The Cruise, part 2

Our itinerary included four stops:  Roatan in the Honduras, Harvest Caye in Belize, Costa Maya in Mexico and Cozumel, Mexico.  We had the first day at sea and each of the four following days we stopped at a port, ending with another at sea day.  Three of the four ports were fairly pasteurized, ports created for the cruising industry.  Beautiful spots that did allow for excursions and sightseeing but nothing quite like the port in Cozumel.  This was at the city centre, you walked off the ship into the real lifestyle of the community.  For those who wanted authentic, then this was their stop.  Lots to see and do.

For those who didn’t care to sightsee, that was me this trip, the ship offered plenty to do onboard.  We even found a bowling alley.  There was something for everyone, movies everyday, live action game shows, dance lessons, yoga lessons, the whole gamut.  So if you were disappointed you had no one to blame but yourself!

For this vacation, I had decided to throw caution to the wind and live a little.  To try and break out of the humdrum that I have become and make my own fun.  I figured what better place to do it than on a ship with strangers you never have to see again!  I had packed my suitcase for just about any eventuality, took way too much stuff, and sadly needed little of it.  Unfortunately getting sick undermined my whole plan.  I think there is at least one lesson here – don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today, life is unpredictable, nothing’s guaranteed, and so on.

Regardless, the sunshine was awesome.  Add some heat to that and it was super awesome.  As we settle into winter weather here in Canada it can be quite overcast and gloomy and the sunshine scarce.  It was a nice treat to spend a week with brilliant sunshine and the warmth of the sun’s rays on my skin.

The Cruise

This was my fourth time cruising.  All three previous cruises had been with Carnival.  The last one had been an unmitigated disaster on Carnival’s behalf and really was off putting.  Rather than let one rather lack lustre cruise line ruin the whole experience, we had decided to try a different cruise line.  We chose Norwegian.

Preferring to cruise out of Miami we were somewhat restricted in our selection, but no matter, we had decided on the Caribbean and selected the ship, the Getaway.  On paper and in brochures it looked lovely.  I was good for one more try at cruising as a vacation mode, having reasoned that Carnival was entry level, Norwegian had to be better.

I was a little concerned initially, Norwegian’s embarkation process was not smooth, it was disorganized.  It turned out that there was an equipment malfunction which made registration of patrons slow.  They weren’t good about communication in this regard, leaving us about ten minutes at the registration desk wondering if our little lady had gone on break.  Once that was sorted out it was upstairs to a waiting area.  Then once our number was called, onto the ship.

It was a pleasant surprise.  The ship is not quite three years old.  It sparkled, the windows were clear, the floors shone.  Clean was the first word to come into my mind.  Carnival’s ships always felt worn and tired without that clean sparkle.  So score one for Norwegian.  We couldn’t go to our cabin yet, so off for a bite to eat.  The buffet was enormous, but to get to it you had to go through a hand sanitizer station.  Mandatory and nice (not that it helped me unfortunately, but it definitely helped everyone else), to go near the food you had to have your hands spritzed. Certain stations were self serve, but others, particularly the ice cream station, were served out by a member of the staff.  No one touched the cones with their bare hands until it was handed to you.  This impressed me.

Then there was the overall layout of the ship – it felt spacious.  There was room between tables in the dining areas and spacious walkways around the ship.  Tons of stuff for kids to do, there was no need for them to be around the adult pool because there were water slides, a kids pool, lots of stuff.  For those not wanting the noise of the main adult pool they offered a quiet retreat one deck above.  I don’t want to sound like a brochure, but I was impressed.

The only problem, and it was annoying, seems to be poor administrative communication from head office.  Here’s how this looked for my group.  My sister had bought two on board credits prior to the cruise.  Two $100USD credits or $200USD.  She had brought her paperwork, she’d purchased the credits well before the cruise date.  They weren’t in her onboard account when she checked in.  We went to the client service desk and were told no problem sometimes it takes a day.  Give it time.  After a couple of days went by it was apparent it wasn’t going to show up.  We went to the service desk armed with the papers.  Apparently during the conversion process, a penny went missing.  Head office advised the ship’s customer service desk that my sister hadn’t bought $200, instead she had bought $199.99, she owed a penny before the funds could be transferred, but they were willing to write it off, and graciously put $200 USD in her onboard account.  Not good.

Second story – again with head office involvement.  My coworker was on the same cruise and it became a bit of a joke as the days passed as to whether or not her room key would be suspended for debts owing.  It had been a schmazel for them as well when registering to board the ship, and the clerk setting them up with their sign and sail cards had neglected to obtain a credit card to put against the account.  No worry they had prepaid everything -gratuities, alcohol package, dining package, stateroom, everything was paid. One would think.  Apparently, while the ship is docked at the port of Miami any alcohol served is subject to another tax that isn’t covered in the alcohol package – about 76 cents per drink.  My coworker had a drink or two.  The tax went on her onboard account, there was no credit card associated with it.  Her room key, which is the sail and sign card would be locked – which meant she couldn’t get into her room.  Anyway by day 3 or 4 I think they had it sorted out.

Would I travel Norwegian again, sure thing.  But I would be prepared to bring copies of every bit of supporting paper with me relating to what I had prepaid for the cruise since their administrative services are not as professional as one would expect. Would I travel Carnival again – not a hope.  The last trip on Carnival left me feeling like I’d been duped out of my money: substandard room, aging ship, poor onboard service, just disappointing.

 

 

Post 2: The flu shot

So I will take one more kick at the flu shot and then move on.  It’s a personal decision as to whether one gets the shot and so it should remain.  (However, and notably, one of my sisters who works in a hospital not too far from where I live informed me that it is not an option for employees at that facility, they are required to take the shot.  I have to think that there is a huge human rights violation in this stance, it just hasn’t been challenged.)

It hasn’t been hard to fill the time that I have been off – all my body wants to do is sleep.  When I am awake I try to do something that gets me out of bed and that’s not a bath, the two things I craved while I was away (my bed and tub) just don’t have the same appeal.  So over the course of the last week I thought that I would look up the product monograph for the flu shot in general to see if the warnings or contraindications had changed much over the years.

What probably surprised me most was that it wasn’t easy to locate the individual monographs. I’ve spent years doing this stuff and have a whole assortment of ways to search.  In a nutshell, going to big pharma and reading about their trade name flu shots gives you some information and generally the PR version as to why the shot is necessary. Most websites usually refer you to the product insert in the packaging for more details.  Hmm that’s not very helpful.  Even when you get the shot, the nurse or doctor doesn’t say “oh and here’s the product insert, be sure to read it.” Actually, it’s one of the few instances where you get nothing detailed. In Canada when you pick up any prescription it is always accompanied by lots of paper outlining potential contraindications.  So no product monograph on the couple of individual sites I visited.  No problem.

The information has to be available to the public and it is.  Even better, it’s nicely captured on one website:  http://www.vaccinesafety.edu/package_inserts.htm.  The list includes those pharmaceutical companies supplying this year’s product.  I’m not entirely certain what vaccine I got, because I got nothing when I had the shot, but I tend to think a GlaxoSmithKline is most likely.  Interestingly, in this instance, on this centralized site, the GSK link to a product monograph doesn’t offer up the information immediately, rather the link takes you to a request page. Anyway, lots of the others are available, read a couple of them, they are all formatted in the same manner, so after a while you can skim through them.

One common element is the following clause:

Nonclinical Toxicilogy:  Carcinogenesis, Mutagenesis, Impairment of Fertility

“TRADENAME” has not been evaluated for carcinogenic or mutagenic potential, or for impairment of fertility.

This is a mandatory disclosure in Canada, and I am sure if it wasn’t big pharma would have that out of there in the blink of an eye.  Regardless, I get that it is a seasonal product and therefore long term evaluation of the effects of the specific product are problematic due to the changing composition of the vaccine. But likely there are some elements that are constant, how and in what is it suspended and preserved?  My rational mind says we are playing with fire here.  Shooting ourselves up with a vaccine that may or may not help based on a scientific guess as to what the flu will look like.  Creating a man made version of it and then hitting up half the globe with it because people are frightened of what could happen if they don’t get it.  Regardless of where we live, we all start to hear the media buzz – the stories start in September every year about how this could be the worst year ever.  Hmm, wonder who may have a special interest in getting that messaging out?  We are sheep, just a flock of sheep.  Drive us straight to the edge of the cliff and watch us fall over.

My thoughts have tormented me on this.  When did I get sucked in?  I got sucked in when Kevin got sick, I didn’t want to expose him to anything, so I got the flu shot.  I didn’t get sick while I looked after him but it had nothing to do with the shot, and everything to do with the measures we implemented and the diet we maintained.  Feet are firmly planted back on the ground, it only took this hellish experience to get me there.  Enough on this, so much more to cover relating to the cruise.

 

What came first, the cold or the cruise?

So much to write about, but where to start?  Let’s start with the flu shot.  I had a cruise booked from November 12 to 19. Out of Miami, and miraculously none of the four ports we were scheduled to stop at had been decimated by hurricanes, typhoons or other acts of God.  What a lovely thought, kicking off winter going some place warm, but I had to get there first.  That meant exposure, germs, coughing, sneezing, slimey little bacteria lurking to nab an innocent victim.

It was a bit early for the flu shot, but I tracked it down – available at a local clinic.  The clinic was open for seniors and immune compromised individuals.  I spoke to my doctor to get in and get the shot, explaining my travel plans.  Fortunately she agreed with me, I needed the flu shot, my history indicated that I don’t travel well.  Three weeks before my cruise I was in and vaccinated.  Take that, evil germs!

I got the shot on a Friday after work, by that night I was feeling awful.  My shoulder really hurt.  The next morning, full of aches and pains I decided maybe I was one of the unlucky ones to experience a more severe reaction.  Oh, well better the suffering before the cruise than on the cruise.  By the next Monday, I was okay, felt a little under the weather but got through the week.  By the next weekend I felt awful again, body aches and pains, a headache, those normal seasonal things that working in a large office exposes one to.  By the end of the week heading into the cruise I was pumped, felt great.  Ready to go, confident that I had dealt with all the stuff that I now associated with that flu shot.  It was worth it to ensure I was in optimal shape for travelling.

Itinerary:  Friday – drive to Toronto and stay overnight at the airport, Saturday – depart Toronto to Miami where we’d overnight and on Sunday pick up the cruise.  A nice leisurely, stress free, relaxed approach to getting from point A to point B.  Not without risk of germs though, flying has always been the most likely place for me to pick up something.

I was travelling with my sisters – one was healthy, one was germy, also a significant risk for obvious reasons. No fear, I had my flu shot.  I was taking immune boosters, I was going into this trip feeling good, I had this.  Nope.  By Sunday night, the first night of the cruise I started to feel awful. By Tuesday I’d lost my sense of taste and couldn’t breathe.  By Thursday, I had my taste back but had started coughing.  By the time it got to the weekend I was dreaming, or was it hallucinating, about my brass bed and my bathtub. I just wanted to be home.

I always bring some supplies with me when I travel, but nothing touched this.  The ship’s store had no supplies to speak of, and the ports we stopped in had all sorts of available medication – but I didn’t know what I needed.  I had a friend on the same cruise with me.  Thank God!  Not only did she bring stuff, but she brought essential oils to use.  Unfortunately the cough, cold, flu whatever had gripped me too fast but at least I could knock myself out with sinus medication.

So here I sit, at home just writing about this now.  Why, because it didn’t end there.  I managed to go into work the Tuesday after I got back and squeaked out the week.  By last Friday I was in the throes of a high fever, aches and pains, extreme fatigue and nausea.  I decided to stay home Monday and heal, nope got worse.  Yesterday I visit the doctor.  A miracle really, because her office was actually closed, she was doing paperwork, but they squeezed a few people in, and I was one of the lucky ones.  The result – “No point in swabbing you now,” says the doctor, “You’ve had this for a bit.  It sounds like the flu, it’s here in the community, but something else is going on there.  Sinus infection.  And to be safe let’s get a chest X-ray while you’re here.  Yes, you’re contagious until the fever goes away and the cough stops.  Bed rest, I’ll call you when I get the x-ray back.”

Today, she called me about the x-ray.  Pneumonia.  Why not?

Step up to the plate, ladies!

I am fresh back from a week long training session.  I was fortunate to tag on at the last minute and lucky enough to have a manager that is both flexible and supportive.  So off I go to a full week of women’s leadership training.  There were approximately 50 of us in attendance and we came from all over North America.  The training was local for me, so I came and went from the sessions everyday, while others stayed in the hotel.

Reflecting on my life prior to Kevin’s death, training wasn’t important to me.  I knew what my future was, it wasn’t about career, it was about retiring with him and just being and doing together-type stuff.  Take him out of the picture and things have changed dramatically.  Now I don’t know whether I will retire at my earliest possible date, I may just stay on, I just don’t know.  So when a spot came available for the training, I grabbed it.

It wasn’t a week of men-bashing, it was a week of contemplation, awareness, strategy and development.  When it began it struck me that there was a great deal of posturing in the room. That this was a collection of assertive, aggressive women.  I have worked with aggressive females before, some good experiences, some not so good.  There are those that will throw you under the bus and step on your writhing body to get ahead (but there are men like that too). Then there are those that will support you and look for ways to bring out your best.  Life is quite arbitrary in all sorts of ways, who we have to work with is usually out of our immediate control.  I think for this particular training, we all went into the week not knowing what to expect and, let’s face it, nobody wants to look or sound dumb.

We had some crazy good sessions and today, the final day, gave us a session with a financial planner extraordinaire – she was fabulous and if we could have taped the session and shared it with others I would have.  She wasn’t local though, and she will fly back some place south of the border and leave us to action what we learned.  (Max out that TFSA and get rid of that credit card debt! For us females, we may want to consider long term care insurance as we get into our mid to late 60’s.  And, so much more.)

We ended the training with a career planning discussion.  We were set up in groups of six, each group led by a senior “executive” high flyer (a female who has made it to that corner office) who talked through each of our plans, as well as having roundtable input from our peers.  It was at this point that I realized how far we had come from that first day.  The trust and honesty in the group fairly hummed around us.  If I had to use a colour to describe it, I would say it was a kind of golden yellow, the warmth of the sun at the end of the day.

I left the training feeling stronger.  Which is a relief because after the first two days all I could think was that there was too much to take in, and if I made new neural connections then I would have to keep “feeding” them, and if I didn’t keep feeding them then I would become a vacant, blathering idiot!  Anyway, I think if I did fire up some new neutrons that hopefully they came with synapses too – which would be a good thing, since I don’t want that stuff filed away in some dormant foggy area of my brain. This training really kickstarted me into thinking about my future and the degree of control I have over it. I met some remarkable people and I learned some pretty valuable stuff – not just work-related but life-related.  All in all a smashing success for me.