Up at the rooftop pool at the Emiliano Hotel on Copacabana
What can you say about Rio de Janeiro? It’s truly one of the great cities in the world: beautiful coastal location, fantastic beaches, great climate, good food. It has everything you could ever want in a city. Unfortunately our experiences here haven’t always been so ideal. We were here the first time in 2005 and on our first day we were robbed at gunpoint. Kind of colors your memories. And makes you a little paranoid on your return visit.
This time, though, we were determined to have a better experience. We flew down from the city of Maceio, a little under three hours so no big deal. I was hampered our entire five-day stay, though, with a bum leg; I didn’t know what happened but my left calf was so sore and swollen I could hardly walk at all. And on top of that a mild cold I’d had turned seriously nasty – eventually coughing up blood and with sharp chest pains one night.
There are only a few great cities in the world that have great beaches. Along with Barcelona and Sydney, Rio is at the top of the list.
I had the sense that I should see a doctor but how are you going to arrange that the weekend before Christmas, which in Rio is also the start of summer? So I soldiered on, having meals in or right near the restaurant, limping over to the beach just across the street. Not ideal but not horrible either.
After five days we hired a car to take us down the beach a few hours to Angra dos Reis where we’d reserved a beautiful room for four days over Christmas. On arriving there I asked while checking in if they had access to a doctor, as my leg was causing real problems. To their enormous credit they came through, with their house doctor coming to our room (they’d upgraded us to a stunning suite, one of the most beautiful rooms we’ve ever stayed it). She poked around a bit, asked a few questions and got very serious. She was quite certain I had developed deep vein thrombosis, essentially blood clots in my leg, and the chest issues I was experiencing was a pulmonary embolism, part of the clot moving up to my lung.
We weren’t in Agra dos Reis long enough to get good pictures and this doesn’t begin to do justice to how beautiful it was, or at least how beautiful our room was. It was Christmas Eve, and as the doctor had forbidden me to walk the hotel served a beautiful dinner on our balcony. Fortunately she had not forbidden alcohol so dinner included an amazing Negroni. OK, two Negronis.
She explained that the condition was very serious and that I was not to set foot on that leg at all. It was too late that night to go back to Rio but they arranged for a car the next morning to take us back directly to the emergency room of a private hospital.
So that’s where I spent the next three days in Rio, one day in the ER, one day in the ICU, and one final day in a private room where they could monitor my progress. The first two days were bad; CT scans and echocardiograms and blood tests and EKGs and doctors and nurses and technicians and god only knows what. And no standing at all, not even to go to the bathroom. Just lying there with nothing to do except wait for the next person to come in and push and prod and poke.
I can’t believe how old and frail I look in this picture. I’m attributing it to the hospital gown and wheel chair, not my actual age.
In the scheme of things I was pretty lucky. They found not just one but two embolisms – large embolisms, the doctor assured me – in my lungs but they had passed through without damaging my heart. And the best part? The whole thing, all the care and three days in the hospital and all the tests and everything came to under $2,300. I’ll bet that in the States it would have literally been 10 times that amount or more.
And the rest of the good news is that I seem to be fully on the mend. I’ll be on blood thinners for months and am banned from exercising for a few weeks at least. Given mortality rate of pulmonary embolisms, though, I’m feeling pretty lucky.
While I was still modestly mobile we discovered El Born, a great tapas bar with good cocktails and good wine.
Other than that? I wish I could have enjoyed Rio. Our hotel during the first stay was on Copacabana and we enjoyed parts of a few days on the beach. There was some big event during the weekend that made it all more crowded and just difficult than it would normally be, but again, how bad can Copacabana be? Part of what I love about Rio, and I remember it from our first visit years ago, is that you see a little bit of everything on the beach. There are all the beautiful bodies that inspired The Girl from Ipanema (the next beach up the coast), but plenty of old sagging bodies, too. Black, white, brown, old, young, gay, straight. Amputees even. You name it, it’s on the beach here.
On our return visit we stayed – Mark stayed, that is; I had less attractive accommodations – at a hotel right on Ipanema where he could walk up and down the beach when he wasn’t schlepping over to the hospital to see me or filling my prescriptions or going to a bookstore to get me something to read. We thought it was strange that in the ICU they banned electronics of all sorts: no phone, no iPad, not even a Kindle. We pushed back on the iPhone since that was the only way Mark and I could communicate about where they were moving me, how I was doing, when he was coming to visit, whatever. And it turned out I needed the Google Translator app on my phone since while the doctors all spoke English reasonably well essentially none of the nurses did. The doctor eventually caved and let me keep my phone but it seems as though the issue isn’t one of perhaps the electronic fields would interfere with something in the hospital. It seems the issue is that too many patients complained that their phones were stolen while they weren’t paying attention so the solution was just to ban them all. He said I could keep my phone as long as I took complete responsibility for securing it. I did and I did.
Mark enjoying a little free time in Rio when they closed off visiting hours
And speaking of great service. The hotel we’d reserved in Agra dos Reis, a Fasano hotel, had a branch in Rio and they just effectively transferred the reservation up there. They certainly could have charged us for the room we’d reserved for four nights and then charged us again in Rio but to their credit were really great about helping us. When all was said and done the money we saved on the hotel practically paid for my hospitalization!
We’ve been to Rio twice now. The first time we were robbed and the second time I ended up in the hospital for three days. I’d like to try this one more time but I’ll admit to being a little gun shy. Meanwhile we have one more stop in Brazil as we head up into the mountains of Saô Paulo state for New Year’s Eve. Then it’s on to New York and our next great adventure.
Mark enjoyed walks along the beach when he was free of hospital duty
Christ the Redeemer reigning high over Rio. When we were here in 2005 we went up there but this time we had to enjoy it from afar
A little Christmas cheer