Jim and Jan Wellington, now safely back home in Fonthill. JOHN SWART

Word to the wise: watch out for those Floridian gasoline hoses

Jim and Jan Wellington’s return trip from Florida to Canada amid the COVID-19 outbreak is an incredible tale of bad luck, good luck, helpful people and perseverance. The warmth and humour with which they have shared their story belies the strength and resourcefulness that all involved employed to get them back to Canada, relatively intact, and free of the virus.

The Wellingtons, of Fonthill, were enjoying their three month stay at Cape Coral, near Fort Myers in Florida, where they’ve been wintering for the last eight years. Jim’s a trap shooter, and belongs to the Sarasota Trap, Skeet and Clays Club, while Jan loves socializing with the friends they’ve made over the years. Then came the plea for all Canadians abroad to return home.

Jim and Jan dutifully loaded up their car and headed north on March 23. That same day, just outside Wildwood, Florida, Jim tripped over the gasoline hose while fueling his car, and crashed to the concrete.

“Luckily I didn’t hit my head, or I would have been done.”

Pumping gas at the other side of the same pump was a police constable, and she quickly came to Jim’s aid.

“She checked all my vitals, and my arm was just sort of hanging.”

She called for an ambulance, which took Jim and Jan to Leesville County Hospital.

“They ran some X-rays, gave me a pain pill, and said we can’t help you here. It’s more serious and we don’t have any surgeons here. We’re going to have to move you up to Ocala Regional Trauma Centre,” said Jim. He had broken his humerus.

Jim and Jan were admitted to the trauma centre that same evening, and given a room. (Jan has a medical condition that prevents her from being left alone.) Jim was in the hospital bed, and Jan slept in a reclining chair. This was their home for the next seven days.

When Jim ate, kind nurses fetched meals for Jan from the cafeteria, but were unable to fetch Jan’s meds from the car back at the gas station in Wildwood.

Fortunately, Jim had purchased travel insurance and the trauma centre administrators had worked with the provider in the past. He was informed that his three or four hour stop for X-rays and consultation in Leesville had cost $3000.

On the afternoon of the 24th, they operated on Jim, but there was no mention of how or when he and Jan would be able to leave the trauma centre.

Jim tells it like this. “My sister was phoning, phoning, phoning the insurance company, and of course she could never get through. I think she spent five hours one day trying to get through. The lines were busy constantly because of this COVID-19 thing. So finally she got a claim number, and she shared the claim number with the hospitals, but there was no discussion as to when I could leave there.”

“My daughter-in-law Tracy sent an email to RBC insurance and cc’d a copy to the Canadian consulate. Things started to roll. So at that stage the insurance company realized they would need a mobile nurse to come to Florida and assist us.”

The insurance company flew a mobile nurse from Toronto to Orlando, by herself, on an Air Canada jet. That’s right, one nurse and a crew of three or four were the lone occupants of the AC Rouge jet that went to fetch Jim and Jan.

Jim says that initially they weren’t going to let her into the hospital because of COVID-19, but she “worked her way through that.”

The mobile nurse then arranged to get the Wellington’s vehicle towed to the trauma centre, and fortunately their passports, documentation, and Jan’s meds were all intact.

“The mobile nurse arranged everything,” says Jim. “She got the plane tickets, got us 30 days of medications to last while we would be quarantined. She got a limousine to take us up to the airport.”

She got the plane tickets, got us 30 days of medications to last while we would be quarantined. She got a limousine to take us up to the airport.

Jim explained that the mobile nurse got them through customs and security effortlessly, did all their immigration paperwork, had wheelchairs arranged within the airport, and a taxi waiting outside. She accompanied them, and Tracy, who would be quarantined with Jim and Jan, back to Fonthill, then returned by taxi to her home in Hamilton.

“She was very professional, and she knew all the ropes,” said Jim. “She’s been all over the world.”

Jim said the service he received at the trauma centre was very good.

“I think I was very fortunate because it was a trauma centre. They had a very good orthopaedic team, and their patient-to- nurse ratio is four persons to one nurse. They were extremely attentive.”

Asked if he was concerned about COVID-19 while there, Jim said, “Not really. I was too whacked-out to care. I think I was on narcotics.”

Asked if he had any idea what the total cost of his medical bills and transportation was, Jim replied that he really didn’t know, and hadn’t seen any invoices.

“I can’t imagine, it’s got to be three hundred grand. Seven days in [the trauma centre], two jet rides, two ambulance rides.” Jim, Jan and their mobile nurse had shared a chartered flight home with about ten others, and he described the plane being partitioned between the small groups with blankets hanging from the ceiling to stop air circulation. Not even he and Jan could sit together.

The Wellingtons’ car has returned from Florida too. It was delivered to Scarborough by transport, then quarantined for 48 hours. Another transport company brought it to Fonthill. The driver told Jim the invoice to the insurance company was around $2500.

Their quarantine has been successfully completed. They’re both COVID-19 free, Jan is good, and Jim still has some pain from the operation. Ontario physicians have confirmed that the rod installed in his humerus was correctly positioned, and have removed the 25 staples holding his surgery together. Tracy is well too, and back at home in Ajax.

Asked if he had any words of wisdom for those headed to Florida in the future, Jim laughed and said, “Don’t step over gas hoses.”