January 26, 2010

CT Scan in Cartagena

Alex brought in 2010 this year by ignoring a "CAUTION" sign on the slopes of Silverstar and proceeding wildly down a path and through some trees that came to an opening and then a jump and then....nothing but air......and then life flashes before eyes and then hitting the ground and then wondering how he survived.....wondering what he had broke......scared, dazed confused.

Graham and I were the lucky recipients of the phone call at the bottom of the hill letting us know that he was coming back to the paramedic trailer by ski doo and would be there shortly and that luckily he seemed to be ok. Longest 20 minutes of my life. He arrived all bundled up on a stretcher pulled behind the ski doo. I unwrapped the tarp from his face to find a HUGE smile and a shiner on his left eye. He thought he had just been treated to the coolest rescue ever. Since the part of the hill that he landed on was so steep the rescue team had to take him part of the way on a sled by hand and then the second half on the ski doo stretcher/sled. He felt like a king.

The paramedics checked him all out and the good news was that he hadn't lost consciousness and that he seemed to remember the accident. He had a thorough examination and then due to my concern the fellow checking him out had another senior paramedic check him out again. Thumbs up from everyone. Chalked it up to a lesson learned and a frightening experience.

About a week and a half ago Alex complained of a bit of dizziness. It came on while we were doing a 700 piece puzzle together. He felt like he couldn't focus and it also gave him a bit of nausea. Over the past little while he has had 2 bouts of dizziness, 2 headaches, nausea a few times off and on, a couple of times of wonky vision and most recently vomiting. Since his symptoms didn't all come together and really weren't that severe, it took me a while to put them together. The vomiting was the tipping point. He had no other symptoms like you would get with a stomach bug or food poisoning, etc......so here this story begins.....after that very long lead up (sorry)..

Sunday night Graham and I went back over everything that Alex had been experiencing and we both agreed that it would be a good idea for him to see a doctor. At each port when we arrive we always either ask other cruisers for health care information or in most cases there is a document of info made by someone with all important numbers and contacts. This is the case for Cartagena. The dock master at Club Nautico had made a small guide and had the names of several doctors he recommended. Under the advice of one of our new friends here (Kathy on Seastar) I call Dr. Jaime Ambrad at 8:50am on Monday.

Dr. Ambrad picked up the phone himself?? He spoke English and asked what time would be good for me. We arranged an appointment for 10 am. I wrote out the address for the taxi driver and away we went. We knocked on Dr. Ambrad's door and his nurse let us in and we were then led into his office with no wait. My first impression was how kind, genuine and warm he seemed. He was probably in his 60's and he isn't a family doctor. He is a specialist dealing with cardiovascular and thoracic complaints but he is also a fellow sailor and willing to see cruisors with other issues. He treated our appointment as his top priority. He heard the symptoms and also agreed that the nausea/vomiting would have other symptoms associated if it was a bug, etc. He said that he wanted to call some of his contacts who were neurosurgeons and get us a referral. He said that he didn't want us to have to wait and that he would call us with the information but that he would like to arrange for an appointment for this afternoon. He said he wouldn't be charging us for our visit.

Within an hour of being home Dr. Ambrad called and asked us to come back for a CT scan and then a follow-up appointment with one of the top neurosurgeon in Cartagena. We arrived and were taken directly to the lab. Amelia stayed upstairs and waited with the doctor. Alex was thinking that it was pretty cool that he would get to see pictures of his brain. He climbed up on the table and they put his head in the apparatus and after about 10 minutes it was done. We waited about another 10 minutes for the pictures to be developed. During this time the doctor brought Amelia down because he wanted to see the pictures and evaluate them with the specialist at the lab before we went to the neurosurgeon. He came out and gave us the "Thumbs Up" and called us in to look at the pictures. He translated for the specialist and she let us know that there was no internal bleeding or blood clots. All good news. He then offered to drive us across town to the neurosurgeon, since he was done for the day??? You can imagine the SHOCK on my face! He still hadn't charged us and never did and we only paid $110 for the CT scan.

He dropped us off and asked me to call when I left the office and let him know how things went. I was blown away by this doctor. Since we have never been able to get a family physician, I have taken the kids too many walk in clinic doctors in Canada and I am sorry to report that most do not even make eye contact with us. They have been quick and abrupt and we are made to feel as if our concerns are of their last priority. I remember on one occasion even leaving the office crying after the doctor chewed me out for questioning his diagnosis. Ok, so this is why I was shocked by the warmth, caring and sincerity of this man. He was everything I had always thought that doctors should be.

We had the same experience at the neurosurgeons office. We were taken directly in and he evaluated the pictures. He gave Alex a series of tests. He agreed that there was no bleeding, clots or skull fracture. Alex had no problems on all of the tests. Dr. Luis Yarzagaray (Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Illinois at Chicago) said that he has seen symptoms such as Alex's and that they are a normal effect of the trauma and that they should last for 2 to 3 weeks once they begin and that he would fully recover. He said that Alex should refrain from too much physical activity or anything that will shake things up. He gave me his personal cell phone and said to feel free to call if I have any follow-up concerns.

So that was our Monday. Alex is feeling better now and is only feeling nauseous but we would sure like it to end. We will let you know if anything changes. He is in good spirits and given that he has always wanted to be a neurosurgeon, he said that his day was very inspiring. Dr. Yarzagaray even pointed to a shelf full of huge text books he had written and then pulled one down onto his desk with a thud and said to Alex, "Someday you will read this text book and you will remember me". Very cool.

January 18, 2010

"Quatro Steaka Slice a"

Now imagine the above said by me with loads of animated sign laguage and with 2 kids standing beside me, copying my movements! Too funny!

Each day the kids and I go to the grocery store for dinner items. Amelia has made a game out of it and makes a list divided out into individual lists for each of us. They hit the door running and we meet back at the till with our loot. It is challenging because everything is in Spanish. We had difficulty today finding baking powder. We are definitely learning.

Today we decided it was time to tackle the meat counter and I am so glad we did. We got 4 steaks for $6.50!! As we walked away Alex said I hope they aren't liver. We haven't ate them yet so cross your fingers.

The past couple of days our kitchen has had a few unwanted house guests. The other night Alex went in and yelled the dreaded "Cockroach"! Quite a moment, our first cockroach since we returned. Graham ran in and being the tough guy he is, he squashed the roach with his barefoot! The kids screamed in horror and I listened from the other room. Then he stood on 1 foot while the kids ran around searching for paper towel. Oh what fun. Last night Amelia and I went down to the kitchen for a glass of water and there walking slowly across the counter was a lizard. So strange. We let it live and just got our water and left.

Work on Artemo is still moving along well. Each day Graham is surprised when everyone shows up when they are suppose to and works all day. They even worked on Saturday. Graham took Sunday off due to the great progress. We all went to the Spanish Inquistion torture museum. It was really gruesome but interesting. We also managed to get kicked out of a posh hotel. We had heard that you could swim for free in their rooftop pool but we found out otherwise once in our swimsuits and of course in front of a rich english speaking crowd. How embarassing! lol

On a final note...."Look out for falling mangos". The huge trees hanging over our place are ripe with mangoes. Amelia thought there was an intruder last night but it was just the explosion of falling mangos on the tin roof. We have a bowl on the table and each day I open the front door to more treasure.

January 14, 2010

Totally Different

We took our google translated letter of concerns to the boat yard and spoke to "Alex". He is this really nice guy who really wants to see everything completed as we had hoped. He read through the Spanish letter and looked quite perplexed. He finally asked if we had the English version :-)! I guess the translator made a mess of it. Anyway, in the letter we asked to speak to the Boat Yard Manager (Frank) who went to school in the USA and speaks great English to discuss our concerns. Alex read through the English version and got to the end and said (in pretty good English), "We will make sure that you leave here happy customers"!

By 2pm that afternoon Alex had spoke to the different trades people involved and brought us all together in Franks office. Frank is a nice looking, young, well spoken, reasonable man. You could tell that everyone in the room really respected him but he didn't seem to gain his respect the same way we had seen other managers in the yards get it through yelling and anger. I think he has a history of being fair and reasonable. We reviewed our concerns and he translated as necessary to the trade's people. We all then went to the boat and reviewed the problems. He apologized for the fact that the fellow we had dealt with originally had difficulty communicating our needs to the workers involved and that he had been let go due to this. We described what we needed done and Frank translated directly to the people who would be doing the work. At the end of the conversation I said that my last concern was timing. I let him know that we were targeting to leave Cartagena by the end of the month. He stopped me mid sentence and said, "The work will begin tomorrow"! My face broke with the first smile of the day.

We spent the day cleaning Artemo and hardly made a dent in the amount of dirt on board. The decks are covered in dust and dirt and inside is equally as bad. Luckily Amelia has taken to enjoying cleaning, go figure? I don't want to say anything to jinx it. Alex prefers to avoid us and hides out hoping to go unnoticed. I will be quick to change this!

Today Graham went to the yard on his own since the boat should have the workers on board fiber glassing the cockpit. He gave me a call when he arrived at 8:30am and sure enough they were already well underway, great news. Graham is supervising and working on a list of items that need to be completed prior to launch. None of them are too large but given the heat in the yard, I feel for him. He is the man!!! We took our cell phones from Canada to this guy on the street (Jose) and had him unlock them and set us up to be able to call each other cheaply. It is unbelievable for 40 bucks both phones are unlocked and we can phone each other unlimited for a year. It is nice to be able to be in touch.

Our place is coming together. Even though this situation is a bit reminiscent of Grenada, it is TOTALLY different. Our frame of mind is also TOTALLY different. This is just the way it goes and this is the life we have chosen and this time we have a better idea of what to expect. Living on or off the boat the adventure has begun again!

January 11, 2010

Let the games begin

We knew that when we arrived at Artemo we wouldn't find everything we asked for done perfectly but we hoped that things would be good enough. What we found was pretty much just that. The work that we had done that is structural work looks pretty good and the work we were having done that was "nice to have" isn't.

The hull deck joint (important part) is all new, looks great and Artemo is fully painted and beautiful. We really wanted the entire cockpit fiberglassed but for some reason they only did the seats and not the side walls which was the main reason we were having the cockpit done, since the side wall had a bit of rot and a hole in it. When we arrived the fellow through a game of charades basically communicated that we should really get the walls done to! LOL. We point to the fairly large hole and try to communicate that this is what we wanted fixed and that it was included in the quote!

Unfortunately the fellow who spoke english at the yard no longer works there. We are now writing out our thoughts in English and running them through the google translator. Today is a holiday here so tomorrow let the games begin.

My vote is just to epoxy the hole in the cockpit and call her done for now. Graham is going to see if there is a more permanent solution they could do in our timelines. We are targeting to leave Cartagena at the beginning of February. We are hoping to have Martha, Kayvon and Tara join us in the San Blas islands which is just an overnite sail from Cartagena.

We are settling into our new home. I have been scrubbing at all the filth and finding more as I clean. We have found our way around the neighborhood and we nowhere all the important places are, such as the ice cream shop and the liquor store :-). I set up the kids homeschool schedule and we are full on back into it. Amelia's lesson today was all about Prince Henry the Navigator and Christopher Colombus! To funny.

Our Swiss roommates are quite nice and over the top adventurers. They have a landcruiser parked in the driveway and have been driving/exploring South America for the past 4 years (camping) and before that Africia. You can imagine the stories! They both have to be in their 60s. To cool.

Hard to believe that just last week we were skiing....so strange....

January 08, 2010


After 2 days of travel we finally arrived back in Hot, Hot, Hot Cartagena! It seems to be just as we left it. We arrived with 8 huge duffle bags filled with boat parts and Amelia's clothes.

We found 2 taxis, to take us and our belongings to our rented room. I had to laugh as I watched all of the people trying for a few of our peso's hoist rapidly the duffle bags into each car. Graham's carefully packaged radar (in its own custom bag sewn by his mom) was going to be left in the open trunk with a bungee cord attaching it to the car. Graham quickly veto'd that plan.

I showed the drivers the address I had written out and I then I remembered the language barrier! We received the thumbs up from both drivers but I didn't feel very reassured that they knew where they were going. The kids and I jumped in one car and Graham (and the radar :-)) jumped in another.

HOLY HANNAH. Our fella rips out of the airport like he is fleeing a fire. Horns, traffic, near misses, sharp corners, fast stops, yelling out the window at other drivers. Total chaos but strangely warm and comforting to us. In amongst this craziness I watch an ant (in the HOT taxi)traverse the ceiling of the car, back and forth. The ant seems to be moving as fast as the taxi? The kids and I don't speak for the first half of the ride. We are all just stunned a bit and beginning our Cartagena sweat.

We get to our area of town but the taxi drivers have no idea where it is. They keep driving up to one another and yelling through their windows and I keep trying to show the driver the piece of paper with the numbers on it. He couldn't speak 1 word of english and I couldn't speak any spanish. Finally he stops the car and Graham and the other driver come to our car to talk. I ask them to call the fellow renting us the room and voila all is solved.

So I need to give you a bit of background on this next part. Graham and I realized that we would need to stay in a place for the first week or two while we got Artemo ready for launch. We both began researching apartments, rooms and hotels. Our criteria seemed to differ a bit, so it was a point of contention between the two of us. I managed to find a nice new apartment fully air conditioned and with a pool for $100 a night. Graham managed to find a couple of rooms in a shared house (the rooms themself were air conditioned) for $30 a night. He wasn't able to get any pictures but after a brief discussion (I mean fight) we agreed to rent the rooms.

When we arrived our landlord Manfred met us. He looked a bit surprised to see four of us? I am positive though that Graham mentioned this in the email. He said that unfortunately he only had one of the rooms available at this time. The Swiss couple in the other room was going to need their room for another week. He took us through 2locked gates to get to the house and then we walked through the kitchen and the HOT living room and then up the flight of stairs to our new home......

Ok, ok, it isn't that bad and we are now settled into this room but after 2 days of travel to arrive at this room with 1 bed and looks a bit like an unfinished basement....We were a bit let down. The good news is that Manfred turned on the wall a/c in the room and it began to blast out cold air. SALVATION!!! Halleluiah.

Manfred let us know that the kids could sleep on the couch in the livingroom (I whispered to Graham...."This will be your bed"). After Manfred left Graham and I carried the couch and 8 duffle bags up the flight of stairs in the extreme heat to our room.

We all crashed pretty hard and slept for the day. We went out to our favorite restaurant in the old walled city for dinner "El Bistro". We ate like kings (steak and grilled fish) and loved the fact that the meal came only to $25 including drinks.

The city looked amazing at night. They still have many of the lights from Christmas up. Everything looks more beautiful than I remember and everyone seems to be smiling and saying to "hola" to us.

There is a really nice breeze here now and it makes the heat bearable. It was the perfect night temperature. Amelia was so happy to be able to switch to her summer wardrobe. She put on this beautiful dress none of us had seen before. It was really light and it seemed to dance on its own in the Cartagena breeze.

It is early morning here now and once the kids wake up we are going to see "Artemo". We are pretty excited about this.....I will keep you posted.