When we first moved aboard, I spent some time assembling a good first aid kit to supplement the one already aboard. I also stocked up on Tylenol and Advil and made sure to include a good supply of Robaxacet as my back had developed an insidious habit of spasming at the worst moments and rendering me virtually incapacitated for a few days. Luckily, so far, my back seems to enjoy sailing and I have been thankfully spasm free whenever we’ve been aboard. On my last visit to my dentist, the inestimable Dr. Frank insisted I accept a prescription for a good antibiotic in case we found ourselves far from assistance and suffering from tooth pain (I later was grateful for this foresight).
But the one thing I didn’t stock then and failed to include on this year’s cruise was any cold or sinus medication. Which I assume was some sort of subconscious and misplaced optimism, as we always have some sort of decongestant and/or antihistamine stocked in the medicine cabinet at home. And, as it turns out, we paid for that oversight.
It had been a bad start. For the first week or so I had been feeling nauseated. I blamed it at first on the disruption of my eating schedule and later on a fairly recent addition of cholesterol meds. We checked in with a pharmacist in Madeira Park, but he felt it highly unlikely the meds were to blame.
Just as I was getting over that, my allergies (which tend to plague me continually in a low-level manner while in Alberta and had, to date, disappeared on the West Coast) returned with a vengeance. It had been five years or more since I had a bad attack that involved a weird post-nasal drip that accumulates assorted crud in the back of my throat and will set off spasms of hacking and coughing every time I shift positions, but it was back and now I found myself incapacitated for minutes at a time as my body’s involuntary reflexes tried to prevent me from choking to death. Trust me, they were so bad that sometimes in the middle of these violent coughing fits, I might have chosen the more sedate choking option.
And of course, we were smack in the middle of Desolation Sound at this point with no easy options for acquiring any antihistamines. So I toughed it out.
I’m not sure who got the cold first, but it doesn’t matter. Suddenly it seemed that both Leslie and I were in the grips of monster chests colds, hacking, coughing and dripping in concert.
On a boat, feeling like cr@p
I have occasionally wondered what being sick aboard would be like, but for some reason I usually imagined it would involve some sort of intestinal problem — probably because that seemed the worst case scenario — and not something that was catching. So there we were, having infected each other, drained of energy and will, and completely without any of the world’s modern miracle drugs other than Extra Strength Tylenol to help. It was the nights that were the worst as both of us have been conditioned by years of habit to load up on OTC drugs when we’re sick, to help us at least get a partial night’s sleep before they wear off.
And despite my previous post’s happy endorsement of spring cruising, the rain didn’t help. On some of the rainier days, there was very little to keep our minds off our suffering stuck below in a cool damp boat. The Webasto got fired up perhaps a bit more than would have been our usual practice.
We were swinging on the hook in Von Donop when I made the executive decision that a few days at dock were called for, and so we raised the anchor and made for Heriot Bay, shore power and, best of all, a supply of medication.
On the road back to better
We tied up at Taku Resort and immediately tromped off to the Market. The selection was limited, but Leslie chose to indulge in her faithful NeoCitran while I opted for a combined cure to both my now incipient head cold and the persisting background allergies: Sinutab Allergies. We loaded up and spent two days on the dock reveling in electric heat, all the hot water we wanted and the ability to walk away from what we regarded as our own personal plague ship.
Of course we didn’t do that much walking, preferring to huddle miserably below. After a couple of days we decided that if that’s the way it was, we might as well go somewhere more picturesque so, after forgoing the worst of the drugs for a day, cast off for the Octopus Islands. And there we sat for a few more days in alternating sun and rain and slowly recovered.
At least I did. My cold slowly receded, although my allergies remained (albeit at a much reduced level thanks to the drugs). But Leslie’s illness had unfortunately settled into her ears, which stubbornly refused to drain, and she was starting to count down to a flight to Toronto that she absolutely did not want to make with blocked eustachian tubes.
Right about then we started paying attention to medical facilities. Or at least I did. Talking it over, we decided if L’s ears weren’t better by a week before her flight, we would bustle off to a doctor for some serious drugs. Of course, walk-in clinics didn’t seem to be overly abundant in Desolation Sound, so we shifted our short-term plans accordingly.
The days went by and with the help of some Benadryl I picked up in Lund, I beat my symptoms into a mere five-minute, first-thing-in-the-morning coughing session. Leslie’s ears did not, however, improve. And so we continued to move slowly south toward more populated parts.
A few days short of our one-week deadline we found ourselves back on the hook in Pender Harbour. I gave Pender Harbour Health Centre a call the morning after we arrived to get some advice on the nearest place to have Leslie’s ears looked at. It turned out they had a both nurse and a doctor available and could we be there by 11? I secured directions (a 10-minute walk south down the highway) and we started to get ready.
There are a lot of things about small towns that can be irritating, but Madeira Park—indeed the whole Pender Harbour area—has just the right balance between services and population to make things like going to the doctor a joy. We arrived about a half hour early and Leslie was bustled in five minutes later. I could hear her laughing, and 15 minutes later she emerged with a smile and a prescription.
It turns out that the issue with her ears was not the dreaded infection but instead a symptom of … wait for it … allergies.
“There are lot of things on the coast that cause allergic reactions,” the doctor told her authoritatively.
“But we spent a year here without being affected,” she protested. “And we returned a month ago.”
“Indeed,” he rebutted, “the exact conditions that might bring on such an attack.”
“Oh,” she rejoined weakly, “I see.”
“Indeed,” the doctor repeated kindly.
So we strolled back to town and Leslie filled a familiar (to me) prescription for steroids and we loaded up on Benadryl. Apparently Benadryl, according to the nurse practitioner, should be an essential part of any first-aid kit. Free from “helpful” additives, it’s a pure antihistamine useful in many situations.
And now we wait.
What makes this all poignantly ironic is that just as I was feeling a bit better I read Slow Boat’s (Riveted) latest post about stocking up for their annual Alaska cruise, where they made the point of stocking up with a healthy (pun intended) supply of Nyquill, pointing out how hard it could be to obtain and… Alas, such wisdom delivered only a bit too late. One of the less obvious dangers of cruising too early in the season: you miss the latest crop of internet sagacity.
We are on the mend now and harbour a desperate hope that this allergic reaction is just a fluke and not to become an annual trial. But if it does, I guaranteed next year we will be better prepared and fully stocked up with all the latest medical chemistry to beat our bodies into submission.