Athens and Rome


When does 30 yards seem like 30 miles?

Not very wheelchair friendly grounds

Not very wheelchair friendly grounds

It may not look like much…………but Julie and I were in a “fix”.

 

After taking what looked like a small “Coal miner’s” elevator to the top of the Acropolis,….you are dropped off on a wood deck that has rails and you then can wheel yourself away from the outside cliff and onto what seems to be an island of  Greek monuments.  The Parthenon is there and a must see if you are to travel to Athens.

 The only other way to get up top to see everything was a steep staircase,… way on the other side of the steep cliffs that surround the grounds.

 The wood decking atop the elevator extends about 20 feet from the edge and then you are on your own.  There are no paved pathways and nothing about the roped off sections where you are supposed to walk is “wheelchair friendly”.

Soft and deep “pea gravel” here,… and rough and rugged ancient stones there. Julie and I would definitely have our work cut out for us.  Thank God it was a little overcast and cooler outside.  The body and the MS do not like heat……especially when I have to work at something like mobility.

 

Slowly we made our way around the grounds.  Many times I got out of the wheelchair to walk slowly with the cane.  It was just going to be easier.  It was free entrance at the Acropolis because of the weekend and it was sometimes pretty crowded in areas sectioned off around the monuments.

We didn’t have the mobility, time or the strength to see all the sites, so we said our goodbye to Mike and Dennis and split up.  Julie and I decided we would attempt to go around the Parthenon and then back to the elevator.  It looked pretty smooth sailing as far as we could see.

 

Once we got to the other end of the Parthenon, we rounded the corner and there it was.

About a thirty yard section of ancient bumpy stone. Oh…… and here comes the hot sun finally burning its way through the clouds. Oh Joy. You know how some of us MS’ers love the heat!! (LOL)

This little crossing was going to be interesting. I rose to my feet and Julie and I started to take the first of many crippled steps over a very uneven, HOT surface. The spastisity in the legs was now at an all time trip high.  I had no medication and the legs were just not co-operating.

 

Then all of a sudden we hear:

“Would you’al like some help?”………she asked.

 

Enter David and Debbie Dermer from Atlanta, Ga.

 

David asks me: “What would you like me to do?”

“Come on this side and put your forearm out like this.”……I told him.

 

David would struggle w/ me for the next twenty minutes as we crossed the 30 yards of uneven ground.  I don’t think they realized how much that meant to Julie and me.  We were both already very tired …and to have someone just come up, ask, and then deliver in English, the support you needed, was huge for us at that moment. David and Debbie are both very patient and in that situation……..it was exactly what we needed.  No panic……just help and calm.

I wish I would have got their picture.  We had plenty of time to chat during my resting and planning out of my next few steps during our little 30 yard sprint.  Dave was a little warm when he first introduced himself.  He was sweating pretty good after he had helped me such a short distance and we said our goodby’s. The two of them were so patient and so calm during the whole thing.

 

You see………..it’s the littlest deeds that sometimes mean the most.  To them it may have seemed like no big deal………but when you are that far from home and everything with your disease is working against you,……it just seemed at that moment……..as though somebody was looking out after us again.

 

David and Debbie………..Thanks so much for your help that day…….you turned a very difficult task for us into kindness that Julie and I will never forget.

Much Love and Be Well,

Todd and Julie Small

 

Contrary to what my parents may say or think………………I did take some advanced classes while in high school.

One of my favorites, was a literature class my senior year entitled “Ideas to change the world”. It focused on “Greek Mythology” of all things. We studied the author: “Homer” (Was he real? Some still argue to this day).

“Homer” was the writer of  two books studied that year.  The “Iliad” and its sequel, the “Odyssey”. 

We didn’t read the entire books. Mr. Wood (teacher) would have us read certain chapters……over and over if necessary………..and then write about what we thought “Homer” was trying to say in the book.

Difficult………..but with my imagination………..I could usually associate a Greek God w/a six pack of beer into most of my writings.  The teacher found it funny, but also very relevant.

It was my best grade that year…………only because I graded myself………but the teacher always had to buy it off………and he always did.

A lot of smart people struggled………..they could not articulate………..plain and simple.

Forward 23 years and stem cell…………Julie and I had 4 hours to see Athens.  We got in a little Zeus and Athena (The Gods are heavily referenced in “Homer’s” writings).  Plenty of time?????………right?……O’well,…still pretty interesting. Maybe someday we’ll return for some more mythology……the few sites would just have to do for now.

First stop was the Acropolis.

Hmmm...........So how are we gettig up there?......"Konetantinoe (Constantine)" to the rescue.

Hmmm...........So how are we gettig up there?......"Konetantinoe (Constantine)" to the rescue.

The taxi driver stopped and dropped us off in some bus parking lot area w/ the wheel chair.  

Hmmm…..how was this going to work? Julie and I asked ourselves. How were we going to get me and the wheelchair up there?

Enter: “Stelios”.

Stelios was an older Greek gentleman who was basically wondering the area looking for other tour guide business.  He walked over to us and was disappointed that our driver had not dropped us closer to the elevator.  He spoke excellent English and sold us on a taxi man that would take us to the elevator. The driver would then wait while we saw the Acropolis,…. take us around the city for four hours, and finally back to the hotel.

Reluctantly,…… we said yes

It worked out great.

Konetantinoe (Constantine) took us to some great sites. He spoke excellent English.  And talked with us about some of the history of the city.

Here are some pics. At the Acropolis, there is a wheelchair elevator up the side of the cliff.  Scary…….but there was no other way for me to get up there.  We meet Mike and Dennis (Other Stem Cell comrads) at the elevator and they hung out with us for awhile once we got on top.

My digital camera sucks and the important thing to remember about these pictures is:

These ruins are made of solid marble,….. You can possibly see that they are slowly restoring the Parthenon w/ new pieces of the same type of marble.  It made our driver a little mad that the scaffolding has been up now for the last twenty years.

Some old temple?

Some old temple?

Scafolding and 20 year restoration efforts on the side of the Partheon

Scafolding and 20 year restoration efforts on the side of the Partheon

 You can barely make out the new marble interlaced with the old in the above picture.

 

One End of the Partheon (cool details in the corners of the roofline)

One End of the Partheon (cool details in the corners of the roofline)

 

Next stop was the temple of Olympian Zeus – It’s hard to imagine what this temple must have looked like 2 millennia ago! The size & height will amaze you. 104 original columns – 88 are now gone and the guide was not sure where they had went?

Huge columns. Acropolis/Partheon in the background

Huge columns. Acropolis/Partheon in the background

 

Then Panathinaiko Stadium – the original modern Olympic stadium

Yes........even the stands are solid marble.

Yes........even the stands are solid marble.

 

Home of the 1896 games and then restored for the 2004 games. Used for archery and the finals of the race walk. Probably for other events too.

Home of the 1896 games and then restored for the 2004 games. Used for archery and the finals of the race walk. Probably for other events too.

 

Mt. Lycabettus (Likavitos) hill – you can see the Acropolis, Apollo’s temple, Panathinaiko (Olympic) Stadium,  Zeus’ temple. The views are spectacular.

Just a huge city......easily two to three times the size of Seattle.

Just a huge city......easily two to three times the size of Seattle.

 

Then to the parliaments buildings to see the changing of the guard.  It’s a very interesting performance that is performed every hour.

Interesting uniforms

Interesting uniforms

Red M-1 Garande?.....Nate or Dad will probably correct me.

Red M-1 Garande?.....Nate or Dad will probably correct me.

 

Some sort of gymnastics training must be required for this routine they do

Some sort of gymnastics training must be required for this routine they do

After about a 10 minute routine.......they stand guard for the next 50 mins......I guess?

After about a 10 minute routine.......they stand guard for the next 50 mins......I guess?

 

And lastly through the “Plaka”………. the neighborhood is adjacent to the Acropolis and Parthenon. Gorgeous unspoiled old buildings intermixed w/ cobbled streets, shops and monuments here and there.  It is here……..where Julie and I picked up some great gyro’s to go. It was the best Greek food we had all week.

Some old monument that spun at the base and told wind direction

Some old monument that spun at the base and told wind direction

An old jail/school/historic building?

An old jail/school/historic building?

The old neiborhood even had a Starbucks laced w/ marble of coarse

The old neiborhood even had a Starbucks laced w/ marble of coarse

 

After the Gyro’s it started to rain;….maybe someone was trying to tell us it was time to go home. Back to Seattle that is. by this time we were pretty homesick. 

 

Athens is a pretty cool city (from what we saw in 4 hours).  It has a lot of history and they have done well in trying to preserve it the best that they can.  Where we stayed in Athens was pretty much the heart of downtown. The hotel was nice but that was about it.  This, by no means, is a third world country. They have a thriving economy and a car costs just as much here as it does anywhere in the U.S.

Would I come back here to visit?

Knowing what I know now and where to go…..possibly.

For Stem Cell?……defiantly. 

You do,….what you gotta do.

Be Well

Todd

 

Two Days post transplant………..

And all is well.

 

I’m sure any type of stem cell transplant is quite the shock to the system.

When you have this type of stem cell therapy……it will quite literally blow your mind away……

If……..

It doesn’t blow your brain up first.

 

The appointment was Tuesday at 11:00a (1:00a back in Seattle) Julie and I had only arrived in Athens on Sunday so we decided to take Monday and just hang around the hotel.  The hotel has defiantly been the nicest thing so far.  Of the three cities (Tel-Aviv, Rome and Athens)………Athens is defiantly the dirtiest, craziest, and most chaotic of them all.  The part of Athens that we are staying is just OK.  The hotel has been a godsend though.  It’s quiet, very nice, affordable, and the staff is friendly and speaks English well.

 

After taking a crazy polluted taxi ride to the hospital we arrived to the Neurology portion of the complex (have the email address Orit sends you…..very important). 

The hospital is older….clean,… but reminded me of something from the 80’s or the end of the “cold war” years.  (I don’t know why,.. but some Greek writing reminds me of Russian although I don’t speak either language).  There were a lot of people waiting in the lobby of the ward when we got to the second floor but someone quickly found us and directed us to the right room down a short corridor.

 

It was good to see Mike and Dennis already waiting.  I had not seen them since the bone marrow aspiration done in Tel-Aviv and it was a good feeling that I would be going though this with someone from the states.

It was your normal sized hospital room with a small bathroom.  (Three beds… that extra bed would be critical by night fall….(for Julie).

The day started off like any other normal checkup with your MS neuro.  Two Greek doctors (Neuro’s ?) came in and checked us out with the standard re-flex checks w/ that hammer thing. Then the finger to nose thing. And finally the follow my finger with your eye’s test.  Every MS’er knows these tests.

After the doctors had left……three representatives from the CTCI came in and spoke with us for awhile.  I remembered Samira from the bone-marrow aspiration.  It was good to see her again.  The people from CTCI speak excellent English.  I got all of their cards and I’m glad I did.  I will be emailing them later after this update with some not so kind words about the Greek facility.

The CTCI people stuck around to oversee the procedure.  Mike went first.  (Just like last time…..if anything was to go wrong…..Julie and I were outta there).  I dismissed my not wanting to go first as a seniority thing…..I don’t really think it really matter much to either one of us at that point………..need-less-to-say, he went ahead and everything seemed to have gone well.

 

My turn……..

Spinal taps are not fun.  It had been awhile since my last (16 years) and from what I remembered….it was not the most comfortable thing.

This one was a little painful and one sharp “lighting bolt” shock from my lower spine though my right quadriceps and out my right knee cap (lasting all of 2 seconds….but hurt none the less).  She told me to relax….

 

Easier said than done. 

 

After a couple of minutes they were done.  Julie watched them drain some spinal fluid out and then reinject the new MSC’s (a little over 19 million……which I believe not to be more than a tablespoon)

 

Next you are to lie on your back with your feet elevated for three hours.  This is also much easier said than done. After about a half hour I told Julie to go back to the hotel and that it seemed as though I would be okay until morning.  She left me with the cell phone and my appointment book that needed some updates.

 

At about the three hour (legs elevated) mark,……Mike and I we’re more than ready to get out of that position.  We were then told to lie down.  I had to go to the bathroom……after I was done the nurse caught me walking back to the bed……

”What are you doing?”……she said. 

“I had to go”…..I replied

“NO,..NO,..NO!!!!”……“You need to keep lie down!!!!!!”……….

“OOOOO……Kay???????”

 

I lied back down and gave Natedog a call…….he was getting ready for school. Also talked with Mom and told her all was well.   Shortly there after is when my brain just started pounding.

Mike was over on the other bed and having some leg spasm problems and some cramping……he wanted some ibuprophen.  This is when we started to get into some communication problems with the hospital staff. The staff could not understand his symptoms or what he was asking for. It was then that I realized that Julie had gone back to the Hotel with all my medication.  We got a hold of Julie and she came back to the Hospital with my Meds and some ibuprophen for Mike.

By the time she arrived back from the Hotel,  the head was pounding pretty good……it was getting dark and from what we had seen so far in Athens………Her and I did not feel like it was a good idea to head back to the hotel.  She ended up spending the night on the extra bed.

By 10:00p I had made the decision that this would be just a one night stay. It was a very loud and crazy night in the hospital and with the pounding headache…..it turned out to be sleepless night for me.

 

Come morning the dayshift doctors checked me out and asked me that on a scale of 1 – 10, how bad were my headaches.  I lied.  I told the doctor they were a 6 or 7.  If fact….they were still a 95 or 96!!!!!!! Well off the chart!

We took a taxi back to the hotel and it started to get a lot better.  This hotel is nice and quiet and with headaches that bad….that’s exactly what I needed. The headaches continued till about 2am today.  But now I’m back to writing and will be touching base with my fellow MS’er about the going’s on and reaching out to Professor Slavin to report the Greek Hospital’s continued shortcomings.

 

Julie and I are going to try and hit the Acropolis Saturday as it is supposed to rain here tomorrow.  It a good thing that we did not travel to Istanbul.  Right now they are experiencing terrible flooding.  Maybe somebody is looking out for me.

This is going to work.

Be Well

Todd

After the Taxi driver droped us off at the wrong Airport terminal……….we managed to catch our Alitalia fight to Athens no problem…………The Airport in Rome is kind of small so,….we had to board the plane on the tarmack…….I did the steps just fine.

People are patient………and that is a good thing.

The Hotel here in Athens is real nice and a good price. It includes breakfast so we are good to go.

T-minus 21 hours till transplant……..this is going to work.

Be Well

Todd

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

 

Some Fountain??????

Some Fountain??????

 

A bunch of cool shops along this street

A bunch of cool shops along this street

 

Looking at the base of the Spanish Steps.....and the very,very,very high rent district.

Looking at the base of the Spanish Steps.....and the very,very,very high rent district.

 

Just like Lynn……..clowning around at the end of the dinner table at all those Sunday family dinners……….

At breakfast this Morning…………grandma looked at the little boy sitting the table over from Julie and I………..

……..”Man-ga“…….she says to him……….

(the cute little Italian boy was not eating)……….

 

The place we are staying here in Rome is great…………it’s at the heart of the city and just a short walk to anywhere.  The wheelchair has defiantly paid off in the fact that we have already seen a ton of stuff and they upgraded us on the hotel room. (a much bigger room for the same price).

Nice room with a little porch........"Wheelchair sympathy"......regards to the people at the front desk.

Nice room with a little porch........"Wheelchair sympathy"......regards to the people at the front desk.

 

As mentioned before though,……..the cobbles of Rome don’t make it easy.

 

Last night we had a great dinner at a restaurant away from all the tourist stuff.  The price was right and it seemed as though we were the only Americans in the place.  Romans seem to eat dinner very late………the resturaunt opened after 7:00p and we were the first ones in.  By the time we left…….8:30p, the place was just starting to fill up.

Rome is an architectural mavel……..and the scale of the sites would blow your mind away.  one of the first sites we visited was “the Pantheon”

It looks like a dome from the outside.......but once in......you'll see a hole in the roof

It looks like a dome from the outside.......but once in......you'll see a hole in the roof

Again……..the sheer size of the building will blow you away………..

The Doorway to the Pantheon - "Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome." (Wiki)

The Doorway to the Pantheon - "Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome." (Wiki)

 

Sorry,...Julie's dress matches the marble in this one......."Built originally to worship Roman Gods,......in the 7th century it was converted to a catholic church."

Sorry,...Julie's dress matches the marble in this one......."Built originally to worship Roman Gods,......in the 7th century it was converted to a catholic church."

  

So tell me.........How did they get solid granite colums this big, this round, if built in 126A.D.?.....Baffeling!

So tell me.........How did they get solid granite column this big, this round, if built in 126A.D.?.....Baffeling!

 

Cool Place

Cool Place

 

Did you know that every car manufacture makes a “Smart – size” car? 

The cobbled streets of Rome are so tiny,……that no other size of car will really fit.  The Mercedes and Alfa-Romero “Smart-size” cars are actually pretty cool.  I even saw a “old Austin-Mini” just like uncle Steve’s.  Although just one.

It was “Eye-candy” in every direction. It’s a pretty cool city,…old…..even the dirt is cool, the dirt on the buildings give it that character.  Something you will not see a the Venetian in Las Vegas.  (Uncle Jay and I won big there one night!) The Romans have done a pretty good job in preserving what ancient history they can.  And around every corner,….your bound to find some.  Wish we would have had time for a tour……..But the 1.5 hour flight to Athens was kind of important.

Anyhoo……here are some more Pictures of “Roma” day one:

Don't know what it was.....but something like this around every corner.

Don't know what it was.....but something like this around every corner.

 

The "KTM" knock-off of the Ducatti cross bike.   Just as many scooters and motorcycles as there are cars in Roma.

The "KTM" knock-off of the Ducatti cross bike. Just as many scooters and motorcycles as there are cars in Roma.

Don't eat at a cafe like this next to the Pantheon..........your wallet will "sting" real bad.

Don't eat at a cafe like this next to the Pantheon..........your wallet will "sting" real bad.

 More to come………………………………

What a crappy ride over these cobbles..........."Not for long"......."Right?"

What a crappy ride over these cobbles..........."Not for long"......."Right?"

First stop is Rome………

Continental stoped service to Athens on September 8. Unfortunately (really?) we then had to go to Rome (via Continental)……we’ll make the flight to Athens by weeks end.

Night, Night………..Julie’s already asleep……….I guess we haven’t slept for two days.

Be Well

Todd

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