That time I got sick at 10.000 metres

As a person who loves to travel, I have logged a considerable amount of hours spent on a plane, especially over the past ten years of my life. Since I have mostly traveled around Europe, most of my flying experience is short-haul on planes no larger than a B737. Despite my irrational fear of takeoffs (I really dislike that feeling of weightlessness as the plane breaks the laws of gravity) and the uncomfort of the occasional light turbulences, I can say that I actually like to fly and have enjoyed every time I have been airborne. Except for one time, when I got seriously ill in the middle of a six-hour flight.

It happened on our way back from Zanzibar. In the middle of the flight from Dar es Salaam to Abu Dhabi I started feeling pain in my left side. What was just an annoying feeling at first, rapidly became a pain stronger than any period pain I had ever experienced. I asked the stewardesses for help and got a tablet of paracetamol which seemingly produced no effect. Back in my seat, enduring a pain that was only getting stronger and stronger as time passed, I stared at the monitor in front of me. Time to Abu Dhabi: 2,5 hours.abu dhabi airport hotelTowards the end of what seemed the longest flight ever, after I had spent the last two hours praying for Abu Dhabi to move a little bit closer, and even after I had gone to business class to use the toilet because the line in economy was too long and I was in such pain I couldn’t stand up straight, I went to the cabin crew again and told them I was really in severe pain, unable to stand it any longer, what could I do. They kindly suggested that I visit the airport clinic for a checkup before my next flight. I remember that the last 30 minutes of the flight felt the longest, and by then I still didn’t know what a night I had ahead. When the plane finally touched down, I was allowed to disembark with business class passengers in order to reach the airport more quickly, and as soon as I stepped inside the terminal I asked to be taken to the clinic. Happy that I would finally see a doctor, hopeful that they would do something for this pain, from this moment I lost all sense of space and time. A porter was pushing me on a wheelchair through what felt like the biggest airport ever, my boyfriend trailing behind us with both our hand luggages. I went through security sitting on a wheelchair, at some point I remember that my porter had stopped and left me for a minute, and a woman passing by asked me if I was okay. Weariness, pain, disorientation.

When I finally reached the clinic I was treated immediately. I received IV paracetamol and for a brief moment I felt a little bit better. We had a 6-hour layover and at that time I was still believing that soon I’d be well again and bound to our connecting flight. But after a fleeting feeling of improvement, the pain came back even stronger. The paramedics at the airport were wonderful and did all they could to help me, but when I started feeling worse in order to figure out the cause of my pain they had to hand me over to the hospital for tests that they could not perform there.

abu dhabi airport hotelI had the first ambulance ride in my life one hot summer night in the United Arab Emirates, and this is a good story to tell now that everything is over. After about 7 hours since I had started feeling the pain during the flight, at the hospital I was finally given morphine and the pain went away. The doctors were then able to perform all the test that they needed so we learned that what I thought was a simple urinary infection back in Tanzania (a little thing that had bothered me the last days of my stay in Zanzibar) was instead the early stage of a kidney stone. The pressure during the flight affected it in a way that the small stone started travelling from my left kidney to the bladder, causing 7 hours of severe pain, a missed flight and a night at the hospital.

All the time that I was in pain – or sedated, or dizzy – my boyfriend took care of all there was to take care of. He carried my stuff out of the plane, called all our parents while at the clinic, tried to figure out our insurance, checked me into the hospital, bought me the medicines I was prescribed, slept on a hard chair next to my hospital bed under the beeping machines, helped me to the bathroom, checked us into our hotel when I was dismissed. I have lived alone and I have traveled alone and I know how to take good care of myself, but I felt so thankful I had him that night. I just couldn’t imagine going through all that alone.

abu dhabiMy boyfriend was my guardian angel, but I must admit that many people have been seriously wonderful that night, in particular the medical staff both at the clinic at Abu Dhabi airport and at Mafraq Hospital. I will be forever grateful for the heart-warming treatment I received from all of them. The staff working for Etihad Airways has been beyond awesome, too: I was immediately taken to the clinic and visited, they took care of rebooking us onto the next suitable flight upon dismissal, they even sent us a car to take us from the hospital to the airport hotel where we were booked, free of charge, until our new flight (one day after dismissal). I had no idea what happens in such a case, and my only thought when I was told I was too ill to board my connecting flight was: what now? Of course I was not fit to fly, but I had bought a ticket to Italy so the airline couldn’t leave me stranded midway. If a new boarding pass to Rome on a different flight was somewhat easy to expect, the complimentary taxi service and hotel room until my next flight was a pleasant surprise, considering I was travelling on an economy seat ticket.

Unfortunately I can’t say I have enjoyed my unplanned stay in Abu Dhabi. I can’t even say I have seen Abu Dhabi at all as during the taxi ride from the hospital I kept my eyes closed, still nauseous from the morphine, and once I got to the hotel I just spent one whole full day in bed recovering, so I couldn’t even appreciate much of what the hotel had to offer (except for the bed. I loved the bed). But it felt good to be well taken care of. Thank you Etihad Airways and Abu Dhabi airport!

united arab emirates passport stampsHaving a renal colic was quite a horrible experience, especially while helplessly strapped to my airplane seat and praying for time to pass more quickly. I have had a very good health so far and I had no memory of a pain stronger than that before in my life. Still, I came back from Zanzibar with one more story to tell. The other day I was sitting at the pub with a friend who has recently returned from a trip to Australia and was telling us about his long trip and the layover he had in Abu Dhabi. That was when I said: “Wanna hear what happened to me in Abu Dhabi?” and the inspiration for this post came. Because this was still a good story. So many wonderful people helped me when I was feeling very vulnerable. I like to travel because it makes me feel empowered in a way. We never think that something may go wrong, but that’s life sometimes.

Besides, hey, this accident got us two beautiful passport stamps. We were only supposed to transit through Abu Dhabi airport, but since I was taken to the hospital, we went through customs and officially entered the UAE, which became my country number 31!

(The pictures in this post are basically what I saw of Abu Dhabi, except for the airport and the hospital. The blurry one is the only one that was taken by me, from the rooftop terrace of the hotel. The sudden change in temperature from the air-conditioned hotel to the +44°C (and 90% humidity) outside fogged up my lens within seconds. The other pictures were taken by my boyfriend while I was sleeping and he was wandering around exploring the hotel.)

7 thoughts on “That time I got sick at 10.000 metres

  1. oh no, this sounds really horrible! especially because there’s nothing you could do on an airplane but wait -.- luckily it wasn’t anything ‘worse’ and you were able to fly home after such a short stay! and now you really got a got story to tell 😀

    1. That’s exactly the way I’m seeing it now. I spent a handful of horrible hours, but now that it’s all over I got quite a story to tell!

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