My Life as a Traveler

Alaska Jul 2011

Home from Alaska

Heading home into the sunset...

It’s the last day of this “vacation” and we’re flying home. Fortunately, our flight does’t leave until noon, so we have the chance to sleep in and get a nice breakfast in the restaurant.

Since we are Priority Club members, we get access to the members’ lounge, which will have breakfast in the morning or hors d’oeuvres and sodas in the evening. It’s the weekend, though, and the lounge is closed. Because it caters to the business traveler, the members’ lounge often is only open Monday through Thursday, but it depends on the hotel. Some hotels keep the lounge open on the weekends as well. You never know until you get there. I guess you can call in advance to find out if it was important. We don’t, though, and assume that it’s closed so that when we find it open, it’s a treat. Yeah, I know, it’s the little things!

Anyway, if the lounge is not open, most hotels will give you a free breakfast in their restaurant. Maybe it’s a credit, maybe it’s a free buffet, again, you never know. Some hotels automatically give you the vouchers for breakfast when you check in. Others won’t unless you specifically ask for them. In this hotel, the lounge is closed and we are not offered breakfast. However, when I ask, I receive coupons for breakfast in the restaurant. Sometimes I get turned down, but always ask anyway.

Since this hotel is about a 10 minute drive from the airport, we need to rely on their free shuttle to get us to our flight. The shuttle leaves every half hour on the hour. I reserved two spots for us on the 11am shuttle; our flight departs at 12:30pm. This should be plenty of time, right? Wrong! The shuttle wasn’t there at 11am, not there at 11:10am, not there at 11:20am. The front desk kept telling me that he was on his way, but, like I said, it’s only a 10 minute drive to the airport. Finally, he showed up and we made it on time to board the flight. Lesson learned: allow one hour transportation time for a 10 minute shuttle ride.

It was important that we make this flight because USAir did take pity on us and gave us two seats in first class. Nice.

After a quick change of planes in Charlotte, we made it home around midnight.

George and Morgan were there to pick us up.


I wish I could say I took this picture, but I did not. Credit goes to with credit to

Goodbye Alaska rain, hello Seattle sun!

Today we have to leave our Alaskan paradise. The flight’s at 1pm and our friends from the Port Authority are scheduled to come for us at 11am.

But before that, we walk our rocky beach one more time. I’m still a little weak, but able to travel. The rest day yesterday was just the ticket; I’m ready to fly. It’s amazing to me that just a couple of days in the hospital can knock me down this much.

I always thought that Ketchikan was on the mainland part of the Alaska panhandle. Wrong! Ketchikan is on an island surrounded by other islands. In fact, the airport is on a totally different island from the town and we have to take a ferry there. It’s just a small ferry and a short way, but still, it’s kinda different to take a ferry to the airport.

Our driver from the Port Authority pays the toll. Turns out she needs to get to the airport anyway to track down some luggage that didn’t make it to some poor cruiser’s ship. That’s what they do.

We check in for our flight and have a bit of time to kill. The bar has the best view, so we park ourselves by a window and order some drinks (tea for me, beer for Susie – which I share because it’s medicinal). Next to us are about 4 tables pushed together filled with a dozen guys who just came back from a nearby fishing lodge. They must have had a great time — they’re all drinking beer and laughing loud as they recount their funny fishing stories. Ketchikan is a huge fishing destination and if you have a bunch of money, you could spend a few days at one of the deluxe lodges dedicated to the sport.

I had to check my bag because Doc said no lifting. This is the first time I’ve checked a bag since 2004. Weird. It felt like I was missing something, like a leg or an ear. The flight was fine and before we knew it, we were in the Holiday Inn Renton, not far from Sea-Tac airport. George’s miles got us a free room.

After a week in rainy Alaska, we’re happy to see the sun in Seattle. Our swimsuits come out of the luggage. It’s warmer here and there are some lounge chairs waiting by the pool with our names on them. Finally, just for an hour or so until the sun goes down, it feels like vacation.

When it gets too chilly to lay by the pool, we head back up to the room to watch a movie and get some zzzz’s. For dinner, we have leftover salmon that stayed cold in my checked luggage. Susie sees a branch of Umajiwaya in the shopping center next door and finds us some tropical sodas. We’ve also got water from the lounge next door.

Tomorrow, it’s back to Virginia.

A Different Kind of Beach

I’m waking up in Paradise and life is good.

Slept well: no IVs, nobody wanting blood or something every couple of hours, just quiet in my own room.

We can make our own breakfast since we have a kitchen supplied with food. On the way here we stopped to buy perishables like milk, yogurt, and fresh vegetables, but we’re also pleased to see there are plenty of non-perishables in the cupboards. It’s always a crap shoot whether the cupboards will be bare or whether there will be food left for us by the owner or left over from the previous guests.  Here, there are cans of soup and tuna fish, packages of pasta, and all kinds of other good stuff we can use. I’m hungry, but just a little bit of breakfast fills me up.

Sitting in our little cabin, we enjoy a fabulous view of the Tongass strait. This is one of the main marine highways that all manner of watercraft use to get in and out of Ketchikan. We see fishing trawlers, cruise ships, sightseeing boats, and boats that carry strange contraptions that must be for the oil industry.

Although there are no bears here, we have a family of bald eagles that live in the tree over Judy’s house. This morning a couple come over to the tree in front of our cottage and pick at some branches. They are magnificent. We study them through our big front windows.

After watching some movies on tv, we put our warm clothes on and go for a walk on the “beach.” It’s the middle of July, yet the temperatures are in the 50’s — today’s forecast is a high of 56 with showers.

Alaskan beach is a little different from the beach at home in that there is no sand. It’s rocks, rocks, rocks with some iron, seaweed, and various types of shellfish thrown in. We go out walking on the beach surveying the tidepools. The neighbor’s little dog greets us and keeps us company every time we walk out the door. Judy’s gone out of town so we go down to her deck, a little closer to the water, and chill in the lounge chairs she’s left for us.

Dinner time. There’s nothing better than the smell of salmon caught just a week ago cooking on the grill. We’ve been eating Judy’s smoked salmon and cream cheese all day long. It’s raining off and on, but it’s warm enough to sit outside on the patio with the grill to keep us warm. We roast marshmallows for dessert.

We could stay here for another week, just enjoying the peace and quiet. But tomorrow we’re on the move again, catching our flight to Seattle.

With a Little Help from My Friends

It’s a new day in Ketchikan! It’s still foggy and cold, but I’m leaving this hospital today.

Fortunately I have a lot of friends in Ketchikan who can help.

First, I have my friend Susie sleeping in the fold-out lounge chair next to my bed. I’m so happy she was at hand last night when the nurse ripped the IV out of my hand (gah! I just knew that would happen! law of attraction, anyone?) Her calming presence helped me get back to sleep.

This morning, I woke up in a sweat with a fever.  I’m not sure what that’s about. However, when I went to the bathroom this morning I was rewarded with some nice poo! Hooray! I’ve never been so happy to see poo. Took a walk around the wing to celebrate. By the second round, I was humming the theme from Rocky as I was strolling the halls.

When my friend Doctor Burman came by, he freed me from the IV and told me I was good enough to go home. Although I definitely wanted to leave the hospital, I wasn’t really ready to get on a plane yet. I wanted a recovery day or two more in Ketchikan. He promised to make a call to a woman he knew who had a bed and breakfast near a stream where the grizzlies liked to fish. Nice!

I felt a new energy and was ready to make the arrangements to get out of there. My new friends at the Port Authority offered to make them for me, but hey, I’m a travel agent and Chairman Preferred on USAir; I can do this!

First, I wanted to see when we could get home. Unfortunately, USAir doesn’t fly out of Ketchikan. In fact, nobody flies out of Ketchikan except for Alaska Airlines. I could change my USAir ticket for $150, but we still needed to get to the closest USAir city, which was either Seattle or Anchorage. A look on the Alaska Air website told me that it was cheaper to fly to Seattle. Still, that was going to be over $300 for an hour and a half flight! Yikes! I arranged the flights from Seattle to Newport News for 3 days from today. I figured that would give us two nights in Ketchikan, fly down to Seattle, then one night there before we fly home. Breaking the flight up seemed like a good idea. I’m feeling better but a little fearful of getting too tired.

Here’s where my new friend Carol Topping, Princess Passenger Liaison, could help us. Because Princess cruises puts so many people on Alaska Airlines, they get a special rate. Terrific Carol Topping was able to get us from Ketchikan to Seattle for $146. Wow, that was more than half price off. Thanks, Carol!

Now we needed to find a decent place to convalesce in Ketchikan. Since we’ve spent the last few days in “downtown” Ketchikan, it was time to enjoy the nature of Alaska. Unfortunately, the bed and breakfast recommended by Dr. Burman was not available. My new friend and nurse, Jenny, found us the number for the local youth hostel, but it was downtown. Finally, I called and my new friend Janet found a little cabin north of town on the water where we could walk along the beach and enjoy a gorgeous view of the Tongass Strait.

Now I had a reason to call my friends at the Port Authority. They offered to drive us not only to the airport, but to the pharmacy (I needed iron for my blood and antibiotics for the *&%^ bladder infection I got from the &^$%# catheter), the store (not sure if the cabin had food), and out to our cabin, 11 miles north of town. They would also come to pick us up and take us to the airport two days later. Wow, that’s hospitality. They didn’t charge us a thing, either.

It took me almost all day to get these arrangements set, but we were all ready to go by 3pm when our Port Authority ride came by.

We found our cabin open and ready for us. The owner, Judy, lived in a bigger house down toward the water. It was easy to settle in. All we needed was an extra blanket. We called Judy with this question and waited for her reply. When she called back, she asked us if we would like some frozen salmon that her last tenants caught and gave to her. Would we?!? Oh, and how about some smoked salmon that she made herself? With some cream cheese on the side? OMG we’re in heaven!

I’ve heard that the people in Alaska are super-friendly. I can tell you, it’s so true. I got by with a little help from my new Alaska friends!

The Odds are Good…

Tired. Even though I got a fairly good rest last night, it’s all catching up to me.

The goal today is a decent BM. (Sorry if that’s TMI, but hey, that was what’s required to get out of here!) We were looking for proof that the bleeding had stopped and things are getting back to normal. I think solid thoughts.

It’s raining and about 50 degrees out. Hard to believe it’s the middle of July. The fog rolls over the hill behind the hospital. Sometimes I can see the trees, sometimes I can’t. Other cruise ships are docked where the Diamond Princess was yesterday. I imagine for a moment what I would be doing if I wasn’t here, but still on the ship in the next port.

Susie comes in this morning to check in. Since I have the room to myself now and it doesn’t look like there will be any further roommates, I ask if she can stay with me tonight. My great nurses, Jason and Jared, find a reclining chair and Susie checks out of the Best Western and into Hotel Hospital.

The internet’s free here, so Susie hangs out for a bit using my computer before she goes off to venture again. She took some nice pics of flowers and Native American stuff.

I’m still on IV and want it out. The doc stops by to chat and see what’s happening. He suggests that I get my butt out of bed and do some walking. I’m tired and a little afraid that I might slip and rip the IV needle out of the top of my hand, where it has been plaguing me for the last couple of days. I also have to breathe in this plastic rectangular anti-pneumonia thing. There’s a little ball in a chamber that floats when I breathe hard in it. As a person who practices yoga, I pride myself on my deep breathing, but this is hard. Where’s my breath?

The good news is that the blood tests show that my hematocrit is up. The transfusion worked and now I am also making more blood. Yesterday, when good Doctor Burman found out that I got my blood directly from folks and not from a blood bank, he almost jumped up and down with glee. “That’s the best blood you can get! Whole blood!” I guess the blood from the blood bank is separated out more and then mixed together with everyone else. I had five bags from five different people. Yay for me.

The bad news is that, after a little nap, I wake up in a sweat. What the heck?

The day drags on. I have more visitors from the port authority, the hospital chaplain stops by (nice lady), and there are more calls from Carol Topping. Sometime in the afternoon it hits me what has happened. What if I had had kidney failure and they couldn’t help me? What if I got so sick I couldn’t take care of my family? What if I couldn’t come home at all? What if there were some bad bugs in the blood that I so readily received? What if… what if… what if… I’m crying now, spiraling into despair, staring out at the gray day.

When sweet Jason the nurse came in and saw my sad condition, he stood at the end of my bed and in the nicest way possible, told me to quit feeling sorry for myself and get my ass out of bed and walk. With a sniffle, I know he’s right and off I go. I’ve only been off my feet for a couple of days and I’m surprised at how much effort I have to put into this.

Susie comes back and I hear about her adventures and see some gorgeous pictures. Dreamy Doctor Burman comes by to see what’s shakin’. We joke about Susie finding love in Alaska. Doctor Burman quotes: “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.” I like him more and more, especially when he orders me a good solid food dinner and there’s so much I can share it with Susie. We walk the halls together in an after-dinner stroll.

No BM yet, but the breathing and walking are coming much easier. I’m feeling much better and I have decided that the odds are good that tomorrow I am going to check out of here.

Kicked off the Ship in Ketchikan

Today we arrive in Ketchikan and I’m getting kicked off the ship. Susie, who has the option of continuing on the cruise, decides instead to miss the glaciers and join me. That’s a good friend.

Even though I didn’t sleep much the night before, what with the every-hour blood testing and all, when the ambulance (yes, I needed an ambulance) personnel came at 8am, I was awake and ready. I paid the bills (ouch), said my goodbyes and offered thanks, and feeling rather naked in my hospital gown, I was scooted on to a rolling bed.

Unfortunately, in Ketchikan there is no back door to sneak out of the ship. I’m rolling down the same gangplank as everyone else. It seems like every person stops to stare. I would just pull the sheet over my head, but I’m intrigued by the fresh air and the mountains. An older woman approaches. Is she going to talk to me? Where’s my sheet?  Go away, I’m not really here. She tells me that her husband was one of the people who gave blood yesterday. Okay, now I feel bad about wishing she would go away. I thank her profusely as the medics roll me to the ambulance. I can feel the stares of even more people who are milling around on the pier waiting for their tours. I’m so glad when the doors to the ambulance close.

The ambulance ride is only 3 miles away (cost: $800) and the cute male medic gives me a tour of the buildings we pass. I can only see the top of them from my lying down position, but hey, it’s something. I try to flirt, but it’s difficult wearing a hospital gown with a catheter stuck up my you-know-what. Still, I try.

In the emergency room, I chat with the old doc, who sends me down the hall for x-rays.

So what really was the cause of the bleeding? The theory is that somewhere between Seattle and Vancouver, one of the scabs (ick) from a polyp that they removed (ick) in the colonoscopy I had two weeks ago (ick) was dislodged. Unfortunately, we think this scab was right at a blood vessel. For an unknown length of time, blood pooled in the intestine, reaching critical mass a couple of days ago.  After I got home and got to talking to people, I found out that this is a thing that happens. Geez, wish I would have known. Who would expect this kind of thing two weeks after the procedure? Not me.

Back at the hospital, the x-rays showed nothing major was wrong, so I was admitted on a wait-and-see basis. There had been no more bleeding since the first night of the cruise, but just to be safe, I was to live on IV for the time being. They wheeled me up to a room on the 3rd floor.

Okay, now I was really in the hospital, but it wasn’t’ that bad. I had Netflix and could watch some good classic movies. Heck, I didn’t even flinch when the friendly nurses there wanted to stab me in yet another place on my arm for blood withdrawal. There wasn’t even a bad smell. But there was a bad roommate.

Just a curtain separated me from the other woman in the room, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. She wanted to see the doctor (ok, I did too, supposedly there was another doctor that took over from the ER doctor downstairs, and he wasn’t popping by) but the doctor wouldn’t come. Every time one of the nursing staff entered our room, she badgered them endlessly to take her blood pressure, her temperature, or do a blood test. Her doctor finally came after about several hours of loud complaining and told her that there was nothing wrong with her and that he was sending her home. “Nooooooo”, my roommate wailed. She wanted more tests. She wanted to go to Juneau, to Anchorage, anywhere where they had better facilities and other procedures to find out what was wrong with her. She wanted to stay in the hospital. I’m guessing it was more interesting than her lonely apartment in town. I could not help but hear everything that she told the unending and sympathetic Native American family members that trooped in and out past my bed.

At 4 o’clock, looking out the window past my roommate, I could see the ship leaving port.

Meanwhile, I had visitors. Who knows me in Ketchikan? Princess Cruises, of course!

Two college age girls came by from the Ketchikan Port Authority and wanted to know if everything was all right. “Uh, yeah, thanks,” said I, thinking, “who are these people?” Turns out that in every port there is a fleet of folks whose sole existence is to run errands for the cruise ships. Princess Cruises, even though they dumped us on this island, did not leave us stranded. When they told the port authority that I was there, I officially became part of the Ketchikan family. How am I doing? Would I like anything? Is there anything they can do for me? Wow, impressive. At the time I didn’t need anything, but they were really helpful when I was ready to leave the hospital.

They also escorted Susie to the nearest Best Western, where she stayed for $160/night in a room with no view. Susie checked into her hotel, but came back to chat here and there. There was really nothing for her to do in the hospital room, so I sent her out to explore Ketchikan. She found Totem Bight Park and had a blast looking at the totem poles in the park along the water.

I also got a call from Carol Topping, passenger liaison at Princess Cruises’ Los Angeles headquarters.  She also wanted to know how I was doing and if there was anything she could do to help. Besides getting a refund for the cruise (sorry, no), at the time I didn’t really have anything for her. She called twice today. I let the second call go to voicemail.

About dinnertime, my last visitor of the day came by. Dreamy Doctor Burman sat on the edge of my bed and wanted to know how I was doing. “Fine, just fine…,” I stammered, wanting to just chat with him about anything except for my intestines.  However, eventually I got down to business and complained about the ^$%# catheter that needed to come out and that my stomach was growling for real food. Since the day passed without major incident, he agreed to my demands and said I should stay one more day just to be sure everything was okay. I figured it would be worth it if I got to see him again tomorrow.

After they finally shoehorned my roommate out of there, I had the nurses move me over to the prime spot by the window so I could have a better view of the Tongass strait and the mountain above the hospital. This was better. And let me tell you, beef broth and jello never tasted soooo good.

Alaska Cruise, Day at Sea, Part 3 or Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Travel Insurance, But Were Afraid to Ask

As I lay in my hospital bed on the cruise ship waiting for blood and watching the fluids drip, Dr. Dylan comes in for a chat. This chat was not about my health, nor about my well-being (not to dis him, he did already cover those things that morning), but about the upcoming bill. If you recall, just to see the doc for a moment to prescribe medication for seasickness was quoted at $80. My bill would be several thousand. That hurt almost as much as anything else.

Medical services are not included in the cruise fare and must be paid before leaving the ship. I’m not sure exactly what the consequences are for non-payment. Would they keep me on board if I can’t pay or take me to court when I’m too weak to walk? So, how do you avoid these humongous charges? Same way you do when you’re at home. You get insurance. But for traveling, you need special insurance, as your regular insurance very possibly won’t cover you on the road, in a foreign country, or on a ship.

When you book a cruise or a tour, the company that is providing the service usually has an offer for insurance. Princess Cruises calls theirs the Vacation Protection Plan. For about 8% of the cruise fare, you would avoid their 100% cancellation fees if you couldn’t make the trip due to illness (yours or traveling companions, or of anyone’s family members), accident on the way to the cruise that would cause you to miss the cruise, hurricane or flood, or jury duty. The insurance also covers any medical charges while on the trip, whether it’s evacuation or care from the ship’s infirmary. It covers pretty much everything. No worries. Just accept treatment and know that whatever they have to do, it’s paid for.

Did I get insurance? Well, no.

When I worked as a travel agent, I always recommended insurance. I mean, who wants to have something happen to you while traveling and come home to thousands of dollars worth of medical bills that your insurance may or may not cover? Getting insurance is the smart thing to do.

Do I ever get insurance? Well, no.

I pride myself that I’m in pretty good shape health-wise and I really rarely get sick. Of course, with all the traveling that I’ve done, I’ve been hit by a bad bug here and there. Memorable bugs include: a nasty three-day stomach virus in Seattle, a bad cold in Frankfurt, a fever in Toulouse, and a strained shoulder from a bad fall skiing in Switzerland. Usually I just lay low in the hotel room, limit the diet, and in a day or two, I’m better, and, except for that cute Swiss doctor who gave me an x-ray and a sling for my arm (total cost, about $50), I have never needed any medical care.

Dr. Dylan wanted to know if I had travel insurance. When I told him no, he looked a little pained and told me to think, really think, if I had any type of coverage, somewhere. He said, most health insurance plans do not cover expenses at sea. I will be liable for the whole kit and kaboodle unless I can find some insurance, any insurance that might cover this several thousand dollar situation.

Well, I do have credit cards that offer certain kinds of insurance. Maybe they will come through. I did call American Express, Citibank, Langley Visa, and Capitol One to see if their coverage applied in my situation. The good news was that the doc allowed me to call them for free (phone calls on cruise ships run around $15/minute) from my hospital bed. The bad news was that none of their coverages covered me.

Including doctor consults, IVs, blood tests, procurement, and transfusion costs, plus a charge for every little thing from catheter tube ($120) to AIDS testing ($100 for every test, every hour), the total bill was over $8000, and had to be paid before I left the ship.

Thank goodness for American Express.

In retrospect, should I have opted for the insurance? Well, duh, yeah. But I look at it this way. If I had sprung for the insurance every time I traveled, say, conservatively, five times a year over the past 30 years, at an average of $75 per trip, that would come to $11,250. Still more than what I was charged here, and there is still the possibility that my home insurance will come through for at least part of it.

And just in case you were wondering, it looks like my good old Aetna regular health insurance is going to reimburse 90% of it, even the cruise ship part, despite what the good Dr. Dylan had to say.

So, I’ve got blood, I’m feeling pretty good, and I’m asking them if I can just go back up to    my room and rest it out for a day or two, heck, even the rest of the cruise so I can see Glacier Bay. They laughed, saying that my hemoglobin was still only at 9 and there was still that pesky chance of kidney failure to worry about until I made more blood cells that would conquer that. They just weren’t equipped to handle something that serious. Tomorrow we stop at Ketchikan and they are booting me off the boat.

I’m very disappointed.

Day at Sea, Part 2, or A New Hope

Stephanie, my new best friend with her needle.

So what do you do when somebody comes in to tell you that your body is ready to shut down because you don’t have enough blood?

Well, a few things went through my mind. First, I really didn’t feel that bad, just very lightheaded and tired. It didn’t make sense that they were all freaking out. However, they all seemed so sure that something bad was going to happen, so next, I asked their advice. They were the pros, after all.

Dr. Dylan was on call that morning. He was one of the two doctors on the ship, aided by a staff of nurses. His recommendation was to increase fluids, particularly blood, since I was low. Then, after considering the possibilities of all the bad things that can happen with a blood transfusion (and signing a form saying I have done so), I let them hook up an IV for hydration, insert a catheter (mightily uncomfortable) so they can monitor if my kidneys were about to fail, and let them go find some good blood for me on the cruise ship.

The head nurse, Stephanie, was from New Zealand. She became my new best friend for the next 24 hours. Of course, Susie was still there, but she looked kind of spooked as she helped me get comfortable among the medical paraphernalia. They had to stab me at least once every hour to check the hematocrit (some nurses were more adept at this than others) and make sure there the kidneys continued to work and there was no more bleeding. Once all of that was stabilized, there was really nothing for Susie to do, so I bade her go upstairs and do some fun stuff for the both of us.

Anybody who knows me knows how much I hate the hospital. When I was in high school, I went to the hospital to visit my friend Debra who was in a body cast for a bit. When she showed us her black-and-blue arm “This is how they feed me!”, it was just too much. The sickening foreign smells, the creepy sterility of the room, and the machines beeping and blinking randomly all came together in a bizarre nightmare. The next thing I knew, there were nurses helping me up from the floor. Trying to find a reason for this fainting spell, they asked if I was anemic (no). I think it’s just that I’m allergic to hospitals. So much so that I opted to have my son at home and not risk the nightmare again, and I never give blood.

Yet, as I looked around my little cabin (this is not a hospital – it’s a cruise ship!), I wasn’t terribly grossed out. In fact, yesterday when we boarded the ship, I had secretly wished for a surprise upgrade to an outside cabin; I just didn’t think it would look like this. Be careful what you wish for, right? Once I had mastered deep-breathing for needle insertion, it wasn’t that bad. Hey, I could watch movies on the little tv and when that got boring, I could lean over just so to see what was going on in the rest of the little hospital. If it wasn’t for the needles and tubes attached to everywhere, it might not have been too bad. Also, I got to order from the dining room menu (who else gets shrimp cocktail and French onion soup in the hospital?) and I could look out the window at the foggy sea.

For the infirmary staff, though, the work was just beginning. First, they had to find some blood. They were pretty adamant that I needed some NOW. Although they didn’t have any stored in the fridge or freezer, there were gallons and gallons of blood walking around above us. At noon, the Captain made an announcement over the loudspeakers, calling for donors. Straightaway, Susie came back down, knowing that the “seriously ill” person the Captain was talking about was me. After finding out I hadn’t taken a turn for the worse (phew!), I sent her back up to do something more fun that sit around with me and watch them try to find a new place to put a needle.

Would you believe that 50 people showed up to give blood? I think there were something like 20 with my type, O positive. Then the staff narrowed those down to five or six, and they were the ones who helped make me better. The identities of these five were kept confidential (although two were mother and daughter, and I did meet one more the next day) so, even though I couldn’t send them (or anybody who showed up) a formal thank you then, I’d like to post one now.

Dear Princess passengers, whoever and wherever you are, thank you from the depths of my heart. Your selfless generosity makes me feel happy and hopeful about this world we live in. I sleep better knowing that you and people like you are out there, able to step up and help. I’m honored to think that I’m carrying a part of you with me now, always. Best wishes and many thanks, Julie.

I hope this works.

Day At Sea or This is Bad, Part 1

I woke up to the gentle rocking of the ship in our dark cabin. One great thing about a cabin without a window is that there’s no pesky light shining at you in the morning to wake you up. The bad thing about it is that there’s no light at all to tell you if the sun’s up or if it’s still the middle of the night. Cruise ship cabins don’t come with a bedside alarm clock like hotel rooms do, so you really don’t know what time it is until you look at your watch or phone. I’ve got my phone and it’s telling me it’s 7:30am.

It’s a huge effort to walk to the bathroom. My face is ghostly white. I’m not hungry and just want to lie in bed.  One of the tv channels is the BridgeCam with the real-time view from the front of the ship. It is cloudy outside. I like that we don’t have to leave the windowless cabin to see the weather outside. When Susie gets up, I ask her to walk me down to the ship’s infirmary when they open at 10am. In the meantime, we both lay in bed in our dark cabin watching a movie.

With all the cruising I have done, I have only been down to see the doctor once before. In 1983, I was on the Queen Elizabeth II sailing from London to New York. Right after high tea, the ship hit the full force of the Atlantic and the combination of clotted cream and tilt-a-whirl resulted in a severe case of seasickness. So I dragged myself down to the doctor. He had a shot that he promised would make me a little sleepy that night, but I’d be right as rain the day after. It was a five-day cruise. I slept for four days of it. So, you see, it has got to be bad before I go to see the doctor. And this was bad.

But my spirits are good, even though my head is light. It’s all I can do to walk down the hall and take the elevator down to the lowest floor of the ship where the medical staff work.

I sunk to the floor at the door of the infirmary. Sitting there, I chatted with a young woman and her mom who were also waiting. Poor girl was seasick. I told her, whatever she does, do not get the shot. I guess these days they have pills for that now, in fact, the purser’s desk hands them out for free, like candy.

We were let in by the nurse promptly at ten. When the seasick girl’s mom heard that it was $80 just to see the doctor for five minutes, she fled upstairs with her daughter to find the free pills.

My turn, now. I told the nurse I was dizzy, nauseous, and had bloody diarrhea (sorry! that’s the last time I’m going to use those two words together). When she heard those two words (the ones I’m not going to mention again) she switched to crisis mode and herded me out of the waiting room into a little hospital room. I was happy to lie down, even if it was a hospital bed, as they checked vital signs and took blood.

At first, they thought I had a Norovirus (you know, the kind that spreads so fast on a ship and everyone gets sick, effectively shutting the cruise down). Yikes, I can’t tell you how bad I felt that I could be ground zero for something like that. Here’s what they do when someone has Norovirus: first, they send the “Hit Squad” to your cabin. These guys come, not to bump you off, but to completely disinfect your space. They look like a HAZMAT team with their face masks and special suits but are very effective at getting rid of germs. Next, they confine the Norvirus carrier in their room for 24-48 hours, until their contagiousness passes. People can be kicked off the ship if they venture into the buffet during this period.

Then, supposedly, after a couple of days, the virus is contained and the formerly infected person can roam free and enjoy the rest of the cruise. I was thinking, OK, a day or two in the cabin wouldn’t be so bad. I can handle this. In a day or two I’ll be seeing glaciers.

However, after the blood test came back, it wasn’t Norovirus. This is when they started really freaking out. Taking some more blood, they ran their test again, thinking there was an error. Nope. Turns out my Hemoglobin (that’s red blood cell count for all you non-medical types) was 5. It’s supposed to be 13. At 5 people have hallucinations, fainting, kidney failure, and can go into shock. None of those things are happening to me now, but the problem is, they don’t have the facilities in their little infirmary to handle this type of emergency. We are not due into port until tomorrow. And, although there has been no bleeding since last night, we don’t know if there will be more.

Now I’m getting scared.

Cruising Day!

Today is cruise day!

I’m so excited to get on the ship for a couple of reasons. First, after a rough night of stomach upset last night, I’m ready for a restful day. All we have to do is roll down the hill and board the ship. Easy! Second, this is Susie’s first cruise on a big ship and I really want it to be memorable. Her first cruise experience on a smaller ship was less than stellar and I’ve been trying to get her on a cruise with me (where we will have loads of fun) for the last few years. I know that she will love the great food, all the live entertainment, and even the rocking motion of the ship as we fall asleep each night in our cabin. I can’t wait!

Even though all the cruise literature says don’t come til 1pm, we are planning show up somewhere around 11:30am. In my experience, at least with the ships I’ve sailed (more than 20, for sure), I’ve noticed that, in practice, they start letting people on the ship around 11am. Everybody from the previous cruise is off by 10am (an amazing feat in itself), so, even though the rooms (cabins) might not be ready, we can still stow our stuff, explore the ship, and have lunch.

Meanwhile, while breakfasting at the Sheraton, we notice that there’s a farmer’s market going on in the park blocks across from our hotel. We go and find all kinds of organic fare interspersed with gardens. Strolling past the booths, sampling fresh-baked bread and jerky, it feels like we are part of the local population, without dogs.

A trip to the liquor store is in order as well. The cruise line has changed their alcohol policy from ‘can’t bring any’ to ‘it’s ok to bring wine’. Wooohooo! But in Canada, prices are high. Even for the box wine. In retrospect, we should have stocked up in Seattle. Oh well, $25 for a big box is still better than $7 for a glass on the ship.

Back to the room for the final pack up. I’m sooooo tired. Not sleepy tired, just really run down. It feels so good to just lie down, so I do for a bit. Weird.

When it’s time to go, we roll down the hill to Canada Place and get in line to board the ship. After filling out a few forms, we cross the gangway and find our room. To save money, we got an inside cabin. I haven’t cruised in an inside cabin for years, but sleeping here made the cruise such a good deal. Besides, the ship has so many great public areas and we’ll only just be sleeping here, right?

First thing on the agenda, even before unpacking, is to take a tour of the ship. We get 39-second massages in the spa and sign up for their drawing (must be present at 5pm). The buffet restaurant is serving lunch and everything is good. Continuing our exploration, we find the pool area. Even though it’s coolish, there are people swimming. We carry on, get a little lost, and end up in the dining room kitchens, but nobody sees us and we escape without harm.

Feeling like we’ve got our bearings, we go back to the room to unpack. For one of the smallest cabins on the ship, it is very roomy. Our cabin steward pops in and introduces himself. All is going according to plan, except my stomach is upset again. I’m so tired and need to lie down. I urge Susie to fill up a glass from the wine box and head out to explore some more.

Before I know it, it’s time for the emergency drill. Where’s Susie? I forgot to let her know that this is a thing we do together. Oh well. I grab my lifejacket and head down the hall and down the stairs. I’m a little dizzy, but following the crowd. Our muster station is in the theater, five flights of stairs down from our cabin. When I get there, I’m happy to be sitting down instead of standing on deck. We all stand up, put on our jackets, do not blow our whistles, and take the jackets off again.

Released to go out and enjoy the cruise, I join the masses heading up the stairs. After two flights I have to stop. My head is light and my legs are wobbly.  I lean against the wall, willing myself to keep standing. A few deep breaths later, I’m up another flight. I physically cannot make it up the next flight. Waiting… breathing… leaning… after a minute or so I force myself up another flight. Waiting… breathing… leaning… taking deep breaths with each step I power up the stairs, down the hall to our cabin, and flop on the bed. Wow, that was extremely hard. I must really need to rest.

Soon after that, there’s an announcement that the ship is leaving. Dang, I forgot to tell Susie that we do this together, too. One of the great moments of any cruise is standing on deck, leaning on the rail (at the bow of the ship, if possible, just like Jack and Rose in Titanic) and figuratively (and often literally) waving goodbye to our departure port. Well, maybe I’ll find her on deck. Hey, there’s only 2700 people on this ship!

I look all over but I can’t find her, so I wedge myself between two people at the front of the ship. The Vancouver harbor is amazing, and we’re just about to go under the Lion’s Gate Bridge (the ship barely fits!) when, all of a sudden, I need to leave. I need a bathroom NOW. I stumble back down the stairs, bypassing the public potties for the one in my cabin. Just in time I make it. It’s reddish brown. Red? Some of it is bright red and I know that’s better than dark red. I must really have some kind of bad bug. For over an hour I’m up and down from bed to bathroom. This is exhausting.

Here’s what I’m thinking. Two weeks ago I had a colonoscopy and they cut 6 polyps and did some other stuff. Maybe one started bleeding all of a sudden with this stomach diarrhea upset. Totally worn out, I lie in bed, feeling weak. I think Susie came in and then went out to dinner. I try to watch a movie. Susie comes back and we both watch another movie. I tell myself that now that everything’s out, I will feel better in the morning. I will myself to feel better in the morning. The bad stuff’s out and I just need rest. Rest. Rest…

A Walk in the Woods

We’re in Vancouver and since our cruise does not leave until tomorrow, we have a full day to enjoy this amazing place. If you recall, one of the themes of this trip is walking with elevation. For the past two days we have been city walkers, but now it was time to get back into nature.

After a fair amount of pre-trip research, I found the Baden-Powell trail, winding just above the highest neighborhoods in North Vancouver. Named after the founder of the Boy Scouts, this 48 kilometer trail runs through the North Shore Mountains. My goal was to walk half of it, from Lynn Canyon all the way to Deep Cove. It’s widely known as one of Vancouver’s best walks.

I’m feeling better this morning, a little tired, but that’s to be expected. We’ve been pretty active and it was day three of the three day (one day for each hour) jet lag recovery. We didn’t get as great of a head start as hoped, not leaving the hotel until after 10am. To get to our trail start, we take a bus down the hill to the 20 minute ferry that crosses over to North Vancouver. It is another 30 minute bus ride to get to Lynn Canyon.

What a beautiful place! We buy some fresh raspberries and cross the suspension bridge that is the beginning of our trail. Then we walk. Down to the river and back up again, more than once.  I’m surprised that it is such a huge effort to walk up the hill. Now I know why they call this trail the Knee-Knacker. Oy. Must be jet lag and the rest of the stomach upset, I thought. On the trail, we met with a few people, some with dogs, some running (!) but mostly we had the place to ourselves.

After 3 hours, we decided to call it quits and tracked back down to the road, where we caught a bus that took us back downtown. We were tired, but happy, and wanted to be sure we made it back to the Sheraton before the lounge (with our free dinner) was closed.

Something was funny, though. Although I felt good all day (although a bit more easily tired than usual), after dinner my stomach was acting up again. Bad gas, too. Oh well, I’ve certainly have felt worse on other trips, and usually all it takes is a good night’s sleep to make things right. Besides, tomorrow is the beginning of our cruise and for the next two days there will be no walking, except back and forth to the dining room. Yeah, I’ll eat carefully and see if I can’t beat this thing. After a couple of days rest, we’ll both be ready for a nice walk in Ketchikan, our first port. Or so I thought…

A quick note to readers: Folks, if some of this is TMI, you’d better stop reading now. Further posts contain descriptions of health issues with the goal of raising awareness of what can happen when you least expect it and creating a cautionary tale – you can learn from this stuff! I will, however, try to make my descriptions as non-graphic as I can!

Weird Stuff Starts to Happen in Vancouver

It’s Day 2 of our Alaska trip and we are heading from Seattle to Vancouver, BC, Canada. Because of the three-hour east coast/west coast time difference, it was easy to get up early to catch our 7:30am train. I love it when jet lag works for you.

Amtrak is the absolute best way to travel from Seattle to Vancouver. When I lived in Portland in the 80’s, they had suspended this route, so I’m glad to see it’s back. The train follows the coastline and there are so many gorgeous views of Puget Sound that can only be seen from the rails. We roll by a shipwreck on the beach, a foggy river, a busy lumber mill, and some small towns. No better way to travel…

Until we got to Vancouver. Here is where things start to get wonky. There were three weird and unhappy things that happened, even before we got to our hotel. First, even though we got there on time, it took almost an hour to get through customs and into Canada. They would not let us get out of our train car until almost everyone else had disembarked. At least we got to wait comfortably, but still, one hour??

The second wonky thing was that the only place to get Canadian money was a money-changing booth that charged 16% to exchange our US dollars for Canadian dollars. The  cash machine (no fee) was broken. Hmm…. frustrating.

To get to our hotel, we needed to take the light rail. I wasn’t exactly sure which stop was closest to our hotel, so, while I was asking the light rail guy (who didn’t know), the train started to leave. Susie got on, but not me. It was too crowded. Panic rushed through me as I stood there, watching Susie’s face in the window as the car pulled away. You’d think that’s a thing that only happens in the movies! Eventually we met up, found the right stop, walked up the hill until we found ourselves at the Sheraton.

First order of business, dim sum. I wanted to go to Vancouver’s Chinatown for lunch, but it was just too late and it was several miles of walking away. The hotel recommended a restaurant nearby and we were happy to see that pretty much all the clientele were Asian (a good sign for a Chinese restaurant). What’s dim sum? Think Chinese tapas. Little plates of two to three pieces of appetizer-like goodies served for brunch. Very yummy.

After our late lunch, we walked down to the waterfront. We’re met with the sculpture that held 2008 Olympic torch and breathtaking views across the water to North Vancouver. From here we could see the Canada Place, the cruise ship terminal. We walked on through Gastown (old-town Vancouver) and did some shopping, made it to Chinatown (the largest on the West Coast) and then back to our Sheraton. Another seven miles on the pedometer. Yay!

The hotel had a great lounge with a spectacular view of the sunset over English Bay. Good food, too. Well, at least I thought so for a while. As we retired for bed, I had a bit of a stomach upset. No worries, I thought, I’ll feel better tomorrow when we get out of the city and have a nice walk in the woods.