Posted by: glenswatman | December 11, 2011

201112 SPAIN – Let battle commence

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THURSDAY 1 DECEMBER – I’ve bought myself a luxury chocolate advent calendar and today breakfast and a white and milk cream filled penguin. It’s a pleasant day so we wander down to the beaches and make our way along to check out the naturist one. After the scramble up from the second beach Steve is feeling quite unwell. He’s not been himself for a few weeks, light headed, heart beating in his ears, pins and needles in his arm and other things. I know he is bad when he agrees to me leaving him sat on a rock whilst I walk over to Lidl to get a Mars Bar to see if this helps with blood sugars. We stop for a coffee in one of the many shopping centres, full of English restaurants all competing for little business there is. In the evening John & Shirley pick us up and take us to their new home. It is a single storey end terrace bungalow with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and in a complex with 2 swimming pools. Whilst not at the beach it certainly represents excellent value for money compared to England. They’ve been busy decorating and whitened all the inside walls and are now working on the outside. To us it looks much more like a full time home than the apartments. John has cooked a tasty curry and we follow this with card games, phase 10 and euchre. We finally get Steve to agree to a Doctor’s visit tomorrow, we can now see he is looking quite yellow and after a shower shows us his swollen ankles. A bit of research on the Internet suggests jaundice.

FRIDAY 2 DECEMBER – After my morning shops and toilet visit to Mercadona I accost an English couple to ask if they can recommend an English speaking doctor. They explain that in Spain you can either pay to see an English doctor privately or use the Spanish national health system with your European Health card and either take along an interpreter or hope the Doctors speaks some English. For the latter they say they will drive over to the motorhome in 5 minutes so we can follow them to the medical centre. In the meantime John & Shirley arrive in the car, the English couple immediately recognise Shirley as the sister of Pam from the Poco Loco bar. The medical centre is very modern and I explain in Spanish to the receptionist that we are here on holiday and my husband needs to see a Doctor. She takes our passport and health card, fills out some forms then gives us an appointment card for 2pm. We return to the van then John picks us up for the afternoon appointment. I’ve been advised to try my best in Spanish as they don’t like you to presume they speak English. I have already composed a list of Steve’s contributing problems and done my best to find the Spanish words. The Doctor does in fact speak reasonable English and says first Steve must have blood and urine tests done, the earliest being Monday at 8am. In the evening John & Shirley come down to us for a meal, spaghetti bolognaise followed by a delicious chocolate orange cake and ice cream from Mercadona (well we need to give them some business as we are parked here).

SATURDAY 3 DECEMBER – Since parking here our neighbours have been Sandra and Keith, full time motorhomers from Wales. They are very friendly and always ask how Steve is doing. Keith brings the local free paper saying we have a mention, two lots of locals have written in complaining about the motorhomes on the Mercadona car park and saying it is starting to look like the gypsy farm in England. Whilst we have been here there have been between 20 and 30 motorhomes a night and I reckon we all spend between €10 and €20 a day so that is around €10,000 a month going to local traders, not to be sneezed at even if we aren’t paying rates! We tell Keith about the new Viking bar opening opposite Poco Loco and the free drinks and snacks from 12 – 3. John picks us up in the car to go round and Sandra and Keith cycle there. Shirley is coming down with flu so stays at home. After a couple of hours we’ve had enough free beer and snacks and stop off at John & Shirley’s to do internet before going home. By this time Steve has been awake for over 5-hours and needs a nap.

SUNDAY 4 DECEMBER – We’re thinking Steve may be a bit jaundiced judging by his strange colour so I prescribe that he sits out in the sun. Another English couple come over and tell us the Police have just said everyone must move off tomorrow. It seems that the Police really don’t care but if someone puts in a complaint then they herd everyone off then let them return until the same happens again. Luckily we planned to leave tomorrow and would never have stayed so long had we not got friends in the area. John picks us up at 2pm to take us to their place for a traditional Sunday roast, feels just like Christmas dinner and even more so when Shirley serves mince pies and coffee with brandy. We follow this up with a couple of card games.

MONDAY 5 DECEMBER – A rude awakening to my 55th birthday as we have set the alarm for 7.30am to enable us to be at the clinic for 8am blood tests. We queue for the clinic to open and then at the blood office. Even before he gives blood Steve is feeling light headed and worse after. I nip back to the van to get him a drink and a Mars bar. He heads to the toilet and seems a long time. I walk round and find him collapsed on the floor. I manage to lay him out then race out to get a Doctor. When I return Steve has also been sick. They put him in a wheelchair and take him straight in to see the Doctor who checks his blood pressure etc. At this point Steve still feels dizzy and cannot focus. The Doctor goes away for half an hour then comes back and takes us to another room where Steve is hooked up to a heart monitor. They cannot seem to figure it all out but say and Ambulance is coming to take Steve to Torrevieja hospital. I collect the motorhome and attempt to follow the ambulance, good job I have the sat nav to get me to the hospital as I cannot keep up. The hospital is nearly new and has good parking for a motorhome. The system here is that they take the patient into emergency and leave family in a waiting room until called. After about an hour Steve is wheeled out and left with me for about ½ hour. They then take him back and I wait for an hour before being called through. Steve says they have taken blood, done x-rays and other tests. We wait and wait during which time they give him a blood transfusion and oxygen, suddenly we start to think things may be serious although Steve feels better in himself. Around 4pm the Doctor arrives and tells us the blood tests show Steve has leukaemia. It’ a shock but we are also trying to concentrate on what they are telling us. Apparently he is too sick for me to spend 3 or 4 days driving us back to England in the motorhome and he is at too much risk from infection to fly. We must have treatment in Spain but they cannot offer chemo therapy at Torrevieja hospital and propose sending us both by ambulance to Alicante hospital. I contact John & Shirley to see if they can help with motorhome parking. John says he will drive up with Dave to collect it. I now have to pack the things I think I will need for what may turn out to be a long stay in Alicante. So good to know we have John & Shirley here and also Clare who is a hospital translator if we need one. John and Dave arrive and take the motorhome and speaking to John later on the phone I find out they have got permission to park it within the gates complex where Dave lives so one less thing to worry about. Back in the hospital the Doctor tells me that of 2 types of leukaemia Steve has the lesser one and may even end up in remission after a couple of chemo treatments. The ambulance arrives and we are whisked off, me in the front with the driver and Steve in the back with a paramedic who calls out things to the drive through a hatch. I feel sick in my stomach when we suddenly get the sirens going and start jumping red lights. We even have another ambulance pulling over for us. I can see little through the hatch other than Steve in the bed. Approaching the hospital the driver radios ahead and doctors and standing out waiting. I feel so much relief when then unload Steve and he looks fine. In a casualty bay they take lots more blood and start a platelet drip. With Steve’s blood pressure so low they really have to punish him to get blood out, by now they must have withdrawn almost all the bag full they put in earlier. Ah maybe he was just borrowing it and they are now taking it back to recycle! A Doctor explains that tomorrow and Thursday are public holidays in Spain so no testing will be done but to confirm the diagnosis they need to extract bone marrow and do a lumbar puncture. They do another x-ray and put Steve on oxygen. The Doctor says that if leukaemia is confirmed we will have to stay at the hospital for 1 month for Steve to have the chemo treatment. We are taken up to a ward and put in a 2 bedded room alone. Everyone who comes in wears a mask and during the transfer up here Steve had to. It seems they are also considering whether it may be a viral infection and have put warning notices on the door and special cleaning stuff there on a tray. When Doctor Fernandez from oncology arrives he says they will give Steve 2 more bags of blood and on Wednesday do the tests to be able to tell us what type of leukaemia it is. What a nightmare day and my worst birthday ever, even if Steve has managed to get us booked into a room for the night! I have a wonder round and find a cafeteria that looks reasonable and may become my local. From the window of our room we can see the floodlit Alicante castle. Throughout the night Steve is given his 3rd bag of blood and stays on glucose all night fed by a drip machine that keeps bleeping.

TUESDAY 6 DECEMBER – Unlike British hospitals it is very quiet in the morning and Steve’s breakfast tray arrives at, would you believe, 9.20am. Maybe they are letting the patients have a lie in for the fiesta day. It’s very basic food bread, ham, cheese and coffee. From our window I realise not only can we see the castle but we also have a sea view. I take a walk around the local area and get my breakfast in a cafe, toast, fresh orange juice and coffee €2 (£1.75). Almost all the shops are closed but I can see that I should find everything I need within a couple of blocks and there is a bus stop directly outside the hospital. The Chinese store is open so I buy playing cards and pens that I forgot to bring. When I get back Steve has managed to have a shower whilst still connected to the drip. We play cards and chat until early afternoon when I set out on another walk. This time I keep going and after about 40 minutes reach the port. It is bustling with people and I catch a parade near the cathedral with enormous figures. I want to eat but not too much so intend to get some tapas on the way back at the bar advertising tapas and beer for €1.30. Mistake as it is closed. So far I have heard no one speaking English at all and it sounds like there is just 1 other English patient on a higher floor, totally different to Torrevieja where every other person seemed to be English. Steve tells me the hospital has run out of drinking water and won’t have any until 5pm. I walk to the nearby 24 hour chemist and ask if I can buy some water or anything to drink as they have nothing on display. They produce a 1 ½ litre of water and won’t accept payment. I’ve found out the hospital do a “menu del dia” with starter, main course, salad, bread; dessert and drink for €6.40 so just after 4pm I head down to partake. Stuffed up again as the menu finished at 4pm and it is now a la carte with just a small meal of pork and chips and a bread roll with ham and cheese costing over €8. Oh well plenty of time to get it right. Steve says I have missed the Doctors rounds but she confirmed everything we had understood and answered all Steve’s questions so he is now resigned to being here for the month – oh well saves worrying about what to do over Christmas and New Year. Steve is told his last meal will be supper and after all the glucose they have put in him constantly he is hard pushed to eat even half.

WEDNESDAY 7 DECEMBER – We both slept much better as they didn’t run a glucose/saline drip through the night. It goes through a machine with a constant ticking timer then every 10 seconds 4 drips followed by a pulsing as the fluid is forced into the vein. Steve’s feeling pretty good and so he should be considering he has been such a lazy arse these last few days! My first mission of the day is to find a supermarket and deep joy there is a Lidl not 10 minutes walk away. When I get back Steve has had his bone marrow extraction which wasn’t too painful. I can hang be in the room for hours and nothing happens but whenever I go out there is action. I visit administration to confirm that everything is covered by our European Health card agreement. There are 2 translators here offering free service and Olivia explains that they need an E112 faxing from England so I get Claire on the job. We want to organise Internet connection and about 30 minutes walk away is the Gran Via shopping centre where there are all types of phone shop. The best deal is the Vodaphone USB modem but I cannot buy anything without my passport. In haste I left mine behind in the motorhome and whilst we had Steve’s with us they won’t accept it without him being there. Before I get chance to do any other shopping I get a call to return to the hospital as Steve has been given a form to fill in and can’t understand it. It turns out this is for a CAT scan on Friday. Claire gets back to me about the E112 which is now a different form and the Internet suggest we contact the consulate in Alicante and they should come out to advise us, all well and good but it is 3pm and with a fiesta day tomorrow many people are going home early. I do speak to someone at the consulate who says the message will be passed on and someone will get back to us but probably not until Friday. Back on the Internet problem I realise I can use my smart phone as a modem so head back to the phone shop where a very helpful salesman at Phone House sells me more credit and sets up my connection, brilliant. It’s now dark and I’m whacked so take a taxi back. Unfortunately when I try to demonstrate the Internet to Steve the connection fails. When we came here I also forgot to pick up reading books. Main reception cannot tell me whether there are any other English people in the hospital so I set out on a ward trail to ask each one. The top floor is last and at the end ward a nurse tells me that she thinks there is an English man in the isolation ward and escorts me there. Bingo, Terry lives in Torrevieja with his wife, comes from Southend and has leukaemia. He has a different type to what they suspect Steve has (which is A.L.L). We have a really good chat and he explains a lot about the treatment etc. Whilst I am there his wife Georgie phones up and we make an arrangement for me to go back with her to Torrevieja tomorrow so I can get stuff from the van, spend a night with Shirley and John then return here on Friday. I return to Steve with a book from Terry and news that on the pay TV there is a special extra charge channel that shows Champions League. There’s nothing on now but we invest 70c for an hour to check out how the system works. Well and exhausting but productive day for me and unfortunately for Steve no results from the bone marrow so we will have to wait until Friday for news. Still more platelets, blood and glucose to stabilise him but luckily they turn the machine off from 1am – 7am.

THURSDAY 8 DECEMBER – Fiesta day so my morning walk just involves a visit to the Chinese and fruit shop. We while away the time playing card games. Georgie arrives and introduces herself and says she will be back to pick me up in about 3 hours. A Doctor calls in and says they are still doing tests and should have a final analysis tonight. I head off with Georgie and en route she tells me lots more things about the chemo treatment which is reassuring. I get to John & Shirley’s where Shirley is suffering with flu and doesn’t want me to take them out for a meal. I go to the motorhome and pick things for a long hospital stay and to sort what we would need for a flight back. John cooks up a nice tuna bake, the best food I’ve eaten since our Sunday dinner with them. We chat about our various options and it seems we have most things covered. Since sending out a general Email to friends this morning we have had some amazing offers of help and support so I know we will be fine getting through this detour in our travels. I speak to Steve and the results confirm Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.

FRIDAY 9 DECEMBER – Last night Dave mentioned he was doing an Alicante airport run this morning and offered to take me back to the hospital at the same time. I’m seriously loaded up with luggage, books; clothes, toiletries etc and stagger into the room to find Steve and his bed have gone walkabouts. The nurse tells me he is having a CT scan and will be back soon. Dr Fernandez has already seen Steve and explained about the disease and his treatment and now returns to tell me. Flying back to England is not an option so they will move Steve to the haematology ward to begin chemo starting on Monday but with cortisone drips in the interim. The course of treatment can take anything from 21 to 42 days but usually is 30 days. After that we can go away for 2 weeks and then return to hear if and what further treatment may be needed. On the positive side this could be the point where we pick up our lives and keep our fingers crossed. No point in driving back to England and sitting around waiting to see if it comes back. We speak to the Consulate here and learn that the European Health card covers you for all necessary treatment so long as you are on holiday and not living here. She asks me when we arrived in Spain, how long we intended to stay, when we were last here (2005) and if we have used the European Health card here before. Based on this she realises we are not living here so are covered for the initial treatment and any repeat necessary treatments if we opt to stay on in Spain. The Doctor has told us we no longer need to wear masks which is good news, the bad news means that the second bed in the room must now be made available for another patient so I have to move everything over to “our” half of the room where I have a reclining chair to sleep on (no way for 1 month). (An alternative I talked through with John is for him to move the motorhome to a nearby campsite so I can visit Steve from there). Olivia the interpreter explains some consent forms for Steve and offers to help with other things. She knows of no campsites anywhere near the city however the ward we are being moved to has all single rooms with a fold out bed offered to visitors, phew. I accompany her on her foreign visitor rounds and in haematology meet an elderly lady Martha who has been in hospital for 6 weeks. I return to the shopping centre where they sort out my Internet problems but do tell me the 900mb a month is averaged out at 30mb a day and usage above that is at a premium price. In the evening we are transferred to haematology ward where you have to use green overshoes to enter. Room 768 is as big as the one we came from but with only one bed, a mountain instead of a castle and sea view and most importantly in Steve’s case a separate sterilisation entry room. At the moment I only have to wash and disinfect my hands but once the chemo starts it looks like I will also have to don a mask and gown. When the chemicals have really kicked in even a simple cold could kill him so this is necessary. Martha is in the room opposite and I meet her husband Stuart. Coincidently they live in the same urbanisation as Alison and Bob who we stayed with. He has been staying here camped out on an air bed as there are no folding beds for visitors. Luckily I picked the beach lilo up and in fact am a bit cheeky and use the oxygen machine by Steve’s bed to fill it! They re asses Steve clean up the drip feeder in his arm and settle us down for the night. I wake after a nightmare about ice skating, falling on the ice and sticking to it, probably because the lilo is on a marble floor and my back is freezing. I try the reclining chair and doze a little. When Steve gets up for the bathroom he suggests I curl up with him in bed and this is how we get through the rest of the night.

SATURDAY 10 DECEMBER – Steve wakes with a terrible cramp in his legs and this keeps recurring so the nurses suggest he lies down in bed with his feet up and connect a glucose/saline drip. I go on the Internet and am able to show Steve the many personal E-mails and Facebook messages – never realised we had so many friends. At the moment we should have been visiting our friends Sallie and Stuart who live inland up in the mountains. Instead they come to visit us late morning. As Stuart says if you can’t take Mohammed to the mountain you must bring the mountain to Mohammed. They have brought a huge box of fruit and get well card. In between catching up on family and lifestyle news they help in translating the information sheet about how this ward operates. Any perishables must be kept in the kitchen fridge and fruit must be washed and peeled there before being brought onto the ward. I also have to check which types of food Steve can have. During treatment Steve must not shave with an open razor nor brush his teeth as they don’t want him to bleed at all. I pop down with Stuart & Sallie for lunch and we check out the apartments offered on the board as a further alternative. After they leave I do more internet research and make arrangements that Alison and Bob will come up on Tuesday to visit and also to take me to check out some campsites I have found that are about ½ hours train ride up the coast. At bedtime I pad the lilo with spare towels and sheets and put my fleece over my shoulders to stop the draught and we both get considerable more sleep.



  1. Glen and Steve
    I have just gotten on the internet after being off for almost a week and read all of your posts. Bill and I are thinking of you and hoping for Steve’s speedy recovery. You are very fortunate to have so many good friends helping you. Keep up your good attitude.
    Love, Bonnie

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