One busted knee, two foreign travelers, four forms of transportation, 900 kilometers: A story told in eleven parts.
Part 1: An Ambulance, an Apaçi nurse, and Health Care in Turkey
Ambulances are not typically thought of as funny modes of transportation, but any ambulance ride is made funnier (its a word) by the fact that most Turks couldn’t care less when there is an ambulance honking behind them. As we cruised along, we frequently came upon absent-minded drivers who refused to switch lanes or speed up. The driver clicked his tongue at their idiocy and swerved around them. We pulled up to the hospital where my friend and I somehow became responsible for moving the Patient in and out of the gurney. The nurses looked at us. Paused. Waited. Made a half-assed attempt to move the Patient, who would inevitable shriek in pain. They would back off, we would have to swoop in and catch her before she fell, then ease her into her wheelchair. This happened no less than three times.
The Doctor was dressed in distressed jeans, a neon pink polo shirt adorned with a vibrant argyle design. He sported the standard man-purse, and in delightful English, explained to us our options. The surly Apaçi Nurse begrudgingly obeyed the various orders of the doctor, but left us to do the (not so) heavy lifting.
Part 2: The Taxi Driver/Philosopher with the Russian Wife Named Olga
After getting the okay from the doctor, we made our way to the airport. The taxi driver told us the story of his recent romance with a Russian tourist, who he met in his taxi. She came for a holiday and he got her number. They met up one night, he cooked for her and her friend.. Both women were impressed with his domestic skills. They stayed in touch, and after her mother died, she decided to move to Turkey to be with him. They are now married and he glowed with happiness. A bit of a philosopher, Hamid explained to the Patient that she must send forth good vibes to the Universe, “If you send out good things and happiness,” he cajoled her, “good things will happen, but” he cautioned, “if you send out bad thoughts and ideas, you shall only receive bad things in return.”
Part 3: The Patient is Fondled by a Security Guard, Advice is Sought from the Gun Exchange Bureau
Upon arrival at the airport, the first round of security was attempted. The traveler was ushered to a seat where her immobilized knee was inspected with a bomb-sniffing device, and then her body fondled by a slightly over-zealous female security guard.
The Antalya airport doesn’t possess its own set of wheelchairs (surprised? No.) After inquiring at the “Gun Exchange Bureau” (I’m not kidding, and no I have no explanation to offer) where I could obtain a wheelchair, I was told to find our air carrier and ask there.
Because we wanted to avoid the nightmare of rushing through security, we arrived extremely early. So early, in fact, that the staff to check us in had not yet arrived. I found a man who worked for our airline that in turn found three other men who worked for someone else who eventually demanded that a young man who worked for yet another carrier produce a wheelchair; he begrudgingly gave in and arrived about ten minutes later with a chair.
Part 4: The Guy Entrused with the Patient’s Care
After obtaining the wheelchair, the Patient was parked in the waiting area. She happily people watched as sunburnt tourists lugged their bags about, as a family of hippies searched for their flight with their enormous backpacks perched on their shoulders, as a father cooed his two small children while his wife checked the family in. The Guy Entrusted with the Patient’s Care clearly counted down the seconds until his departure, and slinked off with promises that a “friend” would be coming by to take care of us.
Part 5: The Stabbing of the Patient
Two hours before the flight we went to the medical center so they could administer a shot to prevent deep vein thrombosis. The doctor had suggested that I administer it, but I don’t stab people I must spend the next 6 hours with, with needles.
Arriving at the medical center, we pantomimed with a nurse who then produced a man in scrubs, who walked up inches from the Patient’s wheelchair and stared, open-mouthed. He stood there gaping, like a small child. All my patience gone, I started yelling at him in English, “[Expletive]! We’re not a [expletive] sideshow! What the [expletive] is wrong with you!? Can you [expletive] help us or not?!” To which he stood, unfazed, while my outburst provoked the nurse who quickly ushered us into a room where she promptly stabbed my friend with the syringe. The Man in Scrubs continued to stare, remaining useless.
Part 6: The Kapitan
After the shot was administered, we made our way to the ticket booth, which had finally opened. As I waited to get our ticket, I was accosted by an airport employee who rattled of something unintelligible in the fastest Turkish I have ever encountered, to which I responded “Hiçbir şey anlamadım”, I don’t understand anything. He sped up the speech and raised his voice to a low shout, to which I responded “Hiçbir şey anlamadım.” The sole word I took away from his tirade of Turkish was “beklen,” wait. Wait for who? For the “kap-ee-tahn”, ohh wait for the pilot? Uh, okay.
Part 7: Ice Ice Baby
The knee was calling for ice, and ice it got. Our airport attendant, the phenomenal Mehmet Sadi, suggested that I might have better luck than he procuring free ice from the nearby Burger King. I can’t remember his exact words but his explanation was something along the lines of, “You’re a blonde foreigner, I am not. You will have better luck with this.”
At Burger King I explained in my pseudo-Turkish what I wanted. The girl tried to offer me a paper bag full of ice (hmm… is this why she works at BK?), I grabbed a plastic one from a cleaning lady and a young man filled the 10 gallon trash bag half way with ice. I didn’t need it to preserve a dead body, I wanted to say, but I took the ice and thanked him for his enthusiasm. I emptied out half in a nearby trash bin, wrapped it in a thicker bag and brought it back to the Patient.
Part 8: Bir Saat Sonra (An Hour Later)
After waiting for this fabled pilot to arrive to give us unknown information and allegedly treat us like VIPs (Mehmet’s words, not mine) we were fed up. 45 minutes from takeoff and we still didn’t have tickets, still hadn’t gone through the second wave of security, and still had no idea where the gate was. I put up a fuss with the man who had started this whole pilot nonsense who then decided we needed to pay for an extra seat if we wanted on the plane.
Repeat after me: BULL. SHIT.
Part 9: The Much Nicer Old Man that I Wanted to Hug
Going to the ticketing office, the elderly man who had originally helped us procure the wheelchair, said something along the lines of “Nonsense, you don’t need to pay for anything.” He directed us back to the check in booth where a much sweeter woman gave us our tickets.
We never met the pilot, and we were certainly never treated like VIPs.
Part 10: The Super Bitchy Not Cool Off-Duty Flight Attendant
I have never understood what makes people act irrationally rude. But, alas, it happens, I guess. As we arrived on the plane, and the Patient took her seat, leaving her long, immobilized leg sticking into the aisle. It was a painful angle to hold, and we tried wedging something underneath the foot to prop it up, if only for the jostling of takeoff.
An off-duty flight attendant who was seated behind me and across from the Patient quickly yelled at her. “This is forbidden”, she said, “you can’t do that” rudely pointing her perfectly manicured finger at the Patient’s propped foot. The best part was that the on-duty flight attendants couldn’t have cared less. But this woman was on a mission: Suck every bit of pleasantness out of our flight.
She took out her plastic-sealed Vogue magazine, tossed back her perfectly coiffed hair, she snidely translated our conversation to her colleagues. And, as the refreshment cart made its way through the plane, she began her assault on my seat.
Had I not known better, I would have assumed a rowdy five-year-old had taken up residence behind me. After take off, she started banging on the back of my seat, rocking me back and forward, beating my back like a burly Russian masseur. Then, to my horror, she reaches around the front of my seat, pushes in the little button and hurls my seat forward. Now, mind you, my seat was already in the upright position. The little lass had wedged her purse in under my seat, instead of her own, and couldn’t get it out. Somehow it had become my fault.
Part 11: Otogar
After our cab ride to the Otogar, we delved into the chaos that is the Istanbul Seyahat ticket office on a Sunday night. We had purchased two tickets for the 9pm bus, not having planned for the busted knee. We were able to exchange them with the Extraordinarily Miserable Sales Man (he’s there every day, he’s my favorite, no nonsense about where I’m from, he just scowls at me like he does to everyone else) for the 10pm bus and we got one additional ticket so the Patient could stretch out her knee in comfort.
The greatest source of fear this entire odyssey was the ascent onto the bus. The steps are steep and the Patient is stopped up by an ascent the hight of the curb. She spun around on her rear end; I held her leg and crutches and she pushed herself up each step with her arms. After finding the seat, we both zonked out until the Tekirdağ busstation, grabbed a taxi and collapsed into our beds.
*And, our experience with crippledness (its a word) isn’t unique, Sasha had as hellish a time as we.