Sick in India (but not from India)

Sometimes things don’t go as planned when traveling.  Sickness can not be avoided, and often times the medication or vaccines that we take to help prevent sickness are the things that end up making us ill!  Malaria is no joke and malarone is a great medication for many people…but, it turns out, not for me.  Read on for details and fingers crossed you never get sick while traveling!

Malaria Billboard - Sri Lanka

5am is the worst time to wake up yet there we were, 5:20am hailing a taxi in Delhi. The hotel had packed us a nice breakfast but it was far too early to even consider eating and plus I didn’t feel well from this puff of diesel exhaust that I had accidentally inhaled from a passing cab. Checkin at Spice Jet, terminal 1D (there are only terminals 1D and 3) was very easy and I sat again feeling nauseous and a little light headed. I held it together enough to pass through security and on the other side I laid on a bench, unable to feel normal. It felt like any moment I was going to throw up. Breathing was also suddenly very difficult. It felt like I’d imagine asthma would feel. I was absolutely freezing and Dave kept offering me food and drink, which only made me feel sicker. We boarded the plane and for the next 2+ hours I was insanely uncomfortable and tried to sleep in the smallest seats I’d ever seen. We landed in Hyderabad on time and the man on the aisle deplaned. I immediately laid down and passed out, willing myself not to be sick and instead to make it to Cochin and feel better by the ocean breeze. Breathing was still hard and by this point I was pretty worried. As I passed out, Dave pleaded with all of the men boarding the plane that I must be allowed to lay down because I was very sick. I guess I played the part well because I occupied my seat and the only other vacant seat on the plane. I wasn’t made to buckle up or anything like that and I wavered in and out of consciousness until we reached Cochin.

I woke up in Cochin to an entirely different type of people that had bordered in Hyderabad. They stared at me as I awoke from my seat and walked into the 85 degree humidity outside wearing all the wrong clothes due to the 40 degree temps in Delhi earlier that day. I decided a drink may help so Dave got me a coke and we sat for a while before taking the taxi. He had told me it was only 10 minutes, but it turned out it was more like an hour. FML. Finally I felt well enough to leave the airport and I really though I was now going to be ok. The windows in the car were open and the scenery was all green and gorgeous. Yes, maybe it had all just been the Delhi pollution.

Well, five minutes after exiting the airport grounds we entered the city of Cochin. For an hour we sat in the back of the taxi, jerking back and forth, swerving around cars on insanely bumpy roads with smells of exhaust, burning trash (literally) and general filth everywhere. Back to feeling horrible. 45 minutes to go. That time was just horrible – I was sweating, couldn’t breath, and convinced that any minute I would have to throw up outside of the moving taxi. Luckily we made it to the port somehow and I couldn’t have been happier to finally lay down in the air conditioning and breathe for the first time since last night. Not so fast.

Boarding the ship should have been easy. We had Indian visas, stamps marking our entrance in Mumbai and keycards showing that we belonged on the ship. Unfortunately, the rest of the ship’s passengers had “exited” India in Mumbai and then reentered in Cochin. We had no such re-entry paperwork as we had never left India in the first place. The immigration officer guarding the ship could not understand how we differed from the rest of the passengers, despite us explaining it over and over (ourselves and through an interpreter) and showing our airline boarding passes from Mumbai to Delhi and then from Delhi to Cochin. He could not fathom how we were in India while the rest of the passengers had had to go through immigration. Finally we were allowed to enter the fenced area to sit because I was growing sicker and sicker. I sat in the shade under the watchful eye of the officer until someone from the ship could explain why India was being so obtuse.

Tim, our guest relations manager, finally came down from the ship and explained to us that other guests had had the same problem a few hours ago and for some reason that India wouldn’t explain, we had to enter the country again….even though we were already in the country and had been for 3 days. This made zero sense. Everyone except the stern looking Indian officials agreed that it made no sense, yet now our job would be to take a taxi to the immigration office and present ourselves and our passports to be stamped into the country. Despite us already having that stamp. Yup. Also, Dave could go in my place. Tim assured us that this would take 10 minutes tops, and that I had to do this to leave India tonight and board the ship now. I waited until I felt well enough for the 10 minute detour and a car met us beyond the fence that we had just crossed. Wouldn’t you know it, but obviously as we left the fence area again we were asked again for our papers to enter India and yelled at when we didn’t have them (because, again, we’d never left India!). THAT’S WHAT YOU ARE MAKING US GET.

This so-called 10 minute process took 90 minutes. 90 minutes of us in a dirty old office filling our papers, driving to a different office to make photo copies, driving to another cruise ship to get a customs officer to provide the proper stamp….and by that time I essentially couldn’t breathe and was passing out in the back of the car. But wait, we had just one more stop! We had to return to the first office and do some other thing, I have no idea what. I was gasping for air at this point and a decision was made that I just made to get to the ship. Dave told me later that our Indian helper was seriously freaked out by this point. I hustled past the evil Indian guard, providing no explanation other than looking like I was going to fall over at any minute, was led by Dave past the 2nd Indian official checking the gangway, and tried my best to make it up the stairs. I fell close to the top and Dave caught me just in time. This was not good. I laid down in the air-conditioning at the top of the stairs until I was ready to continue to our cabin. I finally made it downstairs and laid on the floor hoping to feel better. Not a chance of that though and I quickly had to run to the bathroom to be sick. Damn it, so close.

The next 7 hours were a blur of feeling better, then feeling much worse. I’d feel good enough to go upstairs to play Scrabble, then couldn’t breathe again and had to go lay down. I fell asleep a few times and around 9pm awoke feeling very very ill. We had now missed our entire opportunity to explore Cochin, and I felt really bad about that. By this time too, we both had figured this couldn’t just be exhaust poisoning and we set out googling. Was there anything different about the last few days? Well, yes, I was now taking malarone to avoid getting malaria in India. The side effects of malerone were nausea, dizziness, difficulty breathing and lack of appetite. Well damn it. To top it off I’d just taken my 3rd malerone pill. Dave called the doctor and we headed down to see if anything could be done.

The doctor was very nice and was extremely thorough in all of the tests that she ran. She was very concerned with my breathing but found everything to look absolutely fine. She ran blood tests too and all looked normal. Most likely, as we suspected, it was the malarone. She sent me with some ghetto WHO gatorade imposter and told me to drink tons of water and stop taking the malerone. Dave and I went back to the room, had some mushroom risotto, and called it a night. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow.

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