September 7, 2010 by David Gillaspie
A medical emergency asks you jump up and do something.
When it happens in the middle of the night you feel the cold hand of fate moving in the dark.
When it happens in the middle of the night in a country where you don’t speak the language, you’ve got a problem.
When it’s the middle of the night in a country where you don’t speak the language and your hotel is locked down with no desk clerk, you’ve got a big problem.
A recent guest at DG’s B&B tells this story:
My husband woke up one night in Spain with difficulty breathing. We were there during the hot time of the year and our room had air conditioning. My husband, Bob, lived in Philadelphia near the first outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease, and has been nervous about air conditioning ever since. And that was years ago.
It was very hot in Spain and we lived in air conditioning. So did everyone else. But Bob caught something.
He sat up in bed coughing the way four-pack-a -day smokers start their day. Except he doesn’t smoke. The coughing woke me up.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
He coughed and coughed. That was his answer.
“Can you speak?”
“Having… trouble…breathing,” he said between coughs. “The air conditioner.”
“I’ll turn it down.”
“I might need a hospital,” he said.
The cough was one thing, getting to a hospital took it to a whole new level. I flew out of bed, got dressed, and grabbed a few things he might need in the hospital.
“What are you doing?” Bob asked.
“If you’re going to the hospital, you’ll need an extra shirt and underwear,” I told him.
“Which hospital are we going to?”
“I don’t know.”
“How will we get there?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe we ought to wait until it’s light out.”
I liked the idea, but not if it meant taking an ambulance. I didn’t know where a hospital was, or where a taxi was, or how to get out the front door of our hotel, but right now seemed the best time to find out, not when he’s passed out.
“We can go now.”
“But you don’t know where to go or how to get there. You can’t even get out of the front door,” he said.
All true, but he left out the most important part: Someone eventually has to do something.
“I can do what we need to do, Bob. Do you need to go to the hospital? If you do, let’s go.”
“We can wait until daylight.”
I stayed dressed and lay back down on our bed. Half an hour later Bob’s coughing shook the bed so hard you could measure it on the Richter scale. I listened carefully, then heard him whisper between gasps, “We’d better go.”
The path from our door to the front door of the hotel wound through an open air restaurant. The hotel and the restaurant shared the same front desk.
With no one present in the gloom, I went behind the desk and started making noise with the cash register. That always raises attention.
A small man from a sitting room across from the desk appeared, rubbing his eyes. I explained my problem in English. He understood in Spanish.
“Medical emergency? 9-1-1? Hospital? I’m not a robber.”
“Husband. Sick. Hospital.” I looked up ladron quickly. “No ladron. Taxi? Automobile?”
I’ve got someone to open the front door of the hotel and he’s calling a taxi. That’s two down. Now if I get Bob into the taxi and to a hospital I’ve got it done, sort of. I could hear him coughing in the dark, which meant he was still breathing.
So far, so good.
If the night clerk had called the police instead of a taxi when he found me behind the desk pushing buttons on the cash register it might have worked out better. The taxi driver showed up sleepy and spoke no English. Some people think you can make others understand you if you talk loud enough.
I went the other direction, combining quiet words and mime. “Mi esposo es…” and I grabbed my throat in a coughing fit. “Hospital?”
“Emergencia?” the driver said.
It sounded like he said emergency. “Si.”
“Recomiendo que vaya al hospital,” he said.
I sounded like hospital. “Si.”
“Universitario Virgen de las Nieves?”
It didn’t sound like hospital. “Hospital? Si.”
We drove through the winding streets of Granada in darkness, the only sounds coming from the taxi and my wheezing husband.
“Hospital?” I asked.
“Si,” the driver said.
Finally, we understood each other. I nudged Bob. “I’m speaking Spanish with the driver.”
“Like a native,” he said, falling into a coughing spell for his effort.