It hit me like a freight train—that’s to say, there was no warning whatsoever. One moment, my sister and I were leaping in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Segment I of the Enrichment Voyage ended on Saturday, and I had two days to spend with my family in Paris before they flew out and I had to get back to the ship and report for duty. But two days in Paris wound up equaling only a handful of healthy hours, during which I got to pal around with the darling Lindsey of Lost in Cheeseland at Le Coutume Cafe, and later have dinner with one of my business partners, Lana, and her husband Andre, who were in for Canne, at Le Cinq Mars, the most adorable, little restaurant I’ve ever seen.
(And before you ask, neither establishment had a thing to do with my pending illness, of this I promise. I would absolutely recommend either place for any of you traveling through Paris! I only hope none of my dining companions caught my germs…)
After lunch, I was already feeling it, but there was no way I was canceling on Lana, a meeting that I have been anticipating with great excitement for so long, and so I took a brief nap and then I rallied. And it was lovely, the whole meal and spending time with Lana and Andre, but not 20 minutes after I arrived back at my hotel, the sick started.
I’ve always been known for my resilience. Sick? I don’t do sick. Most people who know me marvel over the fact that I can a) operate on very little sleep at all—and b) never get ill as a result. That all changed this last week. Prior to now, the last time I had gotten any sort of stomach anything was 2009 in Switzerland; I was better in 24 hours. Before that, it was a nasty case of the flu in Spain in 2006 while I was alone in Bilbao and working on my first book for Frommer’s. The fact that I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a virus in my grown-up years should tell you something.
Sure, you can argue: Well, if you had to get sick, better to do so in cities you’ve already visited before, like Paris and Antwerp. True, but these were the two I was most excited to visit again. I already made SVV promise me to return to both in 2014 when we’re in Europe—we have two trips planned back; one, if I get hired for the 2014 Enrichment Voyage, which will do a different route in Europe, and two, for his 40th birthday later in the summer—because I am feeling slightly “woe is me” at the moment, and I would like to spend some time in these two marvelous places.
Sunday was an absolute nightmare. The vomiting was so relentless, I was in tears by noon. It just wouldn’t stop, and my whole body ached. What’s worst, my hotel—name and shame, Mercure Paris Tour Eiffel—wouldn’t let me book my room for a second night given that I couldn’t so much as roll over, and I had to move into a tiny, one-bed Parisian hotel room while quite germ-y with my parents. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!
Luckily, a new friend from Santa Barbara and her 13-year-old daughter accompanied me back on the early-morning train from Paris to Normandy Monday morning. I slept the whole way and probably wouldn’t have woken to get off at the right stop if it weren’t for them. Once we made it back to the ship, which was a quick taxi ride from the train station, I immediately retreated to my cabin only to find it was time to do the obligatory lifeboat drill with the new passengers (international maritime law requires it). So it was a bit longer before I was horizontal again.
When that time finally came, I cranked the heat up as high as it would go in my cabin, wrapped myself in four blankets and tried to sleep, only my body was shaking like a seismic wave and I had the worst chills. I thought my fever had broken the day before and that I was on the homestretch. Ha! Hardly. Suddenly, all sorts of dire scenarios played themselves out in my mind—I may be an optimist about some things, but I’m also an alarmist about many—and I began to fear I would die here in my cabin. Alone.
Here’s the thing: If you absolutely have to be sick, the ship is a safe place to be. We have a couple trained doctors and nurses on staff, and even while in port, one of them is always on call. I rang receptionist, and they called Dr. Bill for me right away, who told me to meet him in the clinic in five.
When I arrived, he scolded me for not going to the hospital in Paris to get fluids—believe me, I thought about it, but my own mother dismissed such a suggestion as silly—and then took my temperature (still hovering around 100) and checked all my vitals. ISE gives all staff and passengers MedEx insurance for the duration on the ship. I’ve never actually put mine to use, but I helped professors and students alike use theirs on Semester at Sea after broken bones or surgeries or family emergencies. So I knew if it had come to me not being able to leave Paris, I had MedEx to fall back on to get me to the next port to meet the ship—and that they’d cover all my costs.
Some people had contracted a terrible case of food poisoning in Fes, which was what Dr. Bill was afraid of, but I was not one of them. First off, I didn’t even go to Fes, and I had eaten little other than boxed granola in the days leading up to my onset, so I knew it wasn’t the food. This was a good ol’, can’t-do-anything-but-wait-it-out virus. Awesome.
Dr. Bill had a female nurse come in and inject my ass with some miracle drug to help the nausea abate. He also put me on “cabin rest”—meaning strict quarantine for at least 24 hours until released by the medical team—and a diet of liquids. Cabin rest is not as bad as it sounds; you’re stuck in your quarters, yes, which are quite comfortable, and your cabin steward brings you “room service” in the form of water, applesauce, chicken broth, Sprite and whatever else you may request.
Though by the end of my first night stuck in the cabin, I was feeling heaps better from the shot, and my friend Layne called to check on me. I told her how famished I was, and so she snuck me a bag of Triscuits. True pal there.
But then yesterday, after lunch with one of the SAS professors, Bob, Layne and I set out to explore Antwerp for a few hours in the afternoon at a leisurely pace—and I started feeling extremely under the weather again and returned to my cabin for some sleep and sick time. All my Facebook and Instagram friends have been keeping me in high spirits despite everything with comments like, “cabin rest? I figured they’d confine you to the poop deck!” Har de har har.
Now it’s day four of this stupid virus—whatever happened to the 24-hour bug? no one mentions that some of them plague your very existence for 96 and counting—and while I haven’t lost my cookies today, I’m still not feeling on top of the world. I did make it out to the most adorable cafe, The Chocolate Box, to work and use WiFi for a few hours. While chocolate isn’t on my current BRAT diet, I took it upon myself to buy a sampler box to enjoy back on the ship when I’m better. I figured I owed it to myself! I mean, I’m missing the greatest indulgence on this trip, Belgium, where artisan chocolates are everywhere you look and waffles and crepes are served with chocolate and ice cream and other sweet delights! Pure torture.
All that said, wish me luck standing up in front of 600+ people on the ship tonight and waxing poetic about Amsterdam’s coffeeshop culture and why you shouldn’t go all snap-happy with your camera in the Red Light District. We arrive in Holland, my once home, tomorrow, and I only hope I’ll be feeling up to visiting my old haunts and maybe seeing some tulips before the festival ends in a few days.