As someone who suffers from a thriving health anxiety issue, one of my biggest fears is falling ill while in a different country. Or, even worse, while up in the air at 30,000ft.
To be fair, I’m not sure it’s really anybody’s idea of a cracking holiday away. But that’s exactly what happened to me while flying from Cuba to London last November.
If you’ve read my round-up post of how my trip to Cuba went from paradise to nightmare, you’ll know that by the time I’d boarded my Air Canada flight in Havana, I was desperate to get home. While visiting Havana was a dream come true, it’s fair to say it was very different to what I’d expected. And after an unexpected and difficult 24 hours in the country, all I wanted was to be on my way home to my bed and my cats.
But first, there was the matter of a 24-hour stopover in Toronto.
Ian and I were genuinely looking forward to our second visit to Toronto. We’d arranged it so that we had two one-day stopovers in the city on our way to/from Cuba, mainly because it was a place we had always spoken about travelling to. Our first 24-hour stint was filled with sightseeing and poutine, but we still had so much we wanted to do. On the three-hour flight from Havana we had built a perfect list of how we were going to spend our day. The Casa Loma! The Royal Ontario Museum! More poutine! It was going to be a reward to ourselves for surviving what was one of the most testing times of our 7-year relationship.
But things were about to get much worse. Much, much, much worse.
*Note: I’ve tried to make this full story as un-graphic as possible, but if you’re not one for squeamishness, feel free to skip to the bottom. No pun intended.*
After landing in Toronto, we dropped our bags off at our airport hotel (the Alt Hotel – very close to the airport and very funky inside, even if we didn’t get to spend much time in it), and then hopped in an Uber towards the city centre.
Our first port of call was the Royal Ontario Museum, which we had free access to with our CityPASS. As far as museums go, it was one of the coolest ones I’ve been in. I was almost annoyed when I felt a queasy sensation in my stomach as we were strolling around the dinosaur exhibits.
“I’m just going to quickly pop to the toilets,” I said to Ian, as I fled to the main staircase in the hopes of finding somewhere nearby. In the end, I had to endure an agonising lift downstairs, followed by a labyrinth of staircases as I navigated myself around areas of the museum that were closed for an event.
By the time I eventually found a toilet, my stomach wasn’t having a great time. But I wasn’t particularly worried at this point. After a stressful 24 hours I figured it was just my anxiety and IBS painfully poking me in the gut for being such a passport-losing idiot. I was so unworried, in fact, that I found Ian and even suggested we head out on a walk through Chinatown. Big mistake.
The walk started off fine. It was wet, foggy and freezing cold, but it felt good to be out in the fresh air. It made me feel slightly better, but I still wasn’t in great shape.
“I might head back to the hotel,” I told Ian, as we made our way down St George street. It was around 4pm by this point, and we still had so much we had planned to see.
“Wait, what?” Ian was obviously gutted. I didn’t want to not see Toronto, but I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it while feeling this sick. We agreed that we would walk for a little while longer, and then if I was still feeling bad I’d get an Uber back to the hotel myself while Ian stayed in the city for a few more hours. Not ideal, but the best plan we had under the circumstances.
But then, we didn’t really have time to execute the plan. Because all of a sudden my stomach started doing that urgent get to a bathroom immediately dance, while we were walking down a random street.
“I need to get to a toilet STRAIGHT AWAY,” I half-sobbed to Ian, as we sped up our walking pace. Thankfully a Tim Hortons came into sight within a few blocks, and while Ian went up to order I made a run for the bathroom.
Some Toronto layover this was turning out to be.
To my horror, it wasn’t just one part of me that needed the toilet. Oh no. I was horrendously sick at the same time, and dying of embarrassment as more and more people kept coming in and out of the bathroom. In the end I just sat on the floor, half crying, half debating whether to ask someone to go fetch Ian for me. After what felt like an eternity – and once the nausea had started to pass – I left the toilets and went to find Ian. I think I lasted a good 5 minutes before I found myself back on the toilet floor, the whole cycle repeating itself again. And again. And again.
In the midst of all this, Ian legged it to a nearby pharmacy to get me some anti-sickness tablets. But just a few minutes after taking them, I brought them all back up.
Fantastic. One small silver lining, I guess, is the fact we did want to go to a Tim Horton’s before we left Canada. We just didn’t think it would be quite like this.
We must have been in Tim Horton’s for a good hour before we started wondering what to do. I was shaky, absolutely exhausted, and just wanted to climb into bed, but there was absolutely no way I could last the 50-minute Uber drive back to the hotel. The best plan we had was for me to walk over to the pharmacy with Ian, speak to the pharmacist, and get some stronger medication that I could hopefully keep down, so that I was well enough to make the drive back.
The pharmacy was only a few blocks away but I tell you, that walk felt like one of the longest of my life. The pharmacist was so lovely, recommending me some more tablets, as well as all the Gatorade I could get my hands on.
Just when I started to feel a bit calmer about the whole situation, I felt a familiar rumbling…
“I’m so sorry, do you have a toilet here that I can use please?” I felt so British – so polite – but my god I’d never been so desperate in my life.
She showed me to the toilet around the back of the shop, and I collapsed on the gross, barely clean floor to throw up.
This. Was. Grim.
One of the things about me is that I *hate* sick. I can’t deal with it. Every time I see someone being sick I have to look away. Heck, I hadn’t actually physically been sick since I was a baby, so I knew by this point there was something seriously wrong. I just couldn’t stop.
There was a knock on the door and a tentative “Are you OK?” from Ian. With the limited amount of energy I had, I crawled along the floor and opened the door.
It felt so good to see Ian’s face. The feeling wasn’t mutual. Later that week, Ian had told me that he’d been petrified when I opened the door; my face was white like a sheet, and I looked half dead. No wonder, then, that as some of the pharmacist’s workers walked past they stopped in the tracks at this British girl sprawled on the toilet floor, and asked whether I needed an ambulance.
(Brief break to say if you’re enjoying this story, I’d LOVE it if you could give one of these a Pin!)
Being British and all, Ian and I declined the offer. But here was the thing – by this time, it was Saturday night. All the medical centres had closed, and so the only place for me to go to was the local hospital. We were later glad we didn’t phone for an ambulance, as we later found out that if your doctor decides that an ambulance wasn’t medically necessary, they can force the patient to pay the full cost of calling it out. (Canadians – feel free to correct me if this is wrong!)
This is exactly how we found ourselves out on the streets again; this time walking to the nearest hospital we could find on Google Maps. I don’t know I managed it, but by the time I’d rolled into A&E, I was absolutely shattered.
Despite feeling so sh*t (again, no pun intended), I was able to appreciate just how organised everything was at the hospital. I filled out a document with all my details, before I was called in for a quick preliminary investigation. Thankfully, the fact I wasn’t a Canadian citizen wasn’t an issue, although after clocking the 900 CAD bill, I was thanking my lucky stars I’d got travel insurance before my trip.
(For those wondering, the travel insurance route was relatively painless. I was – and still am – with Virgin Money Travel Insurance, and I just had to phone them up while I was in the hospital to let them know where I was and what was going on. The bill was sent directly to them, so I didn’t have to deal with anything when I got home!)
By the time I was given a bed it was nearing 9pm. Thankfully much of my nausea had started to settle down, but I was still placed on an anti-sickness drip and given fluids to rehydrate me.
The most embarrassing part of the whole ordeal, though, was that I was placed in ‘contamination’ because I’d just returned from a ‘tropical destination’ (Cuba), and they didn’t know if I had some sort of tropical disease. This meant that everyone who came in and out of my little cell had to get dressed up in special gear – and then de-robe once they left. Oh, and I also couldn’t leave the cell, so I had to have a portable toilet wheeled in for me to use as and when… all while Ian sat on the other side of the bed.
I have never felt so mortified in my entire life.
If it wasn’t for the fact I felt so, so crap I probably would have forced the floor open to swallow me up. Instead, I just lay on the uncomfortable hospital bed, waiting for the drip to work its magic on me. I just wanted my mum. And then I started feeling upset at all the memories of her in various hospital beds, and how unhappy it made her. I was a tired, emotional, sick mess.
All I wanted to do was sleep, but I felt bad for Ian who was exhausted too and just wanted to nap himself. So, instead, I stayed up for hours, keeping my arm as straight as possible so that the drugs would enter me quicker and we could get back to the hotel.
We waited. And waited. And waited. We played countless rounds of the A-Z grocery game. Our phones were almost out of battery, and we were keeping our eye on the time. By this time it was 1am, and our flight back to London was in just a few hours. As much as I wanted to get home, I was also on the verge of having a panic attack at the thought of being that ill again on a long-haul flight. In fact, if it wasn’t for Ian’s insistence that I would be fine, I think I would have sacked the flight home off and shelled out for another flight once I was 100% better.
By the time 2am rolled round, my doctor popped in to see me. I was feeling better, so he agreed to let me go. We never did get to the root of what was up, although he suggested it could have just been a nasty bout of gastroenteritis.
Both Ian and I fell asleep in the Uber back to the hotel. We were so relieved to be in bed for a precious few hours of sleep, but I was also dreading our 5am wake-up call. What if I started feeling ill again? What if I couldn’t do the flight?!
When we woke up, it was dark outside and my stomach had started doing somersaults. I’m not sure whether it was the medication from the hospital or the Diazepam, but I was out for the count before we’d even taken off! I slept the entire flight home.
And to be honest, I kind of need a sleep now after writing this all up.