'Saturday night fever in downtown Porto'
The Weekend Australian Travel & Indulgence 13-14 December 2014

An accident and emergency room was never one of my top 10 attractions to see in Porto. The 18th-century Torre dos Clerigos, the Bolhao Market and the Se Cathedral of Porto were on my list, but not the Hospital de Santo Antonio on a Saturday night.

by Kerrin O'Sullivan

One minute we’re having a family get-together at a fish café on the walls of the Bacalhoieros, where the warehouses of dealers in cod once stood, sipping Alentejo reds and gazing across the Douro river to the famous port wine houses terraced up the opposite bank, the next moment my husband is ordering a cab.

What’s that?” asks my daughter, peering at a saucer-sized bruise, black and evil-looking, on my leg. “DVT?” suggests my son. We ring a doctor friend on the other side of the world. “One long-haul from Australia, three shorter European flights followed by a sedentary bus trip?” he muses. “Get it checked now.” My son volunteers to finish my dessert. .

As dusk falls, we head for the hospital. We peer from our taxi’s windows at pavement diners enjoying jugs of sangria, smell roasting pork and garlic, hear a fado singer’s sad tones drifting in the air. We pass the Sao Bento railway station where this morning I photographed arches of stained glass and fabulous azulej (painted tiles); the art deco Café Majestic where amid mirrors and marble I sipped coffee topped with whipped cream; and the beautiful Lello Livraria & Irmao bookshop where I’d bought a volume of Pessoa’s poetry.

At Urgencia the triage nurse asks my name. “No,” she says, “you can’t have that.” I am confused and want to know why not. “The Portugese language keyboard has no apostrophes.”

So we settle on Sullivan. It is printed on my paperwork and yellow wrist-tag. I begin to worry about a travel insurance claim being rejected. “But your name is not …’

Hours pass as we sit on grey plastic seats in a corridor of peeling paint. Tides of people sweep by on trolleys, in wheelchairs, trailing mobile drips. A man with a bloodied nose limps past, a drunk sways as he argues in Portugese with an invisible foe. Orderlies are uniformed in purple, nurses in lemon, doctors in baby blue. A cleaner in navy smokes as he sweeps. My husband chats with a guard who speaks broken English about who has won the local football game that day, Porto versus Benfica.

In the early hours of what would be Mother’s Day in Australia, a doctor sees me. My Portugese is restricted to menus and timetables; he has no English. We make a comical attempt in French before a nurse arrives to translate.

“Do you remember a recent heavy knock to the leg?” I struggle, but yes, there was a mighty wrestle with a case when I disembarked from the train, and my husband somewhat annoyingly recounts how I collided with a pole while absentmindedly watching a street performer. “Still, we must eliminate DVT,” the doctor and nurse agree. “All that flying …”

Tests follow, and a couple more hours flicker away under fluorescent lights. As the first sign of morning breaks, a diagnosis arrives. It is a traumatic oedema, unrelated to flying. In other words and in any language, it is a bruise. A sealed envelope containing a letter written in Portugese for my Australian doctor is issued and, as we wait for a cab, policemen decked in guns stride into Urgencia with radios crackling.

Although not on my itinerary, I decide, in travel experiences, the emergency room is right up there. It has been a long night but as we weave through Porto’s winding streets towards our unruffled beds, watching the sun dawn over the Douro, we agree that any international medical adventure that has a happy ending is one worth bearing.

© 2014 Kerrin O’Sullivan