There we were, my mother, father and I in the small hospital cubicle that I've called home for the last 3 + weeks when we get the news that the med flight crew has arrived at Vall d'Hebron. A combination of a sigh of relief, and that electric feeling of excitement rushed over the three of us, all at the same time. ”It's actually happening, we're going home.” I said to my parents. “I'm going to kiss the ground when I arrive at Logan Airport.”
I was set to get onto a private Learjet with two med flight nurses, and two pilots. Our destination; Logan Airport in Boston, and then from Logan Airport to Spaulding Rehab Hospital, Nashua Street, Boston.
There was definitely a few moments between when I was told that they had arrived, and when they actually came into my room, that I had felt that this trip home was not going to happen. Am I really going home? I had become so accustomed to accepting bad news that I actually expected my doctor coming into my room and telling me that they needed more tests because they found fluid in my lungs again, or that I was not stable enough to fly, or that the plane that arrived was not for me... As if there was another American patent at Vall d'Hebron that had broken his neck and he was going home, not me. After the month that I had had, this was just too good to be true!
But luckily two wonderful Nurses (obviously the med flight nurses because of their navy blue flight uniforms and their large medical bags) walked in bickering back and forth, as if they were sisters, talking about what the plan would be for getting me from hospital to the jet. Their sense of humor added to my excitement of going back home, and eased my anxiety of being stuck in a small plane for 13+ hours with people I didn't know know, and had to trust with my life.
They took a few minutes to explain to me what the plan was, and what to expect. They described the jet as being small, with tight quarters and asked me if I'd be ok lying down for the whole trip, as there were not many other options. They also offered the option of giving me something to help me sleep. I explained that I was OK with this, that I was not claustrophobic, I probably didn't need something for sleep, and that I just wanted to get home. They then explained to me the flight plan. We would be flying to the Azores, then over England, then Iceland, then Canada, and finally to Boston. We would be making one stop for dinner, and a couple of stops for gas.
I remember getting to the plane and being greeted by the pilots. They told me that it would be an easy flight as the weather was cooperating. They explained that we would be flying much higher than a normal commercial airplane, and that the ascent and descent would be much longer than normal. The whole crew assured me that they would do everything in their power to make me as comfortable as possible. All the while the “two sisters” were joking around with each other making me feel much more at ease. They really were a riot, and I certainly needed the distraction.
Our first stop was in the Azores where they opened up the cabin door to allow the fresh ocean air to come into the plane. Breathing in that fresh air was good for my soul. I will say this, at this point I'm getting sick of breathing fresh air while confined to a stretcher…. What I really wanted to do was just get up and run out the door, and jump into the water!
Refueling took about a half hour, and I kept asking them if we could stay and go to the beach. I told them I was fine and that there was really no rush. Try as I might, they told me it was not a possibility and we had to be on our way.
We made a couple more stops before we had dinner, and I have to say the dinner was delicious! The best airplane food I've ever had! Helene (one of the flight nurses) said that they made it special for me! It was a wonderfully, juicy steak with all the fixin's. It was really the first steak that I had had in a long time as well - so even tastier! I wondered if they prepared these meals specifically for their injured passengers to make them feel more comfortable while on such a tiny cramped plane….a distraction from reality…. and according to Helene that was the case.
Many thousands of miles, and many hours later we arrive at our destination; Boston. My home. I clearly remember how badly I was aching to get out of the jet and off of that tiny stretcher and into a “comfortable” hospital bed. But of course there is a glitch with customs and we were delayed for what seems to me, forever. At this point I was done. I just wanted to get up off that stretcher and walk out of that flying Pringles can. But that was not physically possible anymore…. And it won't be for some time maybe not ever. I felt as though I was a prisoner in my injured body and now that I am home, it's time to break out of that prison.
Customs released the ambulance and we were on our way to Spaulding where my sister awaited my arrival. When I arrived through the double doors of Spaulding she is waiting in the lobby next to the Dunkin Donuts, of course! Both her and that Dunkin Donuts we're very welcome sites. When we see each other we are overwhelmed with emotion….but we did our best to put on our most strong, happy face for each other. I know that we were both a wreck. She came with me, and my two med flight nurses to meet my new team nurse on the floor that I would now call home for the next six and a half months of my recovery.
And this is where the fun begins.