The good people of Princess Cruises put me under lock and key.
For my own sake. For the sake of all the other passengers. And it was entirely my own doing.
On the ninth day of a two-week cruise in Europe, I felt sick. It was the type of illness one prefers not to discuss with anyone, family or otherwise, due to its less-than-appealing nature. But it is also the type of illness that cannot be ignored.
After whining both to my husband and my entire family that I felt like someone had punched me in the gut and then left their fist engorged in my stomach, they suggested I see the cruise doctor. “Maybe he’ll have some Pepto,” they said. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
Oh how we would come to regret those words.
Twenty minutes later Mike and I were in the doctor’s office and I’m asked several questions about my current gastrological state. I answered every question like a lamb going to slaughter, totally trusting my handler to cure me. Instead, she whipped out the shotgun for the kill.
“I’m afraid that we have a very strict on-board policy for anyone experiencing your symptoms,” she explained in a stuffy British accent. “Therefore we must quarantine you for a period of at least 24 hours following your most recent symptom. Since yours was twenty minutes ago, that puts us at 11 o’clock tomorrow morning. Until then, you are not to leave your stateroom for any reason.”
I stared at her like Bambi must have stared at the hunter who killed her mother.
It took about a millisecond for Mike and me to look at each other and calculate the repercussions of what I’d done. 11AM is long past the 7AM call time for us to go on a tour of Capri the following day. 11AM means we will miss an entire day of our trip. And every hour leading up to 11AM is an hour lost of our vacation. I felt like such an idiot.
She briskly left the room to let reality sink in. I immediately burst into the kind of tears that one normally saves for when one’s child has been kidnapped. I was up out of my chair, morally indignant, grabbing my things and heading for the door to flee. Michael grabbed me and reminded me that I was on a boat – where was I going to go? Anywhere I would go, they would find me. If I wasn’t in my “quarantined room,” they would know. If I disobeyed, I could get us both permanently kicked off the ship.
Then the crocodile tears really let loose.
With our shoulders slumped in defeat, we walked back to our room. I told Mike to go enjoy the day at sea – go golfing! I said. Go swimming! Live life for the both of us!
He reminded me that I was quarantined, not dying.
So I got in bed (there wasn’t anywhere else to go, the room was about 10’ x 15’). I watched Casino Royale twice (you’re poisoned, Mr. Bond? How sad for you. I am a PRISONER.). I read a million chapters of 1776 (I’m sorry the Revolutionary War is so tough Mr. Washington, but this situation is no picnic either). Clearly my mental state was not strong.
I decided that few things could make me feel more rejected as a member of humanity than having not two, but THREE men come into my room on separate occasions “to disinfect.” I laid there while they scrubbed the room, dressed all in white, wearing SARS or Swine Flu-type masks, avoiding eye contact. I turned to Mike and questioned whether he was secretly friends with Ashton Kutcher.
In this midst of all this, my parents were outraged. They understood that anything contagious on a boat could mean disaster, but getting OFF the boat for the day couldn’t possibly harm anyone. So they went straight to the doctor and argued that I should be released at 7AM the following day. The doctor said she would CONSIDER IT, but it wasn’t likely.
At 9:30 that evening, I called the nurse. I asked if the doctor had reached a decision after her careful consideration. After much convincing from the nurse for which I owed her full credit, she relented and said I could go to Capri.
I jumped around the room like I had just been paroled after a 15-year sentence.
The next day as I stepped into fresh Italian air, I was so full of appreciation and joy that it was as if I had never been on a vacation in my life and this was my only chance to do it. There’s nothing like nearly losing your holiday in its entirety to bring you to a state of such gratefulness you’re sure you will never take another moment of life for granted. It’s also obvious that I honed my skills in hyperbole during my 20 hour jail time.
Despite those feelings, it surprised me to find that my greatest lesson from this experience wasn’t “be grateful,” but rather “life happens.” I can go around the world, escaping many forms of reality in my life, but it is still life. Bad things happen. Things outside of my control happen when they will, not when I want them to.
It also became clear to me that I went through a thoroughly humiliating experience, one that allowed me to display my least attractive character traits, and still my family loved me. My parents fought for me. My sisters took turns hanging out in the dungeon that was my room. My husband not only brought me snacks and refused to leave me, but also made potty jokes that were all too apt.
Come to think of it, I think being quarantined brought out the best in us.