Sickness and Travel: this Legal Nomad is Heading Home

While in the waiting room at Port Elizabeth’s Green Acres hospital, I picked up a South African version of a celebrity weekly (think US Weekly or OK! Mag) to pass the time. Like most trashy magazines, they had an advice column – “Ask Debbi!”. In it were the following questions:

1. I was held up at home by armed robbers and almost raped and I can’t recover from the trauma. What should I do?

2. My son was shot dead outside his school and now I am resentful of his friends, who are a wonderful group of boys that he grew up with. How do I move past this?

3. I was the victim of a car hijacking and the hijacker bit off my wedding ring from my hand, puncturing my skin. I am worried about HIV – is this normal?

To think of our equivalent magazines and their “how do I make him jealous?” or “what do I wear to turn him on?” questions is a jarring dichotomy. If you ever find yourself in South Africa and need an instant reality check, you now know how to get it.

Sickness and travel: when do you say ‘enough is enough’?

My reality check came parcelled with the 4 days of uncontrollable shaking, high fever and inability to get out of bed at a Port Elizabeth hostel. Everyone has a different breaking point, and I now know mine. It isn’t wheezing my way up Salkantay or throwing up behind a burnt out bus at the Bolivian border. I can honestly say I’ve never felt as awful as I did in Port Elizabeth and the situation hasn’t really improved since.

The problem is, they aren’t sure what’s wrong. My blood tests are “awry” (is that a professional medical term?), leading them to tell me that I have an infection of the blood, but they are unable to pinpoint what is infecting it. The hilarious dialogue of “you have an infection of the blood” to which I responded, of course, “ok what is infecting it?” and got “an infection” as the response is reminiscent of Lea Ann’s hospital visit in Cusco where we had the exact same Abbott and Costello-esque exchange. My fever and shakes still won’t give me a rest (though, thanks to the wonders of paracetemol, are kept at bay for a few hours at a time – yay paracetemol!), and my lungs are still clogged up. I’ve been on more meds in these last 3 months of travel than in my 5 years in NYC. My body hates me and for the time being it has won: I’m at a hotel in Johannesburg and will be flying into New York on July 2nd.

With so much of these last 10 years pointed toward (and saving for) the delicious eventuality of this trip, and a good part of that momentum dedicated to Kilimanjaro, this was a hard decision to make. Kili figured so largely in my plans that we even worked backwards from my climb date to plan the first portion of the trip. I wanted this year to include as much physical challenge as possible (I meant mountains and valleys, not fever and chills) and what better way to embody that desire than to watch the sun rise above the highest peak in Africa?

Going home to recover

I know that sickness and travel go together. I know that going home isn’t the end of the world, be it literally or figuratively, even if it feels like defeat right now. Kili, Zanzibar and the safaris of Ngorongoro and the Serengeti will be there for me later in life (though likely not the glaciers of Kili, which are already melting quickly into its dusty slopes). Having gotten a small taste of Africa, I will need to come back – there is so much richness and complexity and beauty to this continent that, even if we were able complete our itinerary, we would have barely scratched the surface. On a positive note (and once they figure out what’s wrong), I’ve now got an unexpected summer in NYC, with the free time to do all the fun summer things real life (read: long legal hours) prevented before I left.

When people asked me what I wanted out of this trip, I always said “an appreciation for the present”, to soak in each moment as it is happening instead of always tasting it in retrospect. This is my present. I hope to get healthy in NYC and then meet up with Jessica in a month or two (in Cairo or Israel or Moscow, depending on how I’m feeling). It’s hard to believe I’m Jessica-less after 3 months of 24/7 together and won’t hear her great, infectious laugh during the course of the day.

So – that’s where we are now. I’m hoping to get through customs at JFK on July 2nd despite looking like I haven’t slept in weeks and Jessica, now in Cinsta, will wind her way up the Wild Coast to her safari in Botswana, Namibia and Vic Falls.

To the extent I stumble on any fun round the world travel links or packing tips, I’ll add them to my ever growing resources page for world travel.

One last note: I am thankful for the kindness of strangers and want to mention 2 here – Tania at the Hippo Backpackers in Port Elizabeth who made me butternut squash soup and gave me hugs, and Olle, a Swede from the Baz Bus who happened to be on a similar flight from PE to J’burg and who propped me up and carried me over from the Johannesburg airport to my hotel.

I’ve spoiled myself rotten with 6 countries in under 3 months of travel and I’m all the better for it. Hopefully I’ll be healthy and back our insane jaunt around the world soon enough.


11 thoughts on “Sickness and Travel: this Legal Nomad is Heading Home”

  1. I am glad that you choose to come back to recover, Africa will always be there for you to conquer.
    Hope to see you soon.

  2. I can only imagine the disappointment you are feeling, despite knowing in your heart and mind that you’re doing the right thing. I wish you a very speedy recovery and a good NYC summer.

  3. its best to take care of yourself first…don’t worry you’ll get back out there soon!

    all the best,
    courtney heinze

  4. I am ever so sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience while in our town.

    Here’s hoping you recover quickly and will be able to come back here some day and experience what Port Elizabeth has to offer without suffering a mysterious illness.

  5. Jodi I am so sorry. I know how difficult this decision must have been. Be good to yourself and feel better. xoxox Kerry

  6. wow! that’s shitty. I’m so sorry. I would be heartbroken. Maybe after you get better, you can come back and meet up with Jodi. That way you can complete the trip….get the beginning, miss the middle, but be there at the end!? Just a thought.

  7. Ah Jodi, feel better soon. Hopefully this will just be a pause in your trip and you will be back on the road after a glorious summer in the city. We’ll still be meeting up with you in Southeast Asia! all my best, julie

  8. Jodi, it´s Boris, Alana´s boyfriend. Quite a coincidence to come across your words while sitting at an Internet cafe in Cusco. I am heading on the Lares Valley trek tomorrow, ending at Machu Picchu four days later. To know you´ve been here not too long ago is a great feeling, the feeling of connectedness that´s sometimes entirely unique to travel and travelers. It takes so much courage, and so much respect for the validity of your own curiosity, to undertake something like you undertook. I only dream about it (not for too long! i hope), and when Alana told me you were doing this, I was just so amazed by you. I had so much respect for what you´re doing. And I have only more since your last decision. I know know know how difficult and disappointing it is, but there´s daring and there´s foolishness, and good travel was never made of the latter. Take care of yourself, because, simply, you deserve it. I know there´s no question of you being out there again before long.

    — Boris

  9. Oh Jodika!! So sorry that your trip got cut short. I can’t believe your life!

    I hope that you get better soon and the mysteries get solved. Think you rock girl.


  10. Jodi, I hope you feel better soon. I’m sure it was a hard decision to make and to fly while so sick can’t be fun either. I hope you are feeling better soon and GET WELL. Summer in NYC sounds like a great plan, too. I’ll be sending well wishes your way until I see you bloggin again from some distant land. Take care!

    Kim Granberry (your SicolaMartin friend who misses you helping us!)

  11. Pingback: Getting Sick on a Round-the-World Trip | Legal Nomads

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