My friend Sara and I are going to the Caribbean island of St. Maarten to try and escape the current misery of Minnesota, if only for a week. On the morning of my 6 a.m. flight to paradise, I wake up to a moderate feeling of nausea and dizziness. The first thing I do is a little Period Math to rule out the possibility that I might be pregnant. Then I tally the number of drinks I had the night before (two Tanqueray and tonics, which are not hangover inducing at my level of functioning alcoholism). Then I try and remember everything I did or didn’t eat the day before and I don’t remember doing anything foolhardy like playing with a wild monkey and its feces or licking the escalator railing at the mall.
None of this matters, though, because I still feel as though I have a combination of all the sicknesses in the world, including pregnancy, alcoholism, food poisoning, and bird/swine flu.
Considering that the thought of showering is enough to make my eyes pop out and stomach turn inside-out, I am starting to question whether or not this trip to heaven is going to happen. I remain hopeful that this nausea is just a passing fancy because I rarely throw up or catch the flu of any kind. I am from a hearty stock and it just isn’t in my DNA to throw up. My DNA is more likely to fake throwing up or to catch other fake flu-like symptoms to avoid work or school or wearing unfashionable clothes. I just hope that God isn’t just now catching on to my little fake flu charade and has decided to collect on my countless empty promises to never fake an illness again.
I slowly make my way toward the shower on my hands and knees. Doing this makes me realize that this is not going to be a fake throwing up attack but a real-live projectile throwing up situation. I weakly run to the bathroom and puke out my intestines for at least 15 minutes. Even though I still feel like someone landed an airplane on my head, I do feel slightly less queasy and thus encouraged that this puke attack is over and my trip is going to happen. That is, until I stand up and turn the shower on and realize that the only place my body wants to visit is the bathroom floor or the toilet bowl or both.
I fight every urge to die and weakly step into the shower, or more accurately, crawl into the shower and lie down. I let the water splash down on any really dirty body parts while hanging my head out of the tub to puke in the nearby toilet. I am just toweling myself off when I hear the “ding-dong” of my doorbell downstairs and I curse the fact that for once I called for a taxi to the airport the night before so I wouldn’t be “rushed.”
It takes me at least 10 minutes to crawl to the bedroom, throw on sweatpants and a t-shirt and slowly shuffle-step to the front door. My eyes, when open, are trained on the floor and I am focusing all of my energy on not throwing up on the nice foreign-looking man standing on my patio. I shield my puke-breathy mouth with one hand and cling to the wall with the other and tell him I am running just a few minutes late. Then I shut the door and go lie on the floor out of his eyesight and call Northwest Airlines to see if they can fit me onto another flight out of Minneapolis.
The customer service rep is surprisingly chipper considering it is 4:30 a.m. and I am barely audible or coherent when I ask if there are any other flights to St. Maarten today or tomorrow. I can hear the click-click of her keyboard as she enters in my information and hums some sort of torturously happy song in my ear. Then the ohhhhh-ing starts. “Ohhhhhhh, no ohhhhhh no. Wait. Ohhhhhh no no. We do not have any other flights going to St Maarten until next Sunday. Ohhhhhh no. If you do not make this flight today, you will not be making it at all. Sorry but that is your only option unless you check with another airline and buy another ticket. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
I don’t even have the strength to come up with some sort of smart-ass comment so I hang up and crawl back upstairs to have a pep talk with myself. “You can do this! It’s only an eight-hour trip. You can sleep the whole way. You have nothing left to throw up so I’m sure you just need to eat something and settle your stomach. You’ll be fine. Be strong! Get going!”
My phone rings and it’s my friend Sara calling (most likely to make sure I am awake and not going to miss the flight). I can hear her sing-song voice as I answer and the sound of her happiness nearly makes me faint. “Hellllloooooo!!!! Are you ready to go to paradise???” When I explain the situation I am in, I can literally hear her internal screams of anger and frustration. She wishes me luck and says she hopes to see me at the airport and I can tell it took her a church-load of patience and kindness for her to spit out that much.
I begin zipping up my suitcase (Have I even finished packing?) and dragging it down the stairs. While I let the taxi driver load it into his car, I make one (hopefully) last stop in the bathroom to throw up my guts before I head to the airport. When I step outside, I notice that the taxi company didn’t just send any old taxi in the fleet but a Lincoln Towncar. Lovely.
I would not have felt horribly bad if I had blown chunks in a Yellow Cab but I will certainly feel bad for yakking it up all over his new beige leather interior and getting puke permanently encrusted into his new power doors and locks. Lord knows how many years of drunken college kids, bachelorette parties, and feuding couples he had to put up with before he finally earned a spot on the Lincoln Towncar team, and I am going to ruin it all in just one 15-minute ride. As I slump into the back seat, I just hope I have thrown up for the last time and that he has not caught on that I am most certainly going to decorate his back seat with a whole lot of last night’s pizza.
I make it approximately four minutes in the car before I have to yell, “Let me out LET ME OUT LET ME OUT NOW!” He squeals across three lanes of traffic and stops the car along the side of the road just as I am hanging my head out of the door.
When I am done, I shamefacedly look at him and mutter, “Thanks for pulling over. I don’t think I got anything on your interior,” while he looks on in disgust. He hands me a few Kleenexes and motions toward my face, signifying that while I didn’t throw up on his car, I did throw up on myself, and as it turns out, in multiple spots. As I clean my face off, I do not dare look or sniff anywhere near my clothes. If some puke landed anywhere on or near the only outfit I brought with me for the plane ride, then I will surely break down and make him take my home. I push on.
I have to make him pull over on the highway twice more on the ride to the airport. I give him the largest tip known to taxi drivers the world over for not kicking me out on the highway to fend for my pukey self. I have an hour to check in and find my gate and hopefully find a way to stop myself from puking all over.
I see Sara walking toward me and the look on her face makes me feel like puking just in shame. She silently grabs my suitcase and helps me check in while I throw up in two garbage cans in the main terminal. If my heaves were contractions, they would be about one minute apart and would result in at least puke triplets.
I get the gate information from her and then I tell her to go ahead without me and I’ll do my best to get to the gate in time. She is gone before I even have the words out of my mouth (most likely because while I am saying it I am also shoving a person out of the way and throwing up into yet another garbage can).
I am so close to that goddamn plane and I tell myself that there is no turning back now. I decide to go to the bathroom one last time and hopefully empty my system for good before I shuffle to my gate. Unfortunately the bathroom is at least 50 feet away… while a nice convenient trash can is a mere three feet away, so I bury my head into the trash can and silently pray that maintenance has not seen any of the damage I am doing to each and every one of the garbage cans at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.
As if God is silently mocking me, our gate is the LAST gate in the terminal. I am too sick to even move on the automated walkways; instead I stand hunched over while the normal healthy people pass me by on their way to fabulous puke-free vacations. I arrive at the gate 15 minutes before it is supposed to take off, and I see that Sara is there waiting for me. She points at me and says to the flight attendant, “See? I told you she’d make it!” and we all briefly smile.
I have made it to the finish line and I feel relief and the slight need to puke so I reach over the flight attendant scanning my ticket and throw up (for the last time?) into her trash can. I gracefully grab my ticket out of her hand and victoriously make my way onto the plane. I say a silent “Fuck you!” to my tummy and celebrate my triumph over acid reflux.
As we settle in, Sara asks one of the flight attendants for a few extra airsickness bags “because her friend isn’t feeling very well.” This news moves like wildfire through the entire flight crew and they all quickly convene in a circle around me to discuss the situation. For my part I am trying my best to look well and swallow back any impulses to use one of my airsickness bags even before we have left the ground.
“Ma’am, we cannot let you fly to another country if you are carrying any sort of contagious virus. You are going to have to exit the plane and fly another day. We just cannot risk you spreading something to the other passengers.” I quickly explain that I am just fine and that I don’t have the flu – just a little food poisoning that is now completely done. If they think they are getting me off the plane then they are crazier than even me for puke-walking a mile from the terminal to the plane.
I can sense that while I am explaining myself in a semi-coherent manner, I am also doing a half-gag/half-speaking motion in front of the flight crew. They look at me very closely and I smile (mouth closed just in case something blurts out) and they warn us that they will be watching me very closely and will not hesitate to turn the flight around if needed. I don’t care – I am on the plane and I have five puke bags and a blanket. I’ll figure the rest out later.
The next five hours of the flight go something like this:
- Sleep for 45 minutes
- Dry heave for five minutes
- Receive small “I will injure you if you ruin my vacation” pat on the arm from Sara
- Chew piece of gum for puke breath
- Dry heave the piece of gum out
- Get dirty looks from the passengers and flight attendants
- Pass out
Now that I have stemmed the tide of throwing up, I am left with a massive headache. I add an aspirin to my hourly dry heaving schedule but it does little to help since it only reaches the top of my esophagus before getting forcibly spewed back out.
We have a three-hour layover in Puerto Rico and I tell Sara to go tour the city without me, which was our original pre-puking plan. I will find a bench or concrete sidewalk to pass out on and she can find me exactly where she left me and then transport me to the connecting flight on a Smart Carte in a few hours. God bless her heart, she says she will stay with me. I decide that the only way I will kick this fucking cholera is to coat my stomach with grease.
I wish I could say that there are times in my life when I’ve been too nervous/upset/sick/tired to eat, but that is not the case. I also have never “forgotten to eat” like some of those ridiculous stick insect-type people claim. I can forget to do a lot of things, like shave my legs or put deodorant on or wear clean underwear, but never would I just plain forget to eat. Rather than “feeding a cold, starving a fever,” I follow the “feed the flu and starve nothing” approach.
I order a chicken strip basket at Long John’s Silver (in my defense, it was either LJS or Pollo Loco so I think I chose the lesser of two evils) and try to at least swallow a fry or two to see if it will stay down. It does and I feel like I’m already on the other side of this strange tuberculosis attack.
We decide to hop onto a random shuttle bus and see where it takes us. Turns out the next random shuttle bus is the shuttle to the Ritz Carlton. I am wearing a slightly puke-stained white t-shirt and pink sweat pants with glasses, no make-up and old flip-flops… To the Ritz Carlton. I walk through the lobby and hide behind plants and people with large pool toys until we hit the beach where I can blend in with the Spring Breakers and indigent islanders.
After two hours of lying in the shade next to the ocean, I can indeed confirm that the beach has the ultimate restorative powers. By the time we arrive in St. Maarten that evening, I down a free “welcome to the island” shot and chow down on appetizers at the French restaurant near our hotel.
All was forgiven with Sara within completion of our first fruity drink and beachside massage. I know that I don’t always take the straightest or most convenient path to my destination, but I do end up exactly where I need to be.
© Copyright 2009, Jennifer Cresap.