This is the photo that interrupted our travels in Greece last week.
My wife Uzema Jeena and I were in Thessaloniki attending the conference of the Thalassemia International Federation. We shot hours of interviews with patients and doctors, and our videos are coming in the weeks ahead.
The above photo — of the White Tower, which is the biggest landmark in the city — was taken on our first free day after the conference. And just two minutes after it was taken, as I scrambled to get a different angle before the light disappeared, I slipped and fell onto a hard marble platform and dislocated my right shoulder.
A dislocated shoulder joint is everything it’s cracked up to be: it was the most pain I’ve experienced in my entire life.
I was alone, and it was after sunset — Uz was resting at our hotel, a 30-minute walk away. I was able to use Siri to send a text to her. And a couple of fellow tourists from Ireland helped me off the cold ground and into a nearby café.
Uzema caught up with me in a taxi, and we rode together to a hospital. But that’s where the Greek medical system enters the picture.
The hospital was overloaded, so the desk nurse suggested we go to a private general clinic instead. We took another taxi, traveling roads that are just as rough as Montreal streets after a hard winter. I was in misery.
We arrived at the private clinic, and I collapsed miserably onto a couch. But we immediately discovered that the clinic had no one on staff who could help us. We still don’t know why; language barrier.
So, into another taxi we went, this time to an orthopedic clinic.
There, we found a doctor who was able to help. Nice guy. He first wanted an x-ray to ensure the arm was not fractured before he started manhandling me, but his clinic had no X-ray equipment. We were told to visit a radiology clinic across town, get an x-ray, and return with it.
Two more taxi rides with a dislocated shoulder. Bounce bump, bounce bump.
Upon our return to the orthopedic clinic, the doctor confirmed there was no fracture, and set to work. But now the problem was me: after five rough taxi rides, and over three hours with a dislocated shoulder, I was shaking like a leaf. The adrenaline in my system was overwhelming. I couldn’t relax enough to allow him to get the arm back into its socket.
So, he called another doctor at another clinic, who would be able to use a general anesthetic on me, if necessary, to reassemble my shoulder.
So, into taxi number six we went.
Most taxi drivers in Thessaloniki speak a little English, but this guy did not. When he heard me moaning in the back seat in response to every bump and swerve, he decided that he should get me to the clinic faster. So he sped up, which made the bumps and swerves worse. I moaned louder, which caused him to speed up even more. Uzema was frantically searching Google for how to say SLOW DOWN in Greek. Somehow, we managed to convince him to keep his foot off the accelerator.
So I trudged into this fourth medical establishment and found an orthopedic doctor waiting for us. He took me into his office and was able to re-insert my arm back into its socket — over four hours after the accident, with no need for anesthetic.
Uzema and I returned to our hotel (taxi number seven), had dinner, which I ate one-handed, and then we stayed up until 3 am canceling our travel plans to go to Athens the next day, and filing insurance claims. We were both too wired to sleep. Uzema made for quite a sight — wielding two iPads at once in her bathrobe like a Jedi with Wi-Fi, and Skyping every airline, hotel, and insurance company we dealt with multiple times until the deed was done.
And we stayed in Thessaloniki for the rest of the week. Nice town, once you get to know it.