*This is a guest post written by my mom, Sandy.*
As a frequent traveler, I am no stranger to cruising. I usually get a little sea-sick the first day of any cruise, but I have always dealt with it by taking a Dramamine, which then leveled me out the rest of the trip without experiencing dizziness. But my most recent cruise was going to be different than any of my past cruises. It was a 22-night cruise to Antarctica. This meant that we would be sailing through the Drake Passage, which has the distinct honor of having the roughest waters in the whole world. The Drake Passage is nothing to laugh at, as I saw videos online of sailors passing through it while being tossed from one side of the ship to the other. Needless to say, I was more than worried. I had never been on a ship for more than 7 days. I didn’t want nausea and dizziness to ruin my trip, especially knowing I wouldn’t see land for days at a time. And 22 nights? How would I hold up that long?
I travel often with my son, who is a travel blogger (and runs the blog that you’re reading this article on). While it is tremendously exciting and fun traveling the world with him, there is also a lot of stress that comes with it, as he is totally dependent on a caregiver for many tasks of daily living. I have to assist him with transferring from his wheelchair to bed, dressing, bathing, toileting, and other tasks throughout the day. Going to Antarctica was going to be a long journey and besides the cruise, we had to fly to South America from our home state of Georgia. While flying with a wheelchair is a journey in itself, I knew I had to be at my healthiest self to withstand such a lengthy trip. Not only did I have the possibility of sea sickness to worry about, but what if he got sick? Who would take care of him?
With all this mounting up and the cruise drawing nigh, I discovered online the Scopolamine patch. This was my ticket to feeling good and being able to enjoy the open waters, while still caring for my son. I immediately went to the nearest walk in clinic and had my patches in hand in less than an hour. I had seen people on past cruises with the little circle sticker behind their ear, laughing and dancing and having the best of times. I often wondered why I hadn’t tried this before. Since they do require a prescription, I guess I just never took that extra step when Dramamine could be purchased over the counter. Having these cure-all patches in hand helped my nerves calm. About a month before the cruise was to begin, I received news that my son’s friend would be traveling with us also. She said that she always wanted to go to Antarctica and could be a helping hand if needed. What a blessing. With my ear patches to stop my motion sickness and a third traveler in our anxious party, what could possibly go wrong?
Time flew by quickly and there I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, dragging luggage up the ramp of our new home away from home. The 1,300-passenger ship towered above my son, his friend and I as we rushed inside and were ready to begin our expedition through the rocky waters and into the icy land of Antarctica. Once inside our stateroom, I immediately took out my trusty box of Scopolamine and stuck a patch behind my right ear. The instructions on the box said that it should be good for up to three days. So, I was set with my newfound miracle drug that looked basically like a circular band aid. “How easy was that? Wow, why had I never used these before? It’s a prescription, so it has to work,” I thought.
The first three nights on the cruise, I was able to enjoy the unlimited food, see the shows, and go on excursions at the ship’s beautiful ports of call. It seemed as though life was amazing with my patches. The only side effect I noticed was some dryness in my mouth and throat, but that seemed to be a small price to pay compared to vomiting and dizziness. After three days, I then placed a new patch behind my left ear and threw away the old one. Within an hour of placement, I began to have some blurred vision. I remember thinking “Dang, this is some strong stuff.” But I still wasn’t alarmed, as after about an hour of blurriness it leveled out and I was left with the dryness in my mouth. I tried chewing gum and keeping a drink in hand to help with this, as it became annoying waking up to a tongue that felt like sandpaper.
As the cruise continued to sail, I kept swapping out my patches every three days. The first day of placing a new patch behind my ear, I would witness some mild blurred vision for about an hour or so and then I began to feel like I was relaxed, going around the ship doing whatever was suggested by my son and his friend, with no opinion of my own. Whether it was bingo, trivia or cornhole, that was fine with me. I remember telling my son that I felt like I was floating above my body, watching what I was doing from above. Finding this a bit alarming, he suggested I take the patch off on a day that the ship was docked for those few hours, but I explained that I didn’t want to risk having it off for that prolonged of a time. I was fearful that I would get sick and not be able to pick him up and put him to bed each night or be able to pick him up each morning and give him a shower and get him dressed. And besides, I wasn’t nauseous or dizzy, so no reason for alarm, as I feel there is nothing worse than that feeling.
For four extraordinary days, our cruise sailed through Antarctica. Seeing the whales swimming alongside the boat and capturing breathtaking photos of their tails made it all worthwhile; the dry mouth, the blurred vision, nothing stopped me from this once in a lifetime experience.
As we sailed through the Antarctic peninsula, we witnessed penguins riding on icebergs and porpoising through the icy waters in groups. We were filled with awe at the stoic icebergs that were so tall they seemed to disappear into the clouds. Oh my goodness, what an experience to witness this in person. My eyes filled with tears to see my son staring at the gorgeous view with a smile on his face and tears running down his cheeks.
As the cruise continued, I began to eat less and less, as the food seemed to have lost its flavor. Nothing tasted right, not even the delicious looking desserts. The dryness in my mouth and throat had subsided, but I could still feel that I wasn’t quite myself for whatever reason. And somehow, even with the boat rocking through the Drake Passage so severely that it sloshed all the water out of the swimming pool on the ship to the point that it was completely empty, I never vomited and maintained my stability. This Scopolamine patch was a miracle drug! I couldn’t even imagine how I would’ve been feeling without them. I was even thinking of planning our next cruise now that I knew I could enjoy days at sea without getting dizzy.
And then, after 22 nights, there I was waking up to a docked ship on our last morning. I removed the sticker from behind my ear as soon as I got out of the shower. I could see land and our hotel was only an hour away in Santiago, Chile. As I tossed it into the trash, I said to myself, “Goodbye and good riddance until next time!” Little did I know what the next 24 hours would entail.
As soon as we arrived at our 26-story hotel, the AC Hotel in Santiago, we checked in and were ready to see the breathtaking view our room would have. The host gave us our key and said that we would be on the top floor, 26 stories above Santiago. WOW! It would be awesome. We rushed to the elevator and up and away we went. As we opened the door to our room, we were awe struck to see a floor to ceiling window wall overlooking the city. Huge mountains were in the distance and the streets were filled with cars and people crossing everywhere. It was a booming city that we were anxious to explore.
After arranging our luggage, we were off to meet our guide for a long-awaited tour of the city. We drove through crowded streets, and even witnessed a riot that he said had been going on for 4 months due to disagreements with government issues. This looked like what we had seen on the news and we were amazed that it was real life for them. As we arrived at a less chaotic area of the city, we left the vehicle and began a walking tour of the market. Once inside, there were aisles and aisles of seafood laying out on ice. The smells filled my nose as we walked past fish, lobster, King crab and octopus. Whew, I’m not a fan of seafood and the smell was seeming to make me sick to my stomach. The guide then suggested we stop for a bite of lunch and I couldn’t even think about eating. Somehow, I struggled through it while my son, his friend, and our guide enjoyed drinks and devoured what they believed to be a delicious meal. The journey also took us to the top of a mountain, where we walked around to take in more astounding views of the city and memorable photos.
As we returned back to our hotel, I felt okay, but suffered mild nausea and felt a little weak and dehydrated. It had been a hot day in the city of around 94 degrees Fahrenheit, so we all decided to relax in the hotel the rest of the evening. As we opened our door to our room, the fire alarm sounded in the hotel. There was no smoke or flames that we saw, but panic set in and we knew we needed to react quickly to get to the street and evacuate the building. And there we were, on the 26th floor with my son in an electric wheelchair. We scrambled through our luggage to quickly find a sling, the easyTravelseat, that his friend and I decided would be our best option to carry him down 26 flights of steps.
As we ran toward the stairway, a security guard met us there and said he believed it was a false alarm, but he was continuing to investigate. He said the alarm began in an empty room across the hall from ours. He opened it up, looking inside, but did not see anything out of the ordinary there. No reason for us to evacuate the building. Ahhh, we all sounded a big sigh of relief as our nerves were shot at the thought of carrying my son, weighing around 150 lbs, down 26 flights of stairs and hurrying for our lives. The guard went on to explain the hotel was brand new, just opening the week prior, and they were still working out all the kinks in their system. I immediately asked for the manager, as I wanted to move to a room on the bottom floor. Within minutes of him calling her on his radio, she was at our room stating we were in the only wheelchair accessible room in the hotel and assured us that there was no need for alarm as their system was brand new and the hotel was completely safe. Going against my best interest, with no other room options at this particular hotel, we all agreed to settle in for the night and get some well-deserved rest.
Waking up the next morning, I found it a little difficult to look out of our floor to ceiling window at the view from 26 stories in the sky. I’m normally not afraid of heights and love a top floor view, but this morning was different. It made me a little queasy and light-headed, so I immediately closed the curtains. I proceeded to get into the shower while my son was still sleeping. I lathered up my hair and began feeling so weak that I had to flip down the accessible shower seat from the wall and sit down for a minute. My heart felt racy and I thought that I may pass out.
As I sat there with the warm water running over my head, I took deep breaths in and out, trying to relax and settle my heart. As I stood back up, I began rinsing my hair and again had to sit back down to catch my breath. I started to feel some dizziness and nausea setting in. I quickly finished my shower, as I felt so sick and weak that I could no longer stand. I dried myself off, got dressed, and walked back to the bed and flopped across it on my stomach face down. My son and his friend woke up and he was still laying in bed, waiting for me to help him get into his shower wheelchair, bathe and get dressed. I told him to give me just a few minutes, as I needed to rest.
As a few minutes turned into an hour, I was still lying face down on the bed unable to lift my head without the entire room spinning. My son was getting anxious to get up and get dressed, but his friend is unable to lift him. I knew that I had to get moving and care for him, but after several attempts of standing up, my head would spin and I immediately had to run to the toilet, throw up, and go straight back to the bed to lay down to stop the nausea and the room from spinning. I was weak, dizzy, and sick to my stomach. I knew that if I tried to lift him, I may stumble and fall, dropping him between the bed and his wheelchair.
Finally, laying down for a “few minutes” had turned into 3 and ½ hours. This whole time I rested, attempted to stand, vomited, and laid back down. I didn’t understand how I felt so sea sick. I was actually more sea sick than I had ever felt in my life, but was not on a ship. How could this be?
I told my son’s friend that we needed to get a game plan together. I was going to quickly stand up, pick him up, and I needed her to stand nearby with her arms outstretched, so that she could help to catch him, or me for that matter, if I began to stumble. And on the count of three, he was up, in his shower chair, and ready to head to the toilet. I rushed him in there, but asked him to wait to use it until I threw up. As he sat there patiently waiting beside the toilet, I dry heaved to the point that my stomach muscles were aching. There was nothing in me left. I felt like I needed to throw up, but I couldn’t. I pushed him over the toilet and I staggered back to the bed, again flopping across it face down. His friend looked over at me and said, “This ain’t good.” I couldn’t even respond other than to ask if she could give him a shower for me. As soon as she said yes and that she wanted to help, I rolled over, covered up in the sheets, and wanted nothing more than to lay there until the world stopped spinning.
After hearing the shower turn off, I knew that was my cue and that I would need to transfer him back to the bed, so that he could be dressed. I couldn’t even fathom the thought of standing up again, much less carefully lifting 150 lbs. I began to pray, asking God for strength since I had absolutely none left in me. As I heard the wheels of his shower chair getting closer to the bed, I slowly stood up and immediately again ran to the bathroom to begin another gut-wrenching dry heaving session, while my head spun out of control. How was I going to care for him? How could we do our tours of this city that we had anxiously awaited? No way could I even fathom the thoughts of doing anything other than laying down, so that the spinning would stop. I then proceeded back toward the bed and again asked his friend to hover around us as I picked him up and put him in the bed. She began to get him dressed and I was humbly grateful that she was on this trip with us. So many times before we have traveled alone and I was thankful she was there to help. I again flopped across the bed, covered up, and got in the fetal position. I was already sound asleep when she asked if I could get him back up and into his wheelchair, as he was now dressed. So, needless to say, I was back up again and in the restroom hanging over the toilet, feeling the sickest that I had ever been. Somehow, I found it in me to go back to my son and pick him up and get him in his wheelchair. Knowing he was up, bathed, dressed, and able to move independently, I got in the bed and was out like a light.
As the day dragged on, my son and his friend were in and out checking on me, but I continued to sleep, throw up, and repeat. They urged me to go see a doctor, but I could not fathom the thought of standing up, walking down the hallway to the elevator, going to the street, and walking or riding to the nearest doctor’s office. I was so weak by this point I couldn’t have done it physically or mentally. Around 5pm that afternoon, as I lay in the bed to my son’s persistent words to go to the doctor, I said I was ready to go. Any relief at this point to stop my head from spinning would be welcomed. I couldn’t stand it any longer.
He had been googling my symptoms on his phone and found a few articles stating there were people who had this happen to them after taking off a Scopolamine patch. It stated it was a Scopolamine withdrawal in those instances. What in the world? I hadn’t even thought of that. A withdrawal symptom of wearing a sea sickness patch was causing sea sickness. Well, sea sickness times 10. I had worn it for a very extended time period. All the symptoms of dryness of mouth and blurred vision came back to me. I should’ve known this was affecting me too strongly and should’ve heeded the warning signs to take it off earlier in the trip.
In my entire life, I have never taken drugs, never even smoked a cigarette or experimented with anything. I never wanted my mood altered or to harm my body with anything other than an occasional Ibuprofen, if needed for a sinus headache. And now the internet is telling us that I’m having Scopolamine withdrawals? Wow! I never expected this at all. I just wanted to enjoy my cruise and care for my son.
My son called the front desk and explained my situation, asking for the location of the nearest doctor. The lady proceeded to tell him that if I had rather have a doctor come to my hotel room, they could call one to come. Being from America, I hadn’t heard of this before and it sounded a little sketchy. I was in Santiago, Chile and wasn’t even sure if they would speak English. After a nervous hesitation, I shouted “yes please” and that I felt that would be even better as I rolled back over. He proceeded to tell her and she said a doctor would be there in about 45 minutes. I did feel a sense of relief, but was nervous to think he may send me to the hospital and then who would care for my son?
In about an hour, a nurse and a doctor knocked on my hotel room door. They came in as nice as could be, introduced themselves to us, and the doctor was speaking perfect English. He came to my bedside, shook my hand, and asked how I was. I told him I was the sickest I had ever been. He had the nurse check my vitals and he listened to my son explain his findings of the Scopolamine patch and the possibility of withdrawal symptoms from that. The doctor walked over to the box, looked it over in depth, showed it to the nurse who didn’t speak a word of English, and discussed it in Spanish with her. After a minute, he said they don’t even allow that medication to be sold in Chile, as it is too strong, but that sounded like exactly what was wrong with me. He was familiar with the medication.
He asked if I wanted a pill to take that would help me get over it over a period of several hours, or if I would rather he administer an IV and have the medicine immediately react to start healing me. Of course, I went for the IV since I wanted fast relief. I was desperate to feel better. The nurse tried 3 attempts to put the IV needle in, but my veins were too small and she couldn’t do it. The doctor came over and tried my other arm himself and got it on the first try. He and the nurse stood there at my bedside for at least an hour and a half, taking turns holding the IV so that it could drain in. He said I would start feeling better soon, but I was dehydrated and needed to drink lots of fluids over the next couple of days.
After the last drop went in and the IV bag was empty, the doctor wrote me some prescriptions and said the mall next door to the hotel had a pharmacy inside that would be open the next day. He also gave me one pill to take for the next morning, which would help decrease the dizzy feeling. He then gave us our bill. I was afraid to see it. I was in a foreign country and had a bedside physician in an upscale hotel, I could only imagine. And to my surprise, it was only $93 US dollars. WOW! Now that was service.
I felt better just knowing I saw a doctor and knew what was wrong with me, and was treated for it. But at the same time, I just wanted to sleep. The doctor said that I would be extra sleepy that night and I already was. As it was now nearly 9pm, my son and his friend were starving and were going to go next door for something to eat. I told them to go ahead and that I would be fine, as I was exhausted and wanted to sleep.
They were gone no more than 15 minutes and I had just drifted away to sleep when again, the fire alarm in the hotel went off. I reached to the bedside table and called my son. He didn’t answer. I called his friend and she didn’t answer. I called the front desk and the worker said she wasn’t sure why it was going off and wasn’t sure if it was a false alarm, but would call me back. I hung up the phone, and did what any sick, sleepy human would do in a blazing fire and rolled over and went to sleep. I was that sick and tired. I didn’t even care enough to leave my bed, let alone the building. Luckily, it was a false alarm. I say all this to let you know that Scopolamine is nothing to mess with. The simple fact that I was so sick that I didn’t leave a possibly burning building because I didn’t want to stand up is ridiculous. I would’ve never done this in my right mind.
Luckily, the next day I was feeling much, much better and was able to walk next door and pick up my medicine at the pharmacy myself. I took my meds and lounged at the hotel that evening, dreading the thoughts of having to get on the plane and fly home in only 24 hours. I hoped the sickness in my stomach would continue to subside, as I still had to face packing our bags and riding in the back seat to the airport. The dizziness had greatly calmed down as long as I had no sudden movement of my head and I hadn’t thrown up since the IV fluids. I did believe I was on the road to recovery, but was not looking forward to the 10 hour flight home.
By the time our plane landed at our home airport in Atlanta, I was still moving slowly but was feeling much better. I lost 10 lbs from the beginning of our cruise to stepping off that plane and when looking in the mirror, I realized I had forgotten to even comb my hair that day. I had to be extremely exhausted to have forgotten such a prideful task, but still wasn’t strong enough to even care. After a two hour drive home from the airport, my dad greeted us in the driveway, looked at me and said, “My goodness girl, your eyes look like two piss holes in the snow! You need to go to eat something and go to bed!” And that was exactly what I did.
I can’t even imagine what would have happened to me if I had not seen that doctor that evening and gotten the meds in the IV. Now, it has been 3 weeks since this incident and I still can’t watch the videos on my phone of the swimming pool on our cruise sloshing back and forth without getting motion sickness.
I know for a fact that I will never wear the Scopolamine patch again and will do just fine with an over the counter Dramamine if ever needed again. So, if you are ever facing the dilemma of whether to wear a Scopolamine patch or not, I hope that my unforgettable experience can help with your decision. I would never wish a Scopolamine patch withdrawal on my worst enemy.