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My Dominican Adventure continues…with a trip to the hospital

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“I’m going to Sosua tomorrow,” my friend Elena announced, explaining that a mutual friend was having a minor surgical procedure at Centro Medico. “Do you want to come along for the ride?”

My breath caught for a moment.

“Love to,” came my somewhat strangled reply.

To myself, I thought: Touché, Universe. Touché.

Just that morning, I had laid in bed agonizing over making the trip to the private medical clinic. On one hand, I knew I needed to get in to see a doctor. But on the other, I was scared as hell.

Let me rewind for just a minute. Two and a half years ago, a few short months after my father passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer, I had my own health scare. A scare that was made infinitely scarier by a primary care who was all too eager to jump to conclusions, not to mention unprofessional in her delivery of her doomsday diagnosis.

(As in she told me I had a mass that she presumed was ovarian cancer and pronounced that I would obviously need a hysterectomy. Oh, and while she was telling this to me me – an unmarried woman in her late thirties with no children sitting alone in a sterile exam room – she had the audacity to cry.

The only good thing she did was refer me to a highly respected specialist who assured me that I did NOT in fact have ovarian cancer. Nor did I need a hysterectomy.

What I did have was endometriosis. A nasty case of it, to be sure. And I did need major surgery. (Not to mention a new primary care.)

I have a pretty gruesome scar that, along with my lack of ab definition, has ruined my chances of ever becoming a swimsuit model.

But that scar is nothing compared to the emotional damage wrought by the whole experience. It left me skittish around the medical profession as a whole, not to mention in a constant state of angst over whether I can/will/want to have children someday.

So given all that, you can imagine my distress when I noticed something out of the ordinary on the left side of abdomen. It started out small. A hard lump that felt like I was smuggling around an overfilled water balloon. While it didn’t hurt per se, there was definitely discomfort. And I had a couple of awkward conversations because, well, it was starting to look like a had a bun in the oven.

Ok. So now you’re caught up. That morning, after a sleepless night, I was lying in bed agonizing over this issue, which, incidentally, I named Bob. (No offense to the Bobs I know. But I needed to give it a name, and that was the first thing that came to mind.)

I knew I couldn’t ignore Bob, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t scared to death to acknowledge his existence to the world and an as-yet unidentified health care professional in a clinic in a foreign country. I don’t know how long I would have put it off without the timely intervention of the Universe. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have waited too much longer, but… it was better this way. Somehow, knowing that I wasn’t the primary reason for the trip made it easier. After all, I was just going there to make an appointment. I wasn’t going to actually see anyone that day.

Or so I thought.

After seeing our friend into the hands of the surgeon who would be performing her procedure, Elena escorted me toward the front desk. My palms were starting to sweat even before a woman appeared in our path, asking if we needed help.

Elena, ever helpful, pointed at me.

At which point I promptly forgot every word of Spanish I’ve painstakingly learned over the past year.

In the ugliest broken Spanglish imaginable, I somehow communicated the fact that I wanted to make an appointment with a gynecologist.

She asked me if I had insurance. I said yes, pulling the card out of my wallet and placing it and my passport in her proffered hand.

“Looks like you’ll get to see someone right away,” Elena said with much more enthusiasm than I felt about this latest development.

As I settled myself into a seat in the waiting area, I was anxious but also relieved. Not to mention in absolute awe. It would have taken me weeks to get an appointment with a gynecologist in the U.S., and that was IF they were accepting new patients. A walk in? Never!

Not ten minutes later, I was in the doctor’s office. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw him. He was over 6 feet tall and his name was Fred (well, Freddy). Another sign, I though.

The consultation didn’t last long. We discussed my symptoms as well as my medical history. After a cursory exam, he wrote an order for a sonogram. Which I had across the hall about 15 minutes later, performed by a very pleasant female doctor.

The verdict? A giant cyst on one of my ovaries.

Lots of women have cysts, but that’s not really the important part here. Did you notice the use of the plural? Yep, that’s right! I have two ovaries! I realize that’s completely normal, but you’ll remember that I was under the impression one had been removed.

I sat there in stunned silence for a moment as my new best friend shared this surprising development. All the anxiety and angst that I’ve been carrying around for close to three years… evaporated.

Yes, I’ll need surgery to remove the cyst. In fact, I’m going in this morning for the procedure. Am I nervous? Sure. The fact that I’m having this done in another country doesn’t even factor in. I’d be nervous having this – or any procedure – anywhere. (Hospitals in general make me queasy.) But I feel pretty good going into this. The staff at Centro Medico are a class act, and I feel confident in their very professional hands.

I’ve held myself together pretty well through this whirlwind. It has, after all, been barely a week since my first trip to Sosua, and I’m having surgery today.

I’ll admit I did have a little crying jag yesterday, though. It was after I read an email from my Aunt Kathleen. She’s mobilized the troops, so to speak. The email read like a field report. Franciscan sisters in four countries are praying for me, my names been added to several prayer lists and a mass is being said for me today at St. Joseph’s Hospital Chapel in Tampa.

And this on top of the outpouring of support I’ve received from my friends and family both here in the Dominican Republic and back in the U.S.

I ask you: how can a girl not be overwhelmed when there is so much love and so many prayers and positive intentions flowing through the universe for her?

I am truly blessed to have such a network of love and support. I know when I go into surgery today, I won’t be going in alone.

Thank you, all of you. I truly am the luckiest girl in all the world.

And now I’m off to Sosua. I wish I could say it was nice knowing you, Bob, but…

Unexpected Detours: A tale of flight delays, tropical escapes and chance encounters

 

The 5 Gringas: Mumsy, Jules, Kathie, Nona y yo.

Mumsy, Jules, Kathie, Nona and yours truly atop Mount Isabel during our 2014 Dominican adventure. I can assure you, a good time was had by all.

At barely 5 a.m. on the morning of January 9, 2014, I found myself staring bleary eyed at the departures board at Syracuse Airport. I was queued up with my four traveling companions – Mumsy, Jules, Kathie and Nona – and what felt like half of Central New York. We were at the tail end of one of last winter’s (then infamous, now long-forgotten) storms, and were well aware that some 12,000 flights had been canceled in the preceding days. The weather had finally cleared, though, and every flight listed was showing on time.

The five of us were bound for the Dominican Republic, and I for one could already taste the rum cocktails we’d be sipping on the beach by early afternoon.

A murmur moved up the line, intruding on my reverie. My friend Kathie, a little ahead of us, caught my eye and gestured to that same departure board I’d been staring at. Somehow, while I’d been daydreaming of sun and sand, the status of our flight had changed from ‘on time’ to ‘delayed’. I groaned, drawing the attention of my mother.

“We’re going to miss our connection,” I told her, leaving her to watch the bags as I wound my way to Kathie’s side.

The next hour was a blur. The airline’s counter person – no doubt eyeing the lengthy line of groggy would-be passengers behind us – insisted that she couldn’t help rebook us. We’d need to go through the group reservation line, she said. (Despite that there were only 5 of us.)

Too bad the first two numbers she gave us to call weren’t in service. The third was actually a chat line. (I kid you not.) And when, on the fourth try, we succeeded in getting the right number – we learned that the group reservation call center didn’t even open until 8 a.m. It wasn’t yet 6.

You can imagine how pleased we were at that.

Kathie made one more trip to the poor, frazzled woman behind the counter and miracle of miracles we ended up with a number that actually worked AND connected us to a human being. After jumping through the usual electronic hoops ,anyway.

For the next 45 minutes, the woman on the other end of the line was my best friend. Time seemed to stand still as she worked through a thousand different possible flight permutations in an effort to get the 5 of us ladies to our tropical destination. We were a model of flexibility, offering to fly out of another airport or fly into another one in the Dominican Republic. (We were headed to Puerto Plata, but we could make Santiago work if need be.)

We asked about other airlines, but she said wanted to exhaust all of their own possibilities first.

As the minutes ticked by, the options grew progressively worse, not better. And it was starting looking as though any cocktails we had in the foreseeable future would be imbibed in the bar of an airport (or airport hotel) rather than on a beach. Because the way she was talking, it would be DAYS before we made it to the DR.

It all went even further down hill when we were handed off yet again, this time to a supervisor. He was most definitely NOT my best friend. In fact, his first suggestion was that we fly to Newark and then wait THREE DAYS for a flight to Puerto Plata. This was the best option, he explained, unless we were willing to drive to Newark in three days time. The latter was certainly more appealing, because no offense to Neward, but spending the first part of our vacation there wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.

We asked again about options with other airlines, but all we received were a few vague promises that he’d follow up ‘later’. I could tell, though, by the finality in his voice as he signed off that there would be no further follow up on their end.

If we wanted a better option, it would be up to us to make it happen.

Before making our final exit from our home-away-from-home in the airline terminal, Kathie and I took a walk to the Delta counter.

What happened next was, in my opinion, a sure sign that there is a higher power in the universe. Because not only was there a flight to DR leaving that night, but there was space for us on it.

The catch, because there is always a catch, was that it leaving from JFK, not Syracuse, and landing in Santiago, not Puerto Plata. But we could work with that. Because it was definitely better than three days in Newark. Or waiting three days for the long-anticipated getaway for that matter.

As the incredibly helpful Delta representative worked with our original carrier to sort out the flight arrangements, I started working out the other details. Like changing our rental car reservation, reaching out to the Farrell network to find a home for our vehicle that didn’t involve paying $30 a day in a lot at JFK, etc.

Kathie sprung into action as well, since with our new, radically altered itinerary her friend Elena could no longer meet us. Elena, ever helpful, arranged for a taxi to meet us in Santiago. (Because, let’s face it, there wasn’t a chance that the accumulated luggage of five women was going to fit in one rental car. Oh, and there was the small matter of not being one hundred percent sure of the directions…)

The airport terminal was all but deserted by the time we had it all sorted. We were in a bit of a daze as we reboarded the shuttle to take us back to the airport hotel to retrieve our vehicle.

This is "the beach" we were trying to get to: Playa Costambar.

This is “the beach” we were trying to get to: Playa Costambar.

Now that the first – and arguably the biggest – obstacle had been overcome, my adrenaline was kicking in. There were still a host of challenges standing between us and the beach. Like getting a refund on the long-term parking we’d prepaid for at the airport hotel. And re-loading the aforementioned luggage into the car without the help of Jules’ very handy husband Lyndon to oversee the process. Not to mention the four-hour or so drive to JFK; the construction related traffic we’d invariably hit along the way; and coordinating the hand off of our keys to my awesome Uncle Tim.

But failure wasn’t an option. Come hell, high water or further interference from the travel gods, we were getting to that beach.

There was too much adrenaline in my system for me to relax on the plane. In fact, I didn’t start to breathe easy until we received the keys to our rental car in Santiago and the smiling cab driver and the off-duty cop riding shotgun with him started loading our luggage.

It was 2 a.m. at that point. We still had an hour or so drive to reach our final destination  on the North Coast. I might not get to sink my toes into the sand for a few more hours, but I was ok with that. Because my Dominican adventure had begun.

When I woke up the next morning and laid eyes on my surroundings for the first time – the palm trees, tropical foliage, the ocean, just all of it –the trials and tribulations of travel didn’t matter. Because on some level, I think I already knew this was where I was supposed to be.

Yes, Andry is that off-duty cop that met us at the airport. We met again in mid-March, when the Delta agent came to Costambar. See what I mean about unexpected detours?

Yes, Andry is that off-duty cop that met us at the airport. We met again in mid-March, when the Delta agent came to Costambar. See what I mean about unexpected detours?

A year has gone by since that hectic day. It feels like a lifetime ago. So much has changed in the intervening 12 months. I now wake up every morning to that beautiful tropical vista I fell in love with on that very first day. The customer service agent from Syracuse who helped make our dream of a tropical escape come true has since come down and had her own Dominican adventure, and a wonderful friendship has been formed. Elena is now my friend as well as Kathie’s. Kathie and her husband Mike have added an addition to that beautiful house I stayed in during my first stay (and a couple of subsequent visits, as well). They’ll be arriving in a few days to spend a whole month here. I can’t wait. (And yes, they do still rent it out when they’re not here. You can check them out on Facebook at Oceanfront Rental Dominican Republic.) The cab driver, José, has also become a trusted friend. And that off-duty cop? Well… That’s a story for a different day.

Who knows if any of that would have happened if our travel plans hadn’t been turned inside out that day. Sometimes it’s the unexpected detours that makes all the difference. That one point in time sets off a chain reaction, putting us in unexpected places, meeting unexpected people and it can make all the difference in the world.

It certainly has made all the difference in mine.

 

Feliz Año Nuevo: Here’s to a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year!

That beautiful tropical vista I was talking about, at sunrise.

That beautiful tropical vista I was talking about, at sunrise.

When I drew back the curtains this morning, I couldn’t help but smile. Before me was a tropical vista that just doesn’t get old. Palm fronds swaying with the breeze against a backdrop of blue sky and even bluer ocean. Yes, 2015 is going to be a great year. I can feel it already.

Not that 2014 wasn’t pretty darn fabulous. It was, in so many unexpected ways, quite possibly the best one yet.

I’m not saying it was entirely without ups and downs. It had its trials and tribulations, I assure you. But these days I choose to live a positive life. And to do so, you can’t dwell on the negatives. They’ll consume you if you let them.

The defining moment for me happened a month or so ago. It was right after Thanksgiving and I was missing my family like crazy. I could feel the old doubts and fears creeping back. Past failures, would-haves, should-haves and a list of to-do list items I’ve so far left ‘un-checked’ started swirling in my head. I was dangerously close to feeling sorry for myself. But this vista before me – the same one that helped me greet 2015 and that is before now as I write – helped me pull myself back from the abyss.

That day, I started to take stock of the past year. And much to my own surprise, I found I had a lot more items to add in the ‘accomplishments’ column than I initially thought. 2014 has been a very busy year. Busier than I remembered, even.

The love of my life, on one of our many adventures.

The love of my life, on one of our many adventures.

See, I learned a new language. (Spanish, of course. And while I’m far from fluent, I can communicate better every day.) I not only discovered paradise in the Dominican Republic, I moved there. I met the love of my life. I watched my nephew walk down the aisle with the love of his life. I helped celebrate my Aunt Kathleen’s 60th Jubilee. Finally, after carrying the book around for more than a decade, I worked my way through The Artist’s Way – healing and awakening my creativity every step of the way. I picked up a paintbrush again after a very, very long hiatus. I wrote a few poems. I went kayaking for the first time. I ‘hoed’ out the accumulated detritus of (most of) my past lives. I started freelancing again (and might even have some income to show for it in 2015). I dragged my mother first to the Dominican Republic and then to Ireland, the latter of which was fulfilling a lifelong dream for her. I started this blog (although I continue to be negligent in posting). I even lost 20 pounds.

Well, before I went home for the holidays, anyway.

And, after years of telling myself I couldn’t, I started writing fiction. And I have two (really horrific) first drafts to show for it.

The fact that they are utter shite is beside the point, really. I learned so much in the process. And I proved to myself that I could do it. That, along with the fact that it was more fun than I ever imagined, made my little experiment a roaring success. And I can’t wait to do it all over again. Novel #3 is burning a hole in my head as we speak, eager to spill out on the page.

So, yes, that’s on the to-do list for 2015. As is taking up a hatchet in one hand and a scalpel in the other to have a go at its predecessors, who are currently aging like a fine wine. I make absolutely no promises that either will ever see the light of day, mind you. But it will be good practice for my future experiments in fiction. Because now that I’ve started, I have no intention of stopping.

So, yes, 2014 was a very good year. I’ve had so many adventures. I’ve explored. Made new friends. Learned anew how to forgive, to heal, to fully appreciate life. There have been challenges along with the triumphs, but the laughter has far outweighed the tears for the first time in a very long time.

Every day I am filled with gratitude and more of a sense of prosperity than a fat paycheck ever provided. And every day, I count my blessings.

As I look ahead at 2015, I don’t just think it will be filled with unlimited possibilities. I know it will. Because I’m no longer afraid to live life to the fullest. No longer afraid to take a few risks. No longer afraid to imagine the life I want for myself – nor afraid to actually live it. I know that when I take that leap of faith, my wings are strong enough to carry me over the abyss of fear and self-doubt.

I’m very familiar with that abyss. After all, I lived in it for years. Believe me, I have no desire to ever, ever go back.

What’s changed? Me. I’m not the same person I was a year ago, when I looked ahead at 2014 with trepidation and fear, unsure what my next step would be. In the last 12 months, I healed, I learned, I loved…and for the first time in a very long time – maybe ever – I am truly living and loving life.

The best part? I’m just getting started.

I hope you’re ready, 2015. Because I know I am.

Here’s to a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year!

Feliz Año Nuevo, amigos!