Archive for the ‘ Travel ’ Category

Post-op Day 16: Traveling home

I left Belgrade 15.5 days after surgery

In my opinion guys should stay 3 weeks before flying home

Yesterday was day 16 and my travel day

I took notes on my phone through most of the trip

I started my day in Belgrade so all times are Belgrade time

The flight from Belgrade to Paris is scheduled to take off at 1235

Dorde, the cab driver, is supposed to pick me up at 1000

0947
Dorde (pronounced George) showed up at the apartment a little early. He carried my two suitcases to the car while I put my pants and shoes on and put my computer in my backpack. I took a Norco assuming I’ll need it (that would be correct).

1010
Made it to the airport. Dorde charged 2000 Serbian dinar for the ride (about US$25). I didn’t have enough dinar left so I asked if Euros would be ok. He said 20 euros; I gave him 30. He was a nice guy and helpful.

1027
Standing in line waiting for the the Air France folks is the beginning of the discomfort. It’s been a while since I had to stand for so long. My feet hurt and I’m beginning to have pain, a burning, in my genitals.
At least I can entertain myself by playing with a loose stitch in my cheek.

1042
Checking in and dropping checked bags.

Flight Numbers

Don’t let flight number throw you off. Air France’s flight number (2637) was different from my Delta flight number. The screen at desk showed the Air France flight number because Air France operated the flight. On the boards which showed departure times and gate numbers my flight had 4 different flight numbers. To check in just get the desk for the appropriate airline and you should be alright.

 

1058
I’m checked in. Dorde had dropped me off in the line to drop checked bags for Air France. It looks pretty much the same as the check-in desks in US airports. When I got to the counter I had my passport as well as my Delta confirmation number and ticket number. The woman took my passport and looked me up in the computer. She asked how many bags I wanted to check and whether I had any “coupons”. When I told her I did not, she took my passport to a different counter and returned a few minutes later with my boarding passes. I realized I might have made a mistake and explained that I hadn’t known to go to the other desk first. She told me not to worry about it and was friendly enough. I don’t really know if I was supposed to go to the other desk first but she didn’t seem bothered.

Once the process was complete she gave me all three boarding passes and told me my bags were checked all the way through to my final destination. I asked where to go next and she directed me upstairs.
The escalators weren’t on so I walked up the steps. It wasn’t bad, I just took it slowly. Upstairs there are a few shops, including Hudson News, and a cafe. I decided to go ahead through security.

At security you will present your passport, boarding pass, and police card (the card you got shortly after arrival in Belgrade.)

Past security there were also a few shops, including duty-free, and a cafe. I decided to buy a few souvenirs and they weren’t cheap. If you plan to buy things for folks back home, do so in Belgrade rather than at the airport if you can.

1140
I’ve been sitting near the gate waiting for the security folks to open it and begin checking us through (there is a metal detector and x-ray machine at the gate, just as there was in Amsterdam on my way here). While waiting I’m uncomfortable and my day has barely begun. I’m pretty sure I’ll be glad I paid extra for business class on two of the three flights of my return trip (business class on the final leg was not available).

1158
Thru gate security. Pretty fast as I was sitting nearby waiting for them to begin. I was perhaps 5th in line when they started. I’m sitting/slouching again waiting to board the plane.

~ First flight – 2hrs 17min ~
1225

On the plane and not comfortable. It should be better when we get in the air and I can lean the seat back. Supposed to take off in 10 minutes. People need to hurry up and board.

1331
In the air. It’s proving difficult to get comfortable. Fortunately I’m in the first row and putting one foot on wall in front of me helps. Leaning the seat back helps a bit too. I’m achy and having tiny but sharp pains. Just took two Tylenol. I think I’ll to take another Norco when get on the next flight in about three hours. I hope my comfort is better on that plane or it will be a long 10 hrs.

1410
Finally sorta comfortable. I have one travel pillow and my jacket behind my lower back, the seat leaning back, my butt near front edge of seat, and my knees as far apart as possible. I have an aisle seat with no one in the seat beside me – that helps.

~ No wheelchair in Paris ~
1530

Just got on the next plane in Paris. There was no wheel chair for me though I had requested one AND someone back in the US called the airline for me this morning.

The flight from Belgrade landed at 1500 and the door opened at about 1510. I made the walk through the airport, went through security again, and got to my outbound gate at about 1520. They were already boarding (takeoff scheduled for 1610) but I checked in quickly. I was on plane by 1525.

Business class: Pillow, quilt, water, travel toiletry kit, and headphones on chair for me. Cannot reach forward chair with feet there is so much space.

1541
Just took Norco number two. I’m aching and having sharp pains. I’ll be glad (again) when we take off so I can recline my seat. 30 minutes to go.

~ Second flight – 9hrs 20min ~
1603

They just announced that the flight is not full and people may move to a vacant seat once everybody is on board. I’m still glad I paid for business class but I begin thinking that I kinda wish I’d stayed another week.

1655
Three cheers for foot rest raising!! By the time I could do that (immediately after takeoff) the pain had climbed close to a six. If it hasn’t improved I’ll take another Norco in a few hours.

1730
The draw back to business class is the lap trays. They come out of the arm rest and the height of the tray is fixed. It isn’t high enough to lay over your lap when you have to slouch and trying to sit more upright and stretch the legs out increases pain. Almost wish I had skipped dinner.

1926
The pain level has improved for now.

2102
The pain is back up to around a 6 so I just took another Norco (number three).

Toward end of flight
I haven’t been able to get to sleep. I ate dinner and watched three movies. The last hour and a half of the flight I tried to sleep but could not.

The business class seat leaned back a lot further than the coach seats and I could even raise the feet up and get into a relatively comfortable position. But not comfortable enough to completely alleviate the pain. Throughout the flight the pain fluctuated between a three and a six.

We touched down in Atlanta at 0200 (2000 local time)

There was a wheelchair waiting for me, thankfully. The pain had dropped again to around a four by this time. I and a couple of other people had to wait about ten minutes for someone to come to push our chairs. Thankfully I had two and a half hours between flights so I wasn’t concerned about time.

The process in Atlanta was a long one. Fortunately that process was expedited to a degree because I was in a wheelchair and able to go through shorter lines designated for those in need of assistance.

  1. Passport Control (aka immigration) where I presented my passport. This man asked where I had been (Serbia) then asked why I had been there. I told him I had gone for urological and genital surgery. He asked why I’d gone to Serbia instead of having surgery here in the US. He seemed genuinely curious and my reply was because I could get better results over there. That was the end of the conversation.
  2. Baggage Claim – We had to pick up our checked bags.
  3. Customs – with the checked bags I presented my customs claim form to an officer. He also asked why I’d been in Serbia (urological surgery) and what kind of food I had (it was written on the card but I answered anyway). That was that and he did not inspect any of my bags.
  4. Baggage re-check – we dropped my two checked bags off again
  5. Security – we had to go through security again, including x-ray and metal detector. At this point I got out of the wheel chair and put everything (backpack, laptop, shoes, contents of pockets, belt, etc) through x-ray as usual. Afterward I got back in the wheel chair)
  6. Outbound gate – the guy pushing my chair took me to my gate. I told him he could drop me off at a vendor nearby because I wanted to buy a bottle of water. He said I could keep the chair for my bags and I did. I thanked him for his help.

0322
Pain back up to almost a 7 so I just took a Norco (number four). I have an hour yet before they begin to board this flight and I cannot get comfortable whether I stand or sit.

~ Third flight – 58min ~
0436

On the plane, coach seat by a window – fortunately the seat beside me is empty so I’m able to raise the armrest out of the way and gain a bit of space.
The least painful way I sit is with my right foot on my left knee. This gives me space between my legs and keeps my knees high enough to keep pressure off my genitals. I’m slouching in the seat as far as I can, until my knees touch the seats in front of me.
We taxi for 40 minutes before we take off so I’m in the seat almost an hour before I can lean the seat back. It doesn’t help a lot but I’ll take what I can get. If I can make it another hour I’ll be home.

0550
Belgrade time – at gate at final destination. Wheelchair waiting, thankfully, and I’m taken to the baggage claim area. I have him drop me there. My ride is there and we wait for my bags. Then my bags and I wait at the curb while my ride retrieves the car.

I’m home
0730 Belgrade time
0030 local time

I’m home and too tired and achy to shower and change a bandage. I take another Norco (number five) and go to bed.

The trip to Belgrade

After a mid-trip change of flights and 13 hours in the air I arrived safely (and with all of my luggage) in Belgrade about 24 hours ago. I have slept about 12 of that, lol. I’m adjusting to the time difference but I’m sure I’ll be fine. It takes me a day or two but I usually adjust to the light/dark cycle pretty easily.

I’m in the apartment here in Belgrade and have already met 2 of the surgical team (one of them picked me up at the airport). I will put up photos of the apartment in another post.

Now for the flights. I had booked three flights to get me from the US to Belgrade, Serbia. The second flight was delayed enough to cause a connection issue in Amsterdam so I changed schedules and had a total of 4 flights. I had boarding passes for all but the last flight (Amsterdam to Belgrade).

The international flight to Amsterdam wasn’t bad at all, even to be 7+ hours. I watched two movies and slept for a couple of hours. The meal wasn’t bad either (for airplane food, lol). At the Amsterdam airport the signs were easy to follow as they’re all duplicated in English or otherwise easy to decipher. I used a self-service kiosk to “transfer” to my flight to Belgrade. For this I simply inserted the appropriate page of my passport, confirmed, and received a boarding pass for my flight to Belgrade.

    Just FYI: leaving my arrival gate, getting the boarding pass, and making my way to the next gate could probably have been accomplished in 10 or 15 minutes if I really hussled. As it was, I had four and a half hours.

I looked on the monitor for my flight, found the terminal and gate information (T5 Gate 18), then exchanged US$ for euros. (I purchased euros at home for the apartment in Belgrade but wanted some money for food at the Amsterdam airport. It was almost 9am and I was hungry). Then I found my gate and took a hour-long nap while I waited nearby.

The flight to Belgrade was uneventful. The only interesting thing was that I had to put my bags through an x-ray machine and go through security again at the gate leaving Amsterdam. It wasn’t a big deal, really, just surprising.

    NOTE:
    I did have to check my larger carry-on at the gate because the plane was a smaller plane with smaller storage compartments. I had checked one bag at the original airport and carried two with me. A carry-on sized case and a backpack. Be aware that my carry-on suitcase was large. It technically meets the dimensions required by the airlines but when you stuff that thing it bulges a bit, lol. I had to gate check it for the two shorter flights (both on 737s). After the first flight I retrieved the bag at the gate upon arrival (still in the US) but on the flight to Belgrade I picked it up at baggage claim along with my larger suitcase. In retrospect I think I would have been better off to have checked both of those and carried only my backpack. I’ll definitely be doing that on my way home.

Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport was easy to navigate. I left the airplane and followed the signs for baggage. I had to go through customs and have my passport stamped before getting to the baggage area. Once I had my bags I followed the crowd to the exit and spotted a bank window for money exchange. I bought US$300 worth of dinar (the local currency) though I’m not sure I’ll need it all. Once I bought the dinar I stepped down the hall and around the corner and was outside at the pick up area. Marta was there with a laminated paper with my name on it. Piece of cake, I tell ya.

We chatted and walked to the car then headed for the apartment. On the way she pointed out the nearest grocery (two blocks away from the apartment) and once we got to the apartment Marta explained everything to me. About ten minutes later Gradimir (the anesthesiologist) showed up and the three of us chatted for a bit until Marta had to leave. I enjoyed talking with both of them. They were warm and friendly and very helpful. Both had a great sense of humor and I think we hit it off from the start.

When Marta left she took my passport with her. She would take it to the police department to check me in as a visitor. I got it back a few days later along with the card that proves I entered the country properly (and legally).

After Marta left Gradimir and I chatted a little more then we reviewed my medical history and the test results I’d sent in advance (some of which they will repeat, such as the basic blood work and the EKG). He also talked to me about pre-op preparations (suppository use and eating/drinking limitations) and and what to expect during the hours leading up to surgery. We chatted a bit more then he left.

I made myself stay up until after 9pm local time then showered and fell into bed.

In Belgrade

I made it. I’m in the apartment now and waiting for one of the docs to stop by. I’m tired as all get out but I’ll live, lol.

Surgery Wednesday!

Leaving tomorrow – changes to blog to come

Well, I’ll be flying out to Belgrade tomorrow. I was supposed to fly through Paris but I changed that to Amsterdam. I don’t want to get to Paris and be delayed or stuck due to fuel shortages (thanks to the strikes and riots).

Today I’ve been doing laundry and getting stuff together to pack. I’ve been talking with a couple of other guys who have gone to Belgrade so I have a good idea what to take. When I come back home I’ll let you all know if I’d do anything different.

Last of all, I’ll be working on adding more info to this blog. I plan to add a “Resources” page with books, groups, and links other guys might find helpful. If you have any suggestions let me know. I have a long layover tomorrow and I hope to work on it then but I can add things later too.

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