My Life as a Traveler

Alaska Jul 2011

Home from Alaska

Heading home into the sunset...

It’s the last day of this “vacation” and we’re flying home. Fortunately, our flight does’t leave until noon, so we have the chance to sleep in and get a nice breakfast in the restaurant.

Since we are Priority Club members, we get access to the members’ lounge, which will have breakfast in the morning or hors d’oeuvres and sodas in the evening. It’s the weekend, though, and the lounge is closed. Because it caters to the business traveler, the members’ lounge often is only open Monday through Thursday, but it depends on the hotel. Some hotels keep the lounge open on the weekends as well. You never know until you get there. I guess you can call in advance to find out if it was important. We don’t, though, and assume that it’s closed so that when we find it open, it’s a treat. Yeah, I know, it’s the little things!

Anyway, if the lounge is not open, most hotels will give you a free breakfast in their restaurant. Maybe it’s a credit, maybe it’s a free buffet, again, you never know. Some hotels automatically give you the vouchers for breakfast when you check in. Others won’t unless you specifically ask for them. In this hotel, the lounge is closed and we are not offered breakfast. However, when I ask, I receive coupons for breakfast in the restaurant. Sometimes I get turned down, but always ask anyway.

Since this hotel is about a 10 minute drive from the airport, we need to rely on their free shuttle to get us to our flight. The shuttle leaves every half hour on the hour. I reserved two spots for us on the 11am shuttle; our flight departs at 12:30pm. This should be plenty of time, right? Wrong! The shuttle wasn’t there at 11am, not there at 11:10am, not there at 11:20am. The front desk kept telling me that he was on his way, but, like I said, it’s only a 10 minute drive to the airport. Finally, he showed up and we made it on time to board the flight. Lesson learned: allow one hour transportation time for a 10 minute shuttle ride.

It was important that we make this flight because USAir did take pity on us and gave us two seats in first class. Nice.

After a quick change of planes in Charlotte, we made it home around midnight.

George and Morgan were there to pick us up.

Home.

I wish I could say I took this picture, but I did not. Credit goes to with credit to http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=3378657&searchId=3d71ffd79404267f9567400b8bbe7e68&npos=13.
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Goodbye Alaska rain, hello Seattle sun!


Today we have to leave our Alaskan paradise. The flight’s at 1pm and our friends from the Port Authority are scheduled to come for us at 11am.

But before that, we walk our rocky beach one more time. I’m still a little weak, but able to travel. The rest day yesterday was just the ticket; I’m ready to fly. It’s amazing to me that just a couple of days in the hospital can knock me down this much.

I always thought that Ketchikan was on the mainland part of the Alaska panhandle. Wrong! Ketchikan is on an island surrounded by other islands. In fact, the airport is on a totally different island from the town and we have to take a ferry there. It’s just a small ferry and a short way, but still, it’s kinda different to take a ferry to the airport.

Our driver from the Port Authority pays the toll. Turns out she needs to get to the airport anyway to track down some luggage that didn’t make it to some poor cruiser’s ship. That’s what they do.

We check in for our flight and have a bit of time to kill. The bar has the best view, so we park ourselves by a window and order some drinks (tea for me, beer for Susie – which I share because it’s medicinal). Next to us are about 4 tables pushed together filled with a dozen guys who just came back from a nearby fishing lodge. They must have had a great time — they’re all drinking beer and laughing loud as they recount their funny fishing stories. Ketchikan is a huge fishing destination and if you have a bunch of money, you could spend a few days at one of the deluxe lodges dedicated to the sport.

I had to check my bag because Doc said no lifting. This is the first time I’ve checked a bag since 2004. Weird. It felt like I was missing something, like a leg or an ear. The flight was fine and before we knew it, we were in the Holiday Inn Renton, not far from Sea-Tac airport. George’s miles got us a free room.

After a week in rainy Alaska, we’re happy to see the sun in Seattle. Our swimsuits come out of the luggage. It’s warmer here and there are some lounge chairs waiting by the pool with our names on them. Finally, just for an hour or so until the sun goes down, it feels like vacation.

When it gets too chilly to lay by the pool, we head back up to the room to watch a movie and get some zzzz’s. For dinner, we have leftover salmon that stayed cold in my checked luggage. Susie sees a branch of Umajiwaya in the shopping center next door and finds us some tropical sodas. We’ve also got water from the lounge next door.

Tomorrow, it’s back to Virginia.


A Different Kind of Beach

I’m waking up in Paradise and life is good.

Slept well: no IVs, nobody wanting blood or something every couple of hours, just quiet in my own room.

We can make our own breakfast since we have a kitchen supplied with food. On the way here we stopped to buy perishables like milk, yogurt, and fresh vegetables, but we’re also pleased to see there are plenty of non-perishables in the cupboards. It’s always a crap shoot whether the cupboards will be bare or whether there will be food left for us by the owner or left over from the previous guests.  Here, there are cans of soup and tuna fish, packages of pasta, and all kinds of other good stuff we can use. I’m hungry, but just a little bit of breakfast fills me up.

Sitting in our little cabin, we enjoy a fabulous view of the Tongass strait. This is one of the main marine highways that all manner of watercraft use to get in and out of Ketchikan. We see fishing trawlers, cruise ships, sightseeing boats, and boats that carry strange contraptions that must be for the oil industry.

Although there are no bears here, we have a family of bald eagles that live in the tree over Judy’s house. This morning a couple come over to the tree in front of our cottage and pick at some branches. They are magnificent. We study them through our big front windows.

After watching some movies on tv, we put our warm clothes on and go for a walk on the “beach.” It’s the middle of July, yet the temperatures are in the 50’s — today’s forecast is a high of 56 with showers.

Alaskan beach is a little different from the beach at home in that there is no sand. It’s rocks, rocks, rocks with some iron, seaweed, and various types of shellfish thrown in. We go out walking on the beach surveying the tidepools. The neighbor’s little dog greets us and keeps us company every time we walk out the door. Judy’s gone out of town so we go down to her deck, a little closer to the water, and chill in the lounge chairs she’s left for us.

Dinner time. There’s nothing better than the smell of salmon caught just a week ago cooking on the grill. We’ve been eating Judy’s smoked salmon and cream cheese all day long. It’s raining off and on, but it’s warm enough to sit outside on the patio with the grill to keep us warm. We roast marshmallows for dessert.

We could stay here for another week, just enjoying the peace and quiet. But tomorrow we’re on the move again, catching our flight to Seattle.


With a Little Help from My Friends

It’s a new day in Ketchikan! It’s still foggy and cold, but I’m leaving this hospital today.

Fortunately I have a lot of friends in Ketchikan who can help.

First, I have my friend Susie sleeping in the fold-out lounge chair next to my bed. I’m so happy she was at hand last night when the nurse ripped the IV out of my hand (gah! I just knew that would happen! law of attraction, anyone?) Her calming presence helped me get back to sleep.

This morning, I woke up in a sweat with a fever.  I’m not sure what that’s about. However, when I went to the bathroom this morning I was rewarded with some nice poo! Hooray! I’ve never been so happy to see poo. Took a walk around the wing to celebrate. By the second round, I was humming the theme from Rocky as I was strolling the halls.

When my friend Doctor Burman came by, he freed me from the IV and told me I was good enough to go home. Although I definitely wanted to leave the hospital, I wasn’t really ready to get on a plane yet. I wanted a recovery day or two more in Ketchikan. He promised to make a call to a woman he knew who had a bed and breakfast near a stream where the grizzlies liked to fish. Nice!

I felt a new energy and was ready to make the arrangements to get out of there. My new friends at the Port Authority offered to make them for me, but hey, I’m a travel agent and Chairman Preferred on USAir; I can do this!

First, I wanted to see when we could get home. Unfortunately, USAir doesn’t fly out of Ketchikan. In fact, nobody flies out of Ketchikan except for Alaska Airlines. I could change my USAir ticket for $150, but we still needed to get to the closest USAir city, which was either Seattle or Anchorage. A look on the Alaska Air website told me that it was cheaper to fly to Seattle. Still, that was going to be over $300 for an hour and a half flight! Yikes! I arranged the flights from Seattle to Newport News for 3 days from today. I figured that would give us two nights in Ketchikan, fly down to Seattle, then one night there before we fly home. Breaking the flight up seemed like a good idea. I’m feeling better but a little fearful of getting too tired.

Here’s where my new friend Carol Topping, Princess Passenger Liaison, could help us. Because Princess cruises puts so many people on Alaska Airlines, they get a special rate. Terrific Carol Topping was able to get us from Ketchikan to Seattle for $146. Wow, that was more than half price off. Thanks, Carol!

Now we needed to find a decent place to convalesce in Ketchikan. Since we’ve spent the last few days in “downtown” Ketchikan, it was time to enjoy the nature of Alaska. Unfortunately, the bed and breakfast recommended by Dr. Burman was not available. My new friend and nurse, Jenny, found us the number for the local youth hostel, but it was downtown. Finally, I called Alaskatravelers.com and my new friend Janet found a little cabin north of town on the water where we could walk along the beach and enjoy a gorgeous view of the Tongass Strait.

Now I had a reason to call my friends at the Port Authority. They offered to drive us not only to the airport, but to the pharmacy (I needed iron for my blood and antibiotics for the *&%^ bladder infection I got from the &^$%# catheter), the store (not sure if the cabin had food), and out to our cabin, 11 miles north of town. They would also come to pick us up and take us to the airport two days later. Wow, that’s hospitality. They didn’t charge us a thing, either.

It took me almost all day to get these arrangements set, but we were all ready to go by 3pm when our Port Authority ride came by.

We found our cabin open and ready for us. The owner, Judy, lived in a bigger house down toward the water. It was easy to settle in. All we needed was an extra blanket. We called Judy with this question and waited for her reply. When she called back, she asked us if we would like some frozen salmon that her last tenants caught and gave to her. Would we?!? Oh, and how about some smoked salmon that she made herself? With some cream cheese on the side? OMG we’re in heaven!

I’ve heard that the people in Alaska are super-friendly. I can tell you, it’s so true. I got by with a little help from my new Alaska friends!


The Odds are Good…

Tired. Even though I got a fairly good rest last night, it’s all catching up to me.

The goal today is a decent BM. (Sorry if that’s TMI, but hey, that was what’s required to get out of here!) We were looking for proof that the bleeding had stopped and things are getting back to normal. I think solid thoughts.

It’s raining and about 50 degrees out. Hard to believe it’s the middle of July. The fog rolls over the hill behind the hospital. Sometimes I can see the trees, sometimes I can’t. Other cruise ships are docked where the Diamond Princess was yesterday. I imagine for a moment what I would be doing if I wasn’t here, but still on the ship in the next port.

Susie comes in this morning to check in. Since I have the room to myself now and it doesn’t look like there will be any further roommates, I ask if she can stay with me tonight. My great nurses, Jason and Jared, find a reclining chair and Susie checks out of the Best Western and into Hotel Hospital.

The internet’s free here, so Susie hangs out for a bit using my computer before she goes off to venture again. She took some nice pics of flowers and Native American stuff.

I’m still on IV and want it out. The doc stops by to chat and see what’s happening. He suggests that I get my butt out of bed and do some walking. I’m tired and a little afraid that I might slip and rip the IV needle out of the top of my hand, where it has been plaguing me for the last couple of days. I also have to breathe in this plastic rectangular anti-pneumonia thing. There’s a little ball in a chamber that floats when I breathe hard in it. As a person who practices yoga, I pride myself on my deep breathing, but this is hard. Where’s my breath?

The good news is that the blood tests show that my hematocrit is up. The transfusion worked and now I am also making more blood. Yesterday, when good Doctor Burman found out that I got my blood directly from folks and not from a blood bank, he almost jumped up and down with glee. “That’s the best blood you can get! Whole blood!” I guess the blood from the blood bank is separated out more and then mixed together with everyone else. I had five bags from five different people. Yay for me.

The bad news is that, after a little nap, I wake up in a sweat. What the heck?

The day drags on. I have more visitors from the port authority, the hospital chaplain stops by (nice lady), and there are more calls from Carol Topping. Sometime in the afternoon it hits me what has happened. What if I had had kidney failure and they couldn’t help me? What if I got so sick I couldn’t take care of my family? What if I couldn’t come home at all? What if there were some bad bugs in the blood that I so readily received? What if… what if… what if… I’m crying now, spiraling into despair, staring out at the gray day.

When sweet Jason the nurse came in and saw my sad condition, he stood at the end of my bed and in the nicest way possible, told me to quit feeling sorry for myself and get my ass out of bed and walk. With a sniffle, I know he’s right and off I go. I’ve only been off my feet for a couple of days and I’m surprised at how much effort I have to put into this.

Susie comes back and I hear about her adventures and see some gorgeous pictures. Dreamy Doctor Burman comes by to see what’s shakin’. We joke about Susie finding love in Alaska. Doctor Burman quotes: “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.” I like him more and more, especially when he orders me a good solid food dinner and there’s so much I can share it with Susie. We walk the halls together in an after-dinner stroll.

No BM yet, but the breathing and walking are coming much easier. I’m feeling much better and I have decided that the odds are good that tomorrow I am going to check out of here.


Kicked off the Ship in Ketchikan

Today we arrive in Ketchikan and I’m getting kicked off the ship. Susie, who has the option of continuing on the cruise, decides instead to miss the glaciers and join me. That’s a good friend.

Even though I didn’t sleep much the night before, what with the every-hour blood testing and all, when the ambulance (yes, I needed an ambulance) personnel came at 8am, I was awake and ready. I paid the bills (ouch), said my goodbyes and offered thanks, and feeling rather naked in my hospital gown, I was scooted on to a rolling bed.

Unfortunately, in Ketchikan there is no back door to sneak out of the ship. I’m rolling down the same gangplank as everyone else. It seems like every person stops to stare. I would just pull the sheet over my head, but I’m intrigued by the fresh air and the mountains. An older woman approaches. Is she going to talk to me? Where’s my sheet?  Go away, I’m not really here. She tells me that her husband was one of the people who gave blood yesterday. Okay, now I feel bad about wishing she would go away. I thank her profusely as the medics roll me to the ambulance. I can feel the stares of even more people who are milling around on the pier waiting for their tours. I’m so glad when the doors to the ambulance close.

The ambulance ride is only 3 miles away (cost: $800) and the cute male medic gives me a tour of the buildings we pass. I can only see the top of them from my lying down position, but hey, it’s something. I try to flirt, but it’s difficult wearing a hospital gown with a catheter stuck up my you-know-what. Still, I try.

In the emergency room, I chat with the old doc, who sends me down the hall for x-rays.

So what really was the cause of the bleeding? The theory is that somewhere between Seattle and Vancouver, one of the scabs (ick) from a polyp that they removed (ick) in the colonoscopy I had two weeks ago (ick) was dislodged. Unfortunately, we think this scab was right at a blood vessel. For an unknown length of time, blood pooled in the intestine, reaching critical mass a couple of days ago.  After I got home and got to talking to people, I found out that this is a thing that happens. Geez, wish I would have known. Who would expect this kind of thing two weeks after the procedure? Not me.

Back at the hospital, the x-rays showed nothing major was wrong, so I was admitted on a wait-and-see basis. There had been no more bleeding since the first night of the cruise, but just to be safe, I was to live on IV for the time being. They wheeled me up to a room on the 3rd floor.

Okay, now I was really in the hospital, but it wasn’t’ that bad. I had Netflix and could watch some good classic movies. Heck, I didn’t even flinch when the friendly nurses there wanted to stab me in yet another place on my arm for blood withdrawal. There wasn’t even a bad smell. But there was a bad roommate.

Just a curtain separated me from the other woman in the room, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. She wanted to see the doctor (ok, I did too, supposedly there was another doctor that took over from the ER doctor downstairs, and he wasn’t popping by) but the doctor wouldn’t come. Every time one of the nursing staff entered our room, she badgered them endlessly to take her blood pressure, her temperature, or do a blood test. Her doctor finally came after about several hours of loud complaining and told her that there was nothing wrong with her and that he was sending her home. “Nooooooo”, my roommate wailed. She wanted more tests. She wanted to go to Juneau, to Anchorage, anywhere where they had better facilities and other procedures to find out what was wrong with her. She wanted to stay in the hospital. I’m guessing it was more interesting than her lonely apartment in town. I could not help but hear everything that she told the unending and sympathetic Native American family members that trooped in and out past my bed.

At 4 o’clock, looking out the window past my roommate, I could see the ship leaving port.

Meanwhile, I had visitors. Who knows me in Ketchikan? Princess Cruises, of course!

Two college age girls came by from the Ketchikan Port Authority and wanted to know if everything was all right. “Uh, yeah, thanks,” said I, thinking, “who are these people?” Turns out that in every port there is a fleet of folks whose sole existence is to run errands for the cruise ships. Princess Cruises, even though they dumped us on this island, did not leave us stranded. When they told the port authority that I was there, I officially became part of the Ketchikan family. How am I doing? Would I like anything? Is there anything they can do for me? Wow, impressive. At the time I didn’t need anything, but they were really helpful when I was ready to leave the hospital.

They also escorted Susie to the nearest Best Western, where she stayed for $160/night in a room with no view. Susie checked into her hotel, but came back to chat here and there. There was really nothing for her to do in the hospital room, so I sent her out to explore Ketchikan. She found Totem Bight Park and had a blast looking at the totem poles in the park along the water.

I also got a call from Carol Topping, passenger liaison at Princess Cruises’ Los Angeles headquarters.  She also wanted to know how I was doing and if there was anything she could do to help. Besides getting a refund for the cruise (sorry, no), at the time I didn’t really have anything for her. She called twice today. I let the second call go to voicemail.

About dinnertime, my last visitor of the day came by. Dreamy Doctor Burman sat on the edge of my bed and wanted to know how I was doing. “Fine, just fine…,” I stammered, wanting to just chat with him about anything except for my intestines.  However, eventually I got down to business and complained about the ^$%# catheter that needed to come out and that my stomach was growling for real food. Since the day passed without major incident, he agreed to my demands and said I should stay one more day just to be sure everything was okay. I figured it would be worth it if I got to see him again tomorrow.

After they finally shoehorned my roommate out of there, I had the nurses move me over to the prime spot by the window so I could have a better view of the Tongass strait and the mountain above the hospital. This was better. And let me tell you, beef broth and jello never tasted soooo good.


Alaska Cruise, Day at Sea, Part 3 or Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Travel Insurance, But Were Afraid to Ask

As I lay in my hospital bed on the cruise ship waiting for blood and watching the fluids drip, Dr. Dylan comes in for a chat. This chat was not about my health, nor about my well-being (not to dis him, he did already cover those things that morning), but about the upcoming bill. If you recall, just to see the doc for a moment to prescribe medication for seasickness was quoted at $80. My bill would be several thousand. That hurt almost as much as anything else.

Medical services are not included in the cruise fare and must be paid before leaving the ship. I’m not sure exactly what the consequences are for non-payment. Would they keep me on board if I can’t pay or take me to court when I’m too weak to walk? So, how do you avoid these humongous charges? Same way you do when you’re at home. You get insurance. But for traveling, you need special insurance, as your regular insurance very possibly won’t cover you on the road, in a foreign country, or on a ship.

When you book a cruise or a tour, the company that is providing the service usually has an offer for insurance. Princess Cruises calls theirs the Vacation Protection Plan. For about 8% of the cruise fare, you would avoid their 100% cancellation fees if you couldn’t make the trip due to illness (yours or traveling companions, or of anyone’s family members), accident on the way to the cruise that would cause you to miss the cruise, hurricane or flood, or jury duty. The insurance also covers any medical charges while on the trip, whether it’s evacuation or care from the ship’s infirmary. It covers pretty much everything. No worries. Just accept treatment and know that whatever they have to do, it’s paid for.

Did I get insurance? Well, no.

When I worked as a travel agent, I always recommended insurance. I mean, who wants to have something happen to you while traveling and come home to thousands of dollars worth of medical bills that your insurance may or may not cover? Getting insurance is the smart thing to do.

Do I ever get insurance? Well, no.

I pride myself that I’m in pretty good shape health-wise and I really rarely get sick. Of course, with all the traveling that I’ve done, I’ve been hit by a bad bug here and there. Memorable bugs include: a nasty three-day stomach virus in Seattle, a bad cold in Frankfurt, a fever in Toulouse, and a strained shoulder from a bad fall skiing in Switzerland. Usually I just lay low in the hotel room, limit the diet, and in a day or two, I’m better, and, except for that cute Swiss doctor who gave me an x-ray and a sling for my arm (total cost, about $50), I have never needed any medical care.

Dr. Dylan wanted to know if I had travel insurance. When I told him no, he looked a little pained and told me to think, really think, if I had any type of coverage, somewhere. He said, most health insurance plans do not cover expenses at sea. I will be liable for the whole kit and kaboodle unless I can find some insurance, any insurance that might cover this several thousand dollar situation.

Well, I do have credit cards that offer certain kinds of insurance. Maybe they will come through. I did call American Express, Citibank, Langley Visa, and Capitol One to see if their coverage applied in my situation. The good news was that the doc allowed me to call them for free (phone calls on cruise ships run around $15/minute) from my hospital bed. The bad news was that none of their coverages covered me.

Including doctor consults, IVs, blood tests, procurement, and transfusion costs, plus a charge for every little thing from catheter tube ($120) to AIDS testing ($100 for every test, every hour), the total bill was over $8000, and had to be paid before I left the ship.

Thank goodness for American Express.

In retrospect, should I have opted for the insurance? Well, duh, yeah. But I look at it this way. If I had sprung for the insurance every time I traveled, say, conservatively, five times a year over the past 30 years, at an average of $75 per trip, that would come to $11,250. Still more than what I was charged here, and there is still the possibility that my home insurance will come through for at least part of it.

And just in case you were wondering, it looks like my good old Aetna regular health insurance is going to reimburse 90% of it, even the cruise ship part, despite what the good Dr. Dylan had to say.

So, I’ve got blood, I’m feeling pretty good, and I’m asking them if I can just go back up to    my room and rest it out for a day or two, heck, even the rest of the cruise so I can see Glacier Bay. They laughed, saying that my hemoglobin was still only at 9 and there was still that pesky chance of kidney failure to worry about until I made more blood cells that would conquer that. They just weren’t equipped to handle something that serious. Tomorrow we stop at Ketchikan and they are booting me off the boat.

I’m very disappointed.