There is nothing worse than being sick alone in a strange city.
Was it the ice I had in a drink in the New Dehli Airport? The ice at a McDonald’s in an airport should be safe, shouldn’t it? Or maybe it was one of the curried dishes served on the Virgin Atlantic flight as we soared high above the Middle East. Or maybe it was some strange bug I had picked up in Nepal finally catching up with me. In any case, it was my first time in London, and as I navigated my way out of Heathrow Airport and onto the Tube for the forty-minute ride to Earls Court Station where my hotel was I began to feel distinctly uncomfortable. Is it just the fumes or the jostling of the coach?
But soon while I starred at the passengers across from me while trying to keep control of my oversized suitcase, I began to feel most assuredly unwell. I felt like any moment I might gag and vomit spewing god-knows-what into the narrow space between my fellow travelers and me. Fortunately, my station arrived before any of this occurred, and I dragged my bag, one wheel on the suitcase not having survived the long travels, down the streets of what now seemed like not-so-merry-olde-London to my hotel passing people eating all manner of fried and cooked things which only added to my discomfort. How could they eat such things? How could people eat anything? I will never eat anything again in my life.
My room—typical for London—was about 6’ X 8’. I lay down on the bed. My day had begun some twenty hours ago. You know that feeling, of finally having a bed to lie down in after a long day. Oh, the relief, the joy, and not to have to worry about my stuff, my passport, not to wait in lines, or fill out forms or sit jam-packed on some flight alongside some stranger, not to eat meals on a tiny fold-out tray with my elbows bent inward like bird wings, not to stare at the flight’s progression on the screen in front of me and realize we still had nine hours to go. But as I lay there staring at the ceiling in my hotel room and looking over at a enormous landscape painting placed on the wall in the narrow three-foot-wide hallway that led to my bathroom and thinking how could anyone stand far enough away to see what the painting really was of, and at the same time thinking, “Wow, I’m in London,” my stomach began a strange contracting, a tightening, as if someone inside of me was turning the screws on some belt-like apparatus which constricted my intestines. Maybe this is just something that will pass.
Then came waves of nausea and a flushed sensation followed by a shaking chill as if someone had just turned up the temperature in the room to some hellishly-hot degree and then, a few seconds later, opened the door to some Arctic environment, which caused the newly-formed sweat on my forehead, arms and chest to immediately chill and leave me clawing at the thin blanket on the bed. Then came the tightening in my stomach again causing me to involuntarily grunt with the discomfort. I could no longer focus on the ceiling or the strange hallway landscape picture, and after several long hours of this, outside London began to grow night.
I won’t bore you with the details but this sickness persisted for the next ten hours. I didn’t sleep. I writhed in the bed occasionally gathering my strength to make it to the bathroom, and once there, after bouts of severe diarrhea, I lay sweating on the chilled tile floor, until I regained enough strength to make it the ten feet back to the bed. This repeated itself for hours. At one point, perhaps four or five in the morning, I thought perhaps things had let up. The terrible cramping in my gut had seemed to let up for a few minutes, but no, then the whole thing started up again with a vengeance.
Finally, after hours, it was about noon on the next day and I had not slept and was dying of thirst, and I finally dared take a tiny sip of water. I was slowly recovering, I thought and after a few more sips of water over the next few hours, and not wanting to miss out on my time in London, I attempted to walk the thirty minutes to the Natural History Museum. I had to stop frequently like some ancient man to sit on walls, benches and stair steps—I was so weak. I finally made it to the museum. Usually, I would be in heaven with all the displays and the fact that this was England’s, in fact arguably the best in the world, natural history museum. But I was still so weak and by the time I had entered the atrium, I had to find a wall and sit down against it and stare at the throngs of people. I was too hot. I was so cold. The stuffiness of the place, the chatter of the people echoing around the giant entrance, their endless taking of photos and selfies all somehow magnified my discomfort. After twenty minutes, I seemed to have recovered and made my way slowly up the giant marble staircase to the second floor, stopping twice to recover and pretending I was enjoying the view from the stairs.
Once up the stairs I again collapsed onto a bench next to an elderly Russian woman wrapped in layers of clothes as if for the Siberian winter. We both sat there quietly. Once again regaining my strength after a period of time, I entered one of the exhibit areas. Again, normally I would be fascinated, but not today. In a few minutes, once again I had retired back to the marble hallways (the marble was cool against my back) to sit alongside a wall and stare down at a large sculpture of Charles Darwin, whose survival of the fittest theory seemed particularly apropos. I had to make it back to the hotel.
It was an equally long walk back to the hotel with numerous rests. I stopped at a corner market and bought a dried up packaged sandwich, cheese and tomato on white bread—it was the only thing that seemed at all appetizing—and a Sprite. Over the next day, I slowly recovered and soon was running all over London and eating with the best of them, the rest of the Londoners.
Finally, here is a fifteen-second video of a tuba player I saw—even he was unable to lift my spirits—on that long walk back from the museum.
All photos by the author.