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Published: August 5th 2012
The most handsome tour guide
And here you have it folks, the amazing CJ and his Olympic pal
"Here you have a man I learned about in school," said CJ, my 13-year-old London tour guide, as he pointed to a tall statue. "I don't remember what he did, but it's really important." A few minutes later my guide excused himself while he joined the other kids in Trafalgar Square to climb one of the lion sculptures that flank the statue. Wikipedia tells me this is known as Nelson's Column, which is in honor of "Admiral Horatio Nelson
, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar
After conquering the bronze lion, CJ pointed out the corners we would be visiting. Way off to the left would be the London Eye and Big Ben, to the right was the National Gallery, and straight ahead (okay not really straight, but close enough) led to Buckingham Palace "where Princess Di lived." The palace isn't on the square, nor is the rest of what I saw, but it's all within walking distance. Best part is it was an easy double-decker bus ride then train ride from where we started. I learned going upstairs on the bus is a little tricky when the bus starts moving --- who knew they didn't waste time waiting for you to take
Advert has it right...
a billboard I saw from the train while en route to the sights
Because the Olympics were going on (and it is summer travel time) the streets and sidewalks were busy, but, surprisingly, they were not chaotic. London police and soldiers from all over the place were everywhere to politely remind the crowd to "move to the right, please." I was amazed how many of the police even stopped to pose for tourist pictures. I couldn't bring myself to ask them to do that for me, but darn it all I should've --- that way I'd have a pic for you!
When we got to Buckingham Palace, a large section of it was cordoned off for Volleyball. Yup, the actual volleyball courts were built on palace grounds --- how incredibly cool is that? While we couldn't sneak past the guards to see the game (um, their camouflage and berets reminded me to not eff with them), we could hear the crowds cheering what I believe was the Britain versus Brazil match. Our timing was right on because before we got to the cheers, we got to watch the changing of the guards. It's a smaller affair than my imagination made it out to be, but it was still cool
That important man
Nelson's Column. If you look closely you can see he's wearing a hat. A local hat company made hats for all of the statues on the square. I guess to dress them up for all of the festivities.
to see the shiny helmets, horses, swords and stoic men.
After the palace, CJ took me to see Westminster Abbey, Parliament (which is attached to Big Ben), and a bunch of other stuff. It was all amazing, and I want to come back and see it more in depth. Unfortunately, when I do get to go again Olympic fans won't be there --- there was no lack of tacky country pride on any of the streets. We saw Japanese folk wearing the big red dot flag and metalic pink hair (who knew the two went together?), Poles wearing their hideous game colors as if it were totally chic, and Viking beotches representing whatever country they came from. It'd be worth it to buy tickets for an event just to sit in the stands and people watch.
Because I was exhausted, I can't remember it all, but I do know I had a wonderful time seeing London through CJ's eyes, and I do remember the Abbey taking my breath away when I stood in front of it.
The real story here is why I was walking the streets of London in the first place. You see this was
this one shows hat more clearly
supposed to be a quick night tour my whole group did while we were on our 13-hour layover at Heathrow. Our plan also included sitting at an airport pub cheering on the Olympics (continuing the international bantor we had the night before at a pub in Glendalough, Ireland). Instead, we found ourselves locked out of the departure area in Heathrow (where all the action is) and staking claim to restaurant booths another family really wanted to sleep on. I wish I could say that was the worst of it, but my daughter was in a lot of pain. Long story short an unruly abscess decided to practically devour her.
A doctor in Dublin told us she should go to Hospital to have it surgically removed, even though we were supposed to fly out that night. The only representative at the Dublin airport we could actually speak to said we should just fly to Heathrow and speak with the airline there. At this point, our hope was they'd put Kaylene and me on the first nonstop flight home, so we could rush her to hospital there. But, oh no. As big as Heathrow is, apparently, everything in the Arrival's section
(in Terminals One and Four) seems to shut down by 10 p.m. I won't bore you with all the details (although I might in another blog) we could not get anyone to work with us, AND we couldn't even get our boarding tickets so that we could go through security to get to the other side of the airport. It wouldn't have mattered any way because the security gate was closed, so we were advised to wait until 5 a.m. when our departing airline opened up (and I'm being very kind by not mentioning any of the airlines involved). So there we were, with an unfair advantage over another tired family, using a closed dining room as our bedroom (while they circled like sharks waiting for us to get up so they could steal one of our booths --- and one of them did manage to snag Ericka's 'bed'😉.
Some of you may be asking yourselves why I didn't bring my daughter to hospital right away. Bottom line is I couldn't afford to leave the airport without proof from our airline that we wouldn't be charged for new airline tickets (as an American who has battled health insurance companies
My fearless guide
climbing up the rump of a lion...
I am well trained in the "make sure you have a referal" process). I needed their okay because there's no way I could afford two last minute tickets from London to Phoenix WHILE the Olympics were going on (I don't have a credit limit big enough). I also didn't realize how quickly my daughter's abscess was growing --- had I thought her life was in danger, I wouldn't have hesitated a second. But, here's the thing, when do we know whether a loved one's life is truly in danger (and luckily, Kaylene's wasn't, but she was in horrible pain). And, why did I have to go through so many god awful steps to get someone to listen to me and try to help us out? I cried openly most of the time (and I never cry in public) because there is absolutely nothing worse than being totally helpless when it comes to protecting your child (even if she's an adult). She was in pain, and no one cared enough to look past their computer screens to hear us out.
At 4:45 a.m. two airline representatives opened their stations and by 5 they asked what they could help me with.
I'm such a tourist, but here you go a bus pic.
One of them looked horrified that I was even there, "if she needs medical help, you should take her there." As if I was the worst mother in the world. I wanted to slap her and let it all out, but instead I pointed out that I needed the okay from them before I could go because I couldn't afford to pay for new tickets. I had to bring Kaylene to meet them, and without hesitation they said they were forbidding her to fly at this point and gave us our waiver.
"Why couldn't someone do this for me last night," I asked and was told that they were the only ones who could make that call. So, you see had we not done what we did, we would've been charged heftily. I'm rambling now (and promising myself to write the airline hell blog when I have more time), so I'll get back on track.
We finally made it to the Hillingdon Hospital in Uxbridge, a scary looking place with ripped vinyl seats and faded aquamarine tile or paint work (can't remember which, just that it reminded me of insane asylum movies). BUT, let me stress the horror
stops there. From the moment we stepped inside we were treated with care and dignity. Even the finance person, who told me Kaylene's surgery would cost 3,000 pounds and could I put a 1,000 down, was helpful and accepted my 120 pounds without asking me for the soul of my first born. "We will bill you then, and I'm sure your insurance company at home will pay for it," she said, and then wished my daughter a swift recovery. Had we been British, or had the surgery been able to take place in the ER, it wouldn't have cost us anything, but because it required moving her to the "theater" we'd be billed for that. I later learned that England does provide free care to citizens from countries that do the same for their tourists when needed (um, our's would not be on that list).
We were moved to the Day Care ward, where Kaylene was prepped for surgery. I will never forget the Day Care staff. If I ever win the lottery, I will send them a large chunk of money to take well-deserved vacations and treat themselves to a proper spoiling. They don't see themselves as anything
I didn't think to take pics of dressed up fans, but I did get a shot of Russia's cabs --- wearing the Russian swirly ques
special, but to Kaylene and me they were our heroes. They listened to us --- not with just their clipboards and to-do scripts, but with their humanity. To the airlines we were just passengers getting in the way of a busy day, to them we were a mother and daughter stuck in a foreign country with little cash and no one to turn to.
Chris, the nurse who worked with us the most, took the time to explain everything that would happen, and to stress that after surgery Kaylene would still be in a tremendous amount of pain. She made it clear that Kaylene would not be flying out that night or the next day, and that she'd be spending the night in the hospital. When she found out I had nowhere to stay, she offered her couch to me. "It's not much," she said, "but it'll do and I'd be happy to have you."
The nurse who assisted with surgery realized how important it was to Kaylene and me that we stay together. She said she'd see if she could arrange for Kaylene to be released and gave me the number to the nearest Travel Lodge (we
So, I knew it was time to feed my guide when he said, and somewhere along here you will buy me some food.
couldn't both sleep on Chris's couch).
The Travel Lodge wasn't needed because another nurse intervened and said she could take us both in no problem, which made everything easier because now there was no problem in letting Kaylene go home. Carol, that nurse and our new lifetime friend, got off at three but came to pick us up when we were realeased many hours later. Her oldest son, CJ's brother, gave up his bedroom, which included our own private bathroom.
While Kaylene rested upstairs, Carol ordered pizza, and I had a lovely time finally relaxing (and breathing again) with her family, and watching the Olympics the way most Brits were doing it --- on T.V. with the rest of the world. Carol and her sons reminded me of my own family, and I am so blessed to have gotten the chance to know them. Within no time, I felt like I've known them my whole life. They are now family, and my own boys are looking forward to one day meeting them.
Carol had to go into work early the next morning, but she arranged for a cab to pick us up in time for Kaylene to
yep...I couldn't refuse a phone booth pose
get her dressing cleaned and to get her official release papers. After Kaylene got her cleaning, Carol stopped by to loan me her cell phone so I could call the airline to arrange our flight home (as I was instructed to do). I shit you not when I say the rep argued with me, stating this wasn't something she could do (even though she could clearly read the notes on my account that stated this was a medical emergency). It took me a while (and I really need to win an award for not losing my temper), but I finally got 'them' to see my side and put us on a flight ('for free'😉 the next day.
This meant I had an entire day and night to just be in London, while Kaylene slept. I totally planned on getting a hotel for the night, but Carol wouldn't have it and took us in another night (which sounded way more fun to me than a Travel Lodge anyway). She then asked CJ if he'd be okay with taking me on a walking tour of some of London's highlights, and, well, you've already read that part. Kaylene slept, and I had
not the best pic, but you get the idea
a blast with CJ. Later on in the evening, Kaylene came downstairs (a sign that she's feeling better!) and we all ate Chinese food (which tastes a little different than American Chinese food, but it's still good) while watching the Olympics.
The next morning, Carol brought us to the clinic early (before they opened for patients) so that another nurse could change Kaylene's dressing (it needed changing every 24 hours). Can any of you imagine a clinic letting you in early just so you could get to your flight on time? I'm sure there are other doctors and nurses who are this kind, but this is the first time I've ever had strangers work so hard just to help me (or, more importantly, my child) out. Then Carol drove us to the airport, and the rest of the trip went without a hitch.
I apologize for writing such a long post, and I hope I didn't bore you with our story, but I do hope my words have shown how much an act of kindness can go. If there's just one theme throughout my time as a traveler, it is that the more people I meet the more
just a quick glimpse of what we saw
I truly realize how similar we all are. We all just want to be heard, loved and accepted --- and we just can't do that by ourselves, can we?
I've promised a place in my home for Carol's family any time (and of course that invitation stands for all of the Day Care staff), any where (who knows where I'll move to next). Her sons Jamil and CJ are now my sons too. Jamil was looking up things to do in Phoenix our last night there (so I guess we'll be checking out new things in our own city) and CJ assured me he WILL take up my offer. "Except, I doubt you'll recognize me when I come," he said, "because I'll be even more handsome by then!"
p.s. I'll post Ireland pics next weekend. my students come back tomorrow, so I'm a little swamped, but I promise pics and captions WILL make it online.
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