The Hotel Miserable Weasel and the Amerikan Hastenesi (Part 1)

Considering that we had had to travel six and a half times around the planet to earn the miles to fly from LA to Istanbul, Business Class was looking a little tired.  The lumbar-massage support pad that was supposed to enhance my general flying experience was stuck in the “full-on Shiatsu” position all the way to Heathrow, causing me the sensation of lying on a sleeping Golden Retriever. Dearly Beloved’s seat spontaneously and without warning collapsed into full-recline at random intervals, annoying Mr. Charisma-Bypass in the seat behind almost as much as it did her.  Anyway,  whichever way you slice it business Class is better than Goat Class, so we made the best of it.
 
        Two Ambien, a contorted spine and some synthetic scrambled egg later we arrived in London and staggered over to Terminal One to while away the three-hour layover before our flight to Istanbul.  The brilliant minds who run Heathrow have developed a fiendish technique of not announcing the departure gate of any flight until immediately prior to boarding, even though the aircraft  has usually been sitting there quietly rusting for several hours. This means that hapless travelers must stand beneath the display boards like so many hungry chicks, necks craning upwards, waiting for Big Board to regurgitate a succulent gate number. Each time this happens it looks like the start of a marathon as sixty or so people suddenly launch themselves into a jog, their places immediately taken by jostling new arrivals. That day, the crowds beneath Big Board rivaled a decent size colony of Boobys, each squawking it’s discontent at the lack of information.  I left Dearly Beloved to check out the smoked salmon sandwiches in Pret a Manger and wandered off in search of better information. The information desk turned out to be a study in advanced oxymoronics and it took a ten-minute hustle to speak to a representative from British Airways.  I pointed out that although the time was 6:00 pm, the board insisted our departure time was now scheduled for 5pm and that it further informed us that our gate would be announced at 5:15, which was after the flight would have departed, had it left at 5:00, which it clearly hadn’t.  Ms. Brain-Dead responded unhelpfully that I should “watch the board for  the latest news”. I remarked that she might as well go home as she was simply wasting perfectly good oxygen by being there.  The fact that her eyes were open and her lips moved turned out to be insuffiect evidence that a  functioning brain was present and a look of bovine incomprehension was the best response she could muster.  
 
THE HOTEL MISERABLE WEASEL
It was 1:00 in the morning - some five hours behind schedule - by the time we finally arrived at the Hotel Erguvan in the heart of Istanbul.  It was a modest little hotel, chosen more for its views of the Bosphorus and the Blue Mosque than for the opulence of its accommodations .... much more, as it turned out. Our room was certainly blessed with a small fridge, a sofa and a view onto the rear of a tenement block, although it wasn’t clear to me why this qualified it as a suite because it would have been nigh on impossible to swing a stoat in there.   Locking my laptop securely onto a large piece of immovable furniture and demolishing the inevitable smoked salmon sandwich which Dearly Beloved keeps with her at all times when traveling, we popped an Ambien and fell into that wonderful, deep jet-lagged sleep.
 
Breakfast at the Hotel Miserable Weasel was less than stellar.  The orange juice  was the colour and taste of reconstituted goats-pee and there was a vast  selection of completely inedible meats and cheeses that had evidently been pilfered from an Afghani Red Cross package.  A bit of rummaging uncovered a bowl of passable yogurt and a fresh bread roll, but the coffee had definitely been filtered through and old yashmak.  The one redeeming feature was the terrace outside the breakfast room, which overlooked the Bosphorus on one side and the Blue Mosque on the other.  It was a fabulous day; the sky blue and the air cold and clear.  Snow still lay on the ground in places from the previous weeks fall. At least we had a breathtaking view while we were being slowly poisoned.   
 

Realising immediately that breakfast was not something she needed to waste time with, Dearly Beloved announced that she was off to get her cowboy boots re-heeled. She had brought them thousands of miles for precisely this purpose and was not going to let a shitty breakfast hold her up.  I followed a few minutes later and caught up with her on the cobbled street where she was having some problems with the sketchy directions she had been given by Ms. Snotty-Slut, the receptionist. We were consulting together as to whether Ahmed the cobbler was  further on or if we had passed him already, when Dearly Beloved suddenly toppled off the 10” edge of the narrow pavement, landing in the gutter with a howl of pain.  That is all it takes - a moments distraction in unfamiliar surroundings and in an instant the next six months of your life are radically altered.
        
I  picked her up and sat her on the edge of the curb to assess the damage.  It wasn’t good. Back to the Miserable Weasel and re-group, I thought; so we  hailed a cab and  instructed him to take us the 100 yards back to the hotel, which made him rather cross.  Ms. Snotty-Slut, perking up considerably at the sight of an injured guest,  directed us to the local emergency clinic.  Five minutes later we pulled up outside a startlingly basic facility and, having  established that they didn’t speak a single word of any recognizable language, we headed off the the American Hospital on the other side of the city.

The Amerikan Hastanesi (Hospital) is definitely where you want to go if you are medically compromised in Istanbul. It is clean, friendly and far more efficient than any hospital I have so far encountered in America. Most importantly, the doctors speak English. Within sixty minutes Dearly Beloved had been admitted, seen by an Orthopedic surgeon, X-rayed, given a pain shot and seen by the Ortho a second time. At a real American Hospital she still would have been sitting in the waiting room next to a victim of gang-warfare, reading a six month old copy of Woman’s Weekly and signing all sorts of forms that absolve both doctor and hospital if they cut off the wrong foot or let you die from some flesh eating bacteria that is camping out in their cooling system. It has to be said that the reason for the efficiency at the Amerikan Hastenesi is probably due to the fact that it is a private hospital and therefore unaffordable for most of the Turkish population. It wasn’t very busy.

On inspection, the Doctor, a nice chap called Ozgur, pronounced it to be merely a sprained her ankle and prescribed a soft cast and several days bed rest. Dearly Beloved reacted to this in much the same way she might have if she had just been told she was going to spend the weekend handcuffed to a dead donkey. I explained to the Doctor that my wife was not the sort of person to travel half way around the world to sit in a poky hotel room with her leg up and that, unless death were imminent, she would likely be gallivanting around the Grand Bazaar within minutes of being discharged . This caused him to reconsider; “In that case we do MRI”. Rather surprised at this sudden change of tack, we questioned him further and he admitted that there was a possibility there might be something going on that the X-Ray was not revealing. “I have hunch” he said mysteriously and disappeared before we could probe further, leaving me hoping he had indeed said “hunch” and not “lunch”. Within no time at all Dearly Beloved was thoroughly de-blinged and popped into the center of a magnet powerful enough to suck a Volkswagen in off the street, while I went to the quite glitzy hospital cafe for a revitalizing double-espresso to pass the time as the MRI hummed, clicked and buzzed about its business. I placed a call to the guide we had booked for the day to inform him that, as we were paying for him anyway, he should make himself busy looking for a rental wheelchair; something the hospital told me they could not help me with.
Forty five minutes later we all gathered around a light box for Ozgur to give us the low-down. “There is problem” said Ozgur, pointing “ see looky, you have hair fracture here”. Ah yes, we agreed, there it was. “but this is not problem” he continued briskly, “here you see achilles she busted, looky.” Sure enough, the MRI showed it clearly. “You need surgery to fix” he said, delivering the message we least wanted to hear with a flourish inspired by the size of the bill he would doubtless give us afterwards.

Instantly, a very nice lady with a clip-board who had apparently been waiting for just this moment, appeared magically out of the shadows and told us that the operation would cost $10,000 and require us to stay in Istanbul for quite a bit longer than we had planned. Despite the efficiency and general cleanliness of the hospital, Dearly Beloved shot me a glance that made it quite clear she would rather hack off her own leg with a penknife than undergo surgery in Istanbul, so I paid our account, picked up a prescription for some bright pink Ibuprofen the size of horse pills, thanked everyone profusely and eased her gently into a cab.

Returning to the Hotel Miserable Weasel, we found our guide waiting for us with a wheelchair ... and immediately discovered how wheelchair inaccessible the hotel was. The lift was barely big enough to fit Dearly Beloved and the chair. Squeezing her in, I shut the door and scooted up three flights of stairs as fast as I could to meet her on the third floor. By the time I got there, panting and red faced, she had the door half open, greeting me with a “where the hell have you been”? Patience has never been one of her strong points. We spent a quiet evening commiserating with each other about the misfortune that had befallen us and revising our plans for the next few days. I had some take-out brought-in, which Dearly Beloved advised strongly against and refused to touch. I reflected, in the way that one does after some mishap has occurred, how it all would have been different if only the cowboy boots had been cobbled in California, or if the damn hotel had better service they would have sent some boot-wallah out to do it for us; then none of this would have happened. But that’s just not the way life works, is it?

HAKIM THE HOOVERER
Dearly Beloved was of course right; the take-out I had brought-in the night before was trying to get back out of my body by  every possible route. Immodium was required. During the course of the previous twelve hours we had discovered quite how difficult it was to navigate a slippery hardwood floor on crutches; how impossible it was to have a bath or shower; how much difference even rudimentary room service would have made and quite how understandably pissed-off disabled people feel when battling an environment clearly designed with a complete disregard for their needs.

In a rare concession to her injury, Dearly Beloved decided that she would spend the morning resting ....  before taking on the streets of Istanbul in the afternoon. Very sweetly she said that she at least wanted me to be able to see the sights of this extraordinary city and that I should go with the guide for the morning. I duly set off with Kurshatz, quickly discovering that he was one of those people who has to stop in order to be able to talk to you. This was rather irritating, so I told him we should keep going unless there was something breathtakingly fascinating that required a really good look. As we walked on, he discussed what we had time to see before we met with Dearly Beloved at lunchtime, implying we had to be selective. I told him I had a bad case of Attention Deficit Disorder and fully intended to see everything, so we had better get a move on.

So we blasted through the Blue Mosque, pausing only to take a photograph of Hakim the Hooverer silhouetted dramatically against the windows as he methodically groomed the three acres of carpet that covers the floor. Good idea for a commercial, I thought. We nipped down into the Roman Cisterns, which could store enough fresh water for the city to survive 150 days of siege. The Romans recycled old pillars to build the cisterns and it was fascinating to see this underground, watery, temple-like structure made of mismatched marble, upside-down Medusa heads and other Roman architectural detritus. A quick tour of the Hagia Sophia was spoiled by a vast twenty-storey scaffolding structure that towered from floor to ceiling -  part of a restoration project that had been going on for the last 27 years. As the entire Hagia Sophia originally took only six to build, I marveled at the spectacular inefficiency of the restoration. A brisk walk took us to Topkapi Palace, former home of the Ottoman Sultans. This was truly remarkable; particularly the Topkapi dagger and other astonishing jewelry, encrusted with emeralds and rubies the size of Guinea Pigs (I kid you not).

Returning to the Miserable Weasel I found that Dearly Beloved had had a restful morning chatting in Italian with Mrs. Bulgaria, the maid. The fact that Mrs Bulgaria did not speak a word of Italian in no way diminished their evident enjoyment of each others company. She was obviously in pain (Dearly Beloved, not Mrs. Bulgaria) but was putting on a brave face and, determined to make the most of the trip, announced that she wished to go out. Into the lift she went; I pounded down the stairs and met her at the bottom, fired up Kurshatz and off we went, past Miss Snotty-Slut, the daytime receptionist.  
 
TO BE CONTINUED - SEE PART 2