My husband received a letter from the Barlavento Hospital in March this year telling him to be there on Friday the 6th for a long awaited umbilical hernia repair. He was rather concerned that he would get there and it wouldn’t get done as he suffers from chronic psoriasis which was particularly bad at the time. Nevertheless he arrived at the appointed hour and, to his surprise, had his operation without a word being said about his skin.
I collected him the next day and two days later, as instructed, he had the dressing changed at the local health clinic. The nurse didn’t like the look of the wound, which was already infected, so a doctor was called and antibiotics started.
After four days of daily changes, the nurse and doctor were very concerned with the state of the infection and suggested he go to emergency. After a long wait and a brief examination, he was told everything was OK and to just keep taking the pills.
On Monday, March 16, 11 days after the operation, my husband had an appointment with his dermatologist. His skin was so bad he could hardly walk he felt very ill and passed out in her consulting room in the hospital, after managing to tell her about the hernia operation.
A stretcher appeared which took him to emergency from where calls were made and by that evening an ambulance had taken my husband to the Santa Maria Hospital in Lisbon where there is a specialist unit for people with skin problems.
After a thorough examination at admittance, great concern was expressed over the state of his general condition and particularly the surgery. He was eventually admitted to the dermatology ward where they came to the conclusion that no antibiotic seemed to touch the infection in his naval and when he developed a high temperature and became delirious he was transferred to intensive care.
I was then called, told where he now was and that his kidneys had started to fail. I left immediately for Lisbon.
I could not believe the state my husband was in. Even an oxygen mask could not disguise his swollen face and eyes. He could barely talk and I honestly feared that he would not pull through.
The Hospital Santa Maria is one of the biggest hospitals I have ever seen. It’s part of the university and, as such, has some highly trained doctors and specialists along with the students.
It took them a while to discover what was causing the problem but eventually concluded that he had infected himself. Surgery should not have been done whilst his skin was flaking so badly.
As I understood it, some particle of his skin had contaminated him internally and caused an infection which was circulating throughout his entire system. Discovering what it was meant they could now be more specific with their choice of antibiotic and, although it took many weeks, he was eventually cleared of it and began to look a lot better.
You may not believe it but Gordon is convinced that, whilst in this state of delirium, he really experienced a life and death experience.
I was with him shortly after he came out of it and, although his words were jumbled, there is no doubt of the fear and relief he felt as he emerged from the sensation of being pulled in two directions with a strong aura of light surrounding him.
As it was Easter, he was visited by the resident priest of the hospital which felt very calming to him even though he didn’t understand much of the Portuguese. But there was another day when he had yet another visit from a Dominican monk, which he felt was an incredibly ethereal experience when the man sang him a solo with a voice so exquisite he almost cried with its simple beauty.
Meanwhile, in the Algarve, our own church and others had set up prayer chains whilst I used my Facebook site to tell friends, relatives and other contacts what was happening to Gordon and even if they didn’t believe in prayer, goodwill and sincere wishes and messages were all being sent our way.
Happily the combined treatment of skilful hands and minds, plus the power of prayer and goodwill he received, meant he was eventually able to leave intensive care and return to dermatology where they started working once again on his skin.
Unfortunately, the hospital couldn’t provide any accommodation for us out of town hicks from the south, and the hotels from Easter onwards got progressively more expensive so mostly I went up and down on the same day, tiring as it was but worth it.
In all he was there for just over two months and finally returned on May 21. Still very weak, but not too weak to make the usual masculine demands for attention!
The important thing is he’s home and, when I had doubted that this would ever happen, others prayed and for that we are deeply grateful.
That we lack hospitals of the calibre of those in Lisbon is a sad fact of life and they are deteriorating fast. That they do the best they can with limited resources I believe. But, personally, if I can get to Lisbon I will.
By Jenny Grainer
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Jenny Grainer arrived in the Algarve to live, work and raise a family in 1964. She is a freelance writer and her book ‘Portugal and the Algarve Now and Then’ is now in its 3rd printing.