Symi:  the 15 minute walk that took 6 days, or, Notes on How to Use a Bedpan.

And now for something completely different

“What are you doing? “ The tone was reprovingly incredulous, not inquisitorial.

“I need to use the toilet.”

“No!  The doctor says you must stay in bed.”

The nurse was much smaller than me and I was tempted to bully past her.  Two things stopped me.  The grim look on her face and the fact that I was tethered to an ECG machine and an intravenous drip both of which were plugged by short leads into sockets in the wall.

Facing me hand outstretched palm forward like a police-person on point duty and used to dealing with argumentative and voluble Greeks, a mild-mannered, quietly spoken Welshman like me stood no chance against the determination of Greek nursedom.  I sank back to horizontal on the bed like a scolded schoolboy caught out in a misdemeanour.


It began a couple of days earlier.  I had flown to Rhodes and crossed to Symi after agreeing with my doctor that the recently diagnosed health issue was not a serious problem and advising the travel insurance company accordingly.  The plan was to slowly increase stamina by short walks, adding a little distance or gradient each day.  It was depressing doing routes easier than those I would normally bother with even at the start of the season but I drew comfort from thinking positive, focusing on the end result.

Then the misfiring on two cylinders became unexpectedly and significantly worse and I decided I should return home sooner than planned. Flight for Saturday booked on the internet, Thursday morning I set out to walk the 15 minutes down the 100 metres of the broad steps of the Kali Strata to the harbour to book a ferry ticket to Rhodes for the flight.

Renting a house in Horio, in recent years it has been not unusual for me to walk down and then back up the Kali Strata two or three times a day as well as a trek in the mountains.  But this time I was in a bad way.  Struggling for breath, chest heaving, I had to sit on a harbourside bench to recover before doing the things I had come for.  Visit the ATM.  Buy a ticket. The stairs up to the accommodation office to pay my monthly rent were the last straw.  I must have looked bad too because friends in the office insisted I went straight to the doctor’s surgery around the corner.

From that point on everything was out of my hands, I was carried along on a wave of rapid and efficient action.  I was the focus of attention but a non–participant.

Laid out flat on a doctors’ couch in the small surgery, assessed by four medical staff, I was soon wired up to an ECG machine, intravenous drip and oxygen.

Transferred to a wheeled stretcher (gurney) and, with someone carrying an oxygen cylinder and the intravenous drip,  I was manhandled down the narrow alley to a waiting ambulance which whisked along the harbourside.

From the ambulance loaded onto a Hellenic Coastguard cutter, accompanied by the doctor, then at high speed down the narrow channel between Turkey and Symi, which it usually patrols picking up refugees in sinking boats, before crossing to Rhodes.

In Rhodes Kolona harbour transferred onto another trolley and into another ambulance for the trip through congested streets to Rhodes General Hospital, siren muted out of consideration for my sensitive hearing – and misfiring cylinders.

Unloaded, wheels down and fast along the corridor to the emergency suite, where, rather than demanding my credit card before they would let me in, as happened in Canadian Banff when I dislocated my shoulder, I was immediately attended by two consultants who rapidly concluded that I should be admitted.

Amazingly speedily and efficiently I was taken up to a ward via an X-ray and echocardiogram.  The irony of the latter is that the grindingly inefficient NHS back home took a month to tell me I am on a waiting list and by the time I have it the scan will have taken 4 months to arrange. There will be a further delay before I get to see a consultant to interpret the scan.  On a small island in Greece, with all its economic and refugee problems, the process took 15 minutes including assessment by a consultant who carried out the scan in the first place.  Not surprising that the WHO puts Greece 4 places above the UK (17 places above the USA!) in its ranking of health systems (see).

There then followed a process of sorting out the problem, starting with intravenous medication, the least invasive option.  Thorough, methodical, efficient.  Twenty four hours after being admitted the medics concluded that medication alone wouldn’t be effective and that something more was needed.  Quick explanation and I was wheeled down to a treatment and intensive care ward for electrocution (technically ‘cardioversion’).  Unfortunately I missed the fun bit because when they electrocute you they anaesthetise you first.  It would have been fascinating to see if it is like they show on TV, body arching on the bed as it convulses up and down.

When I returned to this planet it was far more peaceful and restful than it had been for months.  Electrocution had worked.  But to make sure, I was monitored 24 hours a day for the next 3 days before going back up to the ward.

For 4 days I wasn’t allowed out of bed on doctors’ orders.  That’s when I learned a new skill.

On the second day the batteries in my phone and Kindle went flat so there was nothing to do but lie on my back and imagine what pleasure and excitement there would be in watching paint dry.  The friend who came across from Symi with essential supplies, including tooth brush, towels, spare clothes and charging cables, neglected to bring any paint despite the fact that he is an artist.  But at least I could wash, read again, and communicate with the outside.

Then on day 5 I went back up to the ward, was untethered and encouraged to walk around.  Firing on all four cylinders once more, that day I walked two and a quarter miles of hospital corridors, glad to be on my feet again and unable to sit still for long.

End of the morning on day six I was let loose on the world.  Taxi into town. M&S for purchase of essential (very personal) clothing.  Visit to the washroom to change.  Frappé and WiFix in cool gardens across the road.  Blue Star ferry at 15.00 back to Symi and I returned to the house 6 days after I popped out to buy a ferry ticket.

Those notes on how to use a bed-pan?

1  Discretely

2  Carefully

3  As infrequently as possible

This entry was posted in Greece, Grey Britain, Health and humour, Reflections and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Symi:  the 15 minute walk that took 6 days, or, Notes on How to Use a Bedpan.

  1. Chris pegington says:

    So sorry to hear your story, but thankful that it was sorted so efficiently. I should be in Latvia now, but the Sunday before we were supposed to fly I ended up up in the Royal Gwent with an inflamed gall bladder. A week on the ward with intravenous antibiotics before another week at home. I saw the consultant yesterday and his first words were, ” I don’t know why you are at my clinic, I’m a bum man ( I’d lower bowel specialist!). Apparently I am now on the waiting list for gall bladder removal, but it may take some months! Look after yourself and DON’T OvERDO IT. Love in the aloud Chris

  2. Chris pegington says:

    Oops, should have been Lord! Pesky automatic spelling.

  3. BarryH says:

    Chris. Ill health is always galling, but not usually quite so literally as in your case. Hope to see you soon. Barry

  4. Stuart Newland says:

    Hi Barry, Thanks for your post. I’m glad to hear you’re back firing on all 4 cylinders! That sounds like quite a walk! Warm regards, Stu

  5. Blimey! What a tale! Glad the cylinders are all firing again, sounds a scary episode, good job you were in Greece, not Canada, or even UK! I hope you will take the advice in my little Slow Tourist book and find some SLOW adventures, without going very far! Take care. X

  6. BarryH says:

    Hi Sarah. Having read your Slow Tourist some while ago, I picked it up again when I was tidying before I went back to Greece and, strangely, wondered if it was a hint that I should slow up. Problem is actually doing it. But thanks for the thought.

  7. phillippa lee says:

    Wow Barry, what a story. Thank goodness you are OK. I think that slowing up would be just the thing. I hope you have a peaceful time on Symi. I am returning in September for a couple of weeks. slow walking, swimming and eating.

  8. BarryH says:

    Hi Phillippa, We all have a built-in natural pace and we’re stuck with it whatever it is. Possibility I may be on Symi for a short time in September but most of the time hope to be on Nisyros. Have a good time. Barry

  9. livadia22 says:

    Pleased to hear you’re on the mend…..hope you can fit in a Tilos trip !!

  10. livadia22 says:

    Pleased to hear you’re on the mend…..don’t forget to come and see us in Tilos ,,

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