We’d been looking forward to getting home for Christmas. Since we made the decision to head back for the festivities, long ago in Guatemala, we’d been excited about seeing family and friends, and eating some familiar food. We hoped a month off travelling would recharge our batteries and leave us ready for the next stage in our adventure, hitting the equator in Ecuador.
We hadn’t imagined that one of us would get ill and almost spoil our homecoming. It started on the plane on the way home. The bus from Tulum to the airport at Cancun had been ok. The first flight brought the first slight inkling of illness, but then we landed in Atlanta and had to jump through the various hoops that US immigration and customs set out for you, even if you’re just in transit through their country. It was then on the second flight back to Manchester that the vague unease took on a more concrete form and got enough shape for us to realise that Pete was properly poorly. We hoped it was just a minor bug, or tiredness, or something to do with flying but deep down something was not quite right.
We got back to Manchester and got our lift home from Sally. We went straight to Pete’s Mum and Dad’s and had the first of our much anticipated reunions, and Tilly had her first proper warm milk in just over three months – anyone who has ever catered for Tilly will know just how fond she is of warm milk, and this was the second of our much anticipated reunions! However after a bit of breakfast Pete had to retire to bed, still trying not to acknowledge the impending ailment.
That afternoon we went to the girl’s school at pick-up time, and again it was great to see everyone. That evening we went to the school Christmas plays but at least three of us were struggling to stay awake, from tiredness, jetlag and more.
The next day was worse for Pete: the headache continued unabated, the aches were everywhere and the fever was running high. We tried to see the doctor but couldn’t, but managed to get a blood test sent off – we were worried it was Dengue Fever, which is becoming more prevalent in many countries, Mexico and Belize included.
Saturday was then Pete’s niece’s 21st Birthday Party, and all the family were there for the do – it was as much as Pete could do to make it downstairs to say hello, before struggling back to bed.
When Sunday brought no improvement Pete was thoroughly fed up, even though he hadn’t eaten for days. After Rach had talked to our doctor-friend Sean we decided that a quick trip to hospital might be advisable – fortunately we still have the rather amazing NHS to rely on in a crisis. Near Manchester we have a hospital with an Accident & Emergency Department and a Tropical & Infectious Diseases Department and just before midnight on a Sunday night deep into December we made our way into A&E. They couldn’t have been more helpful and within an hour or so we’d been seen by the house officer on call from the Tropical Diseases Unit; within another couple of hours Pete had been admitted, and had a private room on the tropical ward, with Rach accommodated for the night on a fold-down bed.
Over the next few days various professionals from the various strata of the medical world worked tirelessly to ensure Pete’s recovery. Consultants and doctors freely admitted they didn’t quite know what was wrong, but that they would do more blood tests – after a few days Pete’s arm resembled some kind of dot-to-dot drawing, or perhaps the Piccadilly Line of the tube map, but with angry stops. Nurses brought drugs and reassurance, and orderlies brought food – though it was some days before this was appreciated.
They ruled out Dengue and Malaria, and the best guess became Typhoid, as the temperature fluctuated up around the feverish. They started a course of IV antibiotics and the consultant said that often people recovered before they really found out what was wrong, but it didn’t really matter as long as they were getting better. After a weak week’s illness, and five days in hospital, Pete had turned the corner and was on the mend. The consultant said they still weren’t sure, but that if he had to guess he’d say it was Typhoid – it was only when we googled for information later that we found out that there had been problems with many of the Typhoid vaccines and that they had been recalled – whether this was a factor or not we’ll never know, but we do know that it’s not something we’d ever like to experience again!
However it did make us appreciate just what we have in our country – a National Health Service where you can just turn up and they’ll try and make you better, without ever asking whether you can afford it, or if you have insurance. Every single member of staff we met was friendly, helpful and professional and it made us realise just how lucky we are. When you go travelling there’s a risk that you half ignore and half acknowledge – you have the vaccinations, you take the anti-malaria tablets, you use the bug spray and the sunblock, and partly you hope for the best. But partly you think you’ll be alright – it’s very nice to know we’ve got a vast organisation ready to help you if you get home and that’s not the case.
So, weak as the proverbial kitten, Pete got let out of hospital in time for Christmas, and ready for the journey up to Scotland. We called on Anona (Rach’s sister), Al, Isaac and Martha and then continued the next day on the long trek north. We stayed with Beccie (Rach’s other sister), Jeremy, Kito, Coen and Safi and had a wonderful Christmas.
The gilrs loved playing with all their cousins, and we saw reindeer and spectacular frost patterns to make it feel like the wintery Christmas that the snowmen decorations in Central America alluded to. The cold had taken some getting used to – stepping off the plane into the icy Manchester air had been like being hit in the face with a freezer bag of icicles – but it wouldn’t have felt like a traditional Christmas if we’d still been basking in warmer climes.
We had the traditional Christmas Day of presents and plenty of eating, and managed to visit the beach a couple of times during our stay – don’t be fooled by the sunshine, ‘bracing’ would be a kind description. Pete slowly recovered, though the docs weren’t joking when they said it would be a couple of weeks before he was back to normal – one day he was left home alone whilst everyone went out for a couple of hours, and was asked to hang some washing out – this took the full two hours as he had to rest after hanging each garment!
We also got to watch Rach’s Mum, Dad, Sister and Brother-in-Law do the annual harbour jump at Burghead – apparently the water is every bit as cold as you might imagine, and Pete was very glad to have an excuse to miss that particular treat! After New Year we headed back down to England and caught up properly with family and friends again – pre-Christmas now seemed like a bit of a blur to Pete, a swirling feverish blur.
Before Christmas Rach had been remarking to friends that she couldn’t wait for Pete to be better to have a curry – this was interpreted incorrectly as a kind gesture and that she would endure a difficult wait to share a curry – what she actually meant by “couldn’t” was “wouldn’t” and that she would have one anyway! However we finally managed to share a curry back in Mossley and our home-coming wish list was more or less complete, especially when Pete got to see Latics win at Notts Forest in the FA Cup (that’s football, or soccer, for anyone not familiar with lower-ranked English football teams!)
So, that was our Christmas at home and now we just had to repack in readiness for more long flights leading to more adventure. We’d had a great time, even if it hadn’t quite worked out the way we planned. Thanks to everyone who put us up!