by Jeanne Hambleton © 

With summer holidays on your mind you may be thinking about  booking a break on  some sunny island. You will look at costs, flights and how soon you can get away from it all  but two important items will really need your attention.  

Please buy good travel insurance AND take your E1-11 card with you.  The unexpected may be around the corner.

I consider myself lucky, in spite of FM/CFS, as I manage to stay on my feet and remain relatively active. That changed when I had a holiday in Lanzarote, one of the lovely Canary Islands. 

On the second day of my two weeks away with my daughter I had a nasty fall walking up a dimly lit steep slope with no hand rails at the complex. There was blood, a torn jacket and trousers and great pain. It took a 211 call, a lot of grunting and groaning from me and a stand up fight from my daughter to get the ambulance team to take me to hospital, which was out of their region. That made my daughter see red – out of their region?

Under pressure and with poor grace I was laid on a 2ft wide ambulance bench in the dark without straps or safety handles. As the ambulance travelled at what seemed like 100 mph, I clung on for dear life. The crew snuggled up to my daughter in the front seat.

I do not speak Spanish and at the hospital they took all my clothes (did they think I would run away)  my E1-11 card and put me in a dark ward with sleeping patients leaving me in pain. It must have been 3 hours before I was taken for x rays and to see the doctor. My daughter and I were at last  reunited.

The big surprise was the Spanish Doctor spoke broken English and knew about fibromyalgia. He said healing would take 10 times longer as I had fibromyalgia. I now believe that may be true.  After looking at x rays the doctor suggested I had a bruised bleeding pelvic bone and had not broken my left wrist. So we were released and I got my clothes back.

It was now 3am and we were miles from our holiday complex. The staff called a taxi. I struggled to get into the seat and was relieved to be heading back to the complex.. The holiday venue had big double glass doors, three deep steps and a long ramp. But it was 15 yards across the pavement from where the taxi stopped and left me standing on one leg AND the doors were locked.

My daughter rattled the doors and pushed the bell all to no available. The Concierge was asleep and oblivious to the noise we were making. Some 20 minutes later he appeared while I  balanced on one foot, unable move forward, backwards or go anywhere.  Inside the venue it was allegedly all level ground but we still had the problem of the 15 yards and the steps or the ramp. The hotel had no wheelchair and I was no lightweight to be whisked off my feet. By now the situation had become laughable – there was no other way to look at the desperate situation we were facing. We could both lay on the pavement and laugh.  We would for sure  look back and laugh at this.

Are you are familiar with the long luggage trolleys these hotel have? You have guessed it –  I was  consigned to one of those with cushions from the luxury chairs in reception. It was hysterical hanging on to slipping cushions and handbags, up the ramp and over uneven pathways. It was like something out of a slapstick movie and we collapsed in fits of loud laughter. One light sleeper, we woke. helped my daughter push me up the ramp, and then she was on her own.  It is amazing we did not wake all the holidaymakers.  That  ‘luggage delivery’  took 30 minutes to get back to our apartment  but we made it. Next day we hired a wheelchair and  I spent the  rest of my holiday learning what it was like to be disabled and confined to a wheelchair.

While the accident was literally a pain in the butt, eight painkillers a day and no alcohol, I was able to lounge in the warm sun. We debated about flying home but what good would that do? However the Spanish doctor with some English warned I would be in pain for 3 or 4 days (in hindsight I think he meant weeks) and it would last longer as I had fibromyalgia. Great! Undeterred we got out and about with the help of friendly taxi drivers and learned to chose ground floor restaurants with loos on the same level.

It was to be the beginning of a huge learning curve. My dear daughter, whose holiday I completely ruined as she became my carer (including taking me to the loo in the middle of the night) pushed the wheelchair, helped me in and out of taxis supported by wonderful Lanzarote taxi drivers. If I extended my arm to lean on them, they were there. They folded the wheelchair and helped me up steep kerbs and became my ‘knights in shining armour’.

It could not have happened in a better place – the locals were fantastic and I was even invited to queue jump?  Canarians and holidaymakers were caring, attentive and helpful.  But the drop down kerbs were steep and pavements narrow. Their slopes for wheelchair users in Playa Blanca were difficult to manoeuvre. Also so many restaurants had toilets upstairs or downstairs, which were inaccessible to me. So  it was one glass and a sip at a time all evening..not what I had in mind for a holiday. We did discovered the Lani steak house at the Rubicon Marina with a ground floor disabled toilet. Every night we ate our way through the menu of prawn cocktails, homemade tomato soup to kill for, and various steaks including T-bone, fish, pizzas, Mexican dishes, and more. Miguel, Johnny and their staff organised taxis to get us home. Without the Lani staff we would have lived on sandwiches and crisps. As folks struggled to help me up steep kerbs, my daughter nicknamed me, “Mama Too Many Dinners” which always lightened the mood, eased the strain and gave rise to  laughter.

At the complex we had a frying pan with no egg slice; a microwave with no microwave dishes, and had asked for an apartment overlooking the pool but I forgot to mention ‘with water’. The apartment was well appointed as we requested and great for the first two days. After that they emptied the pool for repairs, which was still empty when we left.  In fairness there was other pool. Next time I will ask for an apartment next to a pool with water in it. We had a light bulb than did not work, a telephone with a loose wire,  a wooden curtain pole that sent its 20 rings clattering all over the floor and noisy neighbours upstairs.  I think if I had been fit and well I might not have taken much notice of all of that but spending so much time in the apartment somehow it all seemed to grate.

Perhaps the only saving grace on of this holiday from hell was I discovered what life is like in a wheelchair, where doors open towards you, shops have two steps and no slopes into the building, counters are too high and you cannot see the goods displayed. Also oddly enough the air does not seem as fresh as it is if you are upright, as all the rubbish bins are “in your face” so to speak.

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of being in a wheelchair is watching people stride towards you, looking in the opposite direction and suddenly you are afraid they will fall all over you and be in your lap, if your pusher does not take action to avoid a disaster.  Many people are without doubt jaywalkers. They walk round a dustbin, or display stand, but seem to refuse to budge and make the path easier for someone in a wheelchair. Come to think of it you also meet these people when you are standing upright and you have to avoid a clash with people who do not look where they are walking.

It was a  nightmare flight to Gatwick with its wheelchair assistance (an independent company that was overstretched). We eventually got from our flight deck  to our airport taxi after a bit a financial blackmail for the buggy driver to take us to the airport car park.  I even went home with some sun burn and looked disgustingly well on the top half that is.

Once home I climbed the stairs to bed with great difficulty as it was three weeks since the accident leaving me with ‘bleeding’ bones. As it got no better my family insisted I saw a doctor. By the time I got an appointment at the fracture clinic it was four weeks on and I am still not walking. When the doctor got my x-rays she stuck a needle and plastic ‘ socket type thingy’ in my hand, hit a vein and I bled all over the floor and her. When I ask why, the doctor said they were keeping in. For bleeding bones I said?

While the Spanish doctor may have known it would take a longer time to get better he did not see the 3 breaks in the pelvic bone xray or the broken wrist and no one at my hospital had ever heard of ‘bleeding’ bones? A broken bone they say takes six weeks to heal.  It was  five months before I was back on my feet without crutches, much much longer than I thought.  We went on holiday in October and I was not walking by myself until the next year.  The following October we went back for more sun but this time I stood on my own feet all the time.

So my message is always carry your E1-11 card abroad, buy good travel insurance and keep bills. Take care when abroad  and if you are upright,  way around wheelchairs and not at them. Think of the poor pusher. This certainly is not a holiday I will forget in a hurry but we had some good laughs in spite of the situation.  Back soon. Jeanne


About jeanne hambleton

Journalist-wordsmith, former reporter, columnist, film critic, editor, Town Clerk and then fibromite and eventer with 5 conferences done and dusted. Interested in all health and well being issues, passionate about research to find a cure and cause for fibromyalgia. Member LinkedIn. Worked for 4 years with FMA UK as Regional Coordinator for SW and SE,and Chair for FMS SAS the Sussex and Surrey FM umbrella charity and Chair Folly Pogs Fibromyalgia Research UK - finding funding for our "cause for a cure" and President and co ordinator of National FM Conferences. Just finished last national annual Fibromyalgia Conference Weekend. This was another success with speakers from the States . Next year's conference in Chichester Park Hotel, West Sussex, will be April 24/27 2015 and bookings are coming in from those who raved about the event every year. I am very busy but happy to produce articles for publication. News Editor of FMS Global News on line but a bit behind due to conference. A workaholic beyond redemption! The future - who knows? Open to offers with payment. Versatile and looking for a regular paid column - you call the tune and I will play the pipes.
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