Adriatic Odyssey: When There Is No Doctor In The House

Georgios Hatzidakis, captain of our cruise ship.
Georgios Hatzidakis, captain of our cruise ship.

BAR, Montenegro – What do you do when you’re cruising on a small ship without a doctor in the middle of the Adriatic — somewhere between Korcula, Croatia, and Bar, Montenegro — and you wake up with a pain on the left side of your lower back that might be more than just a pulled muscle?

Oh yes, and you have 10 more days before you’ll be anywhere near Massachusetts General Hospital and your Boston home?
I learned the answer yesterday.

At first I tried to pass off the discomfort I was feeling to a muscle ache from schlepping my heavy luggage to the airport. But my husband, who trained as an Army medic many years ago, was leery of its location. “That’s where your kidneys are,” he said, pointing to the spot on my lower back where I said the pain was.

By pure coincidence, we shared a dinner table that evening with passenger Alan Eaton of Kings’ Lyn, Norfolk, England, who happens to be a surgeon specializing in urology. He confirmed my husband’s suspicion.

“Can this wait until I return home?” I asked hopefully.

“I wouldn’t,” he advised. “Kidneys can’t be replaced.”

So, contemplating the appalling prospect of an emergency flight back to Boston, I nervously approached our cruise coordinator to ask if there was anything AdventureSmith Exploratons, our cruise company, could do to get me to a doctor.

The cruise coordinator, Ninna Durinec, immediately spoke to our captain, George Hatzidakis, who once served as chief safety officer with Celebrity Cruises S/S Britanis. To my amazement, he asked if I wanted to see a doctor that very same night.

“Uh, no,” I replied, surprised that the ship would accommodate me so quickly. “I can certainly wait until morning.”
“We’ll get you to a doctor first thing when we arrive,” he said.

I learned later that Captain Hatzidakis, who trained with the Royal Greek Navy in his home country and is experienced in sailing large and small vessels, cargo ships and private yachts, is also trained in medical emergency situations. He immediately made a telephone call to the “agent” of our cruise company in our next day’s town (they evidently have an agent in every port along the way), to find a doctor who specialized in kidney problems.

A kidney specialist in Bar, Montenegro?

Yes, at a private clinic for same — and the doctor told the agent that he would be waiting for us.

The next morning, right after breakfast, Captain Hatzidakis arrived from the bridge to personally escort us to the clinic. The 48-year-od captain, a stickler on safety, wouldn’t let a mere crew member accompany us because, he said, that would mean the man would not have enough sleep to safely do his job.

So off we went — me, my husband, an agent from the cruise company to serve as a local expediter . . . and the captain of our ship. (Another reason the agent came along was to translate what the doctor said after the examination. Captain Hatzidakis, who was born in Piraeus, Greece, doesn’t speak the Montenegran language, and neither did we. It was all Greek to the three of us.)

We traveled by cab for five minutes to the clinic, where Dr.J. Ivovic, a friendly man with a reassuring smile, met us in the reception area and whisked me into his office. Fifteen minutes later, after examining me with a modern piece of equipment, he had the diagnosis.
“You have a small kidney stone,” he announced.

Shortly thereafter, I had been tested in his lab, prescribed medicine and sent back to the ship with the captain in tow on my way to full recovery. In addition to a fancy pill before meals, he prescribed a special herbal tea that helps dissolve kidney stones. That’s my kind of medication.

OK, back to the cruise.

Ninna Durinec, cruise co-ordinator, explains our next port of call.
Ninna Durinec, cruise co-ordinator, explains our next port of call.

Originally scheduled to visit Budra, our sailing ship had landed in Bar because of a docking issue. (The name gave our daily newsletter the opportunity for a bit of jocularity in print, suggesting we “Hit the Bar.”)

A major seaport of Montenegro, Bar’s most famous monument is the 19th Century palace of King Nikola. The king gave this palace, which is surrounded by a park and a winter garden, to his daughter, Princess Zorka.

One of King Nikola’s 10 yachts, named “Sibil,” was purchased from novelist Jules Verne. The next most famous item in Bar is a 2,000-year-old olive tree, one of the oldest in the world. Legend has it that if a man wanted to become engaged to marry, he had to plant ten olive trees in his yard as a male dowry.

Bar is home to three major religions of the world: Orthodox Christianity, Catholicism, and Islam. Of note: the three religious groups have been living in peace for centuries with little to no friction. In fact, an Orthodox temple, a Catholic cathedral and an Islamic center are now being built in Bar at the same time.

Close to the port is the famous and exclusive island of St. Stefan, where Aman has built a luxury resort that promises peace and privacy to the rich and famous such as Sophia Loren and Michael Douglas. When you’re paying up to $7000 per person per night, the least you can expect is a little privacy.

One of the Mediterranean’s sunniest towns, Bar also boasts more than 20 beaches for the pleasure of residents and tourists alike, and we swam at one of them this afternoon before taking off for our next port and our next country: Albania.
By the time we all jumped into the water, the pain in my kidney had disappeared.

Photos by Timothy Leland

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