Jamaica Magazine

Jim’s Jeopardy by American Retiree in Jamaica

 It was only a few hours after Jim bid farewell to Maureen at Sangster International Airport when our phone rang.  Jim’s wife was going back to Canada to tend to the family business while Jim stayed an extra week to do some painting on the inside of their new home.  Ann, my wife, answered the phone.  It was Jim asking Ann, “So how was your day going?”  His voice gave no hint of the nature of his call.  Finally he said, “I think I have a small emergency here.”  Ann’s first thought was maybe there was a power disruption or that Jim ran out of ice cubes.  If only that was the case.  Jim told Ann he fell off the step ladder while painting and may have broken his arm.  I would definitely say that would qualify as an emergency.  Jim needed help and as soon as possible.  He was assured that we would be there as quickly as we could.  One of the problems Ann and I discussed on our half hour drive to Jim’s house was where to take him for treatment.  His accident happened late enough in the afternoon that most doctors and clinics anywhere near Jim’s community were about to close.  After making several phone calls, we decided to take him to Mobay Hope, a 24 hour small private hospital/clinic where we both have been patients in the past.  However, Mobay Hope is almost as far from Montego Bay heading east as Jim’s house was west of town.  Nevertheless we figured he would be seen faster there than at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, the only public hospital in the local area.

What a sight Jim was when we arrived!  He greeted us in a bathing suit and athletic shoes with an oxford long sleeve shirt half on.  It was the only shirt he had that he could wear to cover up his bare chest.  The dining room looked a lot worse than Jim did.  His six foot ladder was laying on the plastic drop cloth with red paint everywhere.  Where was my camera when I needed it?

On the way to Mobay Hope, Jim described how the accident happened.  He had spread the clear plastic over the tiles and leaned the closed step ladder against the wall.  It only took Jim a couple of steps up the ladder with paint and brush in hand for the ladder to slip out from under him.  Jim landed very hard on his left upper arm near his shoulder.  There wasn’t much doubt in our minds with the pain he was having that something was definitely broken.

It took us nearly two hours from his phone call to Ann to the time for us to reach emergency care.  The entire ride of perhaps 45 minutes or so Jim seemed quite himself.  There was no crying out in pain or signs of going into shock.  His conversation and tone of voice was no different than it was the night before when we said our goodbyes to Maureen.  The only clue we had that anything was wrong was when he winced trying to adjust his arm to relieve some of the pain.

Jim was seen as soon as we arrived.  Of course, not much was done until Ann and I got him registered and paid the initial examination fees.  After the initial exam by the emergency room doctor he placed a call to the x-ray technician who left several hours before.  An hour later she arrived and took the necessary x-rays of Jim’s arm and shoulder.  After reviewing the x-rays the orthopedic doctor was called in to properly assess the damage.  After perhaps another hour wait the doctor arrived.  He explained to the three of us that it was a compound break and dislocated shoulder.

The biggest concern on Jim’s mind was getting back to Canada where he could get free treatment and be home with his wife to look after him.  However the doctor had some concerns with Jim travelling that far for two reasons.  First, the pulse in his left arm was weak.  Secondly, he was afraid that if the arm should get bumped that the bone could sever his main artery.  There was some swelling at that time and the doctor wanted to make sure it didn’t get worse as that could be a sign of internal bleeding.

The doctor wanted an ultrasound done so he could verify the swelling was from the initial trauma and not from the artery.  But alas, it couldn’t be done there so Jim was transferred to the Cornwall Regional Hospital.  Prior to leaving Mobay Hope, Jim’s shoulder and arm were taped to hopefully prevent any further damage.  Before we left the final bill had to be paid.  Why is it that doctors and x-ray technicians had to be called in but the cashier is there 24 hours a day?

While the costs up to this point were minimal considering it included the use of the emergency room, x-ray, and 2 people having to be called in, the costliest part was the ambulance ride from Mobay Hope to Cornwall Regional Hospital.  It was U.S. $200.00.

To digress back to the payments at Mobay Hope, Jim had enough cash to pay the registration fee.  The second bill was the fee to call the doctor in.  For this we tried to use Jim’s credit card but as we found out later, it had been cancelled because someone in Jamaica got a hold of his card number and charged up a storm, so we used our credit card.  The last bill was paid with a different credit card without any problem.  The ambulance driver also used the second card for payment.

In case you thought we forgot about Maureen, all this time she had been flying home where she wasn’t expected to arrive in Canada until about midnight.  She was probably passing the time having thoughts about how pretty the rooms in her new house were going to be when she next saw them.  Or perhaps even thinking about what she had to do the next day at work.  I’m sure the last thing on her mind was thinking Jim would be in the hospital.   

It was about midnight when the ambulance with Jim aboard arrived at Cornwall Regional.  What a completely different atmosphere than at the private hospital.  Health care in Jamaica is free at public hospitals and clinics for citizens and residents like Ann and I, should we choose it.  You can imagine the number of people who wait as long as necessary to get free medical help.  The hospital was packed.

Like at the private hospital the first thing that needed to be done was to register Jim.  No cash needed this time.  The directions given to find the correct office were a little vague.  Upon finding the correct office we found the waiting room filled with about 40 – 50 people all patiently waiting their turn.  On the outside of the office wall was an electric sign, similar to the deli counters at the supermarket, which displayed the number 16.  I enquired as to whether I should get a number or if I needed one.  The patient I asked pointed to the tickets in the back of the room.  When I took a number and compared it to the number being shown, there were 50 people ahead of me.  Again remember that it was after midnight on a Wednesday evening.  Being very concerned about such a long wait I asked another patient who told me to just stand in front of the office door and go in when someone came out.  What a relief!  In a matter of minutes Jim was all registered and we went back to the “Accident and Trauma Room.” 

I will try to explain what this room looked like.  It was a very large square room with the entrance in one of the corners.  There were about 40 gurneys lined up in 4 rows with one partial wall between the second and third row.  The beds had only enough room between them to allow access by the doctors and nurses.  The patients were all laying in beds wearing different amounts of clothing.  One large older woman was laying nude from the waist up.  It might not have been quite so noticeable except an x-ray technician took an x-ray at her bedside and had to warn people to stay back while he took it.  When we first arrived there were two people sitting in chairs by the entrance waiting for a bed.  It did appear from my observation that there were ample amounts of doctors and nurses moving about all the patients. 

Getting back to Jim the doctors weren’t sure what they were supposed to be doing for him even though papers from the other hospital accompanied him.  At three AM, eleven hours after the accident, Ann and I went home to catch a little sleep before we came back to the hospital to transport him to the airport for his afternoon flight to Canada.

Once Jim was registered and settled in, Ann called Maureen.  After the initial shock wore off, Maureen said she would make all the flight changes for him.  It was much easier for her to do this than for us.   Thank you Maureen.

Jim was supposed to be released in time for us to get him to the airport by 12:30 pm.  We arrived shortly after 11:00 AM, knowing how bureaucratic things can be in a hospital.  Sadly, Jim spent the entire time there in the “Accident and Trauma” unit where he got little sleep.  Before being discharged, a doctor had to see him and give him last minute instructions.  Unfortunately in this short space of time his chart was misplaced.  Several people looked high and low but no file could be found.  It just vanished in mid-air!  Panic was starting to build up in me.  What if he missed his rescheduled flight?  Who would be responsible for the added cost to rebook?  Who would take care of him in the meantime?  I decided to speak with the supervisor of the unit to explain the situation.  She was a big help!  After consulting with my wife as to what care Jim was given she generated a bill.  Moments later we left the hospital and arrived in time for Jim to make his flight back home. 

Jim had his surgery including a partial shoulder replacement and is now recovering under the watchful eyes of his loving wife.  Later….

About the author

John Casey