The arrival of the ambulance created a lot of attention at the airport. My rusty spanish is of no assist but I could read body language. The message is loud and clear -we weren't getting on that plane. Bits of Japanese, Spanish and English determined that Argentine airline had a policy of waiting three weeks before a stroke patient could fly. Seriously? I'm sure something was lost in translation.
The ambulance was overkill -a courtesy from the hospital and the hot Argentinian doctor- as Hamako could have walked into the airport with no obvious evidence that she ever had a stroke. When she was tired, her Japanese speech slurred a bit but that was barely noticeable in English or Spanish. I hung up the phone with my boss and a private jet arrived to transport us to Buenos Aires. Note to the reader: Always buy travel insurance! Not a dollar, a peso or a yen was spent by the patient as her travel insurance covered it all. This all sounds exotic with private jets and first class seats but I'm was not sipping malbec, I was working as a nurse for a flight company for the next few days, ensuring Hamako's safety as she traveled the world, back home to Osaka.
Hamako and I were accompanied by her sister Aiko and Aiko's son Hideki. Hideki was my only English speaker. His vocabulary was limited but sounded lovely with his Scottish accent as he lived in Glasglow for a year. My only Japanese word was Sayanara. The ladies and I did a lot of smiling and bowing. If I am fortunate to age to eighty, I'd like to emulate Hamako. This woman was feisty, curious and independent. When Aiko's husband became ill, Aiko stayed in Japan to care for him. Hamako went on the tour anyway. I immediately loved her and her sense of adventure. Hideki and Aiko flew over ten thousand miles from Ushuaia -literally known as the end of the world- to be by her side after she stroked.
Flying first class is a luxury I will not have on the return, so I relished in the warm rolls, endless movie selection and full reclining beds. We arrived at O'hare and spent the night in Chicago to recover from the long flight from Buenos Aires. The ladies shared a room and Hideki and I each had our own room. I was off duty-on call- as they would call if they needed me. I called an old friend and he joined me for dinner at the hotel.
I checked in on my family as there was a problem and Hamako was worried. Hideki's English had stumped him. We were using lots of signaling and gesturing. He finally said, with his thumb and index finger together, "She worry long flight, no bathroom yesterday, hurt, she want put up her asshole". I busted out laughing. Did I seriously just hear that? Hideki asked, "is that not right word". I told him, it was the perfect word. My sweet patient just wanted her dulcolox suppository to stay regular and prefered a dignified poop in a hotel rather than the plane. Who could blame her? I loved her more each day.
The flight to Osaka was effortless. Hideki and I talked about another Hideki, Matsui from the Yankees. My niece was a big fan and Hideki ensures I would find a baseball cap in the airport but there were no caps to be found. We were met with a car service and Hamako finally was home safe and sound. Hideki and her family shared deep bows of gratitude that brought tears to my eyes as I said Sayonara. Kyoto called my name but I needed to return to the hospital. I squeezed into the middle seat of the last row bound for San Francisco. I looked forward to being home as I reflected on the last few days. A week later a sweet thank you card and baseball cap and jersey arrived in the mail for my niece.
Miles flown: 25,665 miles
Cities visited: 4 Ushuaia, Buenos Aires, Chicago and Osaka.
Bow and Smiles: countless
Inspiration: I was left with immense inspiration by a woman more than twice my age with an equal sense of adventure, travel and exploring cultures.