Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Trip Number Eight: Portugal to Ontario

Itinerary: Toronto (YYZ) - Porto (OPO) - Lisbon (LIS) - Faro (FAO) - Toronto (YYZ)

In stark contrast to my last trip, that promised to be simple and wasn't, this trip was meant to be "really fucking weird" (in the words of my ever-delicate boss) and, fortunately, wasn't.

When I asked him to explain what he meant by that, he responded with "well, there's about a forty-five percent chance that you'll get kicked off the flight with the patient. We've never flown with this airline and I think they're going to have a problem with you. Oh, and you're going to have to fight them to take your medical kit on board. So, you know, weird".


In addition, the family had booked my flight out themselves and decided I might enjoy a tour of the airports of Portugal prior to arriving at my destination.

I didn't.

It wasn't terrible, really. Just exhausting. I worked a night shift the previous night and took off for Porto after only a few hours of sleep. I figured I'd sleep happily on the plane. Instead, I stretched and twitched and repositioned and muttered expletives under my breath for six and a half hours. I slept for an hour on the floor by the gate at the airport and then, thankfully, had a row to myself on the hour journey to Lisbon, where I stretched out and slept through the entire flight. Still not quite satisfied, I had a fantastic nap on a couch like the hobo that I am, in the first class lounge at Lisbon airport (OK, maybe not exactly like a hobo). I woke up a few hours later and discovered something very, very exciting.

I was in Portugal.

Portugal has purple trees, which I enjoy.

It may not seem like a big deal, considering how often I've travelled in the past few months. It wasn't even a destination I've been desperate to see. But it was at that moment that I realized that I was in Portugal, and that meant Portuguese custard tarts (or, Pasteis de Nata). In the lounge, there was an entire tray of freshly baked tarts, just waiting there for me. I'm not ashamed to admit that I probably ate more than my fair share. They're my very favourite baked good.

In a far better mood than before, I hopped one more short flight down to Faro and met my patient and her family, who were some of the sweetest and friendliest people I've had the pleasure of meeting. At the ATM in the airport at Faro, I saw a very upset French woman (as evidenced by her indescriminate use of the word 'merde') and thought I might try and intervene. I had a brief conversation with her, in french no less, and managed to guide her to the cash exchange office. Following this, I mentally high-fived myself for being so bad-assedly international.

I love going to countries where I know at least a word or two of the native language. I thanked everyone I met profusely, since 'obrigado' is one of those words. I didn't realize before just how strange Portuguese sounds to my English ears. It's as though Spanish and German had an illegitimate love child that they sent away to be raised by Italian. Thankfully, they use the same word for nurse that the Spanish do (or at least they understood me when I said it, so customs was a breeze). I also played my favourite game with the cab driver from the airport, which is to point at things in turn and tell each other the names for them in our own languages. Unfortunately, you learn a lot of words like car and hobo, and not as many words that are useful in conversation.

The hotel, unfortunately, was in a sort of industrial area and since there wasn't a lot of sunlight left, I didn't make the forty-five minute walk to the beach like I should have. After poking around for a bit and having dinner, I went back to my hotel to discover that Faro has excellent surf and surfboards could be cheaply rented. I wish I had known this earlier since, you know, I can surf now.


It didn't take long for me to pass out, blissfully exhausted and full of custard. The following day, I picked up my patient from the spectacularly helpful staff at the hospital and we went back to the airport.

Rather than kick us off the plane, the airline had a representative meet us at the curb, guide us through the process of boarding and clearing customs and take us to the plane on some kind of hilarious enclosed fork-lift thing. During the flight, they were marvellously supportive, if a little overzealous in their attention to our needs. So much so, in fact, that rather than assume I had made arrangements for our continued transport, they called 911 from the air and an army of fire-fighters, paramedics, police, airport security and Canada customs agents met us on the tarmac upon landing. Although the whole thing was a little embarassing, I was pretty tired after another eight-hour sleepless flight, and glad for the help disembarking.

Once we were safely in the terminal and the misunderstanding had been resolved, we met up with one of our ground ambulances and made the uneventful journey out to small-town Ontario to transfer care of the patient. Her family were incredibly grateful for my services and her husband hugged me like family and shed a thankful tear while wishing me all the best and safe journey home. That's the kind of thing that makes me like this job, despite the uncomfortable flights, lost nights of sleep and airplane food.


As always, the rest of the photos are right here.

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