As part of the growing number of baby boomers entering retirement, we had to think seriously about health care availability when deciding to retire to an island outside the US. We knew that there were options for care on our rock, as well as in the nearby US territories, and had kept the option of flying to Puerto Rico or Miami in reserve as a back-up plan to use when needed. However, an emergency that did not allow for a quick flight recently landed me in our local hospital for 8 days.

I want to say up front that this post is in no way a condemnation or a complaint about the medical services I received. My doctors and the nursing staff were exceptional – friendly, caring, and responsive. I feel grateful to now know for certain that I need not worry about the hospital/health care system on my rock. That being said, there were also some humorously quirky things that happened during my stay there, things very different than what I have become accustomed to after spending most of my life in the US.

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Although I was very ill, I was still able to embrace the funny. Laughter is the best medicine… right?

The Great Sheet Caper

Question to hospital staff: “Can I possibly have my sheets changed today?”

Reply: “Well… not sure…(mumbles something) it might be too late.”

In my head: I guess that means no sheets today.

Next day to nurse taking my vitals: “Can I have my sheets changed today?”

Reply: “You haven’t had your sheets changed?”

Me: “Not since I’ve been here.”

In my head: SEVEN days at this point! (I’d changed rooms 3 times in 4 days, but they just moved me in the same bed to a different location. No fresh sheets with room changes.)

Then the real story came out.

Nurse: “Have you been bathed?”

Me:  “Well, no.”

In my head: I haven’t felt well enough to have someone rub my body with a scratchy cloth that has been sloshing around in a bowl of tepid water.

Nurse: “Well, the staff that does the bathing changes the sheets. If there’s no bath, someone is supposed to let someone else know.”

In my head: Oh, I guess that someone was supposed to be me then? Darn. To think that I could have been luxuriating in the comfort of fresh 50-thread count sheets with the word WARD printed on them in black grease pencil if I had only known!

Me: “So, then can I just have some fresh sheets now?”

Nurse: “Are you going to be bathed today?”

In my head: We’re back to the bathing thing again.

Me:  “No, I’m going to take a shower later when my partner arrives and he can help me.”

Nurse: “Then who will put them on?”

Me: “Well, if necessary, I will just have to change the sheets myself it seems.”

Nurse: “OK.” She leaves.

A little while later, fresh sheets magically appeared. Wow! Where was my Easy Button when I needed it? Apparently, I had been just one circuitous conversation away from my clean sheets. A short while later, a sweet lady even came by and changed them. I didn’t  have to do it myself after all. Lovely.

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Open Door Policy

When I am sick, especially in the hospital, I want the room I am in to be dark, quiet, and cool. After suffering through several days on a ward, my partner requested that I be moved to a private room where there was, hopefully, less noise and nosy folks wondering if the white lady in Bed 4 was someone’s idea of a joke. But alas, I came to learn that a private room comes with its own challenges. For instance, does “Please leave the door closed” mean “Leave the door ajar” in island-speak? If so, then I stand chastised before you and will add the new meaning to my rapidly-growing island dictionary.

Each time that the nursing and other staff entered the room, I would politely request that they please close the door as they were leaving. They always replied with a yes but invariably, they’d leave the door ajar. I would urgently repeat my request, but they had most always already beat a hasty retreat to their next assignment. That left me with no other option than what I came to refer to as my “hospital gymnastics” – a tricky move of wiggling up, untangling myself from the IV, and stretching across the bed to sort of tap the door closed with my foot. Unfortunately, due to the precarious angling, my “tap” mostly resulted in a SLAM that was certainly not my intent. All I could do was hope that it blended into the cacophony of bedlam that was going on at all hours outside my now-closed door and not taken as a sign of disrespect. The times they did actually close the door made me feel an almost ridiculous amount of deep gratitude.

What’s in a Name?

For the first five days in the hospital, I was NPO. Sometimes I just don’t get the acronym thing. Wouldn’t “Nothing By Mouth” be NBM? Or maybe they don’t want to confuse “Nothing By Mouth” with No BM. On day five, I was finally allowed clear fluids and broth, so the kitchen prepared a thick broth of provisions. Though it was warm and soothing and tasty, it ended up being too much for my first meal in 5 days – back to NPO!

The Visiting Masses

There are three 1-hour visiting periods daily: 11am-noon, 4-5 pm, and 7-8 pm. This was beyond crazy, turning the place into a zoo, especially in a 4-bed ward the size of a small US master bedroom. I was in a bed by the door with a curtain that did not completely close. Without exception, everyone that filed into the room looked at me and nodded or said something like, “Hello” or “How are you doing?” It was sweet, but exhausting as well as just plain uncomfortable at times. I once counted 25 people as they were leaving one evening, baffled by how many people could cram themselves into such a tiny space. It was like a huge family reunion with people strolling around, checking out who was in the beds to see if they might know anyone else that was either a patient or a visitor.

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The funniest part was when visiting hours were over, a security guard would walk through the halls ringing a school bell. It was the same type of bell that the grade school teachers carried on the playground to announce the end of recess. The first time I heard it, I thought we were having a fire drill and near panicked. Since the first bell would never cause a mass evacuation of the visitors, she’d end up having to go into every room and ward and check for stragglers (or maybe stowaways?) and firmly remind them that visiting hours were over. So much for the bell.

 –   –   –

Suffice it to say, I was beyond happy the day I got to go home and rest in my own bed with soft, comfortable sheets and pillows while the quiet descended once again in my life.

Have you ever had a stay in the hospital on your rock? What was your experience like?

Written By:

Susan Valentine

Current Rock of Residence:

Anguilla

Island Girl Since:

2014

Originally Hails From:

California and Michigan

Susan retired to Anguilla on July 1, 2014 with her other half, Frank, and their 11 year old Whippet, Izzy, arriving with five suitcases, a carry-on bag, a guitar case (with guitar), a printer, a huge dog crate, and of course, the dog. She gave away every single thing that she owned except what could fit into those bags. Who does that?

Susan determined that having long been a vagabond at heart, she had to wait for the right person to travel this journey with, the right time to do it, and the heart for the challenge of starting over in her 60s. She has no regrets, no sorrows over “things” given away, and no sense of loss.

Having vacationed in the Caribbean for many years, Susan thought she had an idea of what life would be like in retirement on an island. Everything was so charming for those two weeks in paradise every year. There were no tropical storms, no hurricanes, no power outages, and there was always an abundance of food on the grocery store shelves. She has learned many, many things since moving to her rock.

Every day still brings indescribable beauty and new experiences, while the mysteries and humor of island life continue to be revealed.

Want to read more posts by this writer? Click here.

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