Friday, 1 July 2011

Travel emergencies

There is a happy subspecies of homo sapiens that has never experienced travel sickness. I am talking Travel Sickness, not just occasional dizziness or nausea; sickness that knocks you out and stays for weeks, that comes unexpectedly and unpredictably, that is humiliating and excruciatingly painful. If you are now wondering: "What is she talking about?", you belong to that happy subspecies.

When I was a child, nobody took it seriously; it was rather a norm that children were travelsick. However, my mother had it too, and so it was harder to dismiss. Then somebody brought a magical remedy from abroad, and for some years we both travelled without problems. But as I said, unexpectedly and unpredictably; nothing to do with turbulence and independent of what I have eaten, of whether I have slept well, of whether I take medication or not, of whether the travel takes half an hour or thirty hours. I can get sick on planes, trains, buses, boats and merry-go-rounds. The latter I have eventually learned to avoid, but for the rest the alternative is never to leave home, and it is a professional handicap, if not otherwise.  

At one point I went through a thorough examination by Sweden's (and world's) leading expert on MdDS, which spells out as mal de debarquement syndrome. They rolled and swayed and centrifuged me, pumped hot and cold water into my ears, gave me injections to cause motion sickness and measure it, and concluded that there was nothing wrong with me. That was extremely helpful.

About eight years ago I had to cancel all commitments involving travel. I missed conferences, guest lectures and many other interesting events. Some of these I had to cancel at short notice, jeopardizing my reputation. I thought I would never be able to travel again. Fortunately, it's a bit like childbirth: if you remember the horror, you'd never do it again. So I started to travel again, with varying results and thus high risk-taking. My calculation shows that one of ten trips is a catastrophe. Take it or leave it. And the flight from Manaus happened to be that one of ten.

Staffan has seen me in my worst shape several times, but each time he is reluctant to believe me - which I fully understand as his survival strategy. So when I told him, direct after landing in Sao Paulo, that nothing could make me board another plane, his reaction was: "But the cat can die!" I was too feeble to reply: "So you'd rather I should die?" But I was strong enough to act - thinking back, I admire myself. As I was leaving the plane, crawling more than walking, I told the radiantly smiling flight attendant that I needed a doctor. She obvioulsy wasn't prepared for such an outrageous request, but told me there was medical help available in the terminal. The bus from the plane to the terminal took ages, but as soon as we were inside I attacked the first uniformed man I saw. Presumably, Portuguese for doctor is doctor, since he understood that much, conjured a wheelchair and raced through the terminal, with Staffan in tow. Imagine, first time ever I had a ride in a wheelchair and I couldn't even enhoy it.

In the Emergency room, nobody spoke any English. My general message was: "I cannot travel" (our flight was leaving in two hours), but it didn't quite come across. However, the male nurse did the reasonable things you do with someone coming to Emergency: took my temperature, pulse and blood pressure. After that, all those present, including the airline representative, talked to each other in great agitation, and the message they managed to get across to Staffan and me was: "You cannot travel". At least we were in agreement on one point. They didn't care about my travel sickness, but they were seriously concerned about my blood pressure. Somehow, I think there was a connection.

They put me on a drip, all the time talking cheerfully in Portuguese. The airline representative explained in broken English that our luggage would be taken off the flight, that she would book us for the next day (did I think I would be able to travel then?), and that as soon as I had rested, they would transport us to a hotel with meal vouchers and free intercontinental phone calls. I wish I could enjoy the hospitality. Staffan said the food was good, and they didn't even charge him for whisky.

Twenty-four hours later I still felt rotten, but since I couldn't stay in Brazil for the rest of my life (although it was tempting), I boarded the plane, took a double doze of sleeping pills and woke up an hour before landing at Heathrow at 3pm local time. The long travel by underground and train to Cambridge was child's play.

Moral? Obviously, I should never travel again. Unfortunately, I happen to live on a island, so wherever I want to go I need to take a plane, a boat or a superspeed train. So I guess I am stuck. Friends and relatives will have to come here to visit. I WILL NEVER TRAVEL AGAIN. (Let's see how long it lasts).


Anna said...

My mom (and we all on her behalf) has been struggling with this problem for ever. So, last week a very nice pharmacist in Zurich sold me "Bach rescue Pastilles" for her (; there's also an essence that's supposed to work even better). We haven't tried it yet, but it looks pretty, smells nice and cannot be worse than a placebo.

Julia said...

Bach Rescue Remedy is homeopathic and as such unfortunately total baloney.

Clémentine B said...

*strongly empathises*