**TRIGGER WARNING** Really, really do NOT read this post if you’re emetophobic!
I’m pausing mid-way through the telling of my remaining tales of India to let you know (in case you didn’t already) that I’ve arrived back in Melbourne.
Just over two weeks ago, in fact.
Now tell me… is it the Dodo bird I’m thinking of? That species of bird where, despite its aerodynamic credentials is incapable of taking off or landing with the grace of other birds?
Wait… perhaps I’m thinking of the Albatross? Yeah, I’m pretty sure Dodos are extinct. Whatever, it’ll do. Just call me a Dodo bird.
Far from arriving back in my hometown with a graceful knee bend and a curtsy, as per my arrival in India (not!) this Dodo hit the Melbourne tarmac in a delirious mess of food poisoning and gastric issues, and a massive case of homesickness for Ma India.
I’m not sure whether India was kicking me out or punishing me for leaving. Or both.
VERY unpleasant things
But from the moment I joined the seemingly endless immigration line in Chennai airport, reality started to get VERY ugly.
I sure didn’t enjoy the rather urgent and painful sensations evolving in my belly while I waited patiently and hopefully for my turn to be rubber stamped and waived on through. Luckily, I ended up standing next to the only other Australian girl in the line and our conversation was a welcome distraction from the mutiny gathering power south of my naval.
Once sufficiently vetted by immigration, I also didn’t appreciate my frequent need to haunt the ONE ladies bathroom facility in the building. It should be noted that the bathroom was wayyyyy down the other end (at least a five minute speed walk) from my departure gate…
So I tried hedging my bets by sitting in the only restaurant on the secure side of departures, and attempted to sip some lemonade to calm my angry belly.
But the most spectacularly unforgettable moments of my departure… were those inglorious ten minutes where I stopped drinking my lemonade, very quickly stood up and said to a restaurant attendant:
I’m sorry but I’m about to throw up.
The Big Chennai Puke
A split second later I’d doubled myself over the marble floor – with excellent uttanasa form btw - and proceeded to lose every morsel of food and liquid my stomach contained in front of a smattering of restaurant guests, waiters and cleaners.
Least the floor was marble, I guess…
Unlike being publicly ill in Australia, no one approached me to see if I was okay.
Instead, restaurant guests stole sideways glances in my direction, alternately looking at my face and the messy pool on the floor… while I stood quivering and holding onto the table, too embarrassed and weak to move.
Attempting to gather my dignity, I apologised to the unlucky guy carrying a squeegee broom and watched helplessly as he attempted to mop the contents of my stomach. Which wasn’t helping my situation.
Eventually, I’d enough strength to once again hobble over to the bathroom. Only this time I figured that claiming the disabled toilet was probably acceptable: I needed a little space and privacy and I also needed to hose my shoes free of vomit.
Yeah, I know.
Luckily I was wearing my all-weather trekking sandals so other than having chilly feet, it wasn’t too bad.
I inspected my clothes and thanked my good fortune for wearing cropped pants… there were only a few vomit flecks to clean up.
By the time I’d cleaned up, I felt remarkably better
Before the Big Chennai Puke, I’d been seriously wondering if I should get on the plane at all, but post-purge all seemed well enough with my stomach demons.
Perhaps all I needed was to evict whatever bad thing I ate…
So I told myself anyway, and the new can of lemonade I was sipping didn’t appear to be in danger of a return trip.
I can get on this flight. I’ll be okay…
Sometimes these blog posts just write themselves, don’t they? I mean, y’all KNOW I was not gonna be fine. Right?
There seems to be this silent communication between the body and the brain, telegraphing advance warning of the puke reflex. That very reflex commanded my actions as soon as the plane began taxi-ing towards take off. On auto-pilot, my fingers curled themselves around the very sturdy air sickness bag they stash in the seat pocket in front of your knees.
Without panicking too much – and just in case, so I told myself – I gently tore the perforated top of the bag off and kind of just… positioned it under my face.
With seconds to spare, as it turned out.
My Tiny Toilet Kingdom
Most of the next four hours (Chennai – Singapore flight) were spent inside one of those claustrophobic aeroplane loos. I was pretty much glued to the toilet seat with a sick bag hovering underneath my mouth, until it was time for a fresh one.
I used a few.
Occasionally I managed to go back to my seat, seeking a respite from the joys of a hard cold toilet seat.
And to get some socks. And a blanket. And my book.
I can’t say I’d recommend spending most of your time inside such a draughty little room. Who knew being squished in tight with the other cattle class passengers could be considered comfortable, relatively speaking?
The only good thing about my mid-air encampment were the stash of extra sick bags, toothbrush kits and proximity to soap and water.
But I learned some things on that flight:
- It is possible to catch moments of sleep whilst sitting upright on a toilet, head in hands.
- The body’s desire to puke WILL rouse you out of you zombie-like sleep when required.
- No sane airline attendant will kick a puking person out of an airplane toilet.
- There are many, many ways the body will expel toxins.
- A blanket around your lower back will keep you warm while your pants are ’round your ankles for four hours.
- When necessary, never be too proud to ask a 5’0″ Singaporean lady for help carrying your bags off the plane.
My happiest moment was the pilot’s announcement we’d be landing soon.
Changi Airport, Singapore
Life got infinitely better when I was able to lie horizontally on a bed in a darkened room of the airport medical centre. I started crying, out of relief to be off that nightmarish flight.
It was a heavenly reprieve.
A stop over at Changi is worthwhile just to check out the airport. It’s kind of like the airport version of Disneyland, and it sure was the happiest place on earth for me at the time!
They’ve got everything, including massage chairs, a butterfly garden and EVEN a medical centre that’s open at 6:30am. Sure, you’ll pay through the nose for your doctor’s appointment, and they’ll prescribe you with as many kinds of medicine as they can (thank you travel insurance!). BUT they do have those magic anti-vomiting and anti-diarrhoea injections, which were a godsend.
As I lay there waiting for the meds to kick in, I used the airport’s free wifi to email family and friends about my miserable predicament. Coz at that stage, I wasn’t clear whether or not I’d be making the second leg of my flight.
Apparently I needed a “Fit to Fly” certificate from the doctor, which was dependent on me not puking or getting the runs while under observation.
Eventually I got the all clear from the Doc and was offered the use of the airline’s private lounge, which turns out to be where they park all the less than able-bodied passengers.
To get there I was offered a wheelchair… and much to my chagrin I gratefully accepted. Then promptly fell asleep as soon as I’d been deposited in the lounge, feet up on a second chair.
Props to Singapore Airlines coz they took excellent care of me and never once berated me for being so grossly unwell on their flight.
I’d even been assigned my own personal wheelchair pusher, who helped me with my carry on luggage and ensured I got through security for my connecting flight. You’re all class, Singapore Airlines!
And, being wheeled through the airport made me feel like a very sick and decrepit rock star.
For the Singapore-Melbourne flight leg, everything was cool til food service began. The aroma of reheated airline food – never the best smell – was enough to bring back the puking.
I don’t remember much of that eight hour flight. Eventually the purging came to a halt but I didn’t eat anything, and barely kept down the lemonade and green tea I was timidly sipping.
Mostly I spent my time in a haze of medication-induced sleep and groggy refusals of food, whilst holding my breath til the food carts moved on. And I kept a stash of air sickness bags handy…
The upside? My illness staved off an array of confusing emotions I had about leaving India, arriving home, and the impossibility of going from one country to another so easily… but that’s another blog post or three.
Touch down in Melbs
It should be noted that Monday night customs clearance is a breeze.
I cried as I walked through that maze of doors towards the hovering arrangement of people waiting for people…
Fortunately I had my own people waiting for me. I was met by not one but two good friends (I’d used Whatsapp to give them the 411 from Changi).
They gave me roses and hugs and took charge of my luggage, then cheerily drove me home and issued me with supplies of rice crackers and chamomile tea.
Thanks Mims and Kat. I seriously LOVE you gals!
I was sick for the entire first week back home and barely left the couch. The second week I was still extremely jet lagged and not really strong enough to do much in the way of normal interacting with my Melbourne life.
Sure, I’ve met up with a few friends but on top of the un-wellness, I wasn’t really coping with being back in a fast-paced and concrete-y world such as Melbourne. Plus tthe culture shock and the ever-present sensation of being in two places simultaneously.
Hence the delay in broadcasts here on the blog. I’ve just not been up to anything much, including job hunting!
This week however, I’m finally pulling myself out of that fuzzy in-between world of the returned traveler, and attempting reintegration.
Exciting things have started happening already. I’ll let you know real soon!
But henceforth you can expect my remaining India stories to appear here in the next couple of weeks. As many as I can put into words, anyway.
I can promise the following: High adventure! Festivals! Monks! Mountains! Thievery! Romance! And Delhi (gah!)!
So hello again, world.
It’s good to have finally landed.