My first review from our Northern Territory holiday is of accommodation which was not on our itinerary. I’m all for spontaneity but a 4.5 day stay in Alice Springs Hospital certainly wasn’t a welcome addition to our plans.
For those of you who don’t follow our Facebook page you probably don’t know that BJ had an accident on Friday 24 June, the day before our departure. I received one of those dreaded calls around 1pm to say he’d gone down a step in his wheelchair on an outing. Anyone that has received that type of call will know the worry, the sick feeling and the utter helplessness you feel not being there. I met Hubby and BJ at the hospital and despite the shock BJ smiled at me through a bloody mouth, showing two broken front teeth. I was relieved he could still smile despite it all. We spent the afternoon at the dental hospital and after examination the dentist gave us the green light to travel the next day but with a date for surgery on our return. It was horrible knowing we had to face that on our return but lovely to know our much anticipated holiday was still on.
WHEN THINGS TURNED BAD
The next day at the airport BJ was hesitant to drink from his usual pop top which I figured was due to his split lips. It would’ve definitely been painful. We bought a big container of watermelon and had some success getting him to take that. The flight was not a good one. BJ was more restless than usual. We were so relieved to touch-down at Ayers Rock airport. The following days were challenging to say the least. We had a jam-packed itinerary in and around Uluru and BJ refused to drink and the only food he would consume was watermelon and the occasional banana. While he was eating the banana we could get Nurofen into him but once he refused, things deteriorated even more. We could see him getting skinnier by the day and we knew watermelon wasn’t enough hydration but we kept an eye on his output and it was okay. Fortunately, it was cool weather.
From the Saturday he didn’t drink anything. On the Tuesday we made an appointment at the Yulara medical centre. The community nurse checked him out and suggested if we were concerned when we got to our next stop to go to Alice Springs Hospital. The next day it was obvious that we needed to get to Alice Springs as quickly as possible and go straight to the hospital. It seemed the longest drive ever despite only taking us 4.5hours.
ALICE SPRINGS HOSPITAL STAY
We were seen in emergency and they decided to give BJ an injection for the pain in the hope that he’d drink if the pain was gone. It didn’t work. The next morning, we were back at the hospital and there was no doubt BJ was dehydrated and ill. I won’t share a photo of him by this stage because I wouldn’t want a photo of me looking that way shared on the internet. Imagine a non-smiling BJ, dark sunken eyes, skinny face and no colour whatsoever and you’ll have an idea of his condition.
On check-in I never imagined it would be 4 days later before we would check-out of hospital. I thought it would be a matter of rehydrating BJ and we’d be out of there. Thankfully the doctor was extremely thorough and under sedation not only started a drip but had a good look at BJ’s teeth. He took photos on his mobile and emailed them to a local dentist. It was decided that the damage to the teeth was causing the pain and without fixing the teeth we’d end up in the same position again even if they rehydrated BJ. Our next stop was Darwin where the temperature was around 33 degrees so we knew that we had no choice.
The staff in the Emergency Department at Alice Springs Hospital were exceptional. They all spoke to BJ as they treated him, explaining what they were doing as they did it. They empathised with his lack of tolerance of the cannula and tried to make us, as a family, as comfortable as possible. They liased with BJ’s pediatrician in Sydney regarding their choice of drugs which gave me greater confidence. When they called in the dentist who would do the surgery she was happy to liase with our dentist in Sydney and take her suggestions and advice regarding the surgery.
The surgery went well but we still had to deal with the dehydration and the resulting rise in BJ’s sodium levels. They couldn’t rehydrate him too quickly because it would cause the sodium to drop too fast which can result in swelling of the brain. Once the surgery was over the most important thing we could do was get BJ drinking again. The problem we faced was the memory he had of how painful it was to drink. It took a lot of pushing but eventually he started sipping from a paper cup.
Being in hospital, far from home, was not easy but the staff were fantastic. Hardly any of the staff are originally from Alice Springs. The hospital brings together an eclectic group of doctors and nurses from all around the world. In turn, Alice Springs’ patients are an eclectic mix of travellers in need of medical treatment and a large number of local Aboriginal people who have a range of illnesses. It really is an unusual mix in Alice and as strange as it seems, I think this helped our stay. Hospitals are always boring but staying at Alice Springs Hospital became part of our experience of Central Australia. It gave us a greater understanding of the challenges faced by communities in a remote area of Australia and a bit of an education in the problems if Indigenous Australians.
Hubby stayed with BJ each evening. He was given a mattress on the floor and had his own tag around his wrist, admitted as a boarder, which meant he received meals as well. Room service was actually pretty good. He resented the lack of salt but apart from that the food was good.
Once in a ward BJ had his own room which had an accessible bathroom, complete with flip-down shower seat.
Chatting to the staff was interesting. Everyone had a story of how they’d come to be in Alice Springs and where they were from originally. Two rooms down from BJ someone was under 24-hour guard and while walking the halls with BJ I took the opportunity to chat with the guards (probably, if I’m honest, I grilled the guards because I’m a huge sticky beak!) They were amused by my interest and it helped us all pass a bit of time.
The kiosk was small, limited hours and not many magazine options but hey, it’s a small town.
This process took a lot out of the whole family. It was stressful being away from home and to have BJ so unwell but we always try to look at the positives.
I’m grateful to have a wonderful husband to share the tough times. He takes such a hands-on role and really was awesome through it all. Our gorgeous AJ had 3.5 full days in hospital where the focus was solely on BJ and his needs. At no point did she whine or even look frustrated. She was there doing anything she could to help and to comfort BJ. She was lucky to have a school friend in town for the last day and that gave her a day away from the hospital.
It is wonderful to live in a country where healthcare is so good and where there was no cost involved in any of BJ’s treatment in Alice Springs. The hospital staff in Sydney were also awesome with the xray staff offering to stay past closing time to try and help.
I’m grateful for the friends and family at home who were messaging and checking up on BJ’s progress throughout the day. It helped us feel connected despite being so far away.
The Manager at the Quest Hotel where we were staying in Alice Springs managed to extend our stay and keep us in the same apartment despite the hotel being fully booked. The airlines went out of their way to give us extra seats around us on our flights to make it easier for BJ if he was restless.
Most of all, we are so grateful to have BJ smiling again and to see him well. He’s lost confidence and is nervous of any unstable surface. He won’t drink out of a pop top but we love seeing him regaining his weight and the fact he is generally happy. BJ loves his family holidays so I feel bad that for much of it he wasn’t feeling well but we were lucky to be able to continue on to Darwin.
Travel is unpredictable and it’s so important to make the best of any situation. When good holidays turn bad that can be hard but when we left Alice Springs I said to AJ, “I’ll always have a special place for Alice Springs in my heart because people were so kind.”
Have you had a hospital stay while away on a trip? If so, I’d love to know how everyone managed.
If you have a scheduled trip to hospital coming up you might like to check our post on what to pack for hospital here.