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Monday, 25 June 2012

An Episode of Life or Death in Rome

By Mary Hertslet

We were about to catch a plane from Greece to Italy. My husband, Hersh, and our two-year-old son, Steve, were ready to leave for the airport when I noticed my lower lip was beginning to swell. I thought maybe a small insect had bitten me while I was asleep.

By the time we reached the airport, my upper lip was swollen and my tongue felt swollen too. I could no longer pronounce words.

After a worrisome flight to Rome, my ankles and hands were beginning to swell. We quickly located the Italian family's pensione where we would be staying. Because we didn't know their language, the family came to our aid immediately by calling the hospital and getting a cab for us.

The doctor had been notified we were coming and he examined me right away. Hersh told him about a long-acting penicillin shot for a sinus infection I had received several days before while in Lebanon. He immediately gave me a shot to counteract the penicillin.

Then, the doctor proceeded to tell me some potentially bad news. He said, "You will have to be admitted to the hospital and stay until this crisis is over. Also, I believe the side effects may have already reached your bronchial tubes. I've done all I can right now and we have to wait it out. I am hoping it will subside before going any further. I have to tell you, that if it does goes to your heart, it could be fatal."

The news was devastating. Hersh and I were distraught, knowing the doctor was unable to assure us that the drug he gave me would stop progression of the side effects.

I was taken to a room with four beds. Two beds were already occupied by a young girl and an older lady. Neither spoke English. When the nurse came into the room, it was only then I realized she was a nun and that this was a Catholic hospital. It had been built eight years before our arrival and it consisted of an all American-trained staff. I was thankful for that.

I was lying in bed praying I would not die here in Rome. I made up possible scenarios as to what might happen if I did die. I wondered if Hersh would return to Guam to fulfill his third teaching contract he had signed before we left on our trip.

My only comfort was that I was a Catholic, in a Catholic hospital, with a cross above my bed. I could only hope the nuns were prayerful for all who were sick in this hospital. I felt alone and helpless knowing that any moment might be my last.

For awhile, I became perfectly still trying to listen to the sound of my heart beating. I could feel every beat. I was aware of my lungs with each breath I took.

I even prayed my childhood prayer: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

It was long after midnight before I finally drifted off to sleep for a short while. But then, suddenly, I awoke feeling itchy and not knowing what was happening to me. Afraid of waking my roommates, I went out into the lighted hallway where I saw hives quickly spreading over my body.

I paced back and forth, scratching and crying. A nurse saw me and ushered me back to my room. I was crying and saying over and over, "I'm so happy!"

I don't imaging she realized they were tears of joy but I was sure this was the turning point - and it was. The side effects had let go inside of me and came out as hives. It no longer threatened my heart.

After one more night and no relapses, Hersh took me back to the pensione. I was feeling well. By late afternoon, we were out doing some sightseeing. This was inconceivable to me, when only two days before, I thought I was dying and now, here we were out seeing the sights and eating pasta in what became our favorite Italian, working-man's restaurant during our last days in Rome.

After three weeks and three more countries, we returned to Guam. It was then we had (safely) completed our three-month trip around the world.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a scary thing, especially in another country.
Thank goodness the outcome was good!! Nice drama writing.

Glad you came through okay. It sounds like a real nightmare to have lived through.

What an amazing couple of days for you and your family.
I like stories with a happy ending...

My first thoughts echo those of Joanne Z....a scary time for sure! Glad it turned out well for you.

I held my breathe as I read your story. I, too, was sick in Italy, but not as bad as you. A wonderful doctor came to our pensione and gave me good advice, "Quit smoking, Marchella!" I had bronchitis.


Lucky for you that you recognized that the hives were a sign of the illness leaving your body.

I wouldn't have known that and would have thought I was getting something else on top of already having enough sickness.

Good suspense in your story.I enjoy reading it.

Oh, and nice trip you took, too. Tell us about that sometime.

Thank you for your comments.

I was 27 years old when this incident happened. I was lucky.

A few day ago, I celebrated my 80th birthday.

Mary Hertslet

I too fell sick in a foreign country only I didn't speak the language. Therefore the mother of a student I was teaching English too told her son he must accompany me to the hospital and explain what they were doing. They put a bed in my room for him and he spent 6 days at my bedside helping me understand the problems I faced. Finally I had to fly home to be admitted to a hospital in the states for 2 weeks but I survived and now I'm 82 and healthy.

What a scary event for you. I'm glad you are all right. Thanks for sharing.

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