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Istanbul Trip Report. Kind of.

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Allentown...
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Istanbul Trip Report. Kind of.

So, we're just back from 5.5 days in Istanbul and I've debated if it's even worth me doing a trip report. Not because of the city, which is lovely... but because of circumstances beyond our control that almost sent our trip into a total tailspin. Plans went completely awry and medical drama and hijinks ensued. Hospital visits, money problems, panic... and the occasional kebab. I've decided to post anyways in the hopes that our experience may help someone else, or at the very least be an entertaining read.

Background: We are a couple in our early 40's who love to travel. We started about 7 years ago and have tried to get out of the country at least once a year. I'm an annoying, obsessive planner, a list-maker, a guide-book highlighter. I use Google maps to know exactly that the hotel's street looks like. I Yelp restaurants and check out the menus before I even get there. I book early and plan activities and alternates until the last possible second.

Ok, wait, I USED to do that. I booked this trip almost a year ago and then, shortly after, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. He's still working, he's being treated, but the last 11 months have been a bit of a blur of worry and MRI's and doctor's visits. MY OCD trip planning completely flew out the window. I would check TA occasionally, got a few guidebooks that sat on the coffee table.

So we had a only a rough sketch of this trip and decided we could color in the rest of the pictures when we got overseas. Our plan: Get to Istanbul via Munich (Business Class, thank you FF miles.) 9 hour layover because the formally obsessive me was afraid of weather delays in January. Then 5.5 days in Istanbul, fly back to Munich for a 4.5 day city stay, back home.

This was also our 20th anniversary trip and we were pretty sure it was going to be AWESOME...

Istanbul
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1. Re: Istanbul Trip Report. Kind of.

Isabel, Thanks, but I am eagerly waiting for the rest of the report.

enigma...

Edited: 02 February 2013, 21:26
Allentown...
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2. Re: Istanbul Trip Report. Kind of.

Day 1: We just want to get there.

We have been traveling for over 17 hours by the time we board our 2nd flight, Turkish Air to IST, which had been delayed. Lots of airport food, a few beers, and far too many minutes sitting around. We board the plane and find it very warm (this is going to be a theme this trip.) Our already late arrival into IST gets us there even later, around 11pm. We deplane sweaty and tired, ready for bed.

Baggage claim is surprisingly chaotic for this time of night, and the hall is very warm. We joke that maybe Turkey is just hot, all around. Bags claimed and wrestled together, we exit and find our transfer arranged through Efendi Travel. Their rep was right at the ropeline, with a sign with our name on it. He quickly comes around and calls the van. We exit the airport into even more chaos - cars flying by, taxis, buses, people excitedly trying to offer us assistance.... I lead and follow the Efendi rep across the very busy traffic lane to the van. The husband has fallen behind and when a 2nd Efendi rep (whom he hadn't seen yet) takes one of his bags to help he yells at him. I drop back to find out what's going on and the husband realizes he's not actually being mugged for his bag. (Embarrassed apologies offered all around.)

We are the only passengers and quickly head out with offered bottled water. The ride to the Doubletree Old Town is fast, very warm (!) and not just a little bit scary. In the dark we can't see much of the Bosphorus but thrill to drive under the aqueduct. Check in at the hotel is painless and we stumble into the room which is very nice but OMG IT'S SO HOT. I run over to the JVAC controls and find it will not go below 20C. The thermostat claims it's only 21C in the room. I learn quickly - the thermostat LIES. With the sheen of sweat on my forehead it's at least 24C and humid. With relief we find the window opens which brings fresh, cool air inside.

We're exhausted but try to unpack a little. The husband mentions in passing his stomach is a little upset and we order a late-night cheese platter from room service. I am a little smug with his stomach upset, making a few comments about his over-indulgence at the airport with pretzels & meatloaf, schnitzel & beer... We crash around 2am, and plan to hit Sultanahmet in the morning after breakfast.

Surrey, UK
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3. Re: Istanbul Trip Report. Kind of.

Waiting with anticipation for more....

Mount Dora, Florida
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4. Re: Istanbul Trip Report. Kind of.

You have to love a cliff-hanging trip report. I am already letting my imagination run wild.

New Castle, Delaware
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5. Re: Istanbul Trip Report. Kind of.

Would love to hear more as well, I'm usually OCD about my trips as well, but haven't had much time to plan my trip lately.

Allentown...
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6. Re: Istanbul Trip Report. Kind of.

Day 2: Did I say morning?

We awake around 1-1:30pm, somehow totally sleeping through the morning hours. It's been a restless night. Cold with the window open, one of us would wake up and stumble to close it. Then awake hot in the night and have to open it again. Husband also waking up with stomach pain, tossing and turning. Luckily a long-standing habit of earplug use has us not minding the noise on the street. We slowly circle the room doing our morning routine, boiling water for coffee/tea, when husband excuses himself to.... vomit. Ok. This is not good. Even if it only happens once.

We shower, dress, and I decide to go seeking a grocery store for some easy basics (crackers, bananas) to settle his stomach. Husband insists on going with me, in all of his pale and pasty glory. We find out from the hotel that there's a Bizim just around the corner. We walk down and select crackers, juice, bananas, some instant coffee with a little more "bite" than the hotel provides. Despite it's proximity to the hotel, the staff seems a little surprised by 2 English-speaking tourists wandering it's aisles. (And despite repeated practice, I can never, ever successfully pronounce teşekkürler, and I get only quizzical looks when I try. I stick to lütfen, evet, hayir, and polite smiles/bows/nods for the rest of the trip.)

We walk back to the hotel room with our bags and come in the door to (what I think are) the shocked faces of the staff. We feel we may have broken some sort of etiquette bringing back groceries from the expressions we see on the staff's faces and their (what I think are) horrified glances down to our plastic Bizim bags. It's only later I realize that when we came in, we bypassed the security and metal detector at the front door that we didn't notice the night before, and walked in the unsecured 'out' door. They must have been doing some quick mental calculations ( "Do we stop and frisk them? Demand they go back through the detector??") In the end they just let us go, but we made sure to fully walk through security after this whenever we enter the building.

Despite being up and out for only about an hour, the husband is toast. Pale, sweaty, and clearly uncomfortable he's done all he can do. Sultanahmet is out of the question. We head back to the room and he gets back in bed. Afraid to leave him, I stay there as well, with only the random trip to the business center to check email to save the wear/tear on the iPhone.

I assume he'll be good in a few hours with rest. I assume wrong. By late afternoon he's moaning in pain and hot to the touch. Now the real worry sets in. We have a food tour scheduled for the following morning through Istanbul Eats, which we have prepaid a portion of. Also, what exactly do I DO with him? Not like I can run him down to our family GP. I start working the email. I post to Trip Advisor & email Ansel at Istanbul Eats that there's just no way we're making the food tour, to please tell our guide. And, uh, buy the way, could he recommend a doctor????

Dinner is room service. A sandwich and salad for me, chicken soup for him that he can't finish. It's now over 24 hours in Istanbul without leaving the hotel room other than our grocery trip, nor one of us having solid food. He's back in bed, I'm frantically searching web info for hospitals/doctors who speak English. Neither of us get much sleep that 2nd night at all.

Istanbul
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7. Re: Istanbul Trip Report. Kind of.

Oh dear :-( I hope you managed to find a good doctor.

Allentown...
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8. Re: Istanbul Trip Report. Kind of.

Day 3: Off to the Hospital

(This is going to be long.)

He's up and down all night, covered in sweat and writhing in pain. In the morning I wake up and shower while he sleeps. Around 8-9am the phone rings in the room. It's Ansel from Istanbul Eats just checking to see if we're ok and if he can help. I had already been researching possible English-speaking doctors and hospitals and, off my list, he recommends the American Hospital. They were already on my short list because a) they have a cancer center and b) they're allied with the NY Presbyterian Hospitals, which includes my husband's oncologist. He states we can just show up at the hospital without going to the ER to get see by a doctor, which I didn't know.

[I need to stop here and throw in a huge thank you to Ansel and Istanbul Eats here. He called (when he didn't have to), he gave hospital recommendations (when he didn't have to), and he refunded our deposit (again, when he didn't have to.) It was a great help to me to at least have one local, ex-pat recommendation backing you up when you're basically picking off of a list. We're really sorry we missed the food tour, we'd been so excited. It's the main reason we want to go back now!]

Back to our morning. The husband cannot eat. He has some tea and we head downstairs to get a taxi over across the river to the hospital. I have written down the full hospital name and address on a piece of paper in block letters so there's no language confusion, especially given how strung out we are. The hotel gets us a taxi and we get to the hospital in about 25 minutes for TL20.

We hit reception and they find someone to speak English and direct us to Internal Medicine upstairs. I hit the language barrier wall there, at the desk manned by 2 women in Internal Medicine. I ask if they speak English? No. Okay. I pull out my phrasebook and point to the phrase that says, "I need to see a doctor," and point to the husband. She looks at me, looks at him, and rattles off something in Turkish. I shake my head and apologize, no Turkish, sorry? She sighs. She rolls her eyes. She looks at the girl next to her and rolls her eyes and starts to talk to her partner. At this point we have no idea what's going on and we're already pretty stressed. I don't know whether to cry or punch the girl in the head.

The husband is leaning on the counter to support himself and I'm debating going back downstairs when the girl punches a few numbers into her phone and hands me the receiver. There's someone on the other end who speaks English, who asks what the problems is, if we have an appointment, if we have local insurance. She informs us they only deal with BC/BS on an inpatient basis. I say not a problem, we can self pay. She says she'll make sure we see an English-speaking doctor. I hand the phone back to girl behind the desk who listens, nods, and hands us some forms to fill out.

After about 20 minutes we're taken back to see the doctor, who's really great. She takes his history and his med list, does an exam, says we'll have to have blood/urine work done and an ultrasound. Maybe an MRI. She doesn't think it's food related since there's no vomiting or diarrhea and wants to rule out other issues. Ok, now we're getting somewhere. Things are happening.

The doctor hands us scripts for all tests, tells us where to go, and leads us back out to the girl at the desk, who again rattles off at me things I don't understand. I shrug helplessly. She rolls her eyes again. (Seriously - now I want to slap her. I'm sorry I don't speak Turkish, I know it's a hassle for you, but do you have to be so rude about it to my face?!) She slaps a piece of paper on the counter with the price of the doctor's fee written down. Okay, I get it. We pay each step, not at the end.

Now here's where we have a frantically whispered money conversation. When traveling, we don't use our normal credit/debit cards for safety reasons (if robbed, I don't want them to have access to my full checking account.) We transfer just the money we have saved to spend on vacation into a credit union checking account and use that to withdraw cash/swipe as we need it. We also bring a credit card in case of emergency that we never use, in this case a card with a 3k limit. Again, so if stolen, they only get so much and we can clearly see if it's used.

But our experience with the US medical system has me panicked. Doctor's visit, blood/urine, ultrasound, possibly an MRI? I'm thinking we're looking at well over $5000 going by what I've seen billed to Blue Cross. We have trip insurance but for med bills it's reimbursement only. We're going to have to suck it up, spend what we have, and if we max out we'll have to call family for help until we get home. We use the emergency credit card and pay the doctor's fee, TL275

Downstairs to the lab. Have to pull a number like the DMV. Wait our turn, up to the counter, hand in the labwork script. Get a bill of TL519, and have to prepay it before he's taken. (Ok, we think, maybe this money thing isn't going to be so bad after all? These are not US prices.) Also, the folks here are very nice and patient, as is everyone else we deal with at the hospital. I'm relieved to find the girl from Internal Medicine is an anomaly. After he's done in the lab they give us a small postcard with a number on it so we can collect our results in a few hours to bring back up to the doctor.

Down to Ultrasound department. The husband is starting to wilt and hunch over in pain. I again hand in our script, prepay the fee (TL650) and here's where again language fails us. The nice young girl is motioning for husband to drink lots of water before the test, that I get. But then... I'm not getting the following instruction. I grab my phrasebook again and hand it to her. She smiles, flips through it, and she points to the words "await news." Ok, got it!

We camp out on a bench near the water cooler and he starts to drink cups of water. It's very, very, very warm in the hospital and he's sweating. He curls into a bit of a ball and lies on bench next to me, much to the concerned looks of everyone around. And we wait. 30 minutes. 60 minutes. 90. I'm seeing people who came in after us go in for ultrasounds and get concerned. I get back in line and using my phrasebook managed to cobble together, "What time ultrasound?" She replies, "Oh, he ready?" Um, what? Through some pantomime and the book we manged to realize I didn't understand they were waiting until his bladder was full to do the Ultrasound. Whoops. Poor guy is ready to burst on top of everything else. Once we realize my error they get him back pretty quickly and I'm allowed to follow.

The ultrasound is done by a doctor, not a tech. He makes concerned noises and asks questions about how he's feeling. He finishes up in minutes and tells us to go back up to the doctor, he will type up his report and call her to discuss so she can go over it with us. We get another postcard to pick up the images and the report copies tomorrow.

We had back to lab, get his results. Back up to the doctor and before I have to tackle dealing with the Mean Girl at the desk the doctor walks by and takes the lab report. Tells us to sit, she's waiting for the ultrasound. More waiting. More sweating. It's got to be 24-25C in the hospital. I may have to stop wearing a coat in Turkey.

The doctor calls us back and says the blood work is mostly normal but the ultrasound found a 3cm "abnormality" on his pancreas. She looks very serious. Wait, what? We're here for a shot for whatever infection he has so we can go eat some kebabs, not for any major drama. We're kind of floored and lose a bit in the translation. While her English is excellent, some of the medical terms/medication names are not translating and we use a combination of the book and the internet. She recommends and MRI and possibly an in-patient stay. We confer for a bit and decide against it. At this point we are only just over 6 days from heading home, and he'll be seeing his oncologist right after we get home already. She states she can get him at least feeling better again and gives us 4 different meds to pick up, with a promise that if he worsens we'll come back.

We get the meds at the pharmacy across the street and flag down a taxi. We get in, I hand the driver the paper with the Doubletree address on it and he shakes his head, says "No," and hands it back to me and points for us to get out of his taxi. We do and he drives off. Ok, what just happened here? Seriously? 2nd taxi, same thing - except this time I don't get in, I hand my paper through the window. He shakes his head, points to his gas gauge, and also drives off. By the time the 3rd taxi drove up I think we looked so pathetic he took pity on us and took us as a fare. However, due to traffic he dumps us 3-4 blocks downhill from the hospital and I slowly walk the patient back up through the crowds.

Back at the hotel the husband immediately starts working the phone to try to talk to his oncologist and I get on the internet to see if there's any way to get home that won't be insanely complicated or expensive. (To the latter, the answer is no. Two countries, two flights - one paid, one FF mile - have made it a complicated mess. Major thank you to all of the folks at Flyertalk who talked me off a ledge.) I get back to the room to find he's on the phone with the doctor. We both get on and he tells us to calm down... the chances of having 2 completely differently, primary cancers are on par with hitting the lottery. With his symptoms, they think it's probably a pancreatic cyst and not worth moving heaven and earth to get home when we'll be back and in his office in 9 days.

Ok, this is a relief. Not total, but enough to convince us to stay on vacation, get him feeling better, and hopefully enjoy some of our trip. Fully medicated, the husband gets back into bed. I go down to Bizim for some instant soup which he's able to keep down. Dinner for me is leftover rolls from the night before and soup as well. I read, he sleeps on and off, wakes to take his meds. Exhausted, I finally go to bed.

Tomorrow has to be better...

Allentown...
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9. Re: Istanbul Trip Report. Kind of.

And thanks for all the comments, engima, gonetothedogs, Busy-retired, ConnieTravels and kachika. I'm almost as worn out writing it as we were living it. Of all our trips, this one went the most wonky.

Istanbul
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10. Re: Istanbul Trip Report. Kind of.

Oh goodness. What an awful experience. I hate being ill and going to hospital here.

Sorry to hear about the rude lady, I would have expected better at the American Hospital, especially considering that many foreigners go there.