Prisoner of the high seas
Every time I go on a trip I return home with some of the best traveling stories. In fact, one of my friends and I try to top each other with the crazy shenanigans that somehow have a way of finding us when we travel. After relaying this story to him yesterday, he paused momentarily before reflecting this would be a tough one to top.
I wish that I could tell people at least some of my adventures are fictional, a by-product of my overactive imagination. They, however, are one hundred percent true.
I have the world’s best friends, including ones who give gifts of amazing cruise vacations. Winter continued to hammer crushing blows on the Minnesota prairie; so, a trip to the Caribbean for a week was truly a blessing for this girl. I was the sole Minnesotan among a party consisting of ten fairly eclectic Kentucky personalities – all female. We were loosely held together by the game of soccer. Long story short – my friend is the coach, four of her players, three of their moms, one family friend, my friend’s mother, along with the team’s motivational speaker (that’s me) – set sail for a week of fun in the sun.
All was great until our next to last night on the ship. After a hot and bustling day in port, we had a lovely evening meal and entertainment. I turned in early while others sang karaoke and enjoyed other ship amenities. Starting around midnight, things took a not-so-pretty turn. By things, I mean my gastrointestinal track.
I do have one shred of dignity remaining; so, I will spare us all the gruesome details. In three hours, I had made eight, explosive trips to the bathroom. This was not my first adventure on the seas, and I know ship staff desire to keep stomach ailments from spreading onboard. I made the ethical decision to go to the Medical Center (yes, they have those on cruises) both to inform and hopefully seek some relief.
This was my first mistake. Apparently I was one of many who were sick, but the only one who reported the illness on Cell Block C.
Upon arrival, I was handed a sheet documenting how expensive this little foray to the medical staff would cost, greeted by “Olga” the Viking
warrior nurse. After listening to my symptoms unsympathetically and distributing some medications, she began her explanation of how things were going to go (for me not my bowels) henceforth.
She handed me a very legal looking document and proceeded to dispense her orders boisterously. If I hadn’t been doubled over with pain, I would not be surprised if I would have been required to raise my right hand and swear an oath to Odin, or at least the captain of the ship.
Next, her booming voice gave me instructions while I looked down at her steel-shanked nursing boots. By signing my name, AND I WOULD BE SIGNING MY NAME, I understood under Penalty of Maritime Law that I was now officially quarantined. That tidbit was repeated several times because apparently I appeared not only violently ill, but also deaf.
“Do I have to stay here?”, sincerely praying her reply would be “no”. Spending another moment with her alone, locked in isolation, did not sound like a good time – EVER.
The small sliver of hope in this story was her response requiring me to be locked in my cabin for the remainder of our trip, which thankfully was about another thirty hours.
Cruise ships are replete with marvelous buffets of twenty-four hour accessible delicacies of every imaginable kind, but not for this girl. Her parting gift to me was a lovely letter reminding me of my declaration (through signature) that under penalty of maritime law I could not leave my room. Yet, in their benevolent provision, the cruise company gave me a special number where food (in which the word bland was emphasized) would be provided by staff arriving in a haz-mat suit so as not to infect anyone else.
I didn’t want my friends to feel like prisoners as well; so, with genuine sincerity, I asked them to go forth and enjoy the last day at sea. My only request was an occasional of glass of water.
At some point during the day, I received a letter from the top brass again restating my prisoner status, but this time they upped the ante – my pass card (which is how you do just about everything onboard a cruise ship) was blocked. Should I feel I could flagrantly disregard my previous pledge, the gentle reminder of other accommodations could and WOULD be arranged for me.
One of my new gal pals on the trip retorted that she had watched a documentary on cruise ships before our “Bon Voyage”, where she learned that each ship also houses about four jail cells. The letter implied that would be my new housing, should I not keep my sworn oath. While that information should have been comforting, I was still having nightmares that maritime law might have “walking the plank” as one of those antiquated laws remaining on the books.
I wasn’t completely destitute as my friends did bring water, and I had a television. Of course, out of twenty channels, sixteen were live feeds of people having a grand time on our ship, two were in Spanish, one giving instructions of how to disembark the ship the next day, and finally one syndicated news channel.
At last, the anchors were dropped in port back in Tampa in the good ol’ U. S. of A. Hallelujah! But as we were getting ready to disembark, it occurred to us I had not been cleared to leave. My pass card was still blocked. The same pass card that was necessary for leaving the ship.
While my friend dialed the guest relations number, I had visions of the plights of other sick passengers that arrived at the steps of Ellis Island, only to be told America did not want them. This happened to the family of one of my former colleagues. They were turned away at Ellis Island, but were smuggled into Canada, eventually ending up in South Dakota. Briefly, only briefly, I was a citizen with no homeland. Perhaps Canada would take me.
I could hear the voice on the other end of the phone say all too enthusiastically, “Oh yeah. She’s free to go.” I had to ponder if my release papers were lost in the mail or if it was one of Olga’s final acts of whipping this gastrointestinal failure into shape by playing mind games with frail. But perhaps my ears detected a little too much enthusiasm for getting Dysentery Debbie off their ship.
As we proceeded through Customs and Border Patrol, I will say that my knees knocked a little at the thoughts of what questions were awaiting my new status as felon of the high seas. Thankfully I breezed through those checkpoints without the appearance of bringing the plague back to America.
After making the cut, I felt like a survivor of a crazy episode of The Twilight Zone. A few pounds lighter for obvious reasons, I walked away into the possibilities of a new day with a much more settled stomach, hungry for just about anything at all. And downright giddy, I wasn’t one of the people starting a diet that day.