I’m travelling alone from Mexico City to Fort Lauderdale in Florida where I’m due to check in for a Caribbean cruise. Thanks to a greasy burger the day before I have a slight dose of Montezuma’s Revenge. But it was only a slight dose – so slight that I survived three hours in the middle seat halfway down a chock-full aeroplane without once having to…run for it, if you get my drift. Likewise the arduous business of schlepping my luggage over two train rides and a bus and a taxi from Miami to my hotel in Fort Lauderdale – no emergencies or embarrassments of a digestive nature whatsoever.
Nevertheless, next morning my tummy was still gurgling and griping faintly when I checked out of the hotel and taxied to the cruise terminal, but the check-in process was proceeding swiftly and smoothly until I got to the desk where there was a form to fill in asking among other things about recent medical history. Have you in the last 24 hours experienced any of the following: shakes, chills, fever, nausea, headache, vomiting, or diarrhoea? No, no, no, no, no, no and……’I have been having some mild symptoms of the latter but I’m sure it’s over now’, I said to the nice white-haired lady who said ‘just a minute’ and tottered off with my form.
After about ten minutes she returned, instructing me to go and sit ‘over there’ by the wall where someone would come and see me. So I went, and presently nurse Marle came up, asked me questions about my tummy troubles and looked into my earhole with one of those things.
She then left. I waited. Now Marle returned, accompanied by Guest Relations Manager Julie. ‘We can’t let you board’, she said. ‘Public health policy. Please describe your luggage so we can take it off’. 😨
‘But but but …..what?!?!?!’
The following exchange took place:
You have to be clear of symptoms for 24 hours, then perhaps you can rejoin the cruise. How do I get a clearance? From a doctor. Where can I find a doctor? Anywhere…at a clinic. Where do I find a clinic? At a Walgreens… there’s always a doctor there.
I tried to control my rising panic. ‘I don’t know what a Walgreens is (I could hazard a guess at some gigantic pharmaceutical shopping mall but I didn’t admit that), I don’t have a car and I’m a stranger in this city!’
Sympathetic Julie said she’d go and put my plight to the captain. Maybe he would consent to allowing me to board on condition that I stay in my cabin for 24 hours. I pinned my hopes on that.
They left, and I watched the queues of happy cruisers-to-be dwindle away as one by one and in twos and threes and families they gained entry to the promised land beyond the check-in desk.
After about half an hour Julie returned, shaking her head sympathetically but delivering the sad news that Captain says NO!
Well, FAAAARK!! I don’t think I’ve ever felt so wretched and forlorn in my life. I wept, I blubbered, I swore I’d obey any conditions they imposed if only they’d let me on. But no, here came someone with my bags, further driving home the nightmarish reality that they really were going to leave me sitting here alone with my luggage in this vast darkening edifice, while the blessed sailed off without me.
‘I wish I hadn’t been so honest!’ I wailed. ‘You poor thing’, said Julie, and sat and patted my hand. ‘Have you got a friend on board?’
‘No, and I have no mobile phone and I don’t know a soul in this godforsaken place! And I only HAD – not HAVE – a minor tummy upset. I’m not Typhoid Mary!’
Even so, I was starting to plan for the worst: I would have to leave by taxi – (ker-ching! goes the credit card), find a hotel (ker-ching!) and god knows how long that would take without a phone, find a doctor (ker-ching!) – to sign a paper to verify that I’d told him it had been 24 hours since my last – ahem – sloppy stool, then try and get a flight to Costa Rica in two days time. Ker-ching ker-ching ker-ching! Claim it all back on travel insurance on my return. Which will be an easy thing. Not. Or just get on the next flight home and bugger the cruise and Cuba.
But even if the company had the right to refuse to let me board, surely they can’t just abandon me…? Shouldn’t they pay for my taxi and doctor and hotel, or refund my money at least?
Julie gazed at me with genuine pity and said ‘I feel so sorry for you – you could be one of my own daughters’. I don’t know about that – I’m pretty sure I was substantially older than her, but she heaved a big sigh and marched off one last time.
Twenty minutes later she came back accompanied by the nurse and a porter and said: ‘Right. We’ve put our jobs on the line over this but you can board as long as you promise to stay in your cabin until we can clear you.’
Well I just about fell to the floor to hug her knees with gratitude. Even now, as I remember this, I tear up with self-pity.
Staying in the cabin was no problem. I didn’t have to go to the otherwise compulsory safety drill, and the only time I left my cabin was when they escorted me down to the ship’s clinic for a fuller examination. Which involved Marle sticking her thing in my ear again and taking my blood pressure and pulse rate. Everything hunky-dory, and the rest of the examination involved filling in a form declaring where and what I’d eaten in the days before the onset of symptoms. That was kind of fun. The last question was ‘what do you think caused your symptoms?’ and I wrote ‘American-style Mexican fast food!’
I was allowed free room service, although I had to stick to a limited diet, about which they would inform the kitchen so no cheating. No sirree! I chose chicken soup, baked potatoes a banana and some camomile tea from a list that also allowed chicken breast, rice and watermelon. No coffee or grog, naturally. Nil problemo. I was also allowed to watch pay-per-view movies for free, and I got through a terrific indie psychological thriller called ‘Barracuda’ and most of the way through ‘Rebel in the Rye’ – a biopic about JD Salinger – before I fell asleep.
Several staff members including Julie called in on me over the evening, to inquire after my health and no doubt to make sure I hadn’t snuck out. But I was in alright – no way was I going to risk getting chucked off the ship.
Marle called me at 8 in the morning to ask how I was and I said fine. And how long now has it been since you had a loose stool?
24 hours, I said.
OK, you’re in the clear.
And that was that! They took my word for it without further investigation. I suppose I’d well and truly proved my honesty. Mind you, unless I’m at death’s door I won’t make that mistake again.