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.