A Different Kind of Travel Bug


If there’s one thing that makes you wish for teleportation powers – the ability to tap your ruby shoes and just be home – it’s getting sick while on holiday. I don’t remember whether I worried about such things when I was young and travelling. Not that I travelled that much: mostly, my vacations were just a couple of weeks of remote, canoe-in camping in Algonquin Park. Even then, I remember my mother being alarmed about how far I’d be from medical care, “if something goes wrong.” Pfft, I’d say, I’ll be fine. Although there was that one time I got food poisoning while camping on a remote island, two days’ ride from civilization. I remember being rolled up in a ball on the pine needles, in the looming Canadian dark, too sick to stand up. All I could think was, how am I going to get home?

            Now that I’m une femme d’un certain age (that means “old lady”), getting sick or injured on holiday is no longer a remote or even unlikely possibility. Not that I’m in bad health: hell, no, I’m a lucky camper (so to speak) when it comes to my health. My septuagenarian Type-1 diabetic husband, on the other hand, is an ambulatory pharmacy – a bearer of vials, syringes, and an endless supply of pills – all to control and treat various conditions. He’s not an invalid – far from it – but if he were to get sick on holiday, it could be life-threatening. Understandably, he’s very careful.

So, because the travel gods enjoy a good joke, the person who consistently gets sick travelling is me. Five years ago, I went to Mozambique (without him, to go riding on their legendary beaches), and promptly wrenched my back galloping down said beach at a speed best described as suicidal (is “but everybody was doing it!” a good enough excuse, Mom?) Three years ago I had a throat infection on Isla Mujeres, in an area where there seemed to be neither pharmacy or ice. Two years ago in Holbox – a remote Mexican island (what is it with me and islands?) – I succumbed to a local, mosquito-borne fever that laid me flat for 36 hours, with no other symptoms than a bone-shaking fever. But my husband, the walking pharmacopeia? He might ask for a Tums after a spicy meal. I’m the one that catches all the bugs.

This year was the kicker. We regularly vacation in a Yucatan fishing village and beach area outside of Progreso, Mexico. There’s a large community of aging ex-pats here – Yanks and Canucks and the occasional Brit – but generally-speaking, it’s sort of a combination of Wasaga Beach in the 60’s and a Newfoundland outport, except it’s Mexican. It’s also a five-hour plane ride from home. And when I got sick this year, home was the only place I wanted to go.

The bug that took me down was a 24-hour stomach flu that had been bouncing around the ex-pat community during the weeks before my hubby and I arrived. It took a while for it to locate me, but when it did, it made up for lost time. I woke at 4 a.m. thinking that I’d had too much sun. My skin felt hot, and my joints were aching. Then I thought: I hope I’m not getting that bug.

I not only got that bug, but that bug got me, and with a vengeance. About an hour after I woke up feeling hot and achy, I was punched in the lower gut by the workings of the virus as it blew its way through my intestines. I made it to the can all right, but had to crawl back out, because my stomach itself was now joining the party, cramping so hard that I doubled over. About that time, the nausea hit. I lay down onto the cold tile floor, making a sound that might – in a stretch – have been recognizable as human.

“Get me a pot!” I gasped at my hubby, who realized that this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill case of Montezuma’s Revenge. He hurried to get a pot while I clambered onto a chair, and bent my torso over my thighs, arms wrapped around my treacherous belly. He put the pot on the floor in front of me. I don’t remember whether I said thanks, or anything much beyond that. Because, for only the second time in my life, I fainted.

I pitched forward when I passed out, right on my face, onto the hard tile floor. I was out for about a minute, and when I woke up, I realized I was not only on the floor, in my barf, and my blood (I’d cut my lip), and my poop (sorry, Dear Reader, but I was sick), but that I was not at home. I didn’t really even know where I was, or who was shaking my arm and saying, Di, Di! All I knew was that I was not home, and I wanted to be home. Now.

            Then I saw the blood, and of course thought I was dying. My husband, who is a retired lawyer and not trained to be Florence Nightingale, displayed formidable nursing cajones. “Shower,” I whimpered, and he helped me crawl there, where I sat weeping in the stall, warm water pouring over me, clutching the pot on my lap. The whole horrible wake-up-in-my-own-mess moment had been rendered even more dreadful by the fact that I was buck naked. And my poor, dignified, drama-avoiding husband had to deal with that.

            That was the crisis point. We called a friend to drive us to the local doctor, about three miles away, “in town.” My hubby and our buddy walked me into the clinic, two guys escorting this whimpering, weaving, large-size woman like two tugboats. The clinic was a one-room bungalow with a shell-dirt parking lot, and its waiting room was a collection of plastic lawn chairs on a shaded front porch. The clinic’s door opened straight into the doctor’s examining room and office, and his examination table was under a large, open, curtained window, overlooking the patio. When he examined me, he had to keep holding back the curtain as it blew inward in the breeze.

The doctor was very good. Through a combination of broken English, broken Spanish, and Google Translate, we got the symptomology across to him. He gave me a thorough check-up, and a stop-the-barfing needle. I was given an anti-diarrhea prescription, flora restorer, a bottle of Pedialyte, and instructions to go to bed at once. No problem with that: bed was all I wanted. I even thought I might be improving.

I wasn’t. By the time we got back to the hotel, the bug brought out the big guns. This bug didn’t just make you barf and poop. This bug hurt, and so did my head and mouth from the crack on the noggin. I lay in bed groaning and yelling at my poor husband for breathing too loudly. As for the anti-vomiting injection, I still produced one more spectacular gout of bizarrely-coloured bile. Then – unable to read or sleep – I passed the time posting shots of my facial contusions to Facebook. Eventually I fell asleep, and didn’t wake up until 4 a.m. the following morning.

At which point, twenty-four hours later, I was fine. You could have set a clock by that bug’s lifespan.

I took it easy for a couple more days, hanging around the hotel and its little beach. I couldn’t eat anything (truly a rare experience for me), but that was okay. And I no longer wanted to go home. I wanted to get on with my holiday – go swimming and fishing and the local 20-peso Zumba class at Le Triton.

But the experience did change one thing about my future travel plans. My husband and I retired so that we could – among other things – travel. We’ve thought about exotic destinations, and far-away ones. Every year, we think about an alternative to our familiar Mexican spot, and wonder about some eco-lodge in the south seas. We’ve considered the Galapagos and discussed Africa. And every year, for some reason or another, we’ve ended up back in our Mexican Wasaga Beach.

This illness, though, has dampened my urge to be wildly adventurous. Yes, the world is an amazing place, and there are things I still want to see. Venice, maybe, and New Zealand. But when I woke up on a tile floor in Mexico and thought I’d vomited blood, it meant a lot to be only a few miles from a doctor, and to have a friend nearby to help. What if I’d been at an eco-lodge in the Costa Rican jungle? What if I’d been on a cruise to the South Pole? I was sick, I was scared, and I was far from home. At least I was not alone.

Now I’m back in Canada, where of course there are lots of flu bugs capable of doing exactly what that Mexican bug did to me. Still, for the time being at least, I seem resolved to reduce my travel expectations. For the last couple of years, my husband and I have been muttering about doing something more bucket-list-like, and more adventurous. Now, we both feel that being that sick, that far away from home, was adventure enough.

Although I did dive off that two-storey diving platform into that cenote a few days later. Hmm. Maybe I’m not quite done with the adventure after all.20170228_062927


Shaming Melania


After seeing for malania at the inauguration, I decided to reblog this.#leavehimmelania


Who knows what makes Melania Trump tick? She’s hard to figure out, unless you want to make judgey, slut-shaming assessments, based on her appearance and her past life choices. I myself don’t know that much about her, but what I’ve seen doesn’t exactly impress me. I’ve seen a photograph of her with a gold-plated baby carriage in a gold-plated nursery. I’ve heard an interview with her and Donald Trump on Howard Stern, where she gleefully participates in one of the grossest “are you naked now?” shitshows that you might ever wish to unhear. I know that she doesn’t write her own speeches, and if she does, she plagiarizes like a C- student in her first year of community college. She wears way too much makeup for my taste, and seems to have married for money (because who would marry that man for anything but money? If he were an average…

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Here, boy. I’m here.



I took my dog Harley on his last walk this morning. How anticlimactic: we went only to the corner, just a few houses away, where he deposited a single marble-sized poop and immediately wanted to go back inside. How unfair, that after fourteen years of walks, his last walk was so brief, with so little amusement. But he didn’t want to stay out, and no wonder: it is a miserable day today. The rain is pissing down in cold streams, and freezing as it hits the pavement; the wind is blowing right through the walls. If it had been a pretty day, perhaps I wouldn’t have had the nerve to do it: to call the vet into my house, and say that yes, please do what you have to do. It’s time.

Harley died with his head in my hands, and his paw in my husband’s hand, and his eyes closed in sleep from the tranquilizer the vet gave him first, before the lethal dose. His once-black face was entirely white, and his fur was a soft as velvet as we stroked him. He didn’t get up to greet the vet, but merely swiveled his head to watch her come in. In better days – even ten days ago – he’d have clambered to his feet and gone straight to greet her, tail wagging. But he’s been failing every day for a week now. We had bought a special harness to help him get to his feet, hauling him around like so much Samsonite. Once standing, he was okay, and could walk and sometimes even trot. Until a week ago, that is. Then he could hardly walk at all.

That it was his time doesn’t make it easier to say goodbye. The grief over losing not only the dog he was recently but the dog he once was – it’s pretty crippling. Just now I thought I heard him bark downstairs (recently he’s been calling for us with a strange, wheezing bark), and the blow to my heart when I realized it was just John coughing, or the wind scraping a tree branch on the windowpane, was physical. And moments later, I thought I heard his toenails outside my door. He hasn’t been here to my upstairs office in two months (couldn’t do stairs anymore), but for years he would scratch at the door if I was in here writing. I can’t stop thinking he’s out there, on the landing, waiting.

Harley hadn’t been a truly healthy dog for a few years, but he’d still been able to swim, run, and chase my horse around, right up until he was going on 13. Then, starting last summer, he developed a number of serious health problems which – although temporary – turned him from an active older dog to a truly geriatric one. Still, up until this week, he’d been happy. There’d been no chance of him recovering his ability to run or even walk a long distance – Cushing’s disease had wasted his muscles, he was deaf, and he had arthritis – but even as recently as two weeks ago, he was still able, on Saturday mornings, to walk a mile to the park and back. It was a Saturday ritual from the days we came to this neighbourhood six years ago. We’d take him to the dog park and let him loose with the canine mob. It’s hard to believe he was eight years old when we got here – still a young dog. Last time we took him there, three weeks ago, he had a great time, breaking into brief bursts of trotting as he attempted to keep up with the other dogs. When he couldn’t keep up – which was pretty much all the time – he’d bark furiously at the whirling, wheeling pack, as if telling them knock it off you damn kids. Then he’d go from human to human, walking slowly and stiffly, begging for pats. Everyone knew Harley, and everyone looked at that grey face and said, “How old is he now?” We’d tell them: 14, we think, maybe 15, and they’d say, “Wow. He’s doing great.”

And he was. He was still having enough fun – when he was awake – that I thought maybe he was going to be one of those canine Methuselahs that make it to 19 or 20. But last week, things began to change. He had trouble sleeping; his pain meds weren’t working. He lay on his side and barked for help, in that strangled rasping wheeze of a bark that I keep thinking I still hear. We took him to the vet; they upped his meds and prescribed antidepressants. We started talking about it being time.

We clung to hope. He’d bounced back from medical problems before (Harley was always a walking vet bill). Then he slept three nights in a row, we thought, well, he’s fine again. But then he would wake up and bark all day, and this was a dog who was never a barker. Now he seemed to be asking for help. “What it is, boy?” we’d say. “What do you need?” We’d bring him food, water; we’d help him onto the sofa and give him a rubdown. He’d settle in and sleep for a while. Then he’d wake up again. Bark. Bark. Baaaark.

We had Harley ten years. We got him from a rescue agency, which had brought him up from an Ohio kill pound. They said he was “about two.” He was at least four. He was, they guessed, a border collie/flatcoat mix. They guessed wrong: we splurged on a DNA test and discovered that he was such a mutt that there were only traces of two identifiable breeds in his makeup – golden retriever and Scottie Dog. This might explain why he was such a goof of a dog: when he ran, it was like he was made of the parts of several dogs all trying to run different directions. His spine would curve, his front legs would prance, his back legs would trot, he would look back over his shoulder (and, consequently, often fall over). He loved to roll in the snow (delightful!) and in week-old road kill (considerably less so). He loved little dogs – the smaller the better – and would gallop up to them (all 65 pounds of him), launching at some teacup-sized thing with alarming gusto. He got nipped on the nose a lot. He had a strange coat – black and silky and short up top, but with long curtains of hair descending from his shoulderblades to his hip bones – and paws so furry that they looked like string mops. He would never have won Best In Show.

He was such a character. He had zero small-animal prey drive, and at the cottage, he would lie on the deck while chipmunks and squirrels ran over his paws to get to the peanuts we scattered around. He was excellent with my horse, understanding right away how horses work, and keeping a healthy distance from the back feet. He and my horse were good friends, and would share the baby carrots I’d bring on rides. One for the horse and one for the dog, I’d say, and the two of them would crunch away on either side of me, in a contented animal chorus. He’d follow along on the rides down to the river, and lie in the cool water while the horse grazed on the long riverside grass. “Time to go, Harl,” I’d say, and he’d leap up and follow.

I wish I could write a eulogy for him that matches what he was. I know everyone feels this way when their dog goes, and I know that people take comfort from hearing other people’s stories of loss. Even this morning, friends were soothing me with their own stories. This grief-sharing is necessary – and so helpful – when a beloved pet dies. After the vet carried his body to her car, to take him away for cremation, I told John I needed to write something for him, to let the world know what a wonderful dog he was, to share his life and his time on earth. I feel like shouting him to the sky; I feel there should be candles lit and trumpets blowing. I feel we should all be saying his name and saying what a good dog, what a special dog, what a beautiful dog he was!

Harley, my good dog, my special dog, my beautiful Little Buddy. Ten years was not enough time. Next time I see you, we’ll go for a really long walk, not just some disappointing struggle to the corner. It’ll be a sunny day. We’ll go to the river together. We’ll swim. I’ll climb on my horse and look down, and you’ll be there. I’ll call to you, and you’ll look up, your hearing restored. You’ll come galloping over, all your parts flying, your tail in the air. You’ll look up at me, ready for adventure.

And I will tell you: come on, boy. Time to go.


Put Your Coffee Down and Do It


So. About Aleppo. About the city in Syria. Yes, I know it’s far away; yes, I know we have Christmas and Trump and road tolls to think about here. Yes, I know we’ve been distracted by the shitshow that the United States has become, and that is a big worry. And we have rent to pay, or mortgages, and sick pets, and squabbles with co-workers, and then of course it’s winter and it’s cold again. The nerve of it, getting cold. We have to wear scarves, and stomp our feet to keep them warm as we wait for that stupid bus in the morning rush-hour dawn.

So it’s understandable that we haven’t been paying much attention to Aleppo. Admit it. We haven’t. Trump has had us by the lapels, shouting and spitting in our faces, for months, and he’s a very large distraction. Everywhere we North Americans look, there’s a Trump-shaped horror show partially blocking our vision, like a big orange cataract. So many of us who are generally inclined to concern ourselves with the world’s problems – and to be compelled at least partly by a desire to help and protect other beings – have been negligent about Aleppo. Maybe it’s because the United States is both close by, and an easy target for our concern. And maybe it’s because we feel we Canadians have done enough. Admit it. Maybe we feel we’re already on this Syria thing. After all, a year ago our Mr. Sparkle Doll of a Prime Minister tearfully welcomed Syrian refugees at various airports across Canada. We were justifiably proud at the time.

We can’t be so proud anymore.

I won’t get into the details of what’s going on in Aleppo, but I can assure you that right at this moment, welcoming Syrian refugees is (although important) peripheral. If you haven’t managed to notice what is going on in Aleppo at this very moment, just Google it. It’s like an end-of-the-world video game written by some sadist who gives even-sicker gamers extra points for blowing up hospitals full of civilians. They are using chlorine bombs on civilians. You sip your coffee, they get barrel-bombed. You wait for the bus, they get shot in the streets while fleeing – while pushing their baby stroller and carrying whatever they could save from their homes, in shopping bags from the mall, trying to get across town while their government fires on them.

As of this writing, it’s changing by the minute – changing for the worst – and is little more than a slaughter. But we can help. We have to try. And yes, there are other tragedies unfolding in the world, and no, we can’t fix everything. So what. Stop making excuses for not helping, for not trying. People – civilian people, people who have rent to pay and co-worker squabbles and sick pets – are being bombed out of their houses. Their city – formerly one of the most beautiful in the world – is rubble. There are corpses piling up in the streets. Survivors have been using their phones not to call for take-out or to text a meet-up place at the local coffee shop – as they (and we) would normally do in their lives – but to tweet goodbye messages to the world. They are asking why the world has not come to help. They are asking on Twitter, fer fucksake.

And what can we say about that? That we didn’t know it was all that bad? That we didn’t know there was anything we can do? That we were busy?

Fair enough that we feel helpless. Fair enough that we think our government is looking after this (it isn’t doing enough). So let’s just deal with those two things: first of all, we’re not helpless. Money can help. So send money. Yes, you do too have $5 you can give to the White Helmets, or the IRC, or any of the other agencies who are front-line helping. Some of them have workers who are physically dragging people out of the rubble (true: look it up). So get out your wallet and give some money to Medecins sans Frontiers. I bet most of you have more than $5. If you do, give it to them. Buy Aunt Sadie a slightly smaller present and give the rest of the money to an agency. Or give all of Aunt Sadie’s present money to an agency and tell  her that’s what you got  her for Christmas.

The second thing to do is email our government. Now. You’re already on the freaking computer, so just do it. Here’s the link. Look up your MP. No, do not say that’s too much trouble. People are dying. Do it. Write the word “Aleppo” in the subject line, and say, “I’m horrified by what’s happening in Aleppo. Please advise me of exactly what steps the Canadian government is taking.” They get enough emails, they worry about their jobs. They say, “oh, look, Canadians care about those people in Aleppo.” And sometimes they do something. 

There’s other things we can do but at this moment let’s just do those two things: 1. Give some money. 2. Write a politician.

This is happening on our watch, and we’re not watching. Do something. Do it NOW.