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Traveling When Sick: A Prescription for Trouble

I’ll admit this up front: Traveling sick is ill-advised.

But when does sick become too sick to travel? I imagine that most of us have been confronted by this question at one point or another, and if you’re like me, you’ve made the wrong decision: Get on the flight, hop on the train, jump on the ship.

Last week, I ended a four-night cruise awash in worries. Kyle, my teenage nephew, had battled an ugly stomach virus a few days earlier and was back on his feet — and eating like a pig again. But 12 hours before we were slated to get off the ship, I came down with the Plague. My throat became so sore I could barely breathe, my ears were clogged and I was coughing up stuff that appeared to have flaked off the Blob. Fearful that my nephew’s stomach flu was about to rear its ugly head and unable to sleep because of the congestion, I sat up in my bed worrying that there’d be no escape from Port Canaveral, Florida, after daybreak.

Day broke, and I was still feeling lousy. But there was a cause for celebration: It appeared I’d dodged the stomach virus and all its attendant horrors. The two of us finished packing our bags (in silence because I’d lost my voice, though Kyle didn’t seem to mind), then lumbered off the ship and into the central Florida sunshine. I felt woozy as the shuttle bus departed the port, then fell asleep for the 40-minute drive to Orlando’s airport.

Exhausted, lightheaded and achy, I checked in for my flight and soon found another reason to celebrate: I could get on an earlier flight to Philly instead of waiting around the airport for five hours. By this time, Kyle was pretending he didn’t know me; I think he would have FedEx’d me home if he could have. The two of us bumped elbows in farewell (he didn’t want to catch my germs), and he headed toward his flight to Boston.

Filled with guilt and anxiety over whether I’d make it home in one piece, I entered the aircraft and took my seat. Was it really fair to share my cold (or whatever it was) with everyone else on the plane? How would I feel if someone coughing up God-knows-what sat next to me? Shouldn’t I be lying in bed somewhere with a priest by my side?

Then the cacophony started. Behind me, next to me, even up in business class, passengers were coughing and nose-blowing, almost in harmony. A woman rushed to the bathroom seconds after the pilot told us it was safe to get up and didn’t return for a long, long time.

I slept a bit, but the nonstop hacking was hard to ignore. I got off the plane two hours later feeling sicker than when I got on, and I wondered: Did anyone feel the least remorse about sharing their illness with me?

— written by John Deiner

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