Saturday, June 8, 2013

Caribbean Cruise To.....The Hospital?

Life with my dear hubby Clyde is never boring so why did I assume that a relaxing cruise along the Caribbean would be any different?  Soon after moving to Panama when I first began to search for cruise ships that embarked out of Colon, Panama I discovered one I'd never heard of before.  A cruise line called Pullmantur, based out of Spain markets to Spanish speaking passengers or those looking for total immersion.  Prices for a seven day cruise started at $370 and include ALL food, alcohol and ship board activities.  Most cruise ships charge extra for sodas and alcohol but here everything was included.

The Monarch

Our cabin for seven days
In 2006 Pullmantur was purchased by Royal Caribbean who now passes along their older, smaller ships that get a paint job and new logo before heading out to sea.  Our floating hotel was called "The Monarch" which used to be the "Monarch of the Seas" with Royal Caribbean.  This tiny ship only accommodated 2,769 passengers on twelve decks compared to the floating cities that now hold nearly twice that amount.  The ship was refurbished in 2003 and updated with the latest of everything.  Our cabin was on the forth floor easily accessible to the elevators, shore excursion desk, internet café, reception desk and restaurants.  The ship has ten bars and lounges, a gym, two pools and hot tubs, an outdoor basketball court, rock climbing wall, kids and teen clubs, casino, internet café, library, nightly shows, spa, jogging track, beauty salon, shops, restaurants and more.

Nice Desk Area
Pullmantur is the only cruise line that offers passengers the opportunity to embark and disembark at ANY of the ports of call they stop at.  So at each of the four ports we stopped at some passengers ended their cruise while others were just beginning.  This made for an ever-changing mix of passengers to mingle with and an array of different languages being heard throughout the cruise.  Since two of the four ports were in the Antilles Netherlands, many passengers we met were from Holland and spoke Dutch.  The other two ports were in Venezuela, Columbia and Panama surrounding us by plenty of Spanish speaking people too.  The crew members all seemed to speak at least some English, and most were quite fluent.  Menu's and the daily newsletter of events were also available in English, although we're stubborn and refused to ask for such conveniences.  Also ALL safety announcements were made first in Spanish and then in English, so everything that passengers needed to know was clearly stated in both languages.
Who Dat?
 A closet big enough for me to fit into!
Mandatory Safety Drill!
We boarded the ship around 3pm which gave us plenty of time to familiarize ourselves with the layout before our Bon Voyage at 6pm.  After dinner and the nightly Broadway type of show we headed out to do some dancing at one of the disco's.  Clyde had a few margarita's under his belt by now after having wine with dinner and I tried my first pina colada.  We turned in for the night around midnight after some salsa dancing tired us out.  We crashed into the comfy bed in our cabin and zonked out until around 5am when nature called.

Our First night of fun in the
Broadway Theatre

As I was using the restroom Clyde stumbled out of bed with leg cramps, trying to walk it off in the dark when he banged into the wall and fell to the floor.  He was in pain and said "I think I just broke my toe," which I thought was a premature notion since he couldn't even see it with the lights off.  I stumbled out of the bathroom and turned on the light to see the bone of his big toe sticking out to one side, his toe pointing in the other direction and small amounts of blood on his foot.  Although blood doesn't bother me I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and had to lie down. I thought perhaps it was the rocking of the boat and popped a sea sickness pill and after a few minutes I was fine.  Clyde was on the phone with the ship's doctor and soon they showed up at the door with a wheel chair to take him down to the hospital.

No, I had actually quit crying by now!

One of the doctors who gave me an IV Margarita
Centro Medico on the ship was like a doctor's office, hospital and pharmacy all wrapped into one compact space.  There we were greeted by two male bilingual doctors and their assistant, all dressed in scrubs or white uniforms.  Clyde was started on intravenous pain medication while they took an x-ray of his foot.  The pictures immediately showed up on the computer screen clearly showing a compound, open fracture of the big toe on his left foot.  One of the doctor's explained that Clyde would need surgery and since we'd be pulling into Cartagena, Colombia in about five hours, he could arrange to have it done there.  They cleaned his foot before carefully wrapping it in a hard cast that he could walk in, without putting pressure on his toe. We borrowed the wheel chair and made our way back to the cabin to relax and wait.

They had an X-Ray on the ship!
So, this is little fellow that messed up our trip!
It hurt a lot worse than it looked!

Fortunately, when booking the cruise we paid an extra $112 dollars for the travel insurance should anything like this happen. The doctor called the insurance for us and I was told we'd need to pay for all expenses and then submit the claims to them for consideration.  We went back to our cabin to wait until the insurance company made the hospital arrangements which never happened.  By noon Clyde had enough and suggested that I go talk to the doctor again to see if they could make arrangements, which they quickly took care of.  The on board doctor seemed to think the surgery would be quick and easy but the surgeon may want to keep Clyde on intravenous antibiotics for a few nights in the hospital.  This would mean the end of our cruise and would involve buying airline tickets to get back home.  Our luggage was extremely heavy and over sized and we knew it would cost a fortune to get them on a plane.  After chatting with the doctor about this he came up with a better solution.  He said "go have the surgery, buy any medication he needs and we can administer it to him here, and you can continue your cruise."  The ship was in port at Cartagena until 9:30 pm, so we still had plenty of time to take care of business.

Dr. Henry Castellanos, the main doctor on board contacted Pullmantur's port agent to come pick us up.  This young man named Eric showed up in a fancy dual-cab pickup truck to take us to the hospital.  He spoke English and called ahead to the hospital to inform them that Clyde would need an orthopedic surgeon.  Eric explained that we would have to pay him $40 for his services which seemed like a bargain.  Our drive to the hospital took about 20-minutes and Eric gave us a little information about Cartagena along the way.  The north side of town near the port is kept pretty for tourists.  Colorful, beautifully designed buildings lined the streets with plenty of trees and flowers around to dress up the area. He explained that only the most affluent Colombians live in this part of  town since an apartment here runs around $5,000 a month. 

Suddenly we had arrived at a large, two-story building perched neatly behind a black iron fence. The architecture of the building was ornate with white trim along the roof and around the windows.  Eric honked the horn and the large gate opened allowing us to drive through into the courtyard which was actually an outside waiting room.  Lined with flowers, hedges and trees many people sat waiting in the courtyard talking on cell phones just like anywhere else in the world.  A large, grey, medication cart was wheeled by with a uniformed nurse behind it.  He took it into a nearby door from the outside that apparently connected the rooms of the building together.  A man came out to assist Eric with Clyde and they pushed him in the wheel chair into the clinic.  The Medi Help Clinic according to Eric, is the best hospital in Cartagena.  The receptionist seemed to know Eric and before he left us he said they had his phone number and would call him when we were done.

Clinica Medi Help

The large waiting room included about 30 chairs, a vending machine with food snacks alongside a Juan Valdez coffee machine and a water cooler on the other side of the room next to the bathroom.  It was overly air conditioned and I was happy that I wore jeans, closed shoes with socks and brought a sweatshirt.  A short time later in walked a dark skinned man wearing an un tucked peach colored golf shirt and black slacks.  He looked at Clyde as if he knew that was his patient and kissed the receptionist on the cheek before coming over to see us.
Front door to the Hospital

He led us down the hallway into his office where I took a seat behind his desk and Clyde still in the wheel chair sat nearby.  The doctor spoke no English and helped Clyde put his leg up onto his desk so he could examine it.  There with bare hands he unwrapped the bandages and took off the bloody gauze dropping them onto his desk.  At this point the doctor's cell phone rang and he used the same hand that touched the bloody bandages to reach into his pants pocket to retrieve his phone. Next he proceeded to try to reset Clyde's toe right there without any type of anesthesia.  Clyde began to scream in pain while the doctor looked at him perplexed and said something in Spanish about needing surgery and anesthesia.  At this point I was starting to wonder if this guy knew what he was doing or worse, was he even a real doctor?   He called to his nurse who brought in a different type of wheel chair and off they went to surgery.

By now it was about 1 pm and I went to sit patiently in the freezing, cold inside waiting room.  Since we didn't have time to exchange our US dollars into Colombian peso's, I really had no way to buy a drink or a snack.  Fortunately I noticed the water cooler with cups and had brought an apple from the ship to munch on.  About an hour later a nurse came out and handed me two bags with Clyde's clothing in them.  I asked if he was out of surgery and she said "no, he was just being prepped," or something like that in Spanish.  In the meantime I kept seeing his doctor come out and hangout by the reception desk chatting with the girls.  I wanted him to just go fix Clyde's toe so we could get back on the ship.  The waiting room was packed with Colombians of all color waiting for family members to come out of surgery.  Unlike many Latino cultures, Colombians were fair skinned with blonde, red and brown hair so I didn't stick out like a sore thumb until I opened my mouth to speak.

As all surgeries seem to take forever when you're the one waiting, it was around 5pm when I noticed the doctor and heard him say "ciao," to the girls in the office.  I jumped up to catch him and speak to him before he left.  The ship's doctor told us it was mandatory to have documentation that stated that Clyde was fit to travel and continue the cruise before he could get back onto the ship.  And we also needed to buy any medications before leaving the hospital too.  The doctor said Clyde was done and that he had given him all the necessary paperwork, and then he left the building.

A while later the cashier called me over and presented me with a number written on a little piece of paper.  It read $5694900.0000 and she said that was in Colombian peso's.  She spoke some English and I asked her to convert this to US dollars since I didn't understand peso's.  Quickly she pulled out a calculator and came up with an estimate of $3,200 US which I put onto a credit card wondering if this would raise a flag when the company saw foreign money.  Later on when we checked our credit card statement it was $3,062.28 that we paid. 

As the hours dragged by and Clyde woke up in the recovery room that I had to go outside to get to, there was apparently still no letter from the doctor that Clyde was fit to travel.  The sweet girl at the front desk kept calling him and they were trying to close the clinic for the night.  The receptionist called Eric to come get us but by 8pm after Eric arrived there was still no letter.  Another girl that I hadn't seen before showed up, pulled out a piece of paper with the clinic's letterhead on it, signed the doctor's signature, put his stamp onto it.  She then turned to Eric and in English asked "what do you want this to say."  In English she wrote "patient is fit to travel and continue cruise."  That was OK with me and I was anxious to get out of there.  Since we still needed medication Eric took us to a nearby pharmacy where we picked up Tylenol with codeine, oral antibiotics, and something to clean the wound with.  The total in US dollars came to around $100 which I was able to put onto a credit card since I didn't have pesos.  Later we found out this total to be $93.39

Clyde Here:  I wanted to add my own notes here about the injury.  The care given to on the ship was incredible!   I was also very impressed with everything having to do with the hospital.  I really did not have much problem at all understanding and getting my point across to the hospital staff.  Especially about half an hour before the surgery, my "IV Margarita" given to me on the ship wore off.  GEEZ!  That was good stuff!  I was given more pain medicine but did not quit hurting until I got in to surgery.  The anesthesiologist performed a "spinal block" in order for the doctor to do the surgery.  This was some weird stuff!  I was numb below the waist for hours!  I felt really guilty that this had to happen on our dream trip, but later I realized that I was lucky to get such good care and to be able to enjoy the rest of the trip in comfort with the help of some pain pills.  Clyde

Once back on board the ship our first stop was at the ship's hospital where the doctor had to see the note.  From there we went directly to the dining room, Clyde still wearing shorts and me in jeans.  Usually we were supposed to dress for dinner and shorts are not allowed, but thankfully our waiter Javier saw our situation and allowed us in.  Clyde hadn't eaten all day because we knew he'd be going in for surgery, and I'd had only an apple since breakfast.  We enjoyed a hardy meal and wine before crashing in our room after a long, stressful day thankful that we made our way back onto ship.

Clyde used a wheel chair for the next day which conveniently was a day at sea. I laid by the pool all day enjoying the sun, music and cocktails.  He stayed nearby in the shade enjoying the sights of thong-clad booties and cleavage peeking out of bikini tops.  Between a combination of pain meds and margaritas, he was feeling pretty good.

The only thing we have to remember Cartagena, Colombia by is a set of x-rays, a scar on his toe and over $3,000 in medical expenses that we hope to be reimbursed for.  We booked a shore excursion into Aruba for the next day that included minimal amounts of walking for Clyde.  He really wanted to go snorkeling but since he just has surgery, that's not possible on this trip.  Stay tuned for the fun part of our Caribbean cruise next as we make our way into the Antilles.....along the gringo trail.


  1. Wow, talk about a suspenseful trip. I'm glad you're ok, Clyde. Man, that was a nasty break. Gave me chills. I'm going to go back and forth reading the rest of your cruise trip details as I've always wanted to go on a cruise and have yet to do it.


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