The Dark Side of Solo Travel

Feb 02, 2015    /    stories & photos

Today, I walked to the grocery store.

That might not sound like an accomplishment, but today it is one. Because for the past two weeks, I’ve barely been able to make it up a flight of stairs, across the street to a gas station, or 15 minutes down the road to the hospital.

You see, during my time in Malta this January, I picked up some sort of infection. I’ll spare you the nastier details, but the bottom line is that for about a week, all I did was vomit, force water down my throat, vomit some more, sleep fitfully, and lay in bed in agony, with my guts churning and a dull throb behind my eyes.

The sickness started on a Monday and by Wednesday I was laying in a hospital bed quietly crying while a liter of fluid pumped directly into my veins. I remember feeling cold and slow, so very slow. It had taken me a long time to figure out how to get into the bed, with the nurse bustling around me with instructions.

I was slow because I was weak by then—so weak that I couldn’t even make it to the hospital from the clinic, just a 15 minute walk down the road. They had to send the ambulance for me instead. And then it took me ages to get down the hall and into the bed.

But finally there I was, in the bed as instructed, hooked into an IV, with my dirty trail running shoes poking out from under the sheets (and there is something distinctly disturbing about being told to get into bed with your shoes on), crying as silently as I could while nurses and doctors whipped past the thin curtain that separated me from the hallway.

I’ve felt alone often in my life, but there’s something uniquely terrifying about the aloneness that hits you when you’re hospitalized in a foreign country. I cried and cried and just kept thinking how all I wanted in the world at that moment was to not be alone.

And then I cried some more because OH MY GOD, WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO LUNA?

My greatest fears were all playing out. I was sick—the sickest I have ever been in my adult life, so sick that I could barely get myself around. And I was alone. Horribly alone. Miles and miles and miles away from anyone I truly knew. And if I had to stay in the hospital overnight, or (heaven forbid) for what the doctor suggested might be three days, what would I do with Luna?

Any one of those things alone would have been hard to handle, but all three at once?

A nightmare.

And so I lay there and cried, as quietly as I could, behind a curtain in a Maltese hospital with a bottle hanging above me, slowly emptying into my veins while I grew colder and exhausted my tears.

A few hours passed and the doctor returned. He told me I could go home, but if the symptoms persisted, I must come back tomorrow. And if I came back, I should make plans for the dog because they were probably going to keep me. My kind Airbnb host picked me up from the hospital on his motorbike and drove me home, where I kissed Luna, took a hot bath, and frantically hydrated.

I was back at the hospital the next day—this time with knife-sharp pains stabbing through my stomach—but again they let me go home for the night.

I cried with relief when Luna greeted me at the door; I had made tentative arrangements for an acquaintance to watch her, but I was anxious about those plans and relieved not to have to use them.

And then it was Friday and I made my way painfully from Gozo (the island just north of Malta) to central Malta. The journey left me sicker still and I broken-heartedly emailed to cancel some last appointments I’d made, feeling terrible that on top of being sick, I was now possibly going to be disappointing my editors.

Friday night I took two hot baths, laying in bed, too weak to sit up for very long, and watching movies in between. I should pause here and say that I hadn’t eaten anything since Monday. Or, more accurately, I had eaten a few bites of banana once—and promptly threw them up. I wasn’t throwing up anymore…but there was nothing to throw up, so it didn’t feel like progress.

And, of course, when you don’t eat for days and days and days, even sitting upright in bed can leave you short of breath.

But, finally, that Friday night, between hot baths, I found myself suddenly and unexpectedly hungry for the first time since Monday.

I was starving, my stomach clenched in knots of hunger instead of nausea. And the hunger was simultaneously a relief and a horror. Relief, of course, because not being hungry for such a long time is terrifying and bad for you. And horror because I couldn’t imagine making it out of the apartment, down a flight of stairs, and through the winding city streets on a quest for soup. I’d had enough trouble getting out of the taxi and up the stairs with my things; how was I going to make it to a restaurant or a grocery store and then back?

So instead of making my way downstairs, I just lay in bed. Exhausted. Crying again. Defeated. Alone.

I was rescued that night by an angel named Cassie. She was one of the appointments I cancelled and when she saw my email, she asked if she could bring me soup.

I said yes. Please, please bring me soup. And then I greeted her at the door, burst into tears again, called her an angel, and slowly carried my soups up the stairs and into my little rental.

The next morning, I was braver and a tiny bit stronger. I made it two blocks from the apartment for some butterless toast and a fruit smoothie. And then I slowly made my way home to Switzerland via taxi, plane, train, and bus.

Again, the journey took a toll on me. Monday morning, I was at my normal doctor, again laying in a bed with my shoes on, again hooked up to a bag full of fluid.

This time, though, the doctor sent me home full of not only fluid, but medicine. Four little boxes of pills, which slowly and surely seem to be working.

First, I was able to eat a few small things. Then larger portions and more things. And now I’m walking to the grocery store and making it up and down the stairs to do laundry. I’ve never before been so grateful for those small movements, small triumphs.

Don’t mistake this for a happy ending, though.

I’m still very weak. I’m still tired and my body is not quite right. And I’m still feeling the ripple effect of having come face-to-face with my greatest fears. Namely: my own aloneness in a truly dire situation and Luna’s helplessness without me.

I usually like to wrap up my posts, to offer up an ending to the anecdote, the story, the chapter of my life. But this piece of my story is still ongoing. Ongoing as I build back my strength. Ongoing as I still feel my own aloneness in this world like a daily electric shock. Ongoing as I try to make sense of what just happened.

Photo credit.

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41 Comments
  • Ali
    February 2, 2015

    I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through all of this, and dealing with it alone is that much worse. Be patient with yourself. It will take time to get your strength back as the infection works its way out of your system. I know we’re miles and miles apart, but email or Skype me anytime you want to vent or someone to cry to. You’ll get through this.
    Ali recently posted…Losing Time in TransitMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      February 2, 2015

      Thanks, love.

  • Evren
    February 2, 2015

    So sorry you’ve gone through this. I wish you a smooth and full recovery.

    • gigigriffis
      February 2, 2015

      Thanks.

  • georgette
    February 2, 2015

    oh Gigi, while reading this was hard, I’m happy you write your very real, raw experiences. I can’t even imagine what’s it like to have to go to hospital when you’re alone in a foreign country. I’m happy you are on your way to recovery… looking forward to finally meeting in Rome if you’re still feeling up for it!

    • gigigriffis
      February 2, 2015

      I’m looking forward to it as well. It’s the carrot dangling in the distance…”get better, rest up, don’t lose heart…and you can go to Rome at the end of the month.”

  • Gabes
    February 2, 2015

    Wow what a scary experience, I really felt your pain reading this. My heart goes out to you and I hope you are fully recovered very soon.

    • gigigriffis
      February 2, 2015

      Thanks.

  • Rob
    February 2, 2015

    Wow. I’m so sorry you had to experience that. I’ve *never* been that sick, never mind when traveling.

    But you’ve also discovered that you can survive and recover from much more than you’d have imagined. You’ve touched on your inner toughness and I think you’ll find that there are deeper depths yet you could plumb if need be.

    Hang in there, get better, and know that lots of people are thinking about you, even if we’re not there to be helpful.

    • gigigriffis
      February 2, 2015

      Thanks.

  • Lori
    February 2, 2015

    Prayers that you feel better and get stronger every day.

    • gigigriffis
      February 2, 2015

      Thank you.

  • Maria
    February 2, 2015

    Facing your greatest fear can be devastating and moving past it confusing. Don’t try and make sense of it until you have your full strength back. And then look at it rationally and make a contingency plan.
    I lost my son, lived through it and raised my other 2 to be amazing adults but it changed me forever.

    • gigigriffis
      February 2, 2015

      Thanks, Maria. You’re so right. I’m waiting for full health before I can do a lot of my processing on this one.

      Also, very sorry to hear about your loss.

  • Kim
    February 2, 2015

    Gigi, I am so sorry for what you’ve gone through. I am glad you are on the mend. I’m sorry that you are disappointed that you couldn’t wrap this post up as a finished event. Life doesn’t wrap up neatly, as we wish it would, but you have survived and so has Luna. I am on the road, too, but in the USA living in my Airstream. I have had some unplanned and unwelcome events, but I take some measure of pride in having figured things out. I hope you are soon back at 100%.

    • gigigriffis
      February 2, 2015

      Thanks.

  • Marli
    February 2, 2015

    I’m so grateful that you’re feeling better.

    • gigigriffis
      February 2, 2015

      Yeah. Still working on getting to 100%, but so relieved not to be where I was a week ago.

  • Ann
    February 2, 2015

    You poor thing! I hope that you will be on the mend very soon. I can’t imagine how it must feel to be that sick + feeling alone + worried about your pet also. I would have been crying buckets. Sending healing wishes your way.
    Ann recently posted…Spanish Gems: Monasterio de PiedraMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      February 2, 2015

      Thanks.

  • Frank
    February 2, 2015

    I’ve been in your shoes and know how you feel!! – Nothing worse than being severely ill with no-one around to help you. In my case, even doctors were not able to help. Mystery illnesses seem to surface mysteriously – especially when traveling and at the most inconvenient times. But that set me on a learning path on the why’s and how one get sick and what to do about it in a more natural way. For decades now I have researched what works and what doesn’t, what’s harmful and what is beneficial to the body. When one is traveling, it is even more important to pay attention to one’s health, diet and supplements. Since then I have unofficially become a bit of natural doctor – but nevertheless I made a huge impact on family’s and friends lives. I saved my mother’s life, prevented surgeons cutting my sisters intestines out and thwarted surgeon’s plans on amputating my friends foot – all due to severe infections. The one product that I never travel without and was the catalyst in these above mentioned “miraculous” recovery’s was “colloidal silver” – it will destroy all harmful pathogens on contact. Since I have been using it, with other maintenance products out there – such as the “Grapefruit Seed Extract” I mentioned to you before and I also take 2 grams of Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C) as a immune builder and overall protective bodyguard. When traveling I always bring those 3 products with me. These products are hard to shop for in Europe – and when it looks like I’ll run out I order them online through http://www.swansonvitamins.com which will ship internationally as long as these products are allowed to pass customs. Some countries prohibit these products from being imported. (they work all too well and could make a huge dent in Drs. bottom line if the general public gets a hold of these). I’ve tested many silvers – GSE and vitamin C – some are good and some are not. On silver, only one product is far superior and that is “silverbiotics”. It has been clinically studied and has a patent technology – it’s truly a remarkable product. I also recommend “Nutriobiotic” Grapefruit seed extract in liquid form and “NOW” sodium Ascorbate. All available from “Swanson”. The protocol I use is: I take the vitamin C daily – Take the GSE once or twice weekly for any critters that have bypassed the vitamin C – and at the onset of a more serious infection, take the Silver. The silver is powerful – My mother started to feel better in 24 hours after taking a teaspoon every 2 hours. My sister got better in 24 hours and increasingly got better each day. These brands are the “Cadillac” of nutritional products and this is what I take and have recommended to my closest friends and family. Hope this helps – wishing you a quick recovery.

  • Kathryn
    February 2, 2015

    I’m sorry Gigi. Sick, alone and scared – a truly awful combination. Little steps my friend that I’ve never met. This too will pass (and it will leave a scar). Just keep going. Keep going.

    • gigigriffis
      February 3, 2015

      Thank you. I definitely need that reminder.

  • Rebecca
    February 2, 2015

    Gigi,
    Wow I am so sorry you have been so sick. I know you feel all alone but, you are never alone we who follow and comment on your blog love you and wish you the best. I know I am thousands of miles away but, as a recent friend told me as she handed me her email address to enable me to talk to someone and vent if necessary. I will pay it forward and allow you to do the same to me. Email me anytime if you want to. I will be here for you to maybe not give you a physical shoulder to cry on but, maybe at least a digital one.
    Take care and I am glad you are on the mend.
    Rebecca recently posted…DinnerMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      February 3, 2015

      Thanks. It’s been really helpful to see everyone coming out of the woodwork here and on Facebook with comments and support. :)

  • Susie Hollams
    February 2, 2015

    Oh Gigi you poor precious. I know you are not looking for sympathy but I do offer you empathy. Facing your fears is so hard but you have done it and the lessons you have learnt and the courage you are building will stand you in good stead for this incredible life of adventure you have chosen. Lots of love. Susie ♥♥

    • gigigriffis
      February 3, 2015

      Thank you.

  • Rosemary
    February 2, 2015

    Gigi, so sorry to hear of your illness but glad to hear your on the road to recovery. What a scary situation. As I read this blog I could feel your helplessness. Good luck and get well!!!!

    • gigigriffis
      February 3, 2015

      Thanks.

  • Kat
    February 2, 2015

    Oh, Gigi. I am so sorry this happened to you. I am so glad you’re on the mend.

    I am in awe of your resilience. I know you don’t feel strong right now but as hard as it was you *did* figure it all out. Your body will again catch up your your spirit!

    • gigigriffis
      February 3, 2015

      Thanks, Kat.

  • Dave
    February 3, 2015

    Been there, spent 7 days in an Army hospital in Italy and lost 10 pounds! You can now say you survived one of the worst things possible! And Luna has her mommie back! Love reading your stuff

    • gigigriffis
      February 3, 2015

      Thanks, Dave.

  • Susan
    February 3, 2015

    I almost never comment on blog posts since I read most of my email on my phone, but I’m a faithful reader of your blog and felt terrible in reading about your ordeal. The line, “what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger” came immediately to mind. I daresay you will be superwoman once you’ve recovered completely :)

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us — the good, the bad, the profound, the mundane — it all adds up to a life, and you are leading a wonderful one, on your own terms. Remember that, and stay strong.

    • gigigriffis
      February 4, 2015

      Thanks.

  • Kathryn
    February 4, 2015

    Damn, you are regaining strength now.

    I don’t know if this will be of any help but when we were looking for a dog sitter last year, there were people who will look after your dog while you recuperate. I guess though when you have an unexpected illness, the last thing you have the strength for is screening dog sitters.
    Kathryn recently posted…Tranquility?My Profile

    • gigigriffis
      February 4, 2015

      Yeah. Unfortunately, the problem isn’t that there’s no one to watch the dog…it’s that when you’re in the middle of that crisis situation, finding the right person and then trusting her to a stranger is a helpless and horrible feeling.

  • Swissrose
    February 4, 2015

    Horrendous. Know that I wouldn’t want any of my daughters to have to go through this – hang on to my email and use it if you physically need someone nearby! Luna, too. Hugs.
    Swissrose recently posted…C for ChurMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      February 4, 2015

      Thanks. I’m actually okay here in Switzerland, since I have friends and a support network. It was just in Malta that I was utterly and completely alone.

  • PJ
    February 6, 2015

    Such scary times. Living alone and without many close friends (ones who would check in on me), I worry about the dogs more than myself when I’m sick, so definitely understand how you feel.

    I will add you to my Reiki grid, sending healing thoughts to you. I so enjoy your writings and admire your tenacity and willingness to explore. Take good care and best of health to you in the very near future.

    • gigigriffis
      February 6, 2015

      Thanks.

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