On May 11, my brother Steve and I arrived in Cape Town, South Africa. I had several confirmed travel writing assignments and Steve was going to shoot the photos and videos. We had a few fun days exploring downtown and Sea Point, and we hiked to the top of Lion’s Head where we were rewarded with a stunning 360-degree panoramic view of Cape Town.
We had a blast on our night out on the town at the Mojito Café as the guests of the owner, Kenneth. We thoroughly enjoyed his charming hospitality, the tapas were delectable and “The Rivertones” was the best reggae band we’d ever heard.
But what was originally slated to be a series of fun adventure stories in several publications is now going to be a book about this life-altering event. It’s not my first book, and won’t be my last, but it will surely be the most personal. Others who have survived near-death situations will agree that these things have a way of making you assess your whole life and what’s really important. We recently decided that Steve will co-author the book, which will add a whole new dimension and perspective.
Our itinerary for the remainder of the week was to include a safari, a day at Camps Bay, abseiling off of Table Mountain, Penguin Beach, and cage diving with Greta White Sharks. In fact, the shark dive was at the top of my bucket list, and the main reason for this trip to Cape Town which is the best place to do it.
But on May 14 as we were making the two-hour drive to the Aquila Safari, we were involved in a horrendous accident. Our car was T-boned at full speed by another vehicle on the passenger side where I was seated. They had to use the Jaws of Life and pneumatic cutting equipment to extract me; my injuries were numerous and substantial – some even life-threatening.
I don’t remember being hit, and I was in and out of consciousness during most of the rescue. The only thing I remember is hearing the raw anguish in my brother’s voice because initially, he thought I was dead. My eyes were open, even though I couldn’t see anything or move. I heard him cry, “Oh no! Oh no!”
He tended to me with gut-wrenching pleas for medical help when he saw how badly I was hurt. I felt his hands on my face and a kiss on the top of my head. Even in my altered state, the agony and torment in his voice broke my heart into a billion pieces and that 10-second memory haunts me every day.
I was rushed to the Worcester Hospital to repair my torn diaphragm and to re-position my stomach and intestines which had herniated into the thoracic cavity — a severe, life-threatening emergency that had to be remedied asap. As a weird coincidence, the surgeon who worked on me was an expert in that type of injury because apparently, that area was a high crime location for gang stabbings. What are the odds of that?
From there I was sent to MediClinic Worcester to reconstruct my completely severed left femur with a series of titanium rods, plates, and screws and to re-position it back into my hip joint which was crushed and had to be “cemented” back together.
My pelvis was cracked in six places, left lung collapsed, my clavicle and right wrist was broken, I had numerous sprains, bruises, bumps and cuts, neck pain and frequent headaches.
If all that wasn’t enough, I developed a painful and uncomfortable staph infection in my bladder from the catheter that was in for two weeks. There were additional complications that are too gruesome to list.
My brother refused to leave South Africa without me. He was with me in the hospital at every opportunity, usually making me laugh, which at the beginning was brutal – when you have massive internal injuries, laughter is definitely NOT the best medicine. To be honest, though, probably 50% of the laughter was a result of his spontaneous gaffs. (You’ll have to wait for the book for the stories.)
When he was not at the hospital with me, Steve was working with the US Embassy in Cape Town, Africa Assist, contacting my Senator (Lindsey Graham) and Congressman (Trey Gowdy) for assistance, chasing down doctors and medical records. He also coordinated the efforts of Aimee, Jaime, and other family back in the US who were working through the absurd, inefficient, and frustrating Blue Cross bureaucracy as well as my sister Aimee’s efforts to align orthopedic and thoracic specialists and physical therapists in RI for the many months of rehab when I am able to return home (which will not be soon). He made sure all financial responsibilities and logistical concerns – both here and back home – were being addressed.
He anticipated and took care of any need I had, no matter how trivial. I was obsessed with my horrible hairy “Hobbit legs” because I was flat on my back for weeks and could not move much — he helped to get them back to normal. 🙂
I’m writing this from my hospital bed. My thoracic surgery is healing nicely, and I’m working as hard as I can, though painful and slow, with my Physical Therapist, Lindy, on my femur at the MediClinic. However, the only viable option for my pelvic fractures to properly heal is six weeks lying flat on my back. So here we are, stranded in a small, obscure town a little over an hour outside of Cape Town, South Africa, 7700 miles away from everyone we love and the comforts of America, which we have very quickly come to appreciate more than we could ever have imagined.
To say my recovery treatments here have been less than optimal would be a gross understatement – the Mayo Clinic this is not. It’s not my surgeons, Dr. Duvenage and Dr. Laubscher – they did an excellent job putting me back together, really quite impressive work. Dr. Laubscher has overall responsibility and has done everything possible to expedite my recovery and has written several reports and phone calls to Blue Cross urging them to transport me home, to no avail.
But the hospital’s technology, equipment, systems, and procedures are light years away from our cutting edge hospitals in the US. I’m in a room with three other patients, faulty equipment, and constant noise and chaos. It’s been a real challenge trying to get the needed rest required to recover, but there are only four private rooms in the whole hospital and Dr. Laubscher is trying to get me into one. That would be heaven at this point.
If you’ve spent any time in a hospital, then you understand what a difference the nurses make in a patient’s recovery. The compassionate and efficient care in particular of nurses Bernadette, Eliah, Lucas, Trompe, and Randi have really helped me manage the pain and my recovery.
An extra and unexpected surprise was Matilda aka “Tilla.”. Tilla is the nurse that assisted with my femur surgery, but of course, I was under anesthesia. She felt compelled to visit me on her own time and she continues to visit me nearly every day. We’ve struck up a friendship that will last even after I leave. She brightens my days with her cheery personality and discussions about all the things we have in common.
Another woman who made a lasting impression on Steve was Lynette from Aquila Game Reserve. When she found out why we never made it to the safari and that I was in a Worcester hospital ICU, she drove to Worcester. With no other info than that, she found me, brought me the Aquila mascot, a cute stuffed Rhino and then spent hours with Steve. She supplied him with a hotspot to contact family and patiently read while he used it, she drove him to get a bite to eat, which he hadn’t had in three days, she drove him to the “mall” to buy supplies and spent some much needed time just casually chatting with him to distract him from the situation. It was well beyond what we would ever have expected from someone we never met.
My doctors insist I will make a full recovery; I’m usually an annoyingly optimistic person, but considering the active, adventurist lifestyle I led, my perspective from my current horizontal position is that it feels unlikely. Still, I THANK GOD every day that I am ALIVE – I could easily have been killed or endured a brain or spinal injury. I’ll make adjustments if needed, don’t count me out just yet, I want to do Zumba again!
One singular thought dominates my days: I want to come home.
No commercial airline will fly a passenger, not even in first class unless they can be in the upright seated position for the 20-minute takeoff and 20-minute landing, which I will not be able to do for weeks. My sister Aimee has spent, quite literally, every waking moment over the last 2 weeks researching the various “stretcher-type” flights as well as putting a stretcher on a commercial flight and has found that the exorbitant costs, from $40,000 – $85,000 – are well beyond our means. (Note: if you know a wealthy business person or company that might take pity and/or want some great PR by sponsoring the stretcher flight, please forward this post to them and tell them to contact Aimee Crouse at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401.523.1685.). Even the cost of two short notice, first-class seats in a few weeks will create a hardship, but there is no choice in the matter since I can only fly in a reclining position.
There’s no place like home. Cliché? Yes, but nonetheless true.
Let me take a minute to say this: I did not purchase travel insurance, but I will never, ever travel without it again. There are going to be many bills that won’t be covered, plus the insurance carriers generally have representatives to assist their clients through the process.
This will make a lot of you laugh, but one of the things I dearly miss is internet access, which is not available for patients – hence, no contact with the outside world..and no Facebook, and I am nearly going out of my mind. If I want to post or send an email, I have to write it on Steve’s tablet and he takes care of getting it out when he goes back to his B&B half a block from the hospital. He will occasionally take screenshots, e.g. if I do an update for FB and there are a lot of reply comments. But keeping up with family and friends on a daily basis has gone by the wayside. I miss you all!
On a more serious note, no WiFi has led to delay after delay in trying to obtain information because Steve has to leave the hospital and go back to his B&B every time we need answers. It also makes it difficult to keep up with my lobbyist work. I’m very thankful for my colleague, Ed Nagorsky/NKBA who is keeping me updated and holding down the fort without me.
It’s also impossible to write travel articles — not just the physical challenge, but my head is not in it.
I asked one of the head nurses why this hospital is still in the dark ages.… Can you guess the answer? Ding, ding, ding! Whoever said “money,” you win the prize. They think WiFi is too expensive. Sorry, but I find that totally unacceptable – in this day and age, internet access is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.
As of now, we are at the halfway point in my pelvic recovery. Because of the multiple stressful issues and ups and downs that we’ve had to deal with on a daily basis, I’m experiencing adrenal fatigue but I’m hoping that they will transfer me to one of their four private rooms as I’ve requested; that would really help.
I would appreciate your prayers and positive energy for Steve and me as we push towards the finish line.
Love to all,
“Count your blessings; name them one by one.”
Steve. Who could have such a brother as this? No words written here will convey the truly selfless person that he is. He’s been the patriarch of our family since his early 20’s and all my siblings adore him as much as I do. Once he got past his annoying teenage years when he did things like read my diary and eavesdrop on my conversations with friends, he’s been the one person I could always count on – my sounding board, my best friend.
Aimee. Born when I was 17, my adorable baby sister has been the apple of my eye ever since. Now my “Tootsie” is married with 4 young children and works as a trauma nurse, but that hasn’t gotten in the way of her efforts to try and get me home and work with Blue Cross to make sure my medical bills are taken care of. She has spent countless hours and her love for me is palpable – I can feel it through the thousands of miles between us. She has already set up orthopedic and thoracic specialists and physical therapists at her hospital in RI where I will go directly when I leave South Africa. Aimee will play a vital role in my recovery. In fact, unbeknownst to her, she already has.
Donna. Literally growing up as the girl next door and marrying my youngest brother Gary, Donna is compassionate, big-hearted, nurturing, and the first in the family to offer her help. She’s a fabulous cook, and I know she’s already planning to make all my favorite foods when I get back, as well as helping me with all the things I can’t do for myself. Our family is extremely lucky to have her… and we’re keeping her!
Jaime. We call her “The Wolf” (ref Pulp Fiction). Smart as a whip, Jaime became CEO of a medical company in her 30’s. If she can’t get it done, then it just cannot be done. She spent countless hours trying to reason with a bureaucracy (Blue Cross) that ignored all empirical evidence. She is selfless when it comes to friends and family and I really appreciate the enormous amount of expertise and tenacity as well as love and emotional support she brought to the table. I’m looking forward to giving her a well-deserved hug in person.
Gary and Jesse. I suspect my brother and brother in law feel like they’re not doing enough but it’s not true. Taking care of logistical details like retrieving Steve’s truck from Logan airport and taking charge of the kids so Aimee and Donna can help with my return and recovery are no small contributions. I love them both dearly and we miss their sense of humor very much.
Jill and Nick. My babies! Oh, how I miss them! Nothing lifts my spirits more than getting texts from them. I cherish them and my son in law, Mark. I also look forward to seeing my very special stepchildren, Chrissy and Danny, and their families when I return to RI.
Friends, I am truly touched by the concern and well-wishes from all of you across the US, Canada, and Mexico. High school friends, designer friends, travel writer friends, political activist friends, church friends, old friends, new friends, Facebook friends. Friends who have graciously offered their help once I get home. How blessed I am!
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.