Time slowed to a near standstill for me last week, when I was suddenly struck down by one of those cruel stomach bugs. You know the type. I was in the car with Eleanor and complaining that her erratic driving was making me carsick, but it wasn’t her driving at all. A few minutes later we were sitting in the car talking while Emma finished up her karate class, and then alarms went off in my lower intestines. A minute later I was crumpled in the parking lot, trying not to puke on the pavement while the karate moms watched.
There’s something about the nature of an abdominal illness that quickly reduces your personal pride to a level you did not previously think you could reach. I was overcome by an urgent desire to lie flat, even on the ground amongst the dirty asphalt and cigarette butts, if only that would alleviate my distress. I broke out into cold sweat and shivered with chills. It had come out of nowhere, and there was absolutely nothing to do for it but get home as quickly as possible.
I spent the rest of the evening and the night shaking and groaning. Whatever had struck me, my body wanted it out as quickly as possible. This is a time when all of your pride, all of your possessions, all of your social status are stripped away. At the moment when your guts are twisting there’s little to think about except surviving to kneel on the cool tile floor of the bathroom. It doesn’t matter if an few hours earlier you were flying on your private jet, returning from a sun-filled weekend on the beach with a harem of bikini-clad masseuses. In the cold dark night, as chills rack your body, you can finally appreciate what older folks meant when they said, “At least you’ve got your health.” We are all equal in the world of the stomach virus.
It was late morning before I was able to contemplate anything other than clear liquids, and a full day beyond that before I felt well again.
When we were full-timing, this was one of the nightmare scenarios for me. Being incapacitated myself would be an inconvenience, but Eleanor and I had a simple plan: we’d pull over at the first available opportunity and wait it out, no matter where we were. This strategy occasionally resulted in being stopped in some odd places, but usually when someone was getting sick we had enough warning to find a decent campground.
No, my nightmare scenario was either “E” or “e” getting sick suddenly. That scared me a lot more. When Emma was a tyke we watched several times as she was knocked flat by those viruses that little kids get, and each time it was horrible to see. This is a situation that all parents end up in; it’s just a little tougher when you’re away from familiar health care. Emma’s pediatrician was always on speed-dial, and we learned to mentally note the location of the nearest hospital or urgent care center as we rolled into town, a habit that sticks with me even today.
The illnesses that we have dealt with to date in our travels have been fairly garden-variety (colds, migraines, cuts). Fortunately we never needed the hospital, but we came close once in Florida when Eleanor sustained a massive migraine that lasted an unusually long time. I found a full-hookup campground and covered the trailer with blankets to dim the interior to near-total darkness during the day. We ended up at an urgent care center. It ended well, eventually, but the experience was fair warning that anyone, at any time, can suddenly run out of time.
What’s to do about that? Nothing, except go on with life. If anything, this reminded us how lucky we were to be traveling, because so many other people we knew had missed their chance and were now stuck at home with medical conditions that prevented them from traveling. Eleanor’s father wanted to buy an Airstream and visit all the national parks, but he died before retirement—and he’s just one of many examples. I wouldn’t say “live every day like it’s your last,” because you’d quickly run out of money and probably catch a venereal disease, but at least live every year like you might not get another one.
This is harder than it seems, especially when health concerns have already caught up you. I’m always impressed by those who have such severe wanderlust that they manage to overcome difficult illnesses and see the country anyway. We know people afflicted with Multiple Sclerosis, people on dialysis, people in wheelchairs, and some who can barely see, but with the assistance of their partners are getting out there to explore their dreams and make new friends. It makes my tiny bout with a “24 hour bug” seem hardly worth considering.
If there’s a silver lining in the virus that I just had, it’s that it briefly took away all my quality of life, to remind me of all the good things I might have taken for granted. I’m glad it’s gone, and that I’m eating real food again, and able to walk fully upright. If I may, I’d like to say to the viruses of the world, “Appreciate the thought. No need to remind me again anytime soon.”