Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ancient History, Volume XIX

In the last installment, I covered the end of the Inca Trail, and all things Machu Picchu. THIS installment has the alternate title "Why you should always purchase travel insurance". And it's going to be wordy, and light on the pictures, simply because there aren't any. So I'm going to randomly insert gifs to make it seem less traumatic than it actually was. It's also weird to write, because it's far more Ness' story than mine... (HI NESSA!! <3) But I digress.

Considering most of the group had participated in the Machu Picchu Challenge (aka staying up for a full 24 hours, drinking), the majority stuck fairly close to the hotel. Ness, in particular, was coming down with a bug and feeling decidedly under the weather, so I brought her large quantities of bottled water, and then headed out with a couple of the non-hungover group members to wander around Cusco. After a trip to one of the markets, where I bought a pair of silver and lapis lazuli earrings for about $15, we headed to the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. This was equal parts brilliant and hilarious.
The one and only proper picture you'll get here.

The objects were great, but the labels? SO CONFUSING.My absolute favourite? "This ceramic pot from 2500BCE demonstrates clear Cubist and Post Modernist influences". Um. Either the curator who wrote that label was incapable of distinguishing between BCE and CE, or the potter was a Time Lord... *head explodes* Eventually, we abandoned the museum and headed back towards the hotel, as the plan was to head out as a group at 2pm to eat guinea pig.

But by the time I got back to our room, Ness was throwing up and shivering uncontrollably, so I had our tour leader call a doctor. By the time our tour leader arrived, Ness was having heart palpitations, and I was freaking out, to the point of "OMG WHAT DO I DO????" tears. At 2pm, the rest of the group headed off to eat guinea pig, while I stayed with Ness, waiting for the doctor to turn up. She eventually turned up at 2.30, and almost immediately had a heart rate monitor on Ness's finger, telling her that she had a heart murmur and that she was going to phone an ambulance.

Said ambulance never turned up, so we ended up going to the travel clinic by taxi. Therein followed three hours of EKGs and pumping Ness full of drugs while I filled in paperwork and cried. Oh, they also asked us a crap ton of times if she'd been taking cocaine. Uh, NO. But apparently cocaine use is the most common cause of tachycardia in people under 30. WHO KNEW?! At around 6pm, they told me that the drugs weren't stabilising her heart like they'd hoped, and that they needed to transfer her to the ICU at an actual hospital. They also told me that they couldn't get hold of the insurance company, and would I sign a form stating that her family would pay the $3,000 US for the ambulance if the insurance company wouldn't cover it?

Things that are not much fun: signing that form. Things that are even LESS fun: Riding in the front seat of an ambulance. In Peru. Where they drive like lunatics. I thought I was going to die at least a hundred times. At the hospital, the doctor who'd been with us all day told me that she had to go back to the clinic, but that I should stay outside the ER bay in case there was a language problem. This is the point where it would have been helpful to mention that the only Spanish I know is "Una daiquiri fresa, por favor", and "La quenta, por favor". Neither of which were much help in this situation... After about an hour of standing outside the ER bay being useless (and still crying), a woman came up to me and started babbling at me in Spanish. I told her that I didn't speak Spanish, and she gestured for me to follow her. In the ER waiting room was our tour leader, who told me that he'd spoken to the doctors, that Ness had been stabilised, and that we were going back to the hotel. In the taxi en route to the hotel, he told me that I had to phone Ness's mum and tell her what had happened. So I lost my shit again. And then rang my dad and made him do it, because I knew I wouldn't be able to talk to Ness's mum in a coherent fashion.

This? Was basically me for that entire afternoon AND the next three days:

The next morning, the soggy mess that was me dragged myself out of bed and bid farewell to the rest of the group, who were heading off to the Amazon. The representative of the tour company in Cusco came to help out, and took me to the hospital that afternoon. Turns out Peruvian ICUs are terrifying - you have to wear surgical gowns, and there were priests wandering around giving the Last Rites, and the nurses were giving everyone celery leaf tea. I still don't know why. At the end of that day, we still had no idea what was going on, because the doctor spoke hardly any English, and the tour company representative wasn't allowed in the room while I was there (one visitor at a time).

The NEXT morning, I got up and phoned the Australian Consulate in Lima. This happened:
Woman at the Consulate: Buenos dias, Consulato Australiano, habla Nicole.
Me: Uh, yes. Buenos dias. Habla Espanol? No. Crap. Shit. That's not right. Habla... Oh fuck it, do you speak English?

Keeping it classy, as always. She DID speak English, incidentally. And was not surprised in the slightest to hear Ness's name (thank you, DFAT!) She said that she'd call the hospital and email me when she knew what the deal was. Shortly thereafter, I got an email saying that Ness's doctor had said she needed to be evacuated to Lima ASAP. That night, I got a phone call from the tour company representative to say that we were being flown out by medevac the following morning, and that our luggage would need to go by cargo plane, because there wouldn't be room on the medevac.

Of course, at this point, we STILL had no idea what the problem was, apart from that it was something heart related. So being evacuated to a better hospital wasn't particularly reassuring. The following morning, I got to the airport, only to be left completely alone in a freezing cold waiting room for an hour and a half. I became increasingly paranoid that they'd flown without me, but eventually a non-English speaking guy rushed into the room, indicated that I should grab all my stuff, and ran me through the airport. This is how I ended up on the runway, holding my stuff in one hand, and my jeans up with the other (because there was no time to put my belt back on after security), being laughed at by a group of Peruvian Air Force officers.

Turns out said officers were our pilots, which led to Ness yelling "I TOLD YOU IT WOULD BE THE AIR FORCE!!!!!!!!!!" and bouncing up and down with excitement while they were trying to load her into the Lear Jet. This made the medical staff a little disturbed - apparently you shouldn't get excited when you have an unexplained and unpredictable heart problem. WHO KNEW?!?!? Nessa - in case of future hot air force personnel in emergency situations, let's try for this instead:

Thankfully, the flight to Lima was uneventful, despite the defibrillator that was between me and the doctor. The only problem was that I was supposed to stay at the airport and collect our luggage from the cargo terminal. But we landed at the Air Force base across the road from the airport, and the only way off the base was in the ambulance. So I took a little detour to the hospital. Upon arrival, I was told that I had a phone call. Which seemed kind of weird, because no one knew I was there. But when I picked up the phone to hear "Yeah, g'day, this is Chris from Covermore Insurance in Sydney, how's ya goin'??" in the most bogan, Mick Dundee accent imaginable, I nearly burst into tears again.  He told me that Ness's mum was on a plane to Peru and due to arrive the following evening. This made me feel SLIGHTLY less guilty about the fact that I was due to board a plane to Ecuador first thing the following morning, despite the fact that I'd had Ness, my mum, her mum, our travel agent, the tour company representative AND half a dozen friends tell me that I should keep going with the remaining six weeks of the trip.

I stayed at the hospital until Ness was admitted to the ICU, and then headed back to the hotel in the helps of persuading our tour leader to come with me to the airport, simplifying that whole Kirsti Doesn't Speak Spanish thing. Sadly, he was elsewhere, but several other members of the group - one of whom could at least construct a sentence in Spanish - tagged along for a trip to the airport and back, with a detour via the domestic terminal when none of our phrase books proved helpful with translating "cargo terminal". Thankfully, a helpful LAN employee was able to give the driver directions, and it took us a mere TWO HOURS to get to the airport, get the bags and get back again.

Various other people in the group were going to be staying in Lima until after Ness's mum arrived, so they promised to visit Ness in hospital and look after her pack, which made me feel marginally less guilty. And so it came to pass that I boarded a plane to Ecuador, still with no idea of what was wrong with Ness, other than vague "Oh, it's a heart problem thing" discussions with the doctors. But Ecuador shall have to wait for the next installment (for which I'm sure you're all grateful).

Incidentally, if you want to read this whole saga from Ness's perspective, including what happened after I left, it's here.

TL;DR version: 
1. Cost of travel insurance: $150. Cost of medical evacuation to Australia plus ambulance and hospital stays: probably $500,000. It's worth the $150, just in cases.
2. Don't call on me in a crisis. I just cry all the time.
3. Contact the Consulate in case of an emergency.
4. Learn to do more in the language of the place you're visiting than order alcohol and ask for the bill.
5. Seriously, just get travel insurance. And make sure you're listed as travelling companions with the insurance company.

K xx


  1. Replies
    1. Let's try for the Dean Winchester face, shall we? ;)

  2. Ohmy. Things to not do in front of Kirsti: Get incredibly and unexplainably sick. Poor Ness, poor you, and ohmygod. I cannot imagine the cost of a medical evacuation. Ahhhh.

    1. Seriously. I am so indescribably useless. I just literally sat there and cried for like three days without stopping. Oh, and I made Mum scare a classroom full of small children, because the parentals always seemed to be out when I phoned, so I phoned her at school and she burst into tears when it was me. All the kids were like O.o

  3. And on that note, I should really get around to arranging my travel insurance for my cruise. I like that tip about listing my travel companions - I can't remember if I did that last time. Luckily, one of said travelling companions is a doctor, which is handy.

    What an adventure you two had here, though. I just love Ness's reaction to her escort, too.

    1. Being listed as a travelling companion meant that they'd organised accommodation for me in Lima on the off chance that I didn't have anywhere organised and wanted to stay behind. It also meant that they offered me the option of being flown home too and resuming my trip at a later date at their expense. AND they paid for the difference in cost of switching from two weeks backpacking in Mexico (the original plan) to a tour. None of which would have happened if we hadn't been listed as travelling together. So it's definitely worth it!!!

  4. Holy crap! Medical emergencies are NEVER fun on trips. Just.... ugh. I would have been a disaster.

    1. The funny(?) part was that Ness didn't know how serious the whole thing was, so she'd black out, come to, see me crying, and start laughing because I was freaking out about what she thought was nothing serious...

      I guess the one positive is that it happened BEFORE we reached the Amazon, where medical care would have been a six hour boat ride away??

  5. OMG.

    That is one sucker punch of a story.

    Poor Ness! I mean...shit. I can only imagine how terrified you both were. But can I just say, I laughed my ass off at the three crying GIFs, they are hilaaaaarious.

    Also hilarious?

    "Habla Espanol? No. Crap. Shit. That's not right. Habla... Oh fuck it, do you speak English?"


    Thank you for that. :D
    And thank you, also, for the timely reminder that Yogi and I need to get travel insurance before we leave.

    Finally, every time I hear of a heart murmur I just think "heart stripe". Now, I KNOW you know where that's from. :D


    1. Yeah, I wasn't going to include the gifs at first, but the whole post just seemed so depressing without them! So in they went.


      Dammit. Now I want to watch Dawson's Creek again...

  6. Crazy! Glad everyone is okay. FYI, if/when I have a crisis, I am totally calling you.

    1. Oh God. Please don't call me in a crisis. Unless you literally want to spend three days watching me cry uncontrollably. Because that is pretty much the only thing I did.

      Well. That and point out a Bimbo truck to Ness from the ambulance. Because LOL FOREVER.

  7. Anyone who doesn't buy travel insurance is absolutely crazy. Particularly if you were going to USA the cost of medical care is criminal

    1. Sesriously. Before we left, my mum gave us strict orders that if anything went medically wrong, we were to go fly to Canada for treatment (partly because we know people there). SLIIIIIGHTLY impractical, but much better than having to sell a kidney for medical care in the US!


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