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A Traveler's Worst Nightmare: Getting Sick on Vacation

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You've been looking forward to your European jaunt for months; you're all packed; you board the plane; you register at the hotel; you do some sightseeing; you eat dinner at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the city; the next morning you have a scratchy throat; by nightfall you have a fever.

You are experiencing the traveler's worst nightmare. (Okay, maybe not the worst nightmare; dying or getting arrested in North Korea would be worse.)

Of course, if you visit certain countries you expect it to happen. Maybe 24 hours of digestive unpleasantness during which the high point of your sightseeing tour is the toilet bowl. No big deal. You've packed Pepto.

I got sick in Mexico once. It happened at a bad time -- the day before my return flight -- which led me to conclude that the worst combination of symptoms one can have on an airplane is an uncontrollable cough and an overactive colon.

But disaster can strike anywhere.

I know a guy who had to be rushed off a cruise ship moored in the Aegean to have emergency bowel surgery; I know a woman who fell down stairs in Venice, broke an ankle and spent the rest of her vacation in a wheelchair.

Bye bye fun.

A few years ago, it happened to me in Europe. I caught an insidious German flu that my American antibodies were unable to recognize, let alone engage in combat.

The trip began in a small suburb outside of Nuremberg where several of my wife's relatives live. After that, we were to visit Genoa and Portofino.

It was a typical German town. I assume that it was bombed during the war but the Germans had restored it to what it looked like when gingerbread men roamed the earth. Very quaint; very sleepy; not Rio.

The day we were to leave, I woke up barely able to swallow. I also had a killer sore throat, a horrid cough and I could hardly speak. The nausea was fun too. My wife's family offered me a plethora of German remedies (mostly schnapps), but none had any effect. On the way to the airport we stopped at a pharmacy.

Interesting note: The Germans invented aspirin but they don't know what Tylenol is, or at least this pharmacist didn't. He Googled acetaminophen, located a jar of pills and assured me that this was about the same thing.

Whatever it was, it gave me a headache.

By now I had every symptom known to man and was semi-delirious. In Munich, we boarded a Lufthansa jet bound for Genoa. It didn't go anywhere. We spent an hour on the tarmac, another hour at the gate for maintenance and three hours inside the airport watching uniformed airline employees scrambling to figure out what to do with us.

I was miserable. All I wanted to do was lie down and sleep. Or die.

After a fun-filled night at the Munich Airport Sheraton we arrived in Genoa and got our rental car at the airport. Unfortunately, Genoa is a city that is desperately in need of urban planning. Not even the Italians know how to get home from work. Now I could add carsickness to my list of symptoms.

We were booked at The Bentley and as I limped unsteadily toward the entrance, I banged my head on the glass of the revolving door which apparently had not entirely revolved. I then added to the embarrassment of this spectacle by immediately tripping over the first step leading to the lobby. I was now face- down on the floor with coins falling out of my shoulder bag and tinkling across the marble.

The four stunning Italian models sitting in the lobby didn't even look up from their cell phones.

I decided to see a doctor who concluded that I had a virus. There was nothing he could do. He estimated it would last 24 hours. He was wrong.

Back at the Bentley, I collapsed on the bed and watched an Italian soap opera while my wife went out in search of Tylenol. Apparently the Italians don't know what Tylenol is either -- the pills they gave her resembled Gummy Bears.

The next day, my wife convinced me to get up and wobble to an art museum. I reluctantly agreed. Unfortunately, the stuff in the museum was limited to paintings of stuffy Italian aristocrats from a century that required people to wear stupid hats.

I came very close to vomiting on one of those works of art. If I had, that very painting might now be hanging in the modernistic wacko section of the Whitney titled, "Portrait of the Doge of Genoa Covered in Puke."

By the time we arrived in Portofino, my symptoms had eased somewhat. We had two days left. My vacation had been an expensive tour of Hell.

The bright side? I felt fine on the return flight.