High Pointer's dream vacation becomes a nightmare

Mar. 23—HIGH POINT — When Martha Ward decided to spend a couple of weeks sightseeing in Europe, this wasn't exactly what she had in mind. Oh sure, there are lots of beautiful sights to take in, but the hospital in Sibenik, Croatia, isn't one of them.

"It was a grand mess," says Ward, of High Point, "but I'm so thankful that I'm still alive and that I'm home now."

Ward, who at 80 remains active and enjoys traveling on her own, says it was easily the worst travel experience of her life. Not long after the sightseeing began, she fell and found herself all alone in a foreign hospital — "a hospital from hell," she says — unable to speak the language, skeptical of the care she was and was not receiving, and wondering if, when and how she would ever find her way back home.

The ordeal began innocently enough on Dec. 15, when Ward left High Point for a long-planned vacation in central and eastern Europe. The plan was to start out independently and then join a group of other travelers through an adventure travel company. She met the group on Dec. 22 as they prepared to board a cruise ship heading down the Croatian coast.

"My bags were on the ship, but I hadn't even spent a night on the ship yet," Ward recalls. "I was out taking photographs and talking, admiring all the beautiful sights, and I just misstepped and fell off the platform I was standing on."

She fell about 40 inches onto the concrete below her. The good news was that she didn't hit her head — but the bad news was that she broke her left arm, jammed a wrist and severely fractured a leg.

"They took all my luggage and dumped me off at the hospital, and I didn't speak the language at all," Ward says. "It was a nightmare."

According to Ward, doctors set her broken arm, but they did it incorrectly, according to doctors at Duke University Medical Center, who redid the surgery after Ward finally returned to North Carolina.

Ward says her insurance company was pressuring her to have surgery on her leg at the Croatian hospital, too — it presumably would've been cheaper than surgery in the United States, she says — but she insisted on coming home first. As it turned out, doctors at Duke said her leg didn't require surgery and was better off just healing naturally, Ward adds.

In the meantime, though, Ward says, the care she received at the Sibenik hospital was sorely lacking. She says she received no medical care after the surgery on her arm, endured poor hygiene — including not being given a bedpan — and was given little nutritious food.

"My breakfast consisted of two small slices of bread with one-sixteenth cup of lukewarm, slightly chocolate milk and coffee — it was kind of a loose mixture of the two, and there were no refills," Ward says.

"And one of the worst parts was that I was not given the opportunity to have a button to push to contact the nurses' station if I needed something, even just a glass of water. I even tried yelling for help, but they ignored me unless it was time for them to come to my room anyway."

Finally, after 12 days in the hospital, Ward was cleared to return to the United States. She was given a shower before her departure, which resulted in a waterlogged cast on her arm, she says.

Because of the nature of her injuries, Ward couldn't fly home on a commercial airline, so she was flown by AirMed International — for a steep charge that was mostly covered by travel insurance, she says.

"Was I happy to see North Carolina from the air?" Ward says. "You bet, and I cried."

After having her arm reset at Duke, Ward has had several weeks of physical therapy and is well on her way to a full recovery, she says.

Which means she'll soon be ready to travel again.

"Believe it or not, I want to go back," she says. "I just need to be more careful next time."

Jtomlin@hpenews.com — 336-888-3579