Aboard the cruise ship, Westerdam, docked for the day at Malaga, Spain, I anxiously waited for word about my missing daughter, Debbi. The ship’s front desk called my room. “We’ve located your daughter. She has been in an accident and is seriously injured. Her face is cut in two. She’s in the hospital in Malaga. We’re sending a taxi for you.”
The hospital resembled a combat field hospital, full of sick and injured people, and doctors and nurses working full speed to try to care for them. Rather than an intensive care unit, I found Debbi in an “observation area” with rows of patients lined up like spokes in a wheel around the hub of a nurses’ station. She had a jagged line of stitches from above her nose down through her lips. Her nostrils were packed with gauze and each had a string dangling. Every bone in her face had been broken, and her nose was broken in four places. Her left wrist was broken, and her entire body was bruised. The blow had broken the upper part of her lower front teeth.
I managed to keep from crying, and prayed for her. I spent the night in a nearby hotel while our ship continued on its way to Rome.
She indeed looked like her face had been cut in two, and sewed back together. A sling held a heavy plaster cast on her left arm.
The next morning, Jose Fernandez, a local representative of Holland America Lines, drove me to the hospital. We arrived at about the time an attendant wheeled Debbi out into the hallway and said, “You can go home now.”
Jose explained that the public hospital stayed so busy that they couldn’t care for the great load of patients, and that we should take Debbi to a private hospital. Jose drove us across town to the Parque San Antonio Hospital. There, doctors finished getting the blood out of Debbi’s mouth and examined her for internal injuries. That involved going without food or water for 35 hours. (IVs kept her hydrated and administered antibiotics.)
“What happened?” people asked when they saw Debbi.
“I was in a motorcycle wreck,” she usually replied,
We had departed Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, on March 30, looking forward to seven days at sea, crossing the Atlantic, then stops in Portugal and Spain, and our destination, Rome. We planned after visiting Rome, to take a train across Italy to Venice. Friends from Caddo Mills, Texas, Mike and Karen Ellis, would meet us there to spend Easter together.
We would then fly to England. Debbi had made arrangements for us to visit the scene of Downton Abby television series, and had tickets for “high tea.” We planned to fly home, non-stop from London Heathrow to Dallas Fort Worth, and arrive home on April 19.
We arrived in beautiful Malaga, near the south end of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea on April 9, 2017, Debbi decided to find some kind of conveyance, such as a bicycle, or small electric car we could rent for the day. In a short walk from the ship terminal, Debbi sat me down on a park bench, and said, “Stay right here. Don’t move. I’ll find something and be right back.”
I checked my watch frequently. After 45 minutes. I worried and continued to worry with each passing minute. Finally, after three hours, I located a police substation, and told an officer about my missing daughter. He patiently explained that she had to be missing 24 hours before an official report could be made. However, he would spread the word among officers nearby.
I went back to the ship in the hope that she had lost me and gone back aboard. I went straight to the front office. Concerned staff said they would do all they could to find her. They would phone me as soon as they learned anything.
Their phone call about the accident and serious injuries sent a shock
through my spine.
In the Parque San Antonio Hospital, Debbi’s room accommodated a hospital bed, recliner, couch that made into a bed, and an outdoor veranda. It overlooking the parking lot and had a brief view between buildings of the beach. The Mediterranean weather is ideal most of the year. This April, 2017, it was perfect.
I asked staff members if they knew of a hotel nearby. Before they could answer, Debbi asked if I could stay there in the room with her.
“No problem.” So I stayed with her the whole time, serving as her interpreter, assistant nurse, and valet.
Debbi had never ridden a motorcycle, but she found nothing elseFs available. She preferred a little Vespa motor scooter, but had to settle for one step up to a small motorcycle. She received no instructions to how to ride it. Debbi rode it around in the parking lot until she felt confident. Then she rode out into the street and performed well until she came to a round-about. Europe has many of these traffic circles rather than signal lights or four-way tops. Debbi had never encountered one. Thick traffic on the roundabout caused her to lose control and she ran into a masonry wall. She hit the wall with her face.
In the hospital, she said the last thing she remembered before the accident was a white car she tried to avoid. The next thing she remembered was the nurses laughing about something as they sewed her cuts. Debbi protested that it hurt, but they continued on as before.
The difference between “free” medical care in the public hospital and the private hospital was obvious. One difference was cost. When I checked Debbi in, I had to pay a deposit of 2,000 Euros. When I checked her out, I had to pay another 3,000. I was glad that I bought all the insurance offered for the trip.
Since the Westerdam had sailed away, and we would not make it to Rome and Venice, we thought about taking the 200 miles per hour train from Malaga up to Madrid and then to Paris, and take the Chunnel under the English Channel and keep our appointments in England.Eurail had an 8-day pass that would have saved about half the fare.
One afternoon the doctor came in to Debbi’s room and explained about the broken bones. One was the ocular bone that houses the left eye. She could not go to a high altitude until it was completely healed. Otherwise she would take a chance on losing the eye. Therefore, she could not fly for eight weeks.
The pain that would come when the doctor pulled packing out of her nostrils concerned Debbi. My horror stories of how it hurt when I had sinus surgery didn’t help much. When the doctor pulled the little strings and the packing came out, Debbi was surprised. It didn’t hurt much at all. A few days later, I took her back to the hospital to get the stitches removed. That did hurt, she said.
Holland America said they would take care of all the details of our “repatriation.” The insurance allowed a maximum of $50,000 per person, so we felt confident there would be plenty.
After six days in the hospital, we moved to the Hotel Las Americas, located close to the railroad station. There we waited on word from Holland America. We had learned that their ship, the Prinsendam, would depart Barcelona on April 23.
I bought first class tickets on the high-speed train to Barcelona. The comfortable seats reclined and the refreshments cart came by regularly, and charged nothing for snacks, drinks, and lunch. It could spoil one abused to traveling “coach.”
For many miles as we traveled north from Malaga, we saw groves of olive trees on both sides as far as the eye could see.
Debbi made arrangements with Price Line for a five-star hotel at a two-star price in Barcelona. After being pampered there for two days we went aboard the Prinsendam and were pampered for another 14 days on the way home. When we arrived at our cabin, the captain had sent a large bouquet of flowers.
People were naturally curious about Debbi’s scars. Soon a person would greet her with, “You’re the daughter that got hurt,” and if I was with her, “And you must be the father.”
The cruise director sponsored an amateur night in the theater and asked for volunteers. A man we had often eaten with volunteered to sing. Another man volunteered, and then a woman. All three were as good as any professional. Then I volunteered to sing “The Irish Rover,” the story of a mythical ship as told by a drunken Irishman in a New York bar. Mine was the opening number. Later I did a 3-minute harmonica concert.
A skeptical look crossed the director’s face when Debbi volunteered to tell her story. “Everyone wants to know about it,” she said, and that was true. The director, seemingly reluctant, told Debbi okay but keep in short.
Debbi took the stage, and like a pro presenter, told her story. She injected humor into it and elicited emotions from the audience that ranged from terror to laughter. When she finished, the audience applauded enthusiastically, especially the director.
Most of the people on board the ship had been in the audience, so Debbi became a celebrity.
The ship made stops in Cadiz, Spain and two stops in the islands of the Azores in mid-Atlantic.
Debbi’s husband, Drew met us at Ft. Lauderdale, and drove us home. We arrived May 6. Debbi went back to work the next day. She saw a plastic surgeon about repairing the scars. He said she had to be completely healed before he could operate, and that would be about 10 months. Many of the stitches inside her mouth and on her lips had not been aligned properly, so the surgery will be extensive, he said. Her lower front teeth that had been broken off, will be capped.
I thank God that her injuries were not worse. If she had not been wearing a helmet, she most likely would have been killed.
---Joe B.. Hewitt May 28, 2017