April 23, 2013 by jiejie768
Around dinnertime on Tuesday, March 19, our traveling trio, instead of perusing the culinary options in Peru’s most-visited city, was winding through the streets of Cusco in a local ambulance. You see, one of our number, Mikey, had fallen victim to one ailment or another, and was ordered by the doctor to go to the hospital for testing. The ambulance was, in fact, a bit of overkill, it just happened to be the vehicle the hotel’s doctor arrived in. Mikey was ailing, but he wasn’t dying or anything. We did get to use the sirens to get through one clogged intersection though, so we felt pretty important.
Our situation was made more grave, however, by the fact that Meg was still just recovering from her own startling battle with salmonella poisoning. It was an experience that left her as ill as she’s ever been and a diagnosis that shocked us. Mikey, though ill, was not nearly as sick as Meg had been and was reasonably sure he had a simple case of traveler’s diarrhea which could be cured with some pills and a little rest. I hoped he was right, but following my errant presumptions surrounding Meg’s illness, I was dubious.
When we arrived at the hospital, Mikey was given his own room which featured three beds and a private bathroom. It was pretty late in the day, about 7 p.m., and the doctor that brought us was about to end his shift. This led him to the default diagnosis that Mikey would have to stay the night at the hospital. He did say that Meg and I could stay in the room with Mikey free of charge, but that it was unlikely that Mikey would be returning to our hotel. Meg and I had thought this may happen, but without test results in hand, we, along with Mikey, resisted committing to this.
Mikey’s ordeal at the hospital featured an unwelcome blend of the American and Peruvian health systems: We were forced to wait hours for his test results (Peruvian), while Mikey spent another hour or so on the phone with his travel insurance provider (American). The interaction with the American insurance companies had two negative effects. First, it delayed the administration of the tests, and since the phone was not near the bed, it forced Mikey to sit at a desk while waiting on hold. This was not good as Mikey, who had been hooked to a rehydration IV, was getting worse at that point and began to turn a frightening shade of gray. Meg and I quickly realized Mikey needed to return to the bed and forced him to hang-up and lay down. During the 15-foot walk from phone to bed, while being supported by Meg and I, Mikey nearly fainted. Meg then took up phone duties and arranged things with Mikey’s insurance provider.
In the end, it was determined that Mikey would pay up front for the medical services, and the insurance company would reimburse him when he got home. This was the expected, and a perfectly acceptable, resolution to the issue, but it would have been nice if it didn’t take an hour and a half to reach. When Mikey’s tests finally did come back, the news wasn’t so good. Mikey was right in that he had contracted a parasite, but he was wrong in assuming he didn’t have salmonella. Mikey had somehow managed to acquire both during his time in Peru.
The situation then turned eerily reminiscent of Meg’s experience in Puno. The doctor told us Mikey would likely be hospitalized for up to two days while recovering. Much like in Puno, this was most inconvenient for the infirmed, as he had a flight at 1 p.m. the following day (Wednesday) to Lima followed by an early Thursday flight back to the U.S. We explained all of this to the doctors, and they seemed sympathetic, but not altogether on board with his plan of leaving the hospital the following day. There was a safety net in this situation that didn’t exist in Meg’s situation, however, as Mikey’s insurance would cover the cost of rebooking his flight to the U.S. if need be, and he had a six-day vacation cushion upon returning home before he had to be back at work. Obviously, he still wanted to make his flight on Thursday, but at least we could all stick together (Meg and I didn’t have to be back to Ayacucho for another week or longer if we didn’t want to be) and he’d be covered.
Regardless of what was to come to in the next few days, one thing was for sure: Mikey was staying at the hospital that night. As soon as Mikey’s diagnosis of salmonella came down, we decided it would behoove me to get tested as well. As we’d all spent the previous nine days eating, drinking and sleeping in literally the exact same places, it stood to reason that if two of us got salmonella, the third would as well. The silver lining was, that even if I had it, I could likely treat it with an antibiotic prescription without being hospitalized since I’d yet to show any symptoms. Nonetheless, I still had to have blood drawn and suffer the indignity that is doing one’s business in a cup (and not No. 1). I submitted my samples at about 11 p.m. and was told that it would be ready in an hour (originally I was told it would be the following morning, so this was a very welcome development).
While we waited for my tests to come back, we kept Mikey company and spent a lot time brainstorming a plan of attack for various situations. Ultimately, Mikey basically just said he would will himself out of the hospital the following day, and we could return to Lima, and him to the U.S., as planned.
The next question, for Meg and I, at least, was whether or not we could in good conscience leave Mikey at the hospital and sleep in the hotel. I had slept for a grand total of about six hours over the previous two days, and five of those were on the tiny hospital couch in Puno, so I really wanted to be in a comfortable bed and get some rest. Meg, of course, was still getting over her illness and did not relish the thought of another night in a hospital, regardless of whether she was the patient or not.
Since nothing could be decided until I had my test results, we discussed it among ourselves but said nothing to Mikey one way or the other. At 10 past midnight, we returned to the hospital lab on the ground floor (Mikey was on the seventh floor) and retrieved my test results, which we then had to take to the on-call doctor. A quick perusal of the information looked to us like a clean bill of health, but it was a lot of medical jargon we didn’t know, so it was a tense few minutes. We woke up the on-call doctor who looked at the results and seemed confused by the fact the test had been done at all. Apparently, miraculously, I was healthy as could be, and she figured I must have diarrhea or be vomiting to have requested the tests in the first place (especially at that time of night). When we explained the reason, she simply smiled and told me I was fine. I still have no idea how that could be; throughout the trip, Mikey and I often ordered the same foods, and Meg and I often ordered or shared the same foods, but very rarely, if ever, did Meg and Mikey eat or drink something that I did not. One of the most frustrating symptoms of food-borne illness, long after the physical effects have past, is the lingering mystery over what caused it and the knowledge that you’ll never really know for sure.
Clean bill of health in hand, and utterly exhausted, Meg and I returned to Mikey’s room and told him the good news. Mikey congratulated me and proceeded to cement himself (as if he wasn’t there already) as one of my favorite people on Earth when he insisted we go back to the hotel and get some sleep. He basically just said, “I need to sleep, you guys need to sleep, get out of here and just be back to talk to the doctors in the morning.” God bless you, Michael Ward!
Still feeling a little guilty, but happy to be returning to the hotel, Meg and I hailed a cab and headed back downtown. At this point, neither of us had eaten anything since the buffet at about 11:30 a.m. in Sicuani. For Meg, this wasn’t a huge issue, as her appetite was still recovering. For me, on the other hand, I was famished, but knew there was virtually nothing familiar and/or open at that hour in Cusco. Not wanting to spend time searching for a restaurant, we simply had the cab take us to Bembo’s, the Peruvian McDonald’s, despite not being excited about the menu. I ordered a chicken sandwich, and Meg got some potato wedges to go. As we sat waiting for the food to be prepared, we hunched over in a booth and nearly fell asleep on the spot.
In looking around the restaurant, we took in perhaps the saddest room in all of Cusco. There were maybe eight other customers waiting for food at that time of night, and, like us, all of them had the dead eyes and vacant stares which indicated their nights hadn’t gone much better than ours. We managed to stay conscious long enough to claim our food and returned to the hotel. Once there, we ate quickly and climbed, mercifully into bed. Though exhausted, we both needed something to unwind, so before sleep we watched the rest of an episode of CBS’ “Elementary” (which we started while waiting for the doctor earlier that evening) before finally calling it a night.
The next morning, we woke at about 8 and quickly showered and grabbed all of our and Mikey’s stuff (which we’d packed the night before) and headed for the hospital. Even though it was only about seven hours (if that), the sleep did wonders for our spirits and energy level. We got to the hospital at 8:45, just as a new doctor was giving Mikey the rundown of his condition and treatment. He still had a bit of IV antibiotics to get through, but in what we took as a positive sign, the doctor was talking to Mikey as if resigned to the fact that Mikey was going to take two plane rides in the next 36 hours. Mikey, for his part, looked much better than the night before and was greatly encouraged that it seemed like he’d get out. Our flight to Lima wasn’t until 1:15 that day, so we had some time, and we spent the morning joking about the past few days and feeling relieved that we’d made it through.
Mikey secured his official release at about 10 a.m., after listening to the litany instructions for the pills he’d have to take (he had no fewer than four separate prescriptions) that would battle both his illnesses and prepare his body to survive the upcoming travel. There were a lot of anti-vomitting and anti-diarrheal pills, which the doctor insisted were necessary, because you’re not allowed to poop on an airplane. … I don’t think he was right about that, but Mikey appreciated the effects nonetheless.
Pills, and prescription water and Gatorade, in hand, Mikey, Meg and I left the hospital at 10:15 and cabbed it straight to the airport. We considered taking a tour of the city center, as Mikey was feeling pretty good, but we figured it best to get to the airport, as missing the flight via stupidity after making it out of the hospital would have been too much to take. However, we arrived at the airport, checked our bags, and realized we still had two and a half hours until our flight. Since the Cusco airport is located just a 10-minute cab ride from the center of town, we figured we’d head back in check it out.
It was a whirlwind, but effective mini-tour of the city, as Mikey was able to see the Plaza de Armas and purchase a pair of Peruvian tapestries in the craft market in less than an hour. For my part, I got Starbucks, which was pretty sweet. We made it back to the airport with plenty of time to spare, especially since our flight was delayed by about an hour. We didn’t care, though, as we were just happy to be there, and even happier that this leg of our trip was via airplane instead of another bus.
Catch up on all our travels with Mikey: