doctor with the the help of his hands, the universal language. Neither he nor I spoke any Greek and over seventy-five percent of our law school class, studying abroad from Tulane, left earlier that day for a weekend excursion to Turkey.
  
     The injection ... of what -- is anyone's guess, failed to subside the pain. The female doctor reminded me of a gypsy. The gypsy witch doctor failed to ask me any of those pertinent medical questions that have become so standard in the US, I can recite them. You know ... the basics:

  • Are you allergic to any medications? 
  • When is the last time you had anything to eat?
  • Have you consumed any alcohol 
  • What medications are you currently taking

     Here's the kicker: 


     The doctor that the hotel sent for didn't even inquire about my medical history. I could probably play her role. She mashed the palm of her hand on my stomach and I cried out, She repeated the same on the opposite side and I hollered and my back came off the bed. If I hadn't been so weak, I would've bolted from the room. Not a single question to access my pain or symptoms.
I suppose that was an impossible task considering our language barrier. So, she gave me an injection of something for an unknown/undiagnosed illness. I prayed it was strong enough to knock me out so I didn't feel the pain. I wanted to wake in the morning and the whole incident be behind us.

     Two grueling hours later, the pain increased. Bent over, my head and shoulders tucked into my waist, gasping for each breath, my legs teetering and trembling unable to hold me up for longer than a few minutes at a time, I pinned Steve's cobalt blue eyes with my own, I said in an unrecognizable voice that sounded like I'd gargled with razorblades, "Steve, please. Help me. I'm serious."

     By now the pain had crawled and wormed its way all the way up my chest. I knew the situation called for extreme measures, but I didn't know how to get Steve, easy going, minimizing Steve into panic mode. This is definitely the guy you want around facing most emergencies. No one wants a person who can't handle a crisis. On the other end of that spectrum is the guy who never has a sense of urgency.Something is terribly wrong now. I know it, I''m straining -- gulping  for each breath. The pain that originated in my lower belly has snaked its way higher and higher and is rising into my lungs. Why is it getting hard to breathe? I must calm myself down or I'll have a panic attack and then I'm totally screwed. But, I know this is more than just a panic attack. I need medical attention. Now, This is a critical mater.

     "Steve, I'm having hard tine catching my breath. We need to get to the mainland ... to a hospital. Please. Quickly." I snagged his elbow and lead him toward the boat dock. Shit I cannot do this all by myself. The pain keeps climbing. This higher the pain gets the more I hunch over just to walk. My head and neck are down toward my pelvis. Why the hell didn't we take off with everyone to Turkey? Oh god I'm scared. I don't want to die. I want my mom. I really want my mom and I can't even call her.

     "This better not turn out to be gas or constipation," Steve whispered into my ear, loud enough for the transport team to hear.

     "Shut up. It's not."

     With one arm he reached underneath and scooped me into his arms, carrying me the last few feet of the dock to the flying dolphin "Sea Ambulance."
He shook his head back and forth once he slid me into the patient's seat and the EMT people took over strapping me in. He's embarrassed. That SOB. I can't believe, I could be dying here and he's worried about what these assholes might think. These people he'll never see again.
I cut my eyes at him. He got the message.

     "What?"

     "I could be dying and ..."

     "Sorry, it just seems a little much don't you think?"

     I closed my eyes for the forty five minute ferry over choppy breakers. Each wave sent a jolt of sharp electricity through my body. When we had to cut in or out of the wake I felt a serrated knife gutting me like a fish. The pain pulsating in my eardrum.

     The first hospital couldn't help and sent us on our way in another ambulance. Now we were traveling in the backseat of a Mercedes,which had been deputized an "ambulance." I didn't know anything about the driver and I certainly didn't know if he had medical training. And we didn't have any other people with us (no aides or staff, etc) Driver in the front seat, Steve and me in the back seat. We drive for 4.5 to 5 hours at accelerated speed through winding mountains of Greece. I'd stopped complaining hours ago. I wanted to live and if this man could get me to a hospital then I stood a chance. The curves at such a high rate of speed were painful.

     Losing hope and becoming weaker each minute, we locked eyes and I spotted the fear in Steve for the first time.

     "I'm dying. I'm not gonna make it, am I?"
He couldn't look me in the eye. He buried my face into his chest and we both cried. He swore to me that he was going to get me to the hospital.
I held onto to my grasp of his wrist.
We made it to the hospital, I was far too weak to share his enthusiasm. I don't remember much, but I begged Steve not to let them operate on me and I'll never forget him telling me that they operated on people back in the cowboy days and I'd be fine.

     I was told later that the Doctor, who Steve talked to only once, actually trained at the University of Chicago, ran from the one operating room, holding my appendix, telling Steve that he saved me from the hands of St. Peter. It wasn't my time to go that day. Steve watched another man die of a heart attack as they parked his ambulance in the shade (no air in the hospital) and the hospital only had one operating room (they call them something else over there), but anyway, they take the most critical patients first. I will forever be haunted by that. A man died of a heart attack while I was being operated on, because there was only one room.

     I remained in the ICU for 11 days and I have lots of stories, some are quite funny, some will turn your stomach. I actually received excellent medical care and when I checked out, my bill was only $7 American Dollars. Wow, imagine what that would have been in America. Steve wasn't happy about his bed pan duty for everyone in the ICU -- apparently no one empties the damn things, so he did it for everyone, followed by lots of Lysol.

     Luckily this was during the world cup, so he made friends and they went out for beer and Gyros at night.You don't need to speak the same language for that. I remained in ICU. This story has much much more so I'll revisit it during another letter.




     I wanted to point out that the man I married and the father of my kids had a chance to run, we had only been dating a short time when we traveled around the world together for a semester of law school in Greece. He was a stand up guy, then. May he rest in peace. I hope my kids are fortunate enough to get all of his good qualities.

Stay tuned and come back for letter "B"
     

5 comments:

  1. Hi Melissa - gosh thank goodness you held on - that's frightening to read about - not nearly what you went through though ... lovely post ... and I'm still sorry to read about Steve - but you're doing him justice - he sounds wonderful and it's great the family loved him - regardless of whether he was in the divorce court or not! Brilliant - but not a medical trip to remember ... cheers Hilary

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Hilary, I want my kids to get to know the Steve that I met and fell in love with. They only know the "dad" Steve. You know, the stern dad who disciplined them and looked out for their best interests. I want to share another part of him with them. I hope I'm doing the right thing . They miss him so much .

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  2. That is a terrifying story! I'm sorry for your loss too.

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  3. Sorry to hear about your loss. I think these posts will be a great tribute to him. Glad this particular story worked out well in the end.

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