must have thought that we closed for the summer or for the World Cup
Football matches, as neither our cover nor the editorial page have changed
in quite some time now. I only wish we had those good reasons to absent
ourselves from you during this period.
We did watch some football matches however, that is, when I was not
being operated on. At times when I was drugged to the eyeballs to avoid
the pains from the two operations I had, I did manage to watch some
games, for instance, between, Senegal and France, Brazil and England
among others. The players were like flying instead of running. When
looking at a TV, those painkillers at the hospital play some strange
tricks on one's visuals. Were it not for the fact that I broke my spine
in a fall, the whole thing would have been quite hilarious.
While visiting one of my favorite countries, Ecuador (it still is!),
I had an accident and in that fall I broke a disc in my back. You want
all the details? Well, that will appear here in ZoneZero, very soon,
in a digital diary I kept during this entire period. It will even contain
among others, a video of the operation on my back that probably most
of you do not really want to see.
let me not digress. This is in essence about photography, and in particular
about an area of digital photography that possibly you have not stopped
to consider much before when traveling.
After my accident, and a long winding adventure from Quito to the Galapagos
Islands, and back to a hospital in Quito, Ecuador; I had at long last
a diagnosis after being the better part of a week in the hospital. An
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) allowed me to understand what was the
origin of all my pains. Pains that not even the morphine I was being
administered at the hospital would reduce. The broken disc which was
pressing on my nerves in the lumbar region of my back, in addition to
the inflammation, had caused considerable nerve damage.
I called a cousin of mine who is the head of the Pain Institute at USC
in Los Angeles, to consult what to do. He requested to see the MRI before
giving me an answer. I asked the doctors at the hospital to send him
the MRI to Los Angeles. Sadly they informed me they could not do so,
as they lacked the equipment and know how to do this from the hospital.
in Quito, Ecuador. Pedro Meyer © 2002
Although the painkillers managed to make my brain half functional, I
was still able to ask a dear friend of mine (the photographer, Judy
de Bustamante) to take my Canon G2 digital camera with her to the room
where they stored the MRIs, take a photograph of the plate and bring
it back to me. (It helped that she was the wife of the internist, Dr.
F. Bustamante, who was looking after me, otherwise she would not have
had access to the MRI either. They had refused to let me have the plate
She brought the camera loaded with the pictures she had taken, apologizing
that they were not all very good. Under the circumstances: being a hand
held picture; the rush to do it; illumination from an X-ray light box,
and a close up, I believe she did admirably. It did help that this was
a digital camera, and she could somehow see on the camera's monitor
what she was doing.
arrows indicate broken disc obstructing nerves. Pedro Meyer
most of what I was about to do, was to some degree a routine activity
for me, I managed to download the pictures to my Apple Power Book, and
then select, with the help of my wife and the photographer, what appeared
to be the most informative picture. I needed their confirmation that
what I was looking at was actually the right choice, visually impaired
as I was at the time. I then attached the image file to an e-mail and
gave the Power Book to my wife to send over the Internet to the doctor
in Los Angeles.
telephone system at the hospital certainly did not stand up to the rest
of this hospital's other facilities. It would be safe to say that it
belonged to a network designed in hell, and unfit for such an institution.
You would have to provide the number you were calling to an operator
and then wait about 30 minutes when she would call you back with the
person you were calling on the other end of the line, or not. Try logging
onto the Internet that way! Well you can't. So my wife had to take the
PowerBook back to the Hotel, and from there send the e-mail with the
turned out to be essential in resolving what was going to happen at
that very crucial moment in time, as the doctor in Los Angeles, who
was not a neurosurgeon by the way, determined, looking at the MRI, that
I needed to be operated on right away when he confirmed that my left
leg had already begun to loose sensibility due to the damaged nerves.
you ask a surgeon for their opinion, it is quite possible they will
recommend an operation. As the saying goes, "if you have a hammer
in your hand, everything looks like a nail", the same most likely
happens with surgeons. I think, they will go for surgery if given half
a chance. However in this instance, the doctor, aside from being my
cousin, was not a surgeon. His opinion meant a great deal to us and
we followed his advice: "get on the next airplane you can, and
come to Los Angeles to be operated on", he said.
Pedro Meyer © 2002
wife Trisha then had to make all the needed arrangements. If you want
to know what she went through, start thinking what it meant to organize
for an ambulance jet to come and pick us up (like, right now!) to fly
us to Los Angeles. In addition to all of this, it was about to be a
long holiday weekend both in Ecuador, and Memorial Day in the United
States. She needed to make the arrangements to have a specialist on
back surgery available to operate on me upon arrival, and a hospital
bed of course, together with that, an ambulance at both ends. Even as
an emergency this does not just happen so easily, now place that in
the context of a long holiday weekend, while being 7000 miles away,
and you get the picture; now if that were not enough, she also had to
take care of our seven year old son, with all his own particular needs,
without causing him undue alarm about what was going on. The story however
does not stop there. Planes don't just come and pick you up, unless
you own the damn thing, which unfortunately was not our case. You have
to pay in advance if you plan to have them take you anywhere.
Needless to say, the cash needed to pay for such a plane ride is not
something you would find everyday in someone's wallet when traveling
abroad, at least it wasn't in ours. But that is what credits cards are
for, right? Well not when you try to go over your already approved credit
limit. This was the case with our VISA card, they gave Trisha the run
around without resolving anything, just passing the call from one person
to the next. When you are calling long distance from afar in an emergency,
such an unpleasant response doesn't go down very well at all!
hung up and decided to call American Express. Remember their slogan:
"Never leave home with out one"? I don't think any one has
ever lived up to their advertising with more rectitude than American
Express did that day. In five minutes they had approved the cost of
the flight and we could go ahead with the arrangements to have the plane
fly in from Fort Lauderdale in Florida, to pick us up in Quito and leave
for Los Angeles. However, that was not yet the end either, the expense
also had to be approved by the Insurance Company before we departed
if we expected to be reimbursed (some good and dear colleagues of mine
have just discovered that they don't have any insurance at all,
just because they had not given this topic much thought before, they
are now seriously thinking about it).
onto the plane. Pedro Meyer © 2002
ambulance that would take me to the airport, and right up to the airplane's
door, probably had a red cross painted on the outside, but from the
inside where I was lying, it looked like a stark black cross, it reminded
me of something I would see on a hearse, not an ambulance. It was a
strange feeling finding myself lying there conscious, in considerable
pain, and in what felt like a hearse, going over every pothole they
could find on the way to the airport.
In the ambulance
in Quito. Pedro Meyer © 2002
same experience, would meet me at the other end. The streets of Los
Angeles competed quite favorably in the number of potholes the ambulance
went through on the way to the hospital. When every little jolt goes
through your body like an electric shock, you do tend to be sensitive
to how the suspension system on the ambulance works: it didn't. So much
for the "first world", L.A. would be no different to Quito.
the ambulance towards the hospital in Los Angeles. Pedro
Meyer © 2002
took 13 hours to reach Los Angeles, and a few hours after our arrival
I had the first of what would be two operations.
machine. Pedro Meyer © 2002
had the digital camera and the laptop with me, turned out to be one
more example of the importance that digital technology brings to our
present day lives. I find this as yet another example of the crossroads
where photography ends up going in directions we have never experienced
before. At least for me, the logo, "never leave home with out one",
now extends in addition to the credit card, to my Apple PowerBook and
a digital camera. By the way, the output of those X-rays, were now of
course digital, something I have written about previously.
at the airport before departure. Pedro Meyer © 2002
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