Monica Axelsson crashed her bike in Sicily. Then came the hard part.
The Sicilian people are absolutely wonderful, I have lots of respect for them even though I sometimes had doubts about if I would leave the hospital alive. They really care about each other and they took care of me from their hearts since they felt sorry for me because they thought I didn’t have any relatives.
It’s not strange to be alone in a hospital in Sweden, but it is in Italy. The family has the main responsibility for general care like being washed, to make sure there are hygiene items and even such basic things as access to a warm blanket. That was the reason why I had to lie with a fire blanket for two days before a merciful visitor gave me a blanket as a gift. They are compassionate and have lots of empathy, but the climate is so much tougher. People were screaming of pain here and there and I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had died next to me.
Non parlo italiano
Two main problems I had to struggle with during the time at the hospital: I didn’t get enough pain relief and nobody could speak English. I was surprised that the police spoke such bad English, but they were good compared to the hospital staff. The hardest thing was that I had pain all the time. The pain relief was only active for a couple of hours before the pain increased and they were very strict that a certain time had to pass before the next dose. I only got extra sometimes if had yelled for a long time and was in a very bad condition.
I’m not used to showing weakness, but I couldn’t avoid to cry and scream when the pain increased and became unbearable. Language disorders could also lead to pain. I felt when my foot start to slip off the rail it lay in, but failed to convey. I couldn’t move my leg and the bones in my foot were unable to move, so my foot tumbled down and ended up hanging outside the bed. There are no words to describe the pain. The pain completely drained me, which led to a long recovery. The only time I could fix all the practicalities was when I got pain relief.
Contacting the Consulate
I didn’t know where the bike was and I needed my things from the luggage. The police told me that my things will ‘appear’ the day after, of course they didn’t. To make a phone call was a challenge for many reasons. There was lots of noise all the time, stressed staff and visitors speaking loudly and patients screaming. Besides that, there were different kinds of treatments going on. I had to arrange my belongings and I also needed interpreting help so I was very glad when I got in contact with a woman at the Swedish Embassy. It took a while before she acted, but finally after several emails, she contacted the Swedish Consulate in Palermo and informed me that a man would come and give me my clothes and toiletries.
Since no one spoke English, I had many questions. Should I need to amputate some part of the leg? Probably not if I had perceived the staff correctly, but it would be surgery for sure. How were they planning to do it and when? At this time, I was terrified because they had tried to drive a ten centimetres long and thick piece of steel into my foot, without anesthesia! First I thought it was a misunderstanding, but hey, really intended to do that. I refused in the last minute.
Consulate to the rescue?
So finally the man from the consulate arrived. I had written a list with all the questions I hoped to get answered and was lucky that the pain relief was working at the time so I was able to communicate. But OMG what a disappointment, the man was totally uninterested in helping me. I couldn’t believe what I saw, I didn’t know if I would laugh or cry. He made me lose my confidence for the Swedish Consulate, which was confirmed later when also my insurance company had problems with them. They refused to send the rest of my things to Sweden. I never got them.
Another ‘little detail’ was that I didn’t have insurance. The bike and the protective equipment was insured (and the things I never got back), but not me. Normally I have very good insurance when I travel, but I had travelled for a long time and totally forgotten to renew it. I thought about it when I was driving in the breathtakingly high mountains in Albania, but I didn’t had internet at the time and forgot about it again when I went back to Greece and took a ferry to Italy.
The lack of insurance was actually one of the reasons why I didn’t keep on driving through Albania. I don’t know about the Albanian health care system, but if the accident had happened in Albania instead, I’m sure they would have spoken better English anyway. Google translate is definitely not compatible with Italian.
I wanted to move to another hospital because of the problems with communication, the insufficient pain relief, and the overcrowded hospital, but I wasn’t movable. The leg was broken in several places and very swollen. The pain nearly made me crazy, for real. It affected my brain, I couldn’t think clearly.
Ready Player One
It felt like I was the main character in a bad movie where some assignments only could be performed within a very limited timeframe. If I couldn’t manage it, I had to wait until the next level.
There were so many practicalities to perform and people I had to contact. It was a struggle to find the right person at the insurance company for example and to find out what the bike-insurance covered, even though I had help from friends. I tried to do as much as I could via email. Life was a battle and I had to wait nine days before they did the operation.
Their lack of English almost cracked me. After the big and complicated surgery, I woke up without pain relief. I guess the tube to the morphine was squeezed. I woke up with a scream and tried to alert the staff that it didn’t work, but the night nurse didn’t believe me and left the room! When I got crazy and threw what ever I could reach to draw attention, the nurse came back again and tied me up! I think it took a couple of hours before some other staff came and checked the tubes. Suddenly the aperture worked again. I had visited hell for a while, again. Despite that, the hospital staff were generally very good actually. If you ignore the lack of pain relievers.
I didn’t received any sensible explanation to why they held so hard on the pain relief. Someone told me that it was because they were afraid that the preparation would be ineffective if the pain would increase. It’s not a satisfactory answer to me. The weirdest thing was that they were more generous with morphine and morphine-like preparations than strong painkillers. At the end of the stay, my veins was so broken that I didn’t want any more morphine injections. Though I tried asking for strong tablets instead, but they were even harder to get! I only got two 30 mg paracetamol codeine a day, one in the morning and one for the night.
Home Swede Home
I usually say that I have a gypsy soul which is happiest when I travel. Longing for home is normally not in my mind. But during this experience, I could have done nearly anything to get back to Sweden. It took me nineteen days to convince the doctors that I was movable. I knew the trip would be terrible because I had a hell of pain, and it truly was. So I went away with one paracetamol in my body, no extras, on a crowded and much delay aircraft, but I did it!
Back in the saddle
I have rested my friends now and licked my wounds and planned for new adventures. I’m off to Puerto Rico in a few weeks to work as volunteer, so I’m on the track again! And I promise you that I’ll have insurance this time…