Virtual tourism from a hospital bed.
Don’t worry, no one actually dies! But neither did we get to go on our planned holiday of a lifetime to Rome, Pompeii and Herculaneum. Having been unexpectedly hospitalised the day before our flight to Rome, I thought that I should write about all the things that might have happened on our holiday, alongside the actual events that unfolded. The holiday could still take place, even if only in my imagination.
It’s going to be an early flight tomorrow, so today is our pre-flight checklist. Some last bits of shopping; get the suitcases packed (did my ironing last week thankfully); obsessively check money and passports again; print off all our email confirmations. Relax with glass of wine, Italian of course.
Aaarghh, covered in red blotches head to toe! Think it’s either a reaction to traces of Ammonium Thioglycolate from my wife’s beauty products in the bath, or a delayed reaction to Trimethoprim. Spent half the day trying to get an appointment through the out-of-hours GP service. Saw GP in the afternoon, expecting to get something steroidal to quickly sort it out. Instead I got referred to accident & emergency for further tests. Just what I needed today of all days! Endless waiting for the blood test results to come back, then the words I really didn’t want to hear from the consultant I had been escalated to. ‘I’m sorry, but you’re not travelling anywhere.’ Seems all of my blood counts were quite low which, when combined with an elevated temperature and my all-over rash, suggested a massive infection. Then having to make that awful phone call home to my wife – ‘Really sorry, we can’t go to Rome tomorrow…’ Probably the most heartbreaking moment ever. Somebody at the back must have shouted ‘Measles’, the modern day equivalent of ‘Burn the Witch! ‘, and I was immediately transferred into clean protective isolation, while being hooked up to IV antibiotics from a drip for query septicaemia. Shortly afterwards I was moved to isolation in the Emergency Assessment Unit, and the poking, prodding and sampling continued into the night.
Our early morning flight touches down at Rome Fiumicino airport just before lunchtime. We buy a couple of Roma passes from the PIT tourist information point at the airport, giving us unlimited Metro travel for three days and admission to two attractions. Then on to the train station, where we need to find the cheaper regional train to Tuscolana station and our hotel, rather than the Leonardo Express to Termini.
After quickly settling into the hotel we head for the Metro to Ottaviano station, just a short walk from the Castel Sant’Angelo fortress museum.There’s going to be a bit of a Dan Brown theme to our holiday; the Castel is one of the many locations around Rome used in his thriller Angels & Demons. Late afternoon sees us crossing the river to explore Piazza Barberini, Pincio and the Spanish Steps.
A young doctor whisks in followed by someone taking notes of his every word. ‘We’ll have to get you some cream for that’. Then he whisks out again with his entourage of one. ‘What just happened then?’, I wonder. Another blood count sample gets taken. Then absolutely nothing happens for the rest of the day. Progress!
Ancient Rome today! All morning spent exploring the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, using the excellent Rick Steves free audio guides which we’ve already downloaded onto our phones ready for our holiday. Into the heart of Rome for the rest of the day, exploring places such as the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and Piazza Navona with its magnificent Fountain of the Four Rivers.
Late Monday morning, a rather nervous young doctor calls round. ‘Ah yes, it looks like Johnson Stephen’s Syndrome, or is it Stephen Johnson’s Syndrome. I forget which, but that’s not important right now. Yes, it definitely looks like that.’
WTF? Anyway, typical of an IT analyst suddenly having far too much time on his hands, within a minute of him leaving the room I’ve got the research article he’s probably read in a medical journal downloaded to my smartphone, linking Trimethoprim to Stephens Johnson Syndrome and named I guess after the two people who identified it, rather than it belonging to a man called SJ (or JS, it’s not important!). Luckily I haven’t got any necrolysis leading to almost certain death, so I decide to discount his theory.
Someone calls in for a Measles mouth swab. Apparently the one from Saturday wasn’t good enough and now they want another one. Great!
Nervous doctor pops head round door again to ask if I have had any flu-like symptoms. I dread to think what he would diagnose if I had!
Hmm, more progress.
Our second full day in Rome, starting with the Capitoline Museums. We spend most of today in a far less structured wander around the churches, piazzas and fountains, stopping wherever the fancy takes us, and just soaking in and enjoying the Eternal City.
I’ve been moved on to an acute medical ward, although still in protective isolation. It’s a better day for meaningful information. Good talk with the registrar on the ward about blood counts and other stuff, but unfortunately still too early for Measles swab and blood culture results. He’s identified that I have a vitamin B12 deficiency which explains one of the low counts, and requests a course of B12 injections. Dermatology team come round for a closer look although again too early for a decision.
More blood tests, but it feels as though things are moving at last.
A busy day for travelling today! We head back to Tuscolana station to catch an early regional train back to the airport. We’ve booked return flights with Al Italia from Fiumicino to Naples. The flight lands after only an hour, so I reckon we will be at our hotel by lunchtime. A short taxi ride gets us the few miles from the airport to Piazza Garibaldi station, where we catch the Circumvesuviana line around Vesuvius and along the coast to our eventual destination.
Castellammare di Stabia is a small village on the southern end of the Bay of Naples, just before the coast turns south east for Sorrento. So our hotel on the coast has an unobstructed view of Vesuvius to the north of the bay. We spend a lazy afternoon around the hotel pool, and enjoy a romantic evening meal for two at their restaurant in what must be the best location you could ever hope for.
The ancient root of the saying I’ve borrowed for my post title was actually ‘See Naples and die’. Perhaps this beautiful spot explains why.
Started the day with my first B12 jab. A junior doctor calls round at lunchtime, and confirms that yesterday’s virals are all clear.
Then I get to talk to the haematologist in the afternoon, who tells me that my blood counts are slowly improving. He also thinks the B12 figure is borderline and may not have any long lasting significance. But it may be a good few days before I can go home.
Two nights in Castellammare means that we can spend the entire day sightseeing. After breakfast we catch the Circumvesuviana train for the few miles back to modern-day Ercolano, the stop for Herculaneum. A couple of five site passes will also give us admission to Pompeii later. We have all morning to explore the site, then back on the Circumvesuviana for the short distance to Pompeii Scavi station. Lunch somewhere nice, then all afternoon exploring Pompeii. Exhausted after walking all day, we get back on the train to go and relax again by the hotel pool.
The nurse tells me my vitamin B12 injections will be on alternate days. Plural. Doesn’t sound like the sort of timescale I was hoping for, with a sunny weekend coming up. Get to see my consultant later in the morning, and he reinforces this view saying I will be staying in until my white cell count returns to normal. He reckons around the end of next week. I also get to clarify a few points which were concerning me. He agrees with the haematologist that the B12 result may not have a long term significance, and will request some autoimmune tests to confirm. I had been worrying about the prospect of pernicious anaemia and the need for life long B12 injections.
More blood samples taken. More waiting.
Another busy travelling day. Early breakfast, before catching the Circumvesuviana train back to Naples. Our return flight late morning touches down at Rome Fiumicino around lunchtime, followed by the now-familiar route back to Tuscolana station to check back into our hotel.
This will be our last afternoon and evening in Rome, so keen to make the most of it we’re straight back out again sightseeing: The Pyramid of Caius Cestius, the Circus Maximus and a walk along the River Tiber. Followed by an evening meal across the river in the Trastevere district.
My second vitamin B12 injection this morning, and a blood sample taken for gastroparietal antibodies. Apparently this test will determine whether the serum B12 figure is a temporary problem or one needing life long management. Here’s hoping for a good result! The dermatology team turn out in force during the afternoon to tell me my rash looks better. Then at 5.30pm some more good news. There were no indications of measles on the swabs taken at the beginning of the week, but I’ve now been finally confirmed as all clear by the infection control team, and some of the infection control measures are relaxed. I’m still going to be kept in a side room until my white count recovers. Still, no more angry mob with pitchforks and flaming torches to worry about.
Today is the end of our holiday. We make an early start on our well-travelled route from Tuscolana to the airport, for our lunchtime flight back to the UK.
Arrivederci Roma! Spero di vederti di nuovo.
Interminable waiting. Perhaps I’ll be home by next weekend. Until then, I can while away the time dreaming of Rome, on our holiday that never was.