A story of a peanut-eating toddler and four hospitals on five Caribbean islands. Part 4.

This is part 4 of the Peanut Saga – the final part. This is the story of what happened when our 1.5-year-old toddler inhaled a peanut into her airways in the Caribbean. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here. In this final recap you can read how Lily’s recovery went after the peanut got extracted and what medical costs we incurred from this whole ordeal that spanned over 11 days.

December 15, 2019

After a few days of hospital life in Martinique, Lily was recovering so well that we had been given permission to leave the medical facility for 24 hours. So on Dec. 15 we finally got to see a bit of this French Caribbean island that is known to be the sister island of Guadeloupe (where we normally live and from where I also write a blog). Luckily for me, my Finnish friend Meri is a tour guide in Martinique and runs her own company, Anoli Tours, so Lily and I got to tag along on one of her minivan tours. We mainly toured the southern half of the island together with a young Canadian couple. We visited places like the viewpoint of Le Diamant and its accompanying long beach, and the slavery memorial of Cap 110. We also went to a few beaches where the Canadians hoped to see turtles, but had no luck.

I was relieved to see that Lily did really well all day and was full of energy again. It was hard to believe that this was the same kid who had been so lethargic just 48 hours earlier! She was splashing around in the water so much that the identifying sticker in her hospital anklet even fell off. I took this as a good sign that soon hospital life would be completely behind us!

At night we had to return back to our hospital room, though, since our 24 hours of freedom were over. Aww. But Lily was also excited to meet her little buddy at the hospital again, the boy with the arm cast, and to push her favorite hospital doll in the stroller again.

A fellow Finn and a certified Martinique tour guide Meri of Anoli Tours showed us around her home island of almost 10 years.

December 16, 2019

We received the same measly hospital breakfast of hot chocolate powder and a piece of bread as before. Technically it was all for Lily – I should have organized my own brekky – but luckily she was friendly enough to share.

Randomly for lunch Lily was only offered a clear liquid soup. I asked what was up with that – this little bowl of salty water would certainly not be enough to sustain her for the whole day. The hospital food delivery person said it was because Lily had “just been in an operation” so she wasn’t allowed to eat solids yet. Hmm, what?! I commented that in fact her operation was three days ago and she had been eating tons of solids after that already, including chicken the hospital gave her on the night of the operation. The woman looked confused and said she would double check what was going on. Soon after that she brought over a new tray with some proper foods, including some macaroni and beef in a sauce. That was better.

Sometime during the day Lily was wheeled in for an X-ray again to see check on the recovery of her right lung. All looked great, and also the air bubble on her chest had gone down quite substantially. It was starting to look like we could return back home soon!

I was told to go to the hospital’s social security department to discuss the details of our return back to Guadeloupe. Lily was able to stay with the nurses at the ward while I did that. I was pretty confused throughout the whole French language chat that included some bureaucratic terms. But from what I understood, the hospital would pay for my ticket back to Guadeloupe! Wow, I was not expecting that. I was also told that they would refund me the 128 euros that I had already paid for the inward ticket to Martinique and the 225 euros that J-F had paid for his roundtrip ticket. Okay then! (In the end it took about 10 months to get our flight refunds, but oh well – it was a nice surprise to get the money back in the first place.)

The clerk asked me when I would like to fly back to Gwada, saying that Wednesday, Dec. 18, would be the earliest option but she recommended Dec. 19 (for whatever reason). I told her we preferred Dec. 18 as we were missing home quite a lot already. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay until Dec. 19?”, she asked. Uhm, yeah, pretty sure. It had been a long enough of a stay on the neighboring island! She said okay and that she would call us back when the tickets were issued.

The hospital dinner. The clear liquid on the upper right-hand corner was initially all Lily got. Hmm…

Since I had my Finnish friend living in Martinique, the hospital agreed to discharge us for our final two nights on the island. We could stay with Meri and would just need to come back tomorrow morning to take care of the rest of the hospital paperwork. That sounded good to me! Meri and her daughter came to pick us up and stayed with Lily in the pediatric ward while I went to get our official hospital exit permits. We then said our goodbyes and thankyous to the nurses of Lily’s ward. It was a little sad but we were also happy to be free again. Unfortunately Lily’s little hospital buddy wasn’t around when he left. Hopefully he wasn’t too upset to notice that Lily had been released, and that he recovered fast!

December 17, 2019

After a night spent at Meri’s place, we started the day by driving back to the hospital to pick up the remaining paperwork from the front desk. Mainly it was just Lily’s diagnosis statement and a document that her and I were on “sick leave” for another few days, which wasn’t really necessary since we didn’t have any obligations to be anywhere anyway.

I also thought I would receive some bills to pay but nope. It turned out that all of the costs of Lily’s operation and her stay were covered either by the French social security system that is funded by taxes, or by our mutuelle – our supplementary voluntary private medical insurance. Without this additional insurance, this surely would have been a costly adventure (though nowhere near what it would have cost in the USA of course – I know of a child whose challenging almond removal operation in Maine came to a whopping $25,000! Granted, hers was a complex case that resulted in actual lung surgery, which we were lucky to avoid).

Apparently just the one-hour helicopter ride that Lily took from Gwada to Martinique normally costs around 10 000 euros ($12,000), of which around 70 percent is covered by the French social security system. The remaining three grand is on the patient’s own dime, unless they have a mutuelle like we did. Phew.

One night in a French hospital can cost anywhere from 1,300 to 3,000 euros – of which, again, some 70 percent would be reimbursed later on by the secu. So with an extended stay like ours in the pediatric ward, that all would add up. We were very happy to have our supplementary insurance, which costs around 120 euros per month for our family of three.

(For low income families, there are apparently special government programs that can help you pay these types of big medical costs. And some French residents just choose not to pay the medical bills they receive – if they manage to ignore and avoid the bill collectors for four years, the bills are considered expired.)

After this brief hospital detour we spent the rest of the day visiting the center of Fort-de-France and the beaches of Trois Ilet with Meri’s daughter (as Meri herself had another tour to guide). It was nice to finally see the famous capital of Martinique: FDF (population 82,500) is said to have a much more urban and French feel than Guadeloupe’s best known city, the run-down town of Pointe-a-Pitre.

Parts of Fort-de-France made me feel like I was in a much bigger city.

I do have to agree with this – FDF is a nice city for sure. The waterfront playground for kids was also a sweet touch: while it was basic, at least it had swings! (A fun fact: swings are practically impossible to find in Guadeloupe. This is a big source of disappointment for Lily.)

Taking the boat across to Trois Ilet was a fun activity, too. The marina we arrived to reminded me a lot of the Marina Bas-du-Fort in Guadeloupe, and the little beaches of Trois Ilet brought to mind the hotel beaches of Guadeloupe’s Pointe de la Verdure in Le Gosier. The two kids and I thoroughly enjoyed the day. It was such a nice way to end our impromptu medical trip to Martinique.

December 18, 2019

The 11-day peanut saga was officially ending – we were flying back to home to Guadeloupe at last. Meri dropped us off at the airport sometime after 10 a.m. so that we would be there well in time to catch our flight around 12.45 p.m.

There were beautiful Christmas decorations at the airport. I was excited to finally start focusing on the upcoming holidays instead of dealing with all this peanut drama!

I was also extremely thankful to be doing this trip back with a healthy toddler by my side. At this point you never would have guessed all the horrors that Lily had gone through recently. Her chest bubble had totally disappeared, too. She ran around the duty free shop in her usual wild way and popped an M&M flashlight on the counter when I was paying for some snacks. The clerk rang it up before I had a chance to say anything. Oh well, she certainly deserved a little gift for having been so brave!

The Air Antilles Express flight back went fine and Lily slept through the whole 45 minutes. Back in Guadeloupe she was super happy to be reunited with her dad. And vice versa!

We still had a few days left of the antibiotics after this but aside from that there wasn’t much reminding us of the misadventures of the past few weeks. All had ended better than we ever could have hoped for.

And now, more than a year later, we are still keeping Lily far away from any peanuts!

With the Peanut Saga behind her, she was ready for Christmas.

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