It has been ten days since Gordon started coughing. It has been a wretched ten days for him. The nights are the worst. He has to sleep sitting up in bed to avoid coughing. As he falls asleep he slides down into a horizontal position and the coughing starts again. He has terrible night sweats that leave the bed soaking wet. He often moves to the couch in the night in an attempt not to disturb me, and now the couch has sweat stains on it. He has taken to sleeping with towels underneath him and over him to soak up the sweat. He has coughed so much he has lost his voice. He pays daily visits to the doctor who tells him he just has to wait for it to pass. Meanwhile he is banned from talking and cannot leave the ship.
My role is that of Mother Teresa, a role I was not born to play, but I am slowly growing into it. I administer love, chicken soup, more love, endless cups of Camomile tea, and still more love. I spend my waking hours running up and down stairs to the restaurant to get him what ever his little heart desires. I spend my sleeping hours, not sleeping, lying in a pool of Gordon’s sweat, as he coughs relentlessly into my ear splattering the side of my face with phlegm.
I do all this without a word of complaint. God, I’m good!
The last three days I have toured the West African countries on my own, coming back to find Gordon sitting in the cabin reading, or fast asleep on the sofa. He too doesn’t complain. He REALLY is good.
Unaccustomed as I am to my saintly behaviour, it has been made easier by the fact that I have not caught whatever it is that Gordon has. But all that is about to change. As I make my solo tour of Ghana I start to cough. I am hoping it is just the terrible air quality that is doing it.
But that night it is I who keeps us both awake as my body is wracked with fits of uncontrollable coughing. In the morning all signs of Mother Teresa have left and I have become my old self. That is a raving, complaining bitch, furious with Gordon for passing this on to me. But I am determined I am not going to suffer like Gordon. I am not going to wait a week before going to the doctor. I am going right now and getting the antibiotics. I have attended several of Gordon’s doctors visits to do the talking for him when he lost his voice. The doctor knows me almost as well as he knows Gordon. All I have to do is put my head round his office door, tell him I now have the cough, and ask for the pills.
Or so I thought.
There are two nurses. One is American, and she is caring, friendly and always ready to laugh. The other is German and is none of those things. She has little English, less compassion, and no sense of humour. Her name tag declares her name to be Sunshine, but either her parents had a cruel sense of humour, or she has picked up someone else’s badge. Her mission is to make each patient as miserable as possible, which she does with great success and little effort.
Sunshine is sitting at the desk. I sigh inwardly and give her my best smile, although I have long ago learned that she is impervious to any kind of charm. I tell her that I just need the tablets, but she of course wants to do the full 50,000 mile service
She stands up, clicks her heels to attention and points to a small room behind her desk. She picks up a clipboard, holds it out in front of her and starts working her way down a long list of questions. I keep telling her that I have exactly what Gordon has.
“Do you have a fever” she asks
“No”, I don’t thinks so. And I didn’t have the night sweats that Gordon had”
“Well, I will take your temperature to make sure”
A moment later she gasps with surprise’ “you have a raging fever of 102” she says in a very accusatory tone, as if I was trying to hide it from her.
“Come with me, I have to put you in the isolation ward immediately” she says, as she frog marches me down the corridor, holding on to my arm with a vice like grip in case I should make a run for it.
The isolation ward is the ultimate punishment on board ship. Everyone goes to great lengths to avoid being incarcerated there. It is a tiny interior cabin with no windows, a hospital bed, a TV and an uncomfortable chair. The floor is linoleum and the walls are bare.
It is where you are sent if you have any sort of communicable illness. Cruise lines have become paranoid about the norovirus and go to great lengths to avoid an outbreak. The isolation ward strikes fear into the passenger’s heart and it is only mentioned in hushed whispers. It is the main reason that so many sick passengers refuse to go to the doctor.
Gordon has been seeing the Doctor for 6 days now and no mention has been made of the isolation ward. Sunshine has managed to get me into it within ten minutes of my first visit.
“Wait here” she commands, as she clicks her heels once more, smartly turns 180 degrees and goose steps out of the room.
I am left waiting for some considerable time. But I have read the books and know it is just part of the interrogation process. I will not allow myself to be intimidated by anyone who goes by the name of Sunshine, and I have no intention of staying in the isolation ward.
The click of boots on the linoleum floor signals the return of Sunshine.
“Unfortunately I must test you to see if you have flu” she says
“Why is that unfortunate?”
“Because the test is rather unpleasant”, she replies with a happy smile on her face “It involves sticking something up your nose and taking a swab from there”
“Well, that is the only orifice I have left that hasn’t been explored by a doctor” I say, attempting some light humour.
But it is too light for Sunshine. She just stares at me as she unwraps a stick that appears to be at least a foot long with a little cotton swab on the end.
In one quick move she has one hand on top of my head, fingers clutching so tightly that she leaves permanent indentations on my skull, while the other thrusts the stick up my nose until the entire thing disappears and the tip meets her fingers on top of my skull. I leap out of my chair. Tears of pain are running down my cheeks.
“You have to sit entirely still” she says
“Easy, for you to say”, I reply, “I can only do that when I don’t have a stick stuck up my nose”
She removes the stick, but before I can say thank you, she rams a new one up the other nostril, wiggles it around for a few minutes, tries to see if it will go round corners, and then removes it.
“It will take fifteen minutes to get the results” she says “Meanwhile I will get the doctor in to talk to you.”
At last, I think, someone with a little common sense.
The doctor arrives and starts by saying that if I have the flu I will have to stay in the isolation ward until I am better.
“I don’t have the flu, doctor” I say with as much patience as I can muster,”I have exactly the same as Gordon and I just need the antibiotics”
“But you have a fever which Gordon didn’t have”
“You can’t be serious. Gordon had the most violent night sweats I have ever seen, his temperature must have been near boiling” I say
“Well he never had a temperature when he came to the office”
Fifteen minute later Sunshine returns with a look of disappointment on her face
“The test is negative” she says
“Well that’s good news” says the doctor. “but we still have to work out why you have a fever”
He thinks for a moment and continues “it could be a bladder infection. Do you suffer from bladder infections” He asks
“Never” I reply “and does a bladder infection make you cough a lot”
“Well, you never know” he says
“But you are supposed to know” I say
“Well lets just test for it” he suggests.
“Does it involve Sunshine sticking something large up a much smaller orifice” I ask in horror.
“No, you just have to pee into a cup”
“That I can do. And I will even be able to keep still while I am doing it” I reply
Another fifteen minutes go by until I am also cleared of having a bladder infection.
The doctor returns and says “ Well, my diagnosis is you have caught Gordon’s cough. I suggest that I give you the same antibiotics”
“What a great idea” I say
“It should clear it up in a few days. However I am confining you to your cabin for at least twenty four hours until you no longer have a fever”
Having narrowly escaped Nurse Sunshine and the isolation ward I happily agree to that. Besides, I feel terrible and have no intention of doing anything but rest.
I spend the rest of the day coughing
I spend the night coughing.
I have the night sweats.
The morning brings little sign of improvement.
The phone rings
“Heil Hitler” screeches Nurse Sunshine “I am phoning to see how you feel today”
I take a deep breath and try not to cough
“Those pills work miracles. I feel so much better. And the fever has completely gone” I say as sweat drips down my face.
“Well that is good news” says Sunshine in a voice that suggests it is anything but “ then I will release you from your cabin confinement”
“Please call or come and see us if your fever returns” she continues
“Absolutely” I say.
But I have no intentions of going anywhere near that little ray of Sunshine.