I know it sounds like a tall tale, but it isn’t. It’s a true story, I swear. And less than a month old.
It was a trap.
A trap, I’m telling you – set by ancestors and baited with…chocolate.
If you’ve been reading my blog long, you’ll know that I’ve been involved in genealogical tourism since long before that term existed.
One of the things I dearly love to do is go back to where my ancestors lived, find their land, maybe their house, their church and understand their lives by immersion as best I can from the distance of time.
Earlier this month, I returned for my second trip to the Netherlands with Dutch genealogist, Yvette Hoitink.
Yvette replied to a comment I had made in an article on my blog about the hopelessness of my Dutch lines, back in August of 2012. Those lines were absolutely NOT hopeless, as I ‘ve come to discover through Yvette’s research, and I probably know more about these lines now than I do about many colonial lines. If you know how to work with Dutch records, know the language and history – the records in the Netherlands are fantastic. Of course, I can’t read the language, or the script, so Yvette is absolutely indispensable. Yes, I’ll share her. No, you can’t have her all to yourself😊 I’m permanently inked into her schedule.
Yvette had found absolutely amazing records, and items, and locations – enough to lure me back once again. And yes, you will hear about each and every one of these in my 52 Ancestors series, but today’s topic is, um, er, a bit different. It’s about a near death experience – literally.
The Island of Vlieland
On my second day in the Netherlands, we visited the island of Vlieland, about 30 miles off of the coast of the Netherlands in the North Sea.
Please note that you can click any image to enlarge.
You can see, on the map above, that Vlieland, outlined in red, is part of an island chain. Vlieland at one time used to be connected to its southern neighbor, Texel.
By zooming out, you can see evidence that this chain at one historic time connected to the part of Holland where Amsterdam is now located. Based on Amsterdam’s location, you can also see why any ship leaving Amsterdam for the new world had to slip between the islands of Texel and Vlieland.
Geography is so important, because in one of my ancestral lines, my ancestor died on the ship after leaving Amsterdam and was buried on the island of Texel. But I digress and will resume that story in the 52 Ancestor’s series. Take a moment to imagine how thrilled I was to be standing there, on Vlieland, looking at Texel – some 4000 miles from home.
I happen to have a penchant for islands, almost a primal magnetic draw. Always have, and maybe now I know why. I love the isolation and charm – and in this case, the fact that my ancestors lived on Vlieland back in the early 1600s. The closest port on the mainland was Harlingen, and sure enough, my ancestor married a merchant in Harlingen in 1665. Seventy-seven years later, in 1742, her grandson had a daughter, whose birth Yvette found documented in the very most unusual birth record EVER – a silver inscribed birth spoon.
Just one picture – I can’t resist. Ok, maybe two.
Yvette took this lovely photo of me looking dreamily at that birth spoon, as well as the photo below. The Fries Scheepvaart Museum where the spoon is housed was beyond helpful and had removed it from the case prior to our visit so I could hold it and “commune” up close and personal. I can’t even begin to describe this moment to you – connecting back in time to that lovely celebration. Perhaps Yvette’s photo describes it better than I ever could.
Birth spoon of Geertje Gerrijts Heslinga, born 15 December 1742. Geertje’s great-grandmother, Janke Gerrits, was born and lived on the island of Vlieland, leaving the island to marry Teunis Foppes in Harlingen on March 18, 1665. Photos and research courtesy Yvette Hoitink.
If I have a bit of wanderlust in my soul, I’m blaming it on my ancestors. Mariners, people who lived on an island being swallowed by the sea – tell me those people didn’t have a “adventure” gene, if there is such a thing. They were clearly free spirits, in every sense of the word.
The island of Vlieland looks out into the expansive sea, a remote world of hope, opportunity and sometimes, death. Separated from the mainland in the horrible storm surge flood of December 14, 1287, on neither side of the island can you see the mainland, not even in the distance to the east. At night, the sky in the summer never darkens entirely. It’s on the same latitude with Newfoundland in Canada.
Today, as then, accommodations exist for visitors. As ships arrived from near and far, Vlieland welcomed them. Ships and passengers had yet another day’s sailing to the mainland.
Only one village exists on the island, Oost-Vlieland (East Vlieland) as the little village of West Vlieland was swallowed by the sea in 1736. Today, a few mom and pop hotels dot the lovely, serene maritime landscape. Suffice it to say, Vlieland is off the beaten path, even in peak season. Let’s just say I couldn’t even find a touristy t-shirt saying Vlieland.
Life is different on Vlieland. This is the view from breakfast, across the deck.
The blanket? In case you get chilled from the ever-present sea breeze. Provided by the hotel restaurant, which is often filled with locals and not tourists.
In fact, there’s a stack of blankets on a chest near the restrooms just waiting for anyone who is chilly.
You can also find a bookcase with children’s games as well as board games and books for anyone to borrow or use while visiting. The winters are probably very long on Vlieland.
The sparrow, eating my breakfast leftovers? People on Vlieland don’t worry about things like doors and screens, or birds. They exist in harmony with nature, including birds that come right in to eat with you. Yes, inside.
People in Holland are very laid back about things Americans are very up-tight about – and some vice-versa. Cultures are so interesting.
I could barely wait to start the day, because we were going to walk down the very streets where my ancestor walked. Where she grew up. Where her parents and sister lived as well. I was going to walk in her footsteps.
The main street of town looks much like it did in the time my ancestor lived here. Even though we don’t (yet) know exactly which house they lived in, it was assuredly one of the houses in the village and likely still remains. We started at one end and walked to the other, past shops, houses, the town hall, the church and cemetery, of course.
In Europe, everyone walks or rides bicycles. There just isn’t room for vehicles and many areas, especially historic regions, simply don’t allow them. No one feels inconvenienced or cares.
This house, built in 1662, was here when my ancestor, Janke, and her family walked this street.
Down the street, just a hair, we find the local bakery flying the white flag and seats in front for weary walkers, or excited eaters enjoying their delightful wares. Can you tell that I went inside?
Just take a look at their creative cookies. A joy to behold.
The entire bakery is full of wonderful delights.
Westers Bakery has the best, and I mean the very best, bar none, chocolate “thingy” in the world.
Thingy, you ask?
Well, I don’t know exactly what it is.
It’s kind of a cake brownie hybrid, dusted with more dark chocolate and maybe powdered sugar, that isn’t terribly sweet. Something like a brownie texturally, but not exactly. And it was nearly my doom.
This, you see, is where the trouble started. Well, actually in front of the bakery.
I initially bought one chocolate thingy, but one wasn’t enough, shared between the three of us, so I was going back for more. That’s when I fell into the trap.
See these things? They are called cobblestones and they are medieval torture devices with which our ancestors paved the streets, but today are used to lure unsuspecting descendants to their doom.
On my way hurrying back to the bakery, lured by the chocolate with which the trap had been cunningly set, I tripped on a cobblestone. Well, actually, it reached right up and grabbed the toe of my shoe, I’m sure. In any event, after a very undignified dance that I’m extremely grateful no one filmed, I decided that the best plan of attack, or descent, was to tuck and roll since it was obvious that I was going down.
My goal, at that moment, was temporarily distracted from chocolate to trying not to break any bones, hit my head or break my glasses. Any one of which would have ruined the vacation entirely AND interfered with chocolate acquisition.
So, down I went, on the cobblestones. I hit pretty hard, since I had been nearly running as I tried to regain my balance. I found myself on the hard, uneven, cobblestones which were poking painfully into various body parts, taking a body part census one by one – “does it move? Is anything broken?,” to which, thankfully, the answer was “I can move it and it doesn’t seem to be broken.” But some parts hurt, a lot. Cobblestones are very unforgiving. Do not try this at home!
Then, of course, I had to attempt to regain my composure. It’s just so embarrassing to find yourself on the ground, stone cold sober.
As I lay there on the ground, still taking inventory of my various body parts, when my husband finally figured out I’d gone missing and came back to fetch me, I told him to go inside and buy that doggone chocolate, lest someone else purchase it and the bakery would run out! I mean, I didn’t sacrifice my dignity for nothing, after all!!!
Yes, I really did do that, and so did he. Here’s proof. He’s holding the white bag from the bakery.
My chocoholic friends will be proud.
I skinned my knee and I knew it would be bruised. I’ve been scuffed and bruised before. I used to be a mountain backpacker. I’ve even been sewed up by a guide on a raft on the Snake river using glacial melt riverwater as the only numbing agent available, plus a beer. So, I’m tough and I wasn’t going to let a little thing like a skinned knee put a damper on the trip.
So, I did what any person with Dutch mariner resolution running in their veins would have done. I got up, brushed myself off and kept on walking.
And because I’m either stubborn, or stupid, or both, here’s me about 5 minutes later having my photo taken with a goat statue in the street trying to pretend that nothing happened. Note the fact that I can’t bend the knee. I think the goat’s name was Lucifer and he was laughing at me, but I can’t be sure.
Guaranteed, I wasn’t smiling as much later, once reality (and swelling) set in.
Yvette and I discussed options. There is no doctor on the island. The island folk, an extremely independent bunch, tell you that the doctor and the vet is one and the same person. I have no idea if they are kidding or not, but perseverance and time seemed like they would do the job and there was no need to displace Fido’s rabies shot with my knee non-emergency.
There is limited ferry service to the mainland, plus, we had a schedule and things to do.
The knee was painful, but didn’t seem to be “broken,” so there was no point disrupting our plans. I just limped and winced and carried on. That resilient, tenacious Dutch blood.
The River Cruise
As the days passed, the leg seemed to be getting worse, not better. I’ll spare you the pictures, but I began messaging with a person who works in medicine in the US. I was black and blue and swollen to my ankle and there was nothing I could do to get comfortable. I was tired because I couldn’t sleep well. Everything hurt.
By this time, Jim and I had embarked on a Viking River Cruise – and there is really no deviation from that schedule. The only option is to get left behind.
My medical resource in the states began to question whether I had a blood clot in the leg. Is there heat to the touch? Does it hurt? More questions. There was swelling and severe bruising, but no heat to the touch and no pain in just one place – it hurt everyplace. So, I thought the answer was no.
Things Turn Serious
My medical resource told me in no uncertain terms that the results of clots in the leg, if they break free, can be pulmonary embolisms, heart attacks and strokes – and are often fatal. Silent killers.
I’m not afraid of death, but I’m terrified of being disabled, an invalid, a stroke victim. I’ve seen that more times in my family than I care to recall.
However, it’s important to keep moving, so I walked up and down more cobblestone streets in small picturesque villages along the Rhine River. I even climbed rocks at a medieval castle. I kept moving, because I thought that’s what I should be doing.
I also got the opportunity to find three different pharmacies, in various countries that spoke little or no English.
Pharmacies in Europe only dispense drugs, not like general purpose stores here. And they aren’t open on weekends, evenings or holidays. Trying to find one on a walking tour of a medieval village during their “summer holiday” is a challenge, trust me.
Two days past the continental divide, in the wonderful medieval town of Passau, I found this lovely pharmacy, known there as an apotheke. And no, the pharmacist did not speak any English.
Even the pharmacy was located in a historic building, color coded on the outside as to the medieval function of the inhabitant, and complete with ceiling murals. You can see that this building had been an apothecary since at least 1589.
My medical resource “encouraged me,” which is putting it mildly, to go have a doppler scan done of my leg for blood clots. I realized, about this time, that my insurance is not valid outside the US.
That is no anomaly – but the way much or most US insurance policies work.
Didn’t know that? Well, I never really thought about it either.
Just as an example, here’s Blue Cross’s web page about coverage outside of the US.
Notice that some policies cover emergency services, but what about admissions? And if your insurance policy doesn’t cover you, what does the local hospital do with you?
I just happen, by accident, to know that answer for the UK where their citizens and unfortunate visitors are all covered by socialized medicine, but outside of the UK, I have no idea. None, nada. And I wasn’t in the UK. By that time we were in Germany, Austria and Hungary.
You could easily go bankrupt with a hospital admission.
Not to mention the language barrier issue.
Believe me, I was in no hurry to discover the answer to any of these things first hand.
If you’re wondering about travel insurance, we did have a policy through Viking for that portion of our trip which covered cancellation for any reason. For ocean-going ships, they agree to airlift you off of a boat, etc., a medical evacuation – but I had no clue about this type of problem on an inland river cruise.
Travel insurance also covers cancellation of a trip, but we were already on the trip when I discovered the magnitude of the problem.
In fact, by this time, we were within a week of leaving for home. Surely I could just gut it out.
I was tired, tired of pain, tired of limping around, and tired of staying in my cabin with my leg elevated. I also contracted an upper respiratory infection, which normally would have been an annoyance, but when you’re already feeling crummy was sort of the last straw.
I was extremely glad to be coming home. Not exactly the way I had planned to spend or end the vacation of a lifetime visiting my ancestors’ homelands.
Suffice it to say, I will never, ever, in my lifetime fly Air France again. As God is my witness.
I flew Delta from the US to the Netherlands and the Airbus had 6 seats across with one aisle. The same plane on the Air France trip back had 8 seats across with two aisles and people were packed in like sardines. Talk about one miserable flight. In addition, some piece of equipment was bolted to the floor in in my leg space, under the seat in front of me.
Did I mention that blood clots in the legs (DVTs or deep vein thrombosis) are nicknamed “economy class syndrome” and there is currently a lawsuit seeking to require the FAA to do something about “the incredible shrinking airline seat.” CNN Money reports that a group named:
Flyers Rights had said it’s concerned that small airline seats are actually a safety hazard, putting passengers at risk for conditions like deep vein thrombosis. That’s a potentially fatal condition that can cause blood clots in people’s legs.
I arrived home late Saturday, and the leg was worse on Sunday. Not more painful, just more swelling, in the foot and ankle which had not been swollen before. By Monday morning, I was waiting on my doctor’s doorstep and later that morning, I was in the hospital. I spent a lovely day there, and yes indeed, I did have a clot in my leg.
Most of my life, I have never presented for diseases or health issues like anyone else. Sometimes unique is not a good thing, especially when your symptoms are different from the norm.
The location of the clot itself was not painful. The injury was in the front of my leg but the clot was in the back of the calf. The actual clot location was not red or swollen. But it was there, and life-threatening.
They told me, in absolutely no uncertain terms, as they started the blood thinners, that I was lucky to be alive and un-impaired – unless of course you consider my innate stubbornness as an impairment.
I learned that clots, once formed, take about 6 months to dissolve and reabsorb into your body – and the entire time you are a walking time bomb, hoping the clot doesn’t decide to break free and make a mad dash for someplace else in your body like a batter running for home plate.
I’m updating my will, just in case.
Who is at Risk?
Everyone is at risk for blood clots. Everyone needs to be able to clot so we don’t bleed to death from a hangnail.
If you sustain an injury, you are at risk for a clot leaving its source of origin, so be vigilant. Clots often form in legs, are known at DVTs (deep vein thrombosis), but not always. And people over 30 are at higher risk than younger people.
- Sitting for extended periods, especially in cramped quarters
- Crossing your legs
- Wearing constrictive clothing from the waist down
- Long car or plane trips
- Oral contraceptives
- Hormone replacement therapy
More than 400,000 Americans develop DVTs each year. Of those, when clots break loose and lodge in the lungs, more than one third of the people die, and those deaths exceed the number who die from AIDS and breast cancer, combined.
Certainly not a trivial problem.
Please see this article by WedMD about preventing clots during travel.
Air travel, in particular, increases the risk of clots. According to the American Association of Hematology, your risk of developing a blood clot during air travel is increased by the following:
- Use of oral contraceptives
- Recent surgery
- Older age
- History of previous blood clots
- Restrictive seats
- Genetic predisposition to blood clots
Yes, your genes play a part here too.
Let’s take a look.
About the Genetics
At one time, on the V3 version of their product, before the FDA issue in November 2013, 23andMe reported on susceptibility for DVTs. In the V3 report, three genes were tested. People who tested under the V3 version can find their information about DVTs in their archived health reports. I had no increased susceptibility in either of the three genetic locations tested.
23andMe no longer provides information as detailed in the current version, but they do provide something in the V4 version.
People who tested more recently under the V4 platform, since November 2013, receive the results from two locations associated with clotting.
You’ll find this under “Reports, “ then “Genetic Health Risks” then “Hereditary Thrombophilia” where only two genes are tested and reported to consumers.
23andMe follows this information by stating, more than once, that this test is limited, does NOT test for all possible variants and that the variants are most commonly found in people of European descent.
They also emphatically state that other factors, such as lifestyle and environment can influence blood clotting, and that even if you don’t have the variant, you can still potentially develop clots. I’m the perfect example of that.
Interestingly, they state that about 1 in 20 people of European descent carry one of these genetic variants.
One in 20 is a LOT of people.
I wanted to know more.
Next, I utilized Promethease.com to see if I carried any additional known high risk clotting variants. I uploaded my Genos Exome file, because that test offers the greatest coverage of all the autosomal tests I’ve taken. However, you can upload autosomal raw data from tests at Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and/or 23andMe. Yes, that “and” was supposed to be in there. You can upload multiple files for Promethease to combine in order to provide you with the most comprehensive report possible. The cost is $5 for one file or up to $10 for multiple or large files. Very inexpensive.
One note, I don’t recommend that you use the imputed dna.land file, because imputed DNA is not your DNA, but presumed additional DNA based on what most people carry in various locations – added to your test.
I’ll be writing once again about Promethease shortly, but the answer is, no, I don’t have any high or increased risk variants in the 6 locations that Promethease reports on relative to clotting.
While this is somewhat of a relief, please do understand that medical discoveries continue to be made every single day, and it’s likely that there are clotting variants yet to be discovered.
If you have questions about the medical or genetic aspect of blood clots, DVTs and risk, especially related to flying, talk to your doctor. My physician provided me with some advice, but every person’s advice from their physician will differ based on their own individual circumstances that include variables such as age, medication and other diagnoses.
While the lack of known genetic clotting risk removes one worrisome factor, that doesn’t mean the risk from clots is removed, nor does an increased risk mean that one of those pesky clots will attack you.
I’m going to be fine. I’m too darned stubborn for anything else. Plus, I’m following doctor’s orders. Yes, really.
There’s nothing to motivate compliance like knowing the grim reaper is eyeing you with unholy desire.
I’m still planning to go to Dublin in October (assuming the doctor says I can go) – and I will NOT be flying Air France, guaranteed. Furthermore, I will be upgrading to business class where I can easily stand up every hour and move freely.
In deference to my seatmates, I’ll be attempting to reserve an aisle seat.
I will also be getting a prescription pair of support hose to help prevent clots. BTW – support hose are NOT just for woman. Men, no one will know that you are wearing them except for the TSA agent when you get the lucky strip search.
Why am I sharing this with you? I don’t want you to find yourself in a similar situation, so I’m compiling a list of travel considerations that everyone should think about and prepare for when they are planning an adventure, especially out of the country and particularly in a location where the native language is not English.
- Car Insurance – is likely not valid outside of the US, including our neighboring Canada and Mexico. Check before leaving and see what you need to do if taking your vehicle out of the country. If you’re renting a car, your auto insurance (probably) won’t cover that either, so take the extra insurance offered at the car rental location.
- Understand what documentation you will need to return to the US – and what you can and cannot bring across the border in either direction.
- Health Insurance – is yours valid out of the country, and for what, where and under what circumstances?
- Health Insurance – what steps do you need to take if a problem arises, and is there a 24-hour international 800 number?
- What kind of health care do the places where you will be traveling have?
- What happens to travelers with health emergencies in the locations where you will be traveling?
- What kind of arrangements does your tour operator provide? For example, cruises at sea have an on-board ship’s doctor. On my river cruise, there wasn’t even aspirin, Tylenol or motion sickness medication available on board.
- What will you do if you need to communicate with someone in another language? Note that iPhones have language translation apps.
- If you are on an organized tour, what will happen to you should you and a travel companion have to leave the tour? Will you be able to catch up, and how? What kind of assistance will the travel company or tour operator provide you to rejoin the tour again?
- Consider trip insurance that provides you with the ability to cancel the trip. Understand the provisions, meaning under what circumstances, and when, you can cancel.
- Understand the provisions of your trip insurance for unexpected happenings during the trip – what is covered and what is not.
- I don’t know that trip insurance is available for privately arranged flights and hotel stays – meaning those not made through cruise agencies and tour operators. I do know that I’ve since discovered that my hotel reservations made through booking.com and for my airfare booked through the airlines three months in advance for October are both nonrefundable/nontransferrable – even two months in advance. Situations like this make travel arrangements something you need to think twice about, and balance the need for booking early to procure rooms or a seat on the flight, versus waiting and not risking the entire amount of the flight and hotel reservation if something goes wrong between now and then. Makes optional travel much less appealing, doesn’t it.
- Does your travel companion, if you have one, know your health history, prescriptions you are taking and diagnoses? If not, carry a one page document with you which could be translated into another language – including the phone number and name of your primary care physician.
- If you have a health issue, does your travel companion’s travel insurance cover them during the time that they are accompanying you? Does yours? They won’t be admitted to a hospital, but will have to be staying unexpectedly in a hotel, in a location where they aren’t the least bit familiar.
- When you fly, get up and walk every hour on the hour. Yes, seriously. It doesn’t matter how much you irritate your seat mates. Do butt squeezes (on yourself, not your seatmate) and move your legs.
- Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine within 24 hours of your flight. Do drink water during the trip. Wear compression hose, but not ones that bind at the top of the hose.
- Notify your credit card companies that you will be traveling, when and where to avoid issues when charging. This is good advice traveling within the US too.
- Check here for more tips.
If you think there is any possibility that you have a health issue, especially a blood clot – don’t wait. I was insanely lucky. I thought I was OK, but I wasn’t. My leg did not get better within the time it should have, and the leg swelled below the knee area where the injury was sustained. Clots are silent killers – lurking stealthily until they strike with vicious, disabling and often fatal results.
The Last Word
There’s something else extremely unique about the island of Vlieland.
And tire tracks.
Actually, poetry in tire tracks. Inscribed in the actual tire tread.
Special tires have been created to reflect the poetry of island poet, Gerda Posthumus.
You can find this poetry along the deserted beaches, on the “other side” of the protective dune.
This photo shows the poetry on the deserted beach, and the island of Texel in the distance where my ancestor is buried.
What an utterly beautiful and jaw dropping discovery.
Who expects to discover poetry in tire tracks on a deserted beach on an island 30 miles out to sea?
How prescient, with Texel in the distance.
According to Yvette, it says:
What makes the deepest impression
Will be touched by the water.
Let no man disturb.
The sea will have the last word.
Yes, indeed, the sea.
Just ask my ancestor, buried on Texel.
Or my ancestors buried on Vlieland, perhaps in the part of the island consumed by the sea, where the original Anabaptist Mennonite community was located.
The sea, reaching across time immemorial – touching them, then, in death.
Touching my ancestor, in life, as Janke Gerrits rode on the ship to her new life on the mainland as a bride preparing to marry in 1665.
Three generations later her great-granddaughter’s birth was commemorated with that lovely silver spoon. In another four generations, her descendants climbed aboard a ship, once again, still as Mennonites, sailing on to America to begin a new life in Indiana.
And then, three more generations later, there’s me, yet alive, thankfully, having returned to find those ancestors who “reached out” to me in their own special way. Was it, perhaps, Janke Gerrits who was born on Vlieland who tripped me up, saying, “Hey, look, it’s me. I’m here. Right HERE.This house. Whoa! Stop!” Oops.
Wouldn’t it be something if that toe-grabbing ancestor trap baited with chocolate thingys was in front of her house?
Time, with the help of Yvette, will tell.
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